Tagged: Detroit Tigers

Would You Rather…

Even with last night’s failed-comeback attempt in Houston, the Royals (29-36) are just a mere five games behind the first-place White Sox (35-32).

Since May 1st, the Royals are 22-20 – a .550 winning percentage. Now, over an entire season, a .550 win% comes out to an 89-73 season. The White Sox current .522 win% paces them at 84-78. If the Royals didn’t have that dreaded 12-game-should-never-be-spoken-of-again-losing streak, we could be talking about being in first place in a weak, weeeaaaak AL Central.

But, it is what it is.

     Team                        Record     Games Back    Last 10 Games

  1. Chicago White Sox            35-32                0                         3-7
  2. Cleveland Indians             34-32                0.5                     4-6
  3. Detroit Tigers                    32-34                2.5                      7-3
  4. Kansas City Royals     29-36              5.0                    5-5
  5. Minnesota Twins              26-39                8.0                     5-5

The Royals have 19 games to go until the All-Star break: a pair of three-game series’ at home against the Cards (34-33) and the Rays (37-29), a pair four-game series’ in Minnesota (26-39) and Toronto (34-33) , and a three-game series’ in Detroit (32-34).

Now… say the Royals win at least 10 of the 19 games, which would put them at a record of at least 39-45. And say they are still within five games or less of the division lead.

And also say you’re Dayton Moore.

Do you pull the trigger on acquiring a veteran starter/veteran starter in a contract year in exchange for an impact prospect(s)?

OR

Do you stand pat with what you have and promote from within?

Which would you rather do?

(I’m going to be using a lot of unnescessay-nonsensical dashes now, so bear with me.)

Let’s take a look at this. The Royals, realistically, have been building for 2013,’14, and ’15 – when their now-young nucleus should be complete and ready for winning. By then, Hosmer should be an MVP candidate, Moustakas should be one of the top power-hitting 3B in the AL, Gordon and Butler should be battled-tested and grizzled veterans, Escobar should have a few Gold Gloves, Wil Myers should be coming into his own in right field, and Perez should be handling a rotation filled out by Duffy, Odorizzi, Montgomery, Lamb, and enter free agent signing here.

I don’t know about you, but I would love it if this complete pipe-dream of a team were all together at the same time in Kansas City competing for a division title and battling in the post-season come the next three-to-four years. And ideally, they should and will be.

Say you choose this option. In doing-so, you acknowledge that, although your team may be winning and playing average-to-good baseball, you don’t believe that this team is capable of winning a championship right now. The fan-base may be upset and players may regret buying all-in early on in the season just to see their hard-work go unrewarded. Afterall, your minor league wins, numbers, stats, rankings, what have you… don’t mean squat when it comes to winning at the big league level.

In turn, however, you didn’t mortgage your future for unknown and maybe long-shots at winning your division, league, and the World Series.

But what if we have a shot at it now? What if 2012 really is “Our Time”?

Would you kick around the idea of shipping off some of our prized prospects a la (God forbid) Wil Myers or Mike Montgomery for a frontline starter in order to make a playoff push? Or even dealing veterans like Jeff Francoeur, Jonathan Sanchez, Jonathan Broxton, or the increasingly sexy Yuni Betancourt for a mid-rotation starter?

Say you choose this option and you deal one-to-two top prospects for a top-of-the-rotation-type guy. Typically these guys are only available when they are at our nearing the end of their current contract – meaning you’re dealing years of control and potential for a right here, right now, what have you done for me lately pitcher; all the while knowing that you don’t have much more than a snowball’s chance of keeping him long-term (much like how the Brewers got CC Sabathia in 2008). It’s basically an all-or-nothing shot.

You could also, as an alternative, deal a replacable veteran for something less in return. Maybe it’s a mid-rotation starter or a power bullpen arm (like the Royals need another one…). The deal would open a void in your roster which would potentially be filled by the likes of prospects Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, Christian Colon, David Lough, Derrick Robinson, etc. – all of which are unproven commodities. There’s no guarantee that any one of these prospects would step right in to their big league role and succeed immediately. A deal like this could possibly net the Royals a loss in terms of production, but a surplus in terms of experience.

So, Mr./Mrs. GMDM, what’s your call? Do you stand pat and keep building? Or do you take a chance and make a deal?

Royals News and Notes From the Weekend

*UPDATE*

Given the rainout last night, the Royals and Tigers will play just a two game series. The game will be made up on Sept. 24, a mutual off-day.

Duane Below will lose his start and will shift back to the bullpen for the series.

Tuesday @ 6:05 CT: KC Luke Hochevar vs. DET Rick Porcello

Wednesday @ 12:05 CT: KC Jonathan Sanchez vs. DET Justin Verlander

* * *

At 6-15, the Royals are tied with Minnesota for 4th place in the Central, but are only 5.5 games behind the 1st place Cleveland Indians (11-9).

Here’s a quick recap of what happened this weekend:

  • Before Friday night’s game, the Royals swapped centerfielders with the Storm Chasers by re-calling Jarrod Dyson and optioning Jason Bourgeois. Given the unfortunate Lorenzo Cain injury news, Yost figured that the team needed an infusion of speed. Dyson figures to get most of the playing time in center while Cain recovers from his hip injury. Mitch Maier will move back into his normal role as the fourth outfielder.

