It's the middle of March, and spring training games are getting more competitive. Pitchers are pitching more innings, and players are starting to get back into the swing of playing Major League Baseball everyday.
The transition from spring training to the regular season is beginning to take place.
With that in mind, there have been numerous predictions, division breakdowns, rankings, and lists about who will win, lose, win awards, an so on.
Anyone can pick division winners and losers, but it's time to dig into each division beyond just the order in which teams will finish.
The American League Central Division was a surprising one in 2008. The Tigers were picked to finish first, and the White Sox were predicted to finish towards the bottom of the division. The opposite was true, as the Tigers were disappointing and the Sox won the division. All and all, the division was very competitive, with the Indians, White Sox, and Twins all battling late in the season for the division crown. Even the Royals were competitive, posting baseball's best September record.
So how will the division do in 2009?
The All AL Central Team
· 1B Justin Morneau, MIN
· 2B Placido Polanco, DET
· 3B Alex Gordon, KC
· SS Alexei Ramirez, CHI
· LF Carlos Quentin, CHI
· CF Grady Sizemore, CLE
· RF Magglio Ordonez, DET
· DH Jim Thome, CHI
· C Joe Mauer, MIN
· RHP Justin Verlander, DET
· LHP Cliff Lee, CLE
· CL Joakim Soria, KC
Best Starting Rotation: Minnesota Twins
The Twins rotation of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins is one of the youngest in the game. The oldest guy in the rotation is Baker, and he's still only 27.
This staff is void of any high priced, big name starter, but they get the job done. Liriano, the ace of the staff, may not have been as lights out as he was in 2006, but was still very good after missing much of the last two seasons due to injury.
The AL Central as a whole doesn't have one totally dominant starting rotation in it, so the Twins should have no problem contending while still letting these young pitchers develop. (Honorable Mention: Kansas City Royals)
Best Lineup: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers not only boost the best lineup in the division, but one of the best in baseball. They have one of the best lead-off guys in the game in Curtis Granderson. They have one of the toughest batters to strikeout in Placido Polanco.
Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera are two of the purest hitters in baseball as they make up the No. 3 and No. 4 spot. Even the tail end of the Tigers lineup contains solid pro hitters in Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen, and Brandon Inge. This is easily an offense capable of scoring 1,000 runs, even playing in Comerica Park. (Honorable Mention: Cleveland Indians).
Best Bullpen: Cleveland Indians
After signing Kerry Wood to be their closer in 2009, the Indians have turned a weakness into a strength. Cleveland had very good middle relief and set-up guys in Jensen Lewis (who was 13-for-13 in save situations from August to the end of 2008), Rafael Perez, and Rafael Betancourt last season, but sorely have needed a reliable closer for the past few years. Signing Wood solves that problem.
Cleveland also was able to add side-armer Joe Smith, one of the few bright spots in a terrible Mets bullpen last season. (Honorable Mention: Chicago White Sox).
Bets Defensive Team: Minnesota Twins
Many small market teams are built around young pitching and solid defense, and the Twins definitely fall into that category. They have an excellent defensive catcher and Gold Glove winner in Mauer.
Morneau can really pick it at first base. Carlos Gomez and Denard Span can cover so much ground in the outfield; the Twins don't even need a right fielder. And Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla may not be household names, but they're two of the best defensive middle infielders in the game. (Honorable Mention: Kansas City Royals)
Best Hitter: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Cabrera maybe the second coming of Manny Ramirez. All this guy does is hit and drive in runs. He never gets rattled, and he doesn't let little things like his weight or playing defense bother him.
In 2008, Cabrera led the AL in home runs with 37 and drove in a career high 127 RBI, even after a slow start and while playing his home games in a pitcher's park. Over the past five seasons, Cabrera has averaged 118 RBI per season. With Manny now in L.A., he may be the best hitter in the entire American League. (Honorable Mention: Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers)
Best All-Around Player: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians
Anyone who loves baseball has to watch Grady Sizemore play. He's lightning fast, a Gold Glove defensive player, and a great all-around hitter. He was a 30/30 guy for the first time last season, scored 100 runs for the fourth consecutive season, and even drove in 90 RBI from the lead-off spot in the order. He maybe the best center fielder in baseball and his stock is still rising. (Honorable Mention: Curtis Granderson, Detroit Tigers)
Best Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians
Lee looks to continue the dominance he achieved last season when posted a record of 22-3 with an ERA of 2.54 in 223 innings pitched, on his way to winning the 2008 AL Cy Young award.
Lee's emergence after a tough 2007 campaign was one reason the Indians were able to trade C.C. Sabathia before loosing him to free agency. Lee started last season as the fifth starter, but has secured his status as Cleveland's ace going into 2009. He may not be as good as he was last season, but he' still the best in the division. (Honorable Mention: Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox)
Best Closer: Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
This guy was an All-Star last season, and still, many baseball fans don't know him. The second-year closer for the Royals had a great year, and should be considered one of the best closers in the majors.
Soria's 42 saves in 2008 were second in the American League. He pitched in more games than Mariano Rivera, had more strikeouts than Bobby Jenks, and had a better ERA than Jonathan Papelbon. That's impressive company, and if he played for a big market team, he'd probably be considered the best closer in the game, not named Mariano. (Honorable Mention: Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins)
Best Rookie: Matt LaPorta, Cleveland Indians
Matt LaPorta the top prospect the Indians received from the Brewers last season in the Sabathia trade. He's a 6-foot-1, 215 pound outfielder who has the potential to be a big time power hitter. He draws his fair share of walks, but he will strikeout. He's a bit slow in the field, but he does have a very strong arm.
He still needs some seasoning in AAA, but if he tears it up down there, he could be in Cleveland sometime this season. (Honorable Mention: Kevin Mulvey, Minnesota Twins)
Most Underrated Player: John Danks, Chicago White Sox
In 2008, the White Sox weren't expected to do much, but they thumbed their noses at the predictions, and ended up winning the AL Central crown. While much of the spotlight was shone on the emergences of Gavin Floyd and Carlos Quentin, Danks quietly put excellent number as Chicago's third starter.
Danks rebounded after an uninspiring rookie season in which Danks was 6-13 with a 5.50 ERA in 26 starts. In 33 starts in 2008, Danks won 12 games, pitched 195 innings and posted the fifth-best ERA in the American League. Despite the lack of limelight, Danks was a big reason for Chicago's success. (Honorable Mention: Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals)
Most Overrated Player: Delmon Young, Minnesota Twins
The former No. 1 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Rays, Young has been labeled as a potential five-tool player. So far, he's been a decent player, but hasn't really lived up to the hype.
After finishing second in the 2007 Rookie of the Year voting, when he played all 162 games and drove in 93 runs, Young took a step back in his first season with the Twins, hitting only 10 home runs and driving in just 69.
With Carlos Gomez, Mike Cuddyer, and the emergence of Denard Span, Young may see less and less playing time and probably won't even be a starter in 2009. Throw in his reputation of being a distraction and having a bad temper, and Young has bust written all over him. (Honorable Mention: Joel Zumaya, Detroit Tigers)
And The Winner Is: Minnesota Twins
Good young players, speed, solid young pitching, a good defense, and Ron Gardenhire sound like a great recipe for a winning team. The Twins may not be the best team in the league, but they are solid in every aspect of the game.
With the leadership of Gold Glove catcher Joe Mauer and former MVP Justin Morneau the Twins have a very good shot at winning the division that always seems to have a great pennant race late into September. (Honorable Mention: Cleveland Indians)