Tagged: Justin Verlander

What a Week It Was For Kansas City

The All-Star festivities have officially come and gone in Kansas City.

Billy Butler doffs his hemlet before his first at-bat in the 7th inning to a roaring crowd.

FanFest was an overwhelming success.

Talk about sensory overload…

Upon going up the escalator to the show room at Bartle Hall, when you see the banners hanging from the ceiling, authentic baseball memorabilia on walls and tables, Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin instructing a local high school baseball team on proper fielding techniques, everybody thinking and talking about baseball, and nearly 80% of the fans attending wearing Royals gear, you knew you were in baseball heaven.

If you didn’t do anything else baseball related during All-Star week in Kansas City, I hope you at least took a few hours to venture downtown, take a stroll through Barney Allis Plaza on your way to FanFest. It was a living, breathing baseball museum with every ounce of baseball history covered from head-to-toe. And for $30 a ticket, you got way more than what you paid for.

The All-Star Future’s Game drew a record crowd.

40,000+ attended the Future’s Game most likely due to the presence of future Royals Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and Yordano Ventura. If that doesn’t make Dayton Moore call-up Myers and/or Odorizzi, I don’t know what will.

It goes to show you though, if you put an exciting product on the field, the stadium will be filled almost every single night. This is a baseball town. We just haven’t had many teams to rally behind in the past 10+ years.

The Homerun Derby… was everything a Royals fan could have ever wanted (outside of seeing Billy Butler send a few BP fastballs into the fountains).

Apparently word gets around. #BooCano Photo Credit: H. Darr beiser / US Presswire

Oh, what a night it was.

The Homerun Derby is, and always will be, an exciting affair. And this year’s was no exception.

We all know the story. Robinson Cano, the captain for the American League’s half of the Derby, stated publicly that he would assuredly select a Royal to participate – which happened to Billy Butler. Then Robby snubbed him.

Feeling like Robinson Cano slapped the entire KC community across the face, the outraged Royals fanbase (myself included) took their anger to the Twitterverse. And boy, did it work.

Robinson Cano drew the biggest collective “boooooooooo” I have ever had the priviledge of hearing. I also have never heard a louder crowd collectively cheer for one person as they did when they called for Billy Butler. My wife and I, watching from home, couldn’t help but laugh, smile, and throw in a few cheers and “boos” of our own during Cano’s failed hacks. Watching him hit pop-up after pop-up into the outfield literally made my week. In all, Robinson was a glorious 0-fer – hitting absolutely zero homeruns. That itself made it all so, so sweet.

Outside of Cano, the fans were treated to a great show by Mark Trumbo and Derby champ Prince Fielder. Trumbo, who Cano supposedly picked over Butler, hit possibly the most impressive homerun I have ever seen when he launched a ball onto the roof of the Royals Hall of Fame in left field – some 475+ ft. Equally impressive was the amount of balls Prince was able to send into the fountains deep in right center.

The All-Star Game was a lopsided affair.

Former Royal Melky Cabrera rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homerun in the top of the 4th inning of the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City. Photo Credit: David Eulitt

Justin Verlander got rocked. How often have you ever been able to hear that?

The NL was able to talley five runs off of him in the first inning thanks to a Pablo Sandoval bases-loaded triple (the first such occurance in All-Star Game history).

Another Giant earned the All-Star Game’s top honor. Former Royals great Melky Cabrera won the All-Star Game MVP award thanks to his two-run homerun. It was great to see Melky make his first All-Star team and win the MVP award in Kansas City, but it makes the Jonathan Sanchez trade sting that much more…

But without a doubt, the most memorable moment of the game didn’t come when Bryce Harper lost a flyball in left field. Or when Derek Jeter and Ryan Braun chummed it up on the field in the midst of Braun’s triple. Or when Robinson Cano was booed yet again. Or even when Billy Butler finally got his first AB in the 7th inning (although that was a close 2nd).

For me, it was when Chipper Jones took his first at-bat ever in Kansas City. Before Tuesday, the long-time veteran had played in every single stadium in the league except for Kauffman Stadium. He hit a choppy groundball between first and second that was “just” out of Ian Kinsler’s reach for a basehit. You could see Chipper smiling at Kinsler when he reached first base. Any other day, Kinsler makes that play.

Royals Notes

  • Both CF Lorenzo Cain and 2B Chris Getz have been activated from the DL and placed on the active roster. RHP Nate Adcock and INF/U Irving Falu were the roster casualities, as both were sent back down to Omaha.
  • After having a solid showing at the Future’s Game, Wil Myers went 2-for-3 with a run scored and a RBI in the Triple-A All-Stars game as the PCL beat the International League 3-0. Wil was named the games’ MVP.
  • Yordano Ventura, who started the Future’s Game for the World Team, was promoted from Single-A Kane County to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
  • Joining Ventura in Double-A is lefty Mike Montgomery. In his second season at Omaha, Monty seems to have regressed significantly. In 17 starts (91.2 IP), he’s 3-6 with a 5.69 ERA with just 67 K to 43 BB and a 1.67 WHIP.
  • Taking Montgomery’s spot in Omaha’s rotation will be another promising young lefty: Chris Dwyer. Through 16 starts and 85.2 IP this season for the Naturals, the 24-year old hasn’t faired much better than Montgomery. He was 5-8 with a 5.25 ERA, 71 K to 44 BB, and had a WHIP of 1.43. Dwyer’s promotion may have more to do with the Rule 5 Draft this offseason more than anything. In order to protect Dwyer from of the Rule 5 Draft, the Royals will have to place him on the 40-man roster sometime between now and the draft. If the Royals opt not to do so, they risk losing him to any team that decides he’s worth a spot on their 25-man roster for all of 2013. Note: In 2011, Baseball America ranked Dwyer as the 83rd best prospect in the game.

Overall, Kansas City showed Major League Baseball and its fans a great time and was a more than gracious host to thousands of visitors. Here’s top hoping it doesn’t take another 39 years to have another one of these.

Advertisements

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

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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.