Alex Gordon robs Danny Valencia of a homerun. (Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)

  • During the bottom of the 2nd inning on Friday, Alex Gordon robbed Danny Valencia of a lead-off HR. Despite his Gold Glove season in 2011, this was the first time Alex has taken a homerun away from anyone.“I’ve always wanted to rob a guy on a catch since I started playing in the outfield. That was my first one. Just brought it down and threw it back in. I acted like I’d done it before.” – Gordon told Bob Dutton of The Star.
  • After giving up four runs in four innings in Friday’s 8-7 win over the Twins, spot-starter Everett Teaford was optioned back to Tripole A Omaha, while right-hander Nate Adcock was summoned up from the same club. The move was made, not because of Teaford’s performance, but because the Royals’ bullpen needed a healthy arm who could fill the long-releif role. Given that starters generally get four days off between starts, shifting Teaford back to the bullpen after he replaced Duffy in the rotation would have put the Royals at a disadvantage. Therefore, Adcock was brought up from Omaha. Nate had been solid in Omaha before his call-up, going 3-1 in four starts with a 1.37 ERA.
  • The Royals and Twins were rained out on Saturday, causing the game to be rescheduled for Saturday June 30th at Target Field in Minnesota. It will be a day-night double-header.
  • Bruce Chen got lit up for six runs in 2.2 innings yesterday in the Royals’ 7-4 loss to the Twins. He may have been the victim of the small strike zone set by home plate umpire Larry Vanover, forcing him to use more of his pitches out and over the plate.
    • Nate Adcock took over for Bruce in the middle of the third inning and gave the team exactly what they needed: he went the rest of the way (5.1 innings), giving the rest of the bullpen another day off, and kept the Royals in the game by only giving up one run.
  • Mike Moustakas (3) hit his third homerun of this season yesterday off of Minnesota’s starter Jason Marquis. Moose has been one of the team’s hottest hitters over the past week, seeing his batting average go from .229 on April 21 to where it stands now at .315. He’s 12-for-27 (.444) during that stretch with 5 RBI, 4 BB, 4 K.
  • Billy Butler has been maybe just as hot as Moose. After going hitless in the four games against Toronto, Country Breakfast has been on a tear – going 10-for-23 (.435) in the Royals last five games with 3 HR, 7 RBI, and 4 R. He’s currently on a five-game hitting streak.
  • Alex Gordon has been on fire lately as well. He’s 8 for his last 21 (.381) with 2 HR, 5 RBI, and 7 R.
  • On the flip side, Eric Hosmer has seen his batting average drop below the Mendoza line (.188) and is hitless in his last 14 AB’s. He has no doubt seen a lot of hard luck this season, as many of the balls that he hit have just been at-him balls. Opposing infields have been putting shifts on when Hosmer steps in the box, forcing him to try to hit everything the other way, which is that much more difficult to do when you’re going through a slump.
    • Hosmer and the Royals received a major scare last night when Hosmer took a Glen Perkins fastball off his right-hand when he check-swung at a pitch. He laid on the ground for a moment to collect himself before getting up and finishing the AB. Hos finished the game at first and didn’t show any signs of pain.

Eric Hosmer holds his hand after being hit by a Glen Perkins pitch in the eighth inning on April 29. (Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)

Coming Up:

The Royals will travel to Detroit for a three-game series against the Tigers.

The Tigers (11-11) are in quite a funk right now, losing 8 of their last 10 games while being outscored 67-33.

They are also currenlty dealing with the Delmon Young hate crime issue.

The Tigers swept the Royals nearly two weeks ago in Kansas City, but they only outscored the Royals 10-6. The Royals had the tying and/or go ahead run on base in the bottom of the 9th in two of the three games.

Here are the matchups for the series:

  @ 

Monday @ 6:05 CT: KC – Luke Hochevar (2-1, 4.98 ERA) vs. DET – Duane Below (2-0, 0.00 ERA)

Don’t let Duane Below’s numbers deceive you. He is making his first start of the season – in place of Doug Fister. He’s only appeared in 5 games this season for a total of 12 innings.

Tuesday @ 6:05 CT: KC – Jonathan Sanchez (1-1, 6.75 ERA) vs. DET Rick Porcello (1-2, 6.45 ERA)

Rick Porcello has combined for just 7.2 innings and has given up 17 hits and 14 runs (13 ER) in his last two starts.

Wednesday @ 12:05 CT: KC – Luis Mendoza (1-2, 6.00 ERA) vs. DET Justin Verlander (2-1, 2.45 ERA)

Verlander hasn’t gone less than 6.0 IP in any of his starts this year, is averaging nearly a K per inning (37.1 IP, 35 K) and has only surrendered 8 BB and 1 HBP. On the otherhand, he hasn’t trown less than 102 pitches in each of his 5 starts and is averaging 111 pitches per outing. Verlander has been in a bases-loaded situation only once this season, which was in the bottom of the 9th against the Royals. He struck out Alex Gordon with a 100 mph fastball at the knees. This guy is filthy.

