Spring Training continues to grind on in Arizona and Florida, and now we suddenly begin to find ourselves in the meat of the spring training schedule. Decisions are starting to be made, pitchers are being stretched out for more than 30 pitches an appearance, and lineups are starting to get closer to resembling major league lineups rather than a mixture of hopeful minor league prospects. As the season draws closer, we’re going to give you a preseason set of power rankings for each division to get you up to speed before April 4th.
1. Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander is Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera is Miguel Cabrera. Those two carried the Tigers to the ALCS last year, and now they add the big bat of Prince Fielder to the middle of the lineup. These guys are clear favorites to win the Central for a consecutive year.
2. Chicago White Sox: There is a Grand Canyon-esque gap between the number 1 and number 2 spots here. Kenny Williams and his crew are in total rebuild mode, losing Mark Beurhle in the off season and trading away slugging left fielder Carlos Quentin. Along with those subtractions, World Series winning manager Ozzie Guillen has also left the dugout. The White Sox have some good young talent getting ready to hit the big leagues, along with Jake Peavy and Chris Sale headlining their rotation, but .500 would be a realistic mark for these guys to aim for.
3. Kansas City Royals: The Royals ripped a page out of John Daniels’ “How To: Build a Powerhouse Franchise” book from earlier in the decade, and they are starting to see the fruits. Eric Hosmer had a successful rookie campaign, top pitching prospect Danny Duffy got his feet wet last year, and there is more help on the way. They’re probably a couple of years away from really competing in the Central, but this young team should be fun to watch grow and could surprise some people.
4. Cleveland Indians: The feel good story of the 2011 season, the biggest question for the Tribe is if they can build off of it. They made a gutsy move at the trade deadline last July when they acquired Ubaldo Jiminez from the Rockies, and if he can regain his 2010 form, these guys could pose as a major pest for the rest of the American League in 2012.
5. Minnesota Twins: Ron Gardenhire has to wonder what went so terribly wrong in the last couple years. Not that long ago, they locked up Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to long term contracts, appearing to be the building blocks for a healthy franchise for an extended period of time. Then the injury bug bit and everything crumbled. They stumbled to 99 losses last year and the worst record in the American League. If those two can stay healthy, they won’t finish with the worst mark again, but that is a big “if” and their competitiveness can be seriously questioned heading into 2012.