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Thursday, March 24, 2011
AL Central preseason All-Star team

By David Schoenfield

For a little fun, we're going to start rolling out the 2011 SweetSpot preseason divisional All-Stars. Disagree? Make your arguments below and we'll pull out some of the best comments for a future post.

So, presenting the SweetSpot 2011 preseason AL Central All-Stars (horns sounding in background) ...

Catcher -- Joe Mauer, Twins. Mauer had an .871 OPS last year. Carlos Santana had an .868 OPS. Yes, Santana may be that good.

First base -- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers. Through age 27, Cabrera is 12th all time in home runs and fifth all time in RBIs (behind only Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Alex Rodriguez and Joe DiMaggio). He had his best season in 2010 as pitchers grew weary of facing him (32 intentional walks after just 20 combined his first two years in Detroit). He’s as lethal as any hitter in the game not named Pujols (and may be his equal). We all know his personal demons and hope he avoids those issues.

Second base -- Gordon Beckham, White Sox. After a slow start, hit .310/.380/.497 in the second half. Expect numbers more akin to his rookie season, giving him the nod in a weak group.

Third base -- Mike Aviles, Royals. Ladies and gentleman, your 2011 Royals MVP!

Shortstop – Alexei Ramirez, White Sox. He is what he is, and what he is isn’t so bad. He still hacks at everything in the Central time zone, but he puts the ball, has some pop and plays a pretty good shortstop.

Left field -- Delmon Young, Twins. Unless you like Ryan Raburn, which maybe I do. By the way, Young finished 10th in the AL MVP voting, even though he had a .333 OBP, grounded into 16 double plays and played left field like he was trying out for “Wipeout.”

Center field – Alex Rios, White Sox. I don’t exactly feel good about this selection, as I expect Austin Jackson to regress a bit at the plate and who knows what to expect from Grady Sizemore.

Right field – Shin-Soo Choo, Indians. The easiest selection on the board. Baseball’s most underrated player.

Designated hitter – Adam Dunn, White Sox. The White Sox hit 111 home runs at home last season, 66 on the road. Their pitchers allowed 22 more home runs at home. I think Mr. Dunn will enjoy U.S. Cellular Field. And Royals pitching. (Sorry, too easy.)

Right-handed starter – Justin Verlander, Tigers. A steady diet of heat has worked pretty well through the years. Now I'm going to point out a stat that I want to preface by saying, yes, wins can be overrated for pitchers. Must of us know that by now. But since his rookie season in 2006, Verlander is third in the majors in wins with 83, behind Roy Halladay (90) and CC Sabathia (88).

Left-handed starter – John Danks, White Sox. Francisco Liriano had a terrific season for the Twins, but he’s always a risky proposition. If Choo is the most underrated hitter, I think Danks is the most underrated pitcher: three straight solid years despite being a flyball pitcher working in a home run park.

Closer – Joakim Soria, Royals. Matt Thornton moves into the closer role for Chicago and Joe Nathan is back, but Soria has averaged 38 saves and allowed a .201 average the past three seasons.

Overall, a pretty uninspiring group. The Tigers, White Sox and Twins are all projected to rank in the top 11 in the majors in payroll, so you can’t completely excuse the AL Central for playing cheap with the handouts. The AL Central went 83-103 against the East in 2010 and no team had a winning record. Somebody will have to do better if the Central wants to claim a wild-card spot this season.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.