Royals Turn it Up to Eleven

A few notes before we begin…

  • The Royals’ 10 consecutive home losses to start the season matched something that hasn’t been done in the Major Leagues for 99 years.
  • During the 10-game homestand, the Royals were outscored 64-37.
    • If you take out that dreadful Cleveland series, the the differential is much smaller: 32-18. Not awful… But still nowhere close to what this team is capable of.
    • Kansas City has had the lead at one point in exactly 4 of those games.
  • In 13 double-play situations, Billy Butler has grounded int0 4 (31%) thus far. The league average is 11%.
    • As a team, the Royals have grounded into 19 double-plays, good for 18% of their opportunities. Again, the league average is 11%.
      • 12 of the double-plays came in the seven games against Detroit and Toronto.
  • The team was a meager 5-for-40 (.125) with runners in scoring position in the Tornto series.
    • For the series, Escobar had 7 hits (including a 4-for-4 night) while Moustakas collected 6. Billy Butler, who was riding an 8-game hitting streak coming into the series, went 0-fer.
  • The Royals haven’t won a game since Lorenzo Cain was placed on the DL. Coincidence? Not that Cain was a world-beater in his 5 games, but his defense has been sorely missed in center field.
  • The team’s Pythagorean W-L is 6-10, suggesting that the Royals have been a bit more unlucky than not. The guys over at FanGraphs even think that the Royals are better than what their record shows.

It’s been extremely hard to listen to the guys at 610 Sports radio talk about the Royals for the past week and a half – let alone think, read, watch, and write about them on a daily basis. I’ll be the first to admit it’s tough to write about a team that’s losing games in every which way imagineable – from hitting to pitching to base running (the team’s defense has been it’s lone bright-spot throughout this whole skid. Just watch Mike Moustakas).

Let’s just forget about the Cleveland series for right now and focus on the series’ against Detroit and Toronto.

In the three losses to Detroit, the scores were 3-2, 3-1, 4-3. In each game of the series, the Royals had chances to score the tying/winning runs late in the game, but failed to do so thanks to a bases-loaded, full-count, 3-2 100 MPH fastball by Justin Verlander in game one and a dumb-luck, game-ending double-play by Miguel Cabrera that would have otherwise been a game-winning extra base hit in game three. In game two, the Tigers broke a 1-1 tie by getting two base knocks against the shift in the top of the 8th by Miggy and Prince. The Cats also scored on a wild pitch by Jose Mijares.

In the four-game sweep by the Jays, the finals were 4-3, 9-5, 5-3, 4-1. Greg Holland imploded in game one (and was placed on the DL directly after), just got plain beat in game two, Danny Duffy reverted back to his old ways in game three by surrendering 5 BB and a 4-run inning, and the offense couldn’t sole Brandon Morrow in the finale.

Now in both series’, the Royals got good enough starting pitching to win four of the seven games. And the offense was great at starting rallies when the games were on the line, but were awful at “getting them on, getting them over, and getting them in”. The Royals have a wOBA of .333 with the bases empty (4th in the league). But with runners in scoring position, the team has a wOBA of just .275, ahead of only Oakland. And to make matters worse, they’re hitting .242 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

So the Royals really haven’t had many problems getting men on, even in clutch situations. They just have not been able to get that clutch hit to fall, that sac fly to leave the infield, or that sac bunt to roll down the correct line.

Now it may be as simple as “these guys are still young” or “they’re trying too hard”. They’re definitely pressing – no doubt about it. The Royals aren’t losing because of a lack of effort – Hosmer is hitting homers and laying down bunts for base hits, Gordon is still going hard for every fly ball, Moustakas and Escobar continue to wow with both the stick the leather, Billy has been Billy, Yuni has been maybe the most consistent hitter, Chen has given nothing but quality starts, Hochevar took a groundball off the ankle and didn’t miss a start, Duffy has shown he can go more than five innings, and Crow and Collins have been solid from the ‘pen.

But, regardless of all of what I just said, the Royals had a winless homestand, sit at 3-13, and are sitting at the bottom of baseball’s barrel. This team is capable of winning – and they’ll get off the schneid at some point.

Maybe this is all because the Royals started their homestand on Friday the 13th…?

Maybe “Our Time” has gotten to their heads.

Or maybe this team just needs a change of scenery.

Nobody should expect this team to go out and win eleven in a row and just forget this losing streak ever happened. It’s going to take winning series’ and a few short winning streaks to come out of this hole.

This team is young, but they’re capable.

Here’s to the optimist in us all. Cheers!

Series Recap: Royals v. Tigers

The Royals, now losers of seven straight, are sitting at 3-9 after being swept at home in two consecutive series by Cleveland and Detroit. The series against the Tigers, even though it was still a sweep, was leaps and bounds better than the series against the Tribe. Each team recieved solid outings from their starter who were able to keep the games close throughout. The Tigers just have a knack for late-inning rallies, which were too much for the Royals to overcome.

