Lineup discussion: AL Central

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
12:45
PM ET
Our series looking at major league lineups moves over to the AL Central, home of Miguel Cabrera ... and a bunch other hitters that aren't as good.

TigersDetroit Tigers

Key question: How do they replace Prince Fielder's production and presence?

Let's look at it this way. The Tigers have basically replaced Fielder and Omar Infante with rookie Nick Castellanos and Ian Kinsler. The Steamer projection system has Kinsler creating 86 runs (in 146 games) and Castellanos creating 59 (in 130 games). Fielder created about 103 runs last year (he played every game) and Infante 64 (in 118 games). So we're talking about a similar number of total games. We can expect Kinsler/Castellanos to roughly produce about 20 to 25 runs less. The Tigers are hoping the improved defense will make up the difference.

Projected lineup
Austin Jackson, CF
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Torii Hunter, RF
Andy Dirks, LF
Nick Castellanos, 3B
Alex Avila, C
Jose Iglesias, SS

New manager Brad Ausmus has some options here. Hunter thrived in front of Cabrera last season, so even though he's 38 (39 in July) and has lost a couple of steps on the bases, Ausmus may keep him in the second slot. Kinsler will have to prove he can hit away from Texas, however; his career OPS is .898 in Arlington and just .710 on the road. Dirks will platoon in left with Rajai Davis.

Suggestion: Cabrera hit third in front of Fielder the past two seasons; but back in 2011, he hit cleanup. I'd move him back there as your two best hitters should hit second and fourth. Hitting fourth, he'll get more runners on base or lead off the second inning, making it harder to get pitched around.

IndiansCleveland Indians

Key question: Is this Carlos Santana move to third base really going to happen?

We'll see. But it's not as if the Indians have a full-time DH and thus need to fit Santana's bat somewhere in the lineup. My guess is he gets most of his at-bats as a DH while filling in at third, first and maybe catcher. You don't want to turn him into a straight DH at his age, but that's probably his best position.

Projected lineup
Michael Bourn, CF
Nick Swisher, 1B
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Carlos Santana, DH
Michael Brantley, LF
Yan Gomes, C
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
David Murphy, RF
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B

The Indians tied for fourth in the AL in runs scored mostly on the strength of lineup depth, as Kipnis led the team with 84 RBIs and Swisher led with 22 home runs. They also had a lot of timely hitting as they ranked fifth in on-base percentage and eighth in slugging. Not listed above is Ryan Raburn, who had a huge season off the bench. He'll play against left-handers, probably in a platoon with Murphy.

Suggestion: Francisco Lindor hasn't played much above Class A ball but he may be ready to take over at shortstop sooner rather than later. ZiPS projects him to hit .245/.307/.329 in the majors -- which would be a drop from Cabrera's .242/.299/.402. But Lindor would likely provide better D; and if the bat comes along, the Indians shouldn't hesitate to call him up and trade Cabrera.

RoyalsKansas City Royals

Key question: Who hits first? Who hits second?

In 2013, Royals leadoff hitters ranked 25th in OBP; their No. 2 hitters were a little better, ranking 15th in OBP although with just 11 home runs. Ned Yost was either so confused or so clueless that he actually hit the inept Alcides Escobar -- he had the worst OPS among all regulars -- 69 times in the two-hole. Alex Gordon was hitting leadoff by the end of the season and that's as good an idea as any, although former Brewers leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki is another candidate.

SportsNation

Which team has the best lineup in the AL Central

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,664)

Projected lineup
Norichika Aoki, RF
Alex Gordon, LF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Billy Butler, DH
Salvador Perez, C
Omar Infante, 2B
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Lorenzo Cain, CF
Alcides Escobar, SS

The Royals were fifth in the AL in batting average but 13th in walks and last in home runs. Aoki and Infante aren't going to help the power numbers but should be upgrades, nonetheless. The top three guys above are all left-handed, so maybe Infante slips into the second spot. (I can see Yost liking his contact skills and ignoring that 2013 was probably a fluke as Infante had a .315 OBP in 2011 and .300 in 2012.) Against left-handers, you'll see Justin Maxwell and Danny Valencia in the lineup.

Suggestion: Just don't hit Escobar at the top of the lineup.

TwinsMinnesota Twins

Key question: Who hits leadoff?

OK, maybe the key question is when Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will arrive. Among other problems, the Twins struggled all season to find a leadoff hitter. Dozier hit there most often (74 games); but collectively, the leadoff hitters hit .225 with a .286 OBP. Alex Presley was hitting there by the end of the season, but he's hardly a guarantee to hold on to his job -- let alone hit leadoff.

Projected lineup
Alex Presley, CF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Josh Willingham, LF
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Jason Kubel, DH
Josmil Pinto, C
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Pedro Florimon, SS

You have any better ideas? Kurt Suzuki is on hand to share catching duties with the rookie Pinto. Kubel is a non-roster invite but should make the team; he did hit 30 home runs two years ago for Arizona. But other than Mauer and probably Arcia, none of these guys have a lock on job security into the future, considering Sano, Buxton and Eddie Rosario are on their way.

Suggestion: Mauer actually hit second more than third last year -- 87 times to 23 times -- and that's where he should hit. His on-base skills are more valuable in that spot in the lineup.

White SoxChicago White Sox

Key question: Will the lineup be any better?

Most likely. Last year, the White Sox ranked 29th in the majors in wRC+ (a park-adjust stat), ahead of only the sorry Marlins. Of course, somebody has to rank 29th; and if Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton don't hit, they're going to struggle to score runs again.

Projected lineup
Adam Eaton, CF
Alejandro De Aza, LF
Jose Abreu, 1B
Adam Dunn, DH
Avisail Garcia, RF
Alexei Ramirez, SS
Gordon Beckham, 2B
Matt Davidson, 3B
Josh Phegley, C

The White Sox brought back Paul Konerko for one final season, and Dayan Viciedo is around. Congrats, White Sox, you have three designated hitters. The keys here will be the two players they acquired from Arizona (Eaton and Davidson) and Garcia. Will they be pieces to build around as the White Sox look to the future? Getting something out of catcher would be a bonus as well.

Suggestion: There's much you can do when nobody on the team posted an OBP higher than .328. And that was Alex Rios, who was traded. Even if Abreu proves to be the real deal, the White Sox will need the young guys to come up big.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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