1st) Kansas City Royals – 92-70
This should only surprise you if you are a devoted follower of PECOTA, who picked the reigning World Series winners to win only 75 games and finish last in the division. Sure, the rotation is pretty weak, but do you really want to doubt Kansas City? They feature a lineup, headlined by Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, that does everything well and has one of the best bullpens the game has ever seen (Wade Davis is one of the best relief pitchers in the modern game). With well established big leaguers in Alex Gordon and Kendrys Morales, combined with Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez who are just hitting their prime years, the Royals are a lock as division winners.
Key pitcher to watch: Kris Medlen. Once thought to be the future ace of the Atlanta Braves, Medlen is finally healthy after suffering from two Tommy John surgeries. Entering his age-30 season, don’t expect him to take over as ace, but we should expect Medlen to be a 13 win, 3.80 ERA guy.
Key hitter to watch: Mike Moustakas. One of the most powerful prospects in recent memory, Moustakas really struggled at the plate his first 4 seasons. However, last year he took a big step in becoming the All-Star caliber player everyone thought he could be. He has displayed better plate discipline in recent years and is looking to pick up where he left off last season. Could this finally be the year he hits 30+ home runs, or will he regress to the player he was two seasons ago? We’re betting on the former.
2nd) Cleveland Indians – 87-75
With on-base machines like Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis, a phenom shortstop in Francisco Lindor, and arguably the best top of the rotation in baseball (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar), the Cleveland Indians have their eyes set on their first World Series since 1948. However, a one-and-done appearance in the Wild Card seems much more likely. Still, the Indians are a very solid team that will finish with a winning record for the 4th consecutive season. And, hey, isn’t that really all Cleveland sports fans can ask for?
Key pitcher to watch: Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco put up poor numbers in the first half of the season (4.07 ERA, .259 BA), but he pitched like a man on fire the second half. Pulling together a 2.99 ERA while striking out 94 guys in 75.1 innings, Carrasco is emerging as the ace of the Indians phenomenal staff.
Key hitter to watch: Francisco Lindor. We wanted to say Michael Brantley because we love him so much, but, ultimately, Lindor is going to be the spark plug this year. Don’t expect him to repeat his 12 home run performance from last season, but you should expect all of the other numbers to remain the same. He does a solid job of getting on-base and is a very good base stealer who should be scoring most of Cleveland’s run.
3) Minnesota Twins – 81-81
It seemed like the Twins were overachieving all of last season. The rotation is a wasteland and the lineup was mostly average. Despite predicting them to win less games this season, we believe the Twins are in for better days. Top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are going to be fully unleashed this season and it should put fans in the seats. If they had a better rotation, we would have no problem putting Minnesota in the number 2 spot. The lineup has some solid pieces, Brian Dozier is one of the more underrated players in the league, and the Twins could play “spoiler” for a playoff-hopeful team.
Key pitcher to watch: Tommy Milone. Milone has had a solid spring and is looking to finally take the step to become the best pitcher in a rotation. However, given Minnesota’s staff, that’s not saying much. We’ve always been supporters of Milone, going back to his days in the Nationals’ farm system, and we still think he can be a good pitcher. Right now he’s sitting at average and we think he finally takes the next step.
Key hitter to watch: Byung Ho Park. Minnesota’s big move this offseason was signing Park who launched 105 home runs and 270 RBI over the past two seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. Obviously we should not expect numbers remotely close to that, but Park is still a very good professional hitter who is in the prime of his career. He should offer some much needed stability to the Twins’ lineup.
4) Chicago White Sox – 78-84
Chicago has a brand new lineup, centered around masher Jose Abreu and off-season pick-up Todd Frazier, and a rotation that has the potential to be very good. However, there is one big question looming over the team coming into the season: How will they respond to the Adam LaRoche controversy? Players seem split on the outcome, some glad that a young boy will no longer be in the clubhouse everyday, while some (Adam Eaton and Chris Sale) are upset that the team lost a LEADER in a 14-year-old boy. Yeah, ridiculous. This has created a huge rift between the players and the front office and shows that manager Robin Ventura has no control over the locker room. This will be fun.
Key pitcher to watch: Carlos Rodon. Remember this name because this kid is good. At 23 years old, Rodon has already shown he can pitch at the Major League level. Don’t be surprised to see him on the All-Star team every year for the next decade.
Key hitter to watch: Avisail Garcia. “Mini-Miggy” is regarded by many to be a bust, however, the kid is only 24. While he probably won’t be the next Miguel Cabrera, we’re still looking at someone who could be a consistent .280, 20 homer guy.
5th) Detroit Tigers – 73-89
Oh how the mighty have fallen. The Tigers used to be considered World Series favorites year after year, yet they could never seem to seal the deal. Despite having a lot of “star power”, the Tigers don’t actually have a whole lot of talent on the roster. After Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmerman, the Tigers have a bad rotation. Despite having one of the greatest hitters of all-time in Miguel Cabrera, the lineup isn’t much better. We’re concerned with J.D. Martinez‘s shocking strikeout rate and expect his on-base percentage to drop off to a normal .310. Ian Kinsler is entering his age-34 season and Victor Martinez looks ready to be put out to the pasture. Detroit is one of those teams that never wants to give up but it’s best that Detroit blows it up and tries again in 5 years.
Key pitcher to watch: Daniel Norris. Norris will start the season on the Disabled List but Detroit is hoping he could come back strong. The Tigers’ ace of the future, Norris is an exciting pitcher that Detroit shouldn’t rush back to the mound. Let him take his time to heal.
Key hitter to watch: Nick Castellanos. Like Avisail Garcia, Castellanos is regarded as a bust despite being 24 years old. While he has been a below average third basemen so far, he still has plenty of time to become the key middle-of-the-order piece Detroit thought he would be.