Game One : 3-2 Detroit

  • Verlander vs. Duffy
    • It’s too bad that Danny Duffy was saddled with the loss, because before he left the game in the 7th, he was matching Justin Verlander pitch for pitch. Danny’s day ended after 6.2 innings, throwing 106 pitches (74 strikes), giving up only 3 runs while recording 7 K’s versus only 1 BB. For those in the know, Duffy is generally known for his high pitch-counts that usually warrant an exit after about 5 innings pitched. His pennence for throwing a lot of pitches usually comes from him getting in a lot of 3-2 counts, his ability to make hitters foul pitches off, and, of course, the dreaded walk. But Danny seems to have turned over a new leaf this season. He’s near the top of the league in K’s thus far with 15, and has only surrendered 5 BB.
    • Verlander went all 9 innings for Detroit, striking out 9 while walking 2, not including his Alcides Escobar HBP in the 9th. He threw 131 pitches, 85 of which were for strikes. He got himself into trouble in the bottom of the 9th and almost cost himself the win. He gave up 1 run, moving the score to 3-2. He then walked Mitch Maier and hit Escobar to load the bases. The next hitter, Alex Gordon, worked Verlander to a 3-2 count. But Verlander got Gordon to watch a 100 MPH fastball at the knees to end the game.
      • C’mon Alex… You have to be hacking in that situation. Inexcusable.

Game Two: 3-1 Detroit

  • Bruce Chen gave the Royals a great start as well, going 7 IP with 7 K’s, 0 BB, and 2 ER while throwing 108 pitches (78 S, 30 B). Once again, the Royals get a quality start, but still get the loss.
  • Billy Butler was the only Royal to get more than 1 hit on the night (he had 3 hits total).
  • The Tigers broke the 1-1 tie by scoring 2 runs in the top of the 8th inning on back-to-back RBI to center field singles by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
  • Royals pitchers combined for 10 K’s and 0 BB’s on the night.

Game Three: 4-3 Detroit

Photo Credit: John Sleezer

  • The Royals got their first lead of the series on a two-run shot to left by Alcides Escobar (1) in the bottom of the 3rd against Max Scherzer (2-1 KC). The Royals put another run on the board thanks to a RBI double by Humberto Quintero, building a 3-1 lead.
  • Jonathan Sanchez managed to last just 5 innings thanks to 97 pitches and 3 BB – one of which came around to score. He did manage to record 3 K while surrendering only 2 ER and 4 hits.
  • Top of the 7th Inning:
    • With the infield shift on and Gerald Laird on first base, Miguel Cabrera hit a ground ball right at where the second basemen would have been. Miggy successfully beat the shift for a base hit, in which Laird was able to advance to third.
    • Jose Mijares’ next pitch was a slider in the dirt that made it’s way passed Quintero. With Laird charging home, Quintero got a good bounce and was able to toss the ball back to Mijares at the plate but his throw was to the field side of home plate. The throw made Mijares reach across his body, away from the plate, to make the catch. Given the advantage, Laird was able to beat the play by a fraction of a second. Miggy moved up to second base as well. 3-3 game.
    • Prince Fielder became the second Tiger of the inning to beat the shift. With Alcides Escobar shifted over on the other side of second base, Prince delivered a single into center field that brought in Cabrera and gave the Detroit a 4-3 lead.
  • With runners on first and second in the bottom of the 9th, Alcides Escobar hit a sharp grounder down the third base line. With the Tigers playing a “no doubles” defense, Cabrera made the stop, stepped on third for the first out and tossed it to first to complete the double play. If Miggy doesn’t make this play, and with Jason Bourgeois on first, this could have easily ended the game in the Royals favor.

Series Noteworthies

  • With Yunieksy Betancourt batting 2nd last night, Ned Yost has now used six different hitters in the 2-spot of the lineup: Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Chris Getz, Jeff Francoeur, Jason Bourgeois, and Yuniesky Betancourt. Keep in mind, it’s still very, very early (we’re only 12 games in everybody…). Yost is trying to find out what lineup combination is going to work this season. He’s trying so many different hitters in the 2-spot because the Royals lack a true lead-off type hitter.
  • Billy Butler celebrated his 26th birthday last night by going 2-for-3. He extended his hitting streak to 8 games and has had multiple hits in 3 straight (and in 6 of his last 8).
  • The Tigers have had a knack for being better-late-than-never this season. In innings 1-6 this season, the Tigers have scored 32 runs. From the 7th inning on, they’ve put up 30 runs.

Benches Clear Again, Bullpeners Get In Their Cardio

Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel / AP

In the bottom of the 7th, Max Scherzer came up and in on leadoff-man Humberto Quintero. Scherzer’s pitch nailed Quintero on his left elbow, causing Quintero to slam his bat to the ground out of frustration. Well, apparently, Gerald Laird doesn’t like it when things fall too close to his toes, as he took great exception to Quintero. The two began jawing at each other, causing both benches and bullpens to spill out onto the field.

In the end, no punches were thrown, no pushes were made, and nobody was tossed.

Quintero said after the game, “I didn’t get mad because I got hit; I got mad because it hurt a little bit — that’s why I threw the bat. This is part of the game. We’ve known each other for a long time, so we both apologized. It’s nothing personal. Everything is cool; it’s not a big deal.”

Both Laird and Quintero said they spoke with one another after the incident, stating there was no bad blood between the two.

“I don’t like to have the bat thrown down at my feet like that,” Laird said. “We talked about it, and it’s fine.”

Speaking of Benches…

Major League Baseball has handed down a 5-game suspension to Indians pitcher Jeanmar Gomez for beaning Mike Moustakas on Saturday. The incident lead to the second-bench clearing of the game. The shoving match between the two teams lead to the ejections of Gomez, third basemen Jack Hannahan, and manager Manny Acta. Both Gomez and Acta were fined undisclosed amounts, while Hannahan was fined $500 for his involvement.

Indians closer Chris Perez also received a fine, but for his involvement in the brawl (I use that term loosely here), but for a tweet he sent out after the game that night.

MLB said that the closer’s tweet “crossed the line, and fined Perez $750.

The Royals and Indians have to see each other 15 more times this season, and I doubt the Royals are going to let Cleveland get in the last punch…or push.

Coming Up

   

Toronto Blue Jays (6-6) @ Kansas City Royals (3-9)

The Royals will look to end their 10-game home stand on a positive note when they face-off for four games against Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and the Toronto Blue Jays.

The starters for the series are as follows:

  • Friday, April 20: TOR Kyle Drabek (2-0, 1.42 ERA) vs. KC Luke Hochevar (1-1, 7.84 ERA) @ 7:10 pm
  • Saturday, April 21: TOR Drew Hutchison (0-0, 0.00 ERA) @ vs. KC Luis Mendoza (0-2, 5.59 ERA) @ 6:10 pm
  • Sunday, April 22: TOR Ricky Romero (2-0, 3.72 ERA) vs. KC Danny Duffy (1-1, 2.13 ERA) @ 1:10 pm
  • Monday, April 23: TOR Brandon Morrow (0-1, 4.50 ERA) vs. Bruce Chen (0-1, 2.00 ERA) @ 7:10 pm

Entering the series, the Blue Jays are 6-6 and currently in fourth place in the AL East, but are only 1.5 games behind the first-place Orioles.

The Royals, now 3-9, are in last place in the AL Central and are 6 games back of the Tigers.

2012 AL Central Position Rankings

I’m not going to claim that there is any science behind my rankings here. I based them off of last year’s performance, their age, injury history, and whether their career is on an upward trend (+), a downward trend (-), or maintaining (=). So with no further ado…

Catchers

Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America

1. Alex Avila – Tigers +

Alex Avila is also on the rise after a breakout year in 2011 which saw him make the All-Star roster. He’s always had great hands behind the plate, but his bat came around in a big way last year.

2. Carlos Santana – Indians +

Carlos Santana is young switch-hitting catcher who hits for power and plays well enough to stick behind the plate. He’ll continue split time at 1B/DH a la Victor Matinex (his idle and mentor), but will start behind the plate most days. Guys with talent along his lines will always be highly coveted.

3. Joe Mauer – Twins =

Joe Mauer has really seen his career take a wrong turn, due to both injury and a power-sapping ballpark. His bat will always be there, but his power seems to be fading along with his ability to stay behind the plate.

4. Salvador Perez – Royals +

Salvador Perez is young, defensively sound, and already has the trust of the Royals’ pitching staff. Even if he hits .250, he’ll be a top 10 catcher for years.

5. A.J. Pierzynski – White Sox –

A.J. is getting old, his arm is deteriorating, and Tyler Flowers will soon replace him in the White Sox lineup.

First Base

1. Prine Fielder – Tigers +

Prince is clearly the best 1B in the division. His weight and defense will move him to DH permanently in the somewhat-near future, but his bat is what separates him from the rest of the pack.

2. Paul Konerko – White Sox =

Paul Konerko seems to get better with age, but his time will soon be up. His age will soon push him from the field, though his bat will hold value for at least 2 more years. Until then, Pauly will continue to serve as the White Sox captain.

3. Eric Hosmer – Royals +

Hosmer could the second best 1B on this list right now. He’s already proven that he can compete at the highest level despite only being 22 years old. He hits for power and average and will win a Gold Glove one day.

4. Justin Morneau – Twins –

Justin Morneau might not ever fully recover from his concussion a few years ago. That said, barring a huge 2012, his career appears to be closer to over than in it’s prime.

5. Casey Kotchman – Indians =

Casey Kotchman had a great season with Tampa Bay in 2011, but it only earned him another 1-year deal. He’s known for his premium defense and lack of power for a 1B. He’s destined to platoon 1B this year with either Matt LaPorta or Russ Canzler.

Second Base

Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

1. Gordon Beckham – White Sox =

Second Base is easily the weakest position within the division. So as the only guy at the position to receive full playing time over the past few seasons with the division is Gordon Beckham. He basically wins by default. He has seen his production dip in each of his three big league seasons so far though since he moved from 3B to 2B.

2. Jason Kipnis – Indians +

Kipnis is a plus hitter and a fairly good defender which he showed all throughout his time in the minors. He got a taste of the bigs last season and should win the starting job in Spring Training.

3. Johnny Giavotella – Royals +

Gio technically hasn’t earned the starting job in Kansas City. But all he has to do is out-hit Chris Getz this spring, which shouldn’t be too daunting of a task considering that’s what Gio does. His defense will be good enough as long as he hits like he did in Triple A in 2011.

4. Ramon Santiago – Tigers =

Ramon Santiago has been a serviceable career switch-hitting backup infielder who will battle Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge this spring for the starting spot in Detroit.

5. Alexi Casilla – Twins =

Alexi Casilla is yet another 2B within the division who enters ST as the starter, but will have to battle Luke Hughes and Tsuyoshi Nishioka for playing time. He’s a switch-hitter with good speed, but has yet to start or even play for an entire season.

Shortstop

Photo Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images North America

1. Asdrubal Cabrera – Indians +

Asdrubal had a career year in 2011, earning his first All-Star appearance and placing 20th in the AL MVP voting. Known more for his speed and flashy defense, Cabrera showed legitimate power for the first time in his career.

2. Jhonny Peralta – Tigers +

Jhonny Peralta is having a career renaissance since coming to Detroit and being moved over to 3B. But with the signing of Prince Fielder shifting Miggy back to 3B, Peralta is forced to move back to SS. He’s definitely good enough offensively to stick, but his range at short has to improve if the Tigers want to be even average defensively.

3. Alexei Ramirez – White Sox =

At 30 years old, the Cuban Missile keeps on producing. He hits for a respectable average, flashes power, plays solid defense, and has never missed any significant time. Aside from Pual Konerko, he’s the most stable and consistent guy on the White Sox roster.

4. Alcides Escobar – Royals +

Alcides Escobar may be the best defensive SS in the division. He may also be the worst offensive SS in the division, but that’s easy to say when he’s matched up against the likes of Asdrubal, Jhonny, and Alexei. He stepped up his offensive game big time after the All-Star break in 2011. His glove is good enough to be Gold and he’s quick between the bases. If he can hit .265 consistently, he’s a prototypical SS.

5. Jamey Carroll – Twins –

Jamey Carroll has never been “the man” at a position at any time in his career. But the Twins are giving him a chance this year, a year in which he turned 38 years old, to win the everyday job at short. He’ll battle Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe for playing time. He’s always had a good eye at the plate and still shows the ability at 38 years old to swipe a base or two when needed. Given his Utility background, his defense is average at best.

Third Base

Photo Credit: USA Today

1. Miguel Cabrera – Tigers +

Miggy is the best hitter in the division, and arguably in all of baseball. At his current pace, he’s well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. In 2012, he’ll switch back to 3B, the position he played back when he was traded to Detroit. He was moved over to 1B two weeks later for obvious reasons. The question is: Will he be able to effecitvely make the transition back to third without letting it impact his offense?

2. Mike Moustakas – Royals +

Moose has the highest potential of any 3B in the AL Central apart from Miguel Cabrera. He struggled for most of 2011 in KC, but found his stroke in the last few months of the season. As he gets more acclimated to big league pitching, his power will really begin to show.

3. Danny Valencia – Twins +

Danny is a solid everyday major league 3B. His offense won’t wow you and neither will his defense. He’ll always be a middle of the pack guy in my opinion. 2011 was his first full season in Minnesota, so it’s reasonable to expect his performance to improve.

4. Brent Morel – White Sox +

Like Valenica, 2011 was Morel’s first full big league season. His offense hasn’t been anything to brag about, as he is known more for his defense. He’ll continue to hit in the bottom third for the White Sox in 2012 barring a miracle offensive breakthrough.

5. Jack Hannahan – Indians =

Jack Hannahan is a prototypical bench guy. He’s a light-hitting, solid defensive 3B/1B who should be a late-inning defensive replacement. He got significant playing time with the Tribe in 2011. But 2012 should be different. Although he’s listed as the starter on the current depth chart, he’ll be battling top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. I fully expect Chisenhall to win that battle this spring and Hannahan to return to the bench.

Left Field

1. Alex Gordon – Royals +

Gordon has always had the potential to be great, and in 2011 he finally proved that he could be. Alex was arguably the most valuable guy on the royals roster last season. He set career highs in almost every category, lead the league in OF Assists, and won his first Gold Glove. So it’s safe to say that the position switch went well for him.

2. Delmon Young – Tigers =

For a while, it seemed like Delmon Young was finally realizing his true potential in Minnesota before being trade to the Tigers last season. He seems to have lost his way at the plate, seeing his power numbers take a big dip. He also seems to have lost a step or two in the field, as he appears to be visibly slower in the field and on the bases. But he’s only 26, so he has plenty of time and talent to right the ship.

3. Dayan Viciedo – White Sox +

Viciedo is a legitimate power hitter in the mold of Miguel Cabrera. He’s a short, stocky hitter who will mash the ball at the big league level. His defense will probably never come around, but his bat will be good enough to find him a position. He’s played both LF and RF as well as 1B and 3B. His future may be as a full-time DH.

4. Michael Brantley – Indians +

Michael Brantley is an interesting player. He’s a guy who has been called upon mostly to replace the oft-injured Grady Sizemore and Shin Soo Choo until last season, where he proved he was capable of taking over the everyday job in left. He possesses good speed and a little bit of pop and is good enough defensively to be an everyday CF, which is where he’ll begin 2012 due to Grady Sizemore’s back issues.

5. Ben Revere – Twins +

Ben Revere is another young guy who earned his initial playing time due to an injury (Denard Span). Although he’s primarily a center fielder, a healthy Span means Revere will get most of his playing time in left. He should be a great leadoff hitter for the Twins in the years to come and he’ll always be one of the quickest guys on the field.


Center Field

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

1. Austin Jackson – Tigers +

Austin Jackson may be the best overall athlete in the division. He can hit for average and a little bit of power, which should come with experience. He strikes out a ton, which right now puts a hamper on his ability to be a leadoff hitter, which is where he belongs. He’s a great defensive center fielder and will probably earn a Gold Glove or two before his career is over.

2. Grady Sizemore – Indians –

If he could stay healthy, Grady Sizemore could be one of the best players in baseball. He has it all: a good eye, power, speed, a Gold Glove, and iron guts. But if his body keeps him from displaying his skills, he may never get to show off his full potential.

3. Denard Span – Twins +

Despite an injury-riddled 2011, Span is still a solid outfielder. He and Ben Revere are essentially the same player, although Span’s bat has a little more pop. Great defense, good speed. He’s a quality leadoff guy. If he can stay healthy, he should be a key player for the Twins.

4. Lorenzo Cain – Royals +

If it weren’t for the career years by Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur, Lorenzo Cain would have been in the lineup everyday for the Royals in 2011. He’s a great athlete who plays terrific defense and has shown he can be solid at the dish. Right now, he’s the biggest question mark in the KC lineup.

5. Alejandro de Aza – White Sox =

Alejandro de Aza is relatively unknown at this point in his career. He’s been around the league a while, serving primarily as a backup OFer capable of playing all three positions well. He is capable of hitting well and has a good eye at the plate, but lacks average power. He could wind up as either their starting CF or LF, depending on who wins the battle between him and super-sub Brent Lillibridge.

Right Field

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1. Jeff Francoeur – Royals +

Like the other two Royals outfielders in 2011, Jeff Francoeur revitalized his career. He’ll always be a hacker at the plate and will never take as many walks as he should, but Frenchy seemed to figure out how to be successful in spite of those parts of his game last season. He has one hell of an arm (just ask Michael Taylor of the A’s) and plays surprisingly good defense (just ask Dustin Ackley of the Mariners). Here’s to hoping Frenchy’s 20/20 season was no fluke.

2. Shin Soo Choo – Indians =

You may argue that Choo should be at the top of the RF rankings, and you’d probably be right and completely justified. Choo missed almost half of the 2011 season due to multiple injuries, but before those injuries his season was a far cry from his 20/20 season in 2010. He has 30/30 potential and possesses one of the better outfield arms in baseball.

3. Josh Willingham – Twins =

Josh Willingham should be the equivalent to Jason Kubel in Minnesota. His average will hover around .250-.260 and his defense could use some improvement, but he’s the thumper that you want in the top half of your lineup. And given the losses of Kubel and Cuddyer and the injuries to Morneau and Mauer, he may be the only Twinkie who hits 20+ HR in 2012.

4. Alex Rios – White Sox –

Rios had a terrific season for the Pale Hose in 2010, but a forgettable 2011. Alex used to be one of the premier up-and-comers in baseball before coming to Chicago. He saw his plate prowess take an enormous hit and his power numbers dwindle. At 31 years old, Rios appears to be on the wrong side of his career arc.

5. Brennan Boesch – Tigers +

Brennan Boesch is one of the better unknown or un-thought of hitters in the AL. He has shown he can hit for average and power (of both gap and HR variety) while maintaining the ability to get on base. His defense and speed are average at best, but his bat is his key. I can see him as Nelson Cruz-type hitter in the coming years.

Designated Hitter

1. Billy Butler – Royals +

Country Breakfast is arguably the best DH in baseball today. Most people forget that he’s only 25 since he’s been in KC for the better part of four years. He’s always been a solid gap-hitter (evidence by three stright 40+ doubles campaigns), but fans and coaches alike are waiting for his power to really surface. He’s shown up to ST in better shape, hoping to earn some reps during the season at 1B. But no matter the outcome of that, his bat will be a mainstay in the Royals’ lineup.

2. Travis Hafner – Indians –

Pronk hasn’t been able to play a full season since 2007, back when he was one of the most feared hitters in the league. But when healthy, Pronk can still deliver the long ball, especially against righties. But his key, especially at 34, is to stay healthy. He holds no defensive value, so he has to hit to keep his job.

3. Adam Dunn – White Sox –

The Big Donkey had the worst year of his career in 2011, and possibly one of the worst offensive seasons in MLB history. Now we all know about Adam Dunn. He is a “Three True Outcomes” kind of hitter, meaning he’ll mostly either hit a home run, strikeout, or take a walk. At his size, and given Paul Konerko, Dunn will probably serve as a DH for the rest of his career. But in order to do so, he has to be able to stay way above the fabled Mendoza line.

4. Ryan Doumit – Twins =

Ryan Doumit has always been an offense-first catcher, a quality that typically doesn’t last too long in the majors. But as a backup catcher, 1B, RF, DH, Doumit has real value. He could be one of the more interesting players in the Twins’ lineup this season.

5. Ryan Raburn – Tigers =

The DH position is going to be a revolving door for Detroit for the foreseeable future, given the presence of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fiedler, and Victor Martinez. But with V-Mart out for the season, the job may fall mostly into the hands of Ryan Raburn, who will also be battling for the 2B job. Raburn has power, but not much plate discipline. So the DH spot in their lineup may just go to whoever has the hot hand at the time.

*Seriously, I love that the big 3 DH’s in this division have some of the best nicknames in the league. That’s just awesome.*

Aces

Photo Credit: Leon Halop/Getty Images

1. Justin Verlander – Tigers +

Two no-hitters. An AL MVP award. Need I say more?

2. Ubaldo Jimenez – Indians =

Ubaldo Jimenez has all the tools to be a truly dominant pitcher, including a fastball that sits in the upper 90’s. He managed to out it all together back in 2009 and 2010, but seemed to struggle for both the Rockies and Indians last season. He’s still young, projectable, and has ace upside.

3. John Danks – White Sox +

Danks, too, had a rough go of it in 2011, especially at the beginning of the season through the end of May, where he went 0-8 in 11 starts. He rebounded to finish the season respectfully, however. The White Sox gave Danks a large extension this offseason, showing that they believe in his upside. He is easily the best left-handed starter in the division.

4. Carl Pavano – Twins –

Carl Pavano has enjoyed late-career success with the Twins, and is truly the leader of their pitching staff. He hasn’t missed a single start over the past two seasons, showing that his Yankee injuries are behind him. At 36, Carl likely only has a few years of pitching left in him. But his mustache seems to have brought some virility to the veteran.

5. Luke Hochevar – Royals =

As a former number one overall pick, Luke should be higher on this list. He’s struggled mightily up until after the All-Star break last season, where he posted a winning record, a decent ERA, and one of the best ground ball rates in the league thanks to a quality sinker. Luke needs to keep up what he started last year if he wants to keep his place in the Royals’ rotation though.

Closers

Photo Credit: Paul Sancya/Associated Press

1. Jose Valverde – Tigers +

Papa Grande was the best closer in baseball in 2011, converting 100% of his save opportunities on his way to winning the MLB Delivery Man of the Year award. So with Verlander starting games and Valverde finishing them, the Tigers have the perhaps best starter-closer combo in the MLB.

2. Joakim Soria – Royals +

Joakim the Dream had his worst season to date last year due to a cutter that just wouldn’t cut. He set career worsts in blown saves and ERA, and even lost his closing role for a week in June. Soria rebounded to finish the year in typical fashion, however, leaving little doubt to his role with the team in 2012. He still has the potential to be the best closer in Royals history and could be even better than that.

3. Chris Perez – Indians +

Chris Perez has become a filthy closer for Cleveland after solidifying the role in mid-2010. He earned himself his first All-Star invite in 2011 and handled left-handed hitters even better than righties. The Tribe has formed a formidable bullpen, and Perez is right at the hear of it all.

4. Matt Capps – Twins –

As a set-up man, Capps has been solid. He even had a good season as a closer when he split a season between the Nationals and the Twins, earning him a spot on the All-Star team. He filled in for an injured Joe Nathan upon becoming a Twin, but never could win the job away from him, converting only 15 of 24 save opportunities in 2011. He enters 2012 as the de facto closer for Minnesota, but will have to be better than he was last season.

5. Addison Reed – White Sox +

Addison Reed made his major league debut last season, appearing in six games and finishing two of them. He’s been rated as one of the top 100 prospects by Baseball America and projects to be the White Sox’ closer of the future. Given they have no other real formidable options at the position, Reed has the best shot of earning the job this spring.

Non-Royals News (Kind of) : Detroit Tigers Sign the Prince

*Hat tip to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports for breaking the news via Twitter (@TBrownYahoo)*

The Detroit Tigers have signed 1B Prince Fielder to a… wait for it… 9 year contract worth $214 million, officially making themselves a “mystery team”.  Scott Boras worked his magic again this offseason, getting a team that already has a mashing All-World 1B in Miguel Cabrera and a veteran DH in V-Mart (Yes, out for the year. But he’ll be back, mind you), to commit $20+ million a year to a third player (Cabrera and Verlander being the first two).

Wow. Just… wow. So much for the Royals and Indians taking advantage of the Martinez injury.

And for 9 years? Does the Tigers’ brass really think both Prince and Miggy’s body types will hold up for that long?

For the 2013 season: Where do you play Fielder, Cabrera, and V-Mart? Fielder can only be a 1B/DH due to his…ahem… large figure. Cabrera began his career as a LF, then a 3B with the Marlins. But he only lasted two weeks as the 3B in Detroit before Jim Leyland shifted him over to 1B. And at this stage in his career, Miggy’s gotten a little too slow to play either LF or 3B (though I would love to see him field bunts for the foreseeable future). V-Mart’s knees will never be 100% ever again, which means he’ll be relegated to a DH/1B/occasional catcher after he returns from injury next year. There’s a reason the Tigers normally carry 3 catchers on their 25-man roster.

The Tigers’ offense and rotation could be pretty scary this year. But then again, Fielder may not adjust to the AL very well (Adam Dunn, anyone?). As Royals fans, we can only hope.