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AL Central Preseason Preview
Michael Ryan, FantasyJuice.com

Next up in our Preseason Division Previews is the AL Central Division. As per usual with the AL Central, there is no clear-cut favorite to take home the title in 2010 but Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota have separated themselves as the contenders while the Indians rebuild and the Royals continue to be the Royals.

The Chicago White Sox finished third in the standings last year but are never lacking in confidence as they look forward to a full year with ace Jake Peavy leading a talented rotation in a division that is up for grabs.

The Cleveland Indians are in full rebuild mode with a young roster and deep farm system. There are a lot of players to watch in the coming years but the big story for 2010 fantasy owners will be how Grady Sizemore plays after a disappointing 2009 season.

The Detroit Tigers lost the division title, and their World Series hopes, in the 163rd game of the season in 2009 and wasted no time in working to get back to the playoffs in 2010. They traded star centerfielder Curtis Granderson to the Yankees for a package of youngsters, locked up ace Justin Verlander for the next 5 years, and signed outfielder Johnny Damon.

The Kansas City Royals continue to swim in circles near the bottom of the standings. While the franchise as a whole appears just as lost as ever, there are some bright points for fantasy baseball, lead by ace Zach Greinke and closer Joakim Soria.

The Minnesota Twins again forced an extra game to decide a division winner but this time took home the title for their fifth division title in the decade. A team that has built its success around pitching and small-ball suddenly boasts some power and two of the past four AL MVPs in the heart of their lineup.

Below is our AL Central Division Preview. Updates will follow as spring progresses.

 Chicago White Sox
 Additions: Mark Teahen (3B), Omar Vizquel (2B/SS), Andruw Jones (OF), Juan Pierre (OF)
 Losses: Dewayne Wise (OF), Scott Podsednik (OF), Chris Getz (2B), Josh Fields (3B), Octavio Dotel (RP)
 Free Agents: Jermaine Dye (OF)
 Pitching
 Rotation: Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Daniel Hudson
 Closer: Bobby Jenks (J.J. Putz, Matt Thornton)
 Analysis: The White Sox will finally get to find out what they paid for when they acquired Jake Peavy last July. The former NL Cy Young winner says that he is 100% healthy after missing the majority of 2009 with ankle and forearm injuries.

John Danks and Gavin Floyd should both be entering their prime and while they are listed at 3 and 4 on the rotation depth chart either one could end up being the second most productive fantasy pitcher in 2010.

Bobby Jenks is still Chicagoís closerÖfor now. Skipper Ozzie Guillen is never shy about those in his dog house and Jenksí weight and propensity to give up the longball has created rumors of a possible trade and/or demotion. The acquisition of former 40-save righty J.J. Putz and the emergence of Matt Thornton have only increased the speculation of closer turnover on the south side.

 Hitting
 Lineup: Juan Pierre (OF), Gordon Beckham (2B), Carlos Quentin (OF), Paul Konerko (1B), Alex Rios (OF), Alexei Ramirez (SS), A.J. Pierzynski (C), Andruw Jones (DH), Mark Teahen (3B)
 Analysis: The White Sox have an interesting lineup heading into 2010. Their biggest question marks lie in whether Carlos Quentin (injuries) and Alex Rios (sucking) can rebound from their poor 2009s and make an impact in the heart of the lineup for 2010. Both should be better than last year but donít pay for returns to 2008 performance.

Juan Pierre could be a cheap source of steals, average, and runs late in your draft. He is currently being drafted 20 spots after Carlos Gomez on MockDraftCentral.com and should out produce GoGo in all three categories.

Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham give the White Sox a solid middle infield. Ramirez disappointed fantasy owners by failing to live up to the hype but this was mostly due to a terrible April (he hit .281 or higher in every month after). The power will be something to watch but the increase in walk rate from 4% in 08 to 8% last year is nice to see.

Gordon Beckham is listed as a 3B but you should be drafting him as your starting 2B, which is where he will start the 2010 season. He could be a top 10 3B for the year but a top 5 2B isnít out of the question. Think Chase Utley-lite when drafting the 24 year old sophomore.

 Cleveland Indians
 Additions: Mike Redmond (C), Mark Grudzielanek (2B), Saul Rivera (RP), Russell Branyan (1B/DH)
 Losses: Kelly Shoppach (C)
 Pitching
 Rotation: Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, David Huff, Aaron Laffey, Jake Westbrook/Carlos Carrasco
 Closer: Kerry Wood (Chris Perez)
 Analysis: Ick; that about sums up Clevelandís rotation heading into 2010. Teams that trade away the two reigning AL Cy Young winners in consecutive years tend to have trouble putting together a winning rotation the next season but this is about as ugly as it gets.

Can Fausto Carmona return to fantasy relevance in 2010? What happened to his control? As a groundball pitcher who doesnít strike out many he needs to have good control to be any help in fantasy. There is no reason to be confident that will happen and added with the fact that he doesnít look to get much run support, Carmona is waiver wire fodder at best until he proves otherwise.

Masterson has had better success in the bullpen but is worth a late round look as a low-risk/moderate-reward pitcher. He is a groundball pitcher who can also miss bats, which is always enticing, but he needs to harness his control before he reaches his potential.

Huff and Laffey are young enough to warrant keeping an eye on and the occasional spot start but they lack the upside to make any meaningful contributions to your team.

Rookie Carlos Carrasco is one to watch in deeper leagues and has some upside for the future but his floor is also pretty low at this point.

Like with Chicago and Jenks, Kerry Wood returns as the closerÖfor now. Health, inconsistency, salary; pick your poison on why Wood wonít remain the closer in Cleveland for long. If youíre looking for cheap saves keep an eye on Chris Perez, who was great in the second half and brings the heat most look for in a closer candidate.

 Hitting
 Lineup:Michael Brantley (OF), Asdrubal Cabrera (SS), Grady Sizemore (OF), Shin-Soo Choo (OF), Jhonny Peralta (3B), Travis Hafner/Russell Branyan (DH), Matt LaPorta (1B), Luis Valbuena (2B), Lou Marson (C)/font>
 Analysis: Well, itís not pretty but the hitting definitely brings more to the table than Clevelandís pitching; there are actually some interesting fantasy players in the lineup.

If youíre looking for super cheap steals, left fielder Michael Brantley is a guy to keep an eye on, especially if he takes over lead-off duties for Sizemore. Speaking of Sizemore, after an injury plagued 2009, Clevelandís star centerfielder could be a nice bargain on draft day.

Just a year removed from being a top-10 pick, Sizemore still possesses all the skills that weíve come to expect and is healthy heading into 2010. He carries some risk but you have to love the value if you can snag him in the 3rd round or later.

Continuing the outfield theme, Shin-Soo Choo has quickly established himself as a nice five-category contributor who hits well from both sides of the plate. Expect more of the same from the uber-consistent Korean.

Asdrubal Cabrera is a solid, if unsexy, middle infield option and shouldnít hurt you too much in any category. Peralta has moved to the hot corner and 2010 will be his last year of shortstop eligibility, but the real question is should you care? He isnít as bad as his 2009 numbers but donít pay for 2007, either.

Travis Hafner and Matt LaPorta are heading in opposite directions as far as career paths are concerned but have similar ADPs. Both are risky at this point but when in doubt go with the youth and the upside (as well as position flexibility). LaPorta could be a nice post-hype sleeper if he can put it all together in 2010. You can read more about LaPorta in our 2010 Sleeper article.

Rookie Lou Marson will begin the season as Clevelandís backstop but the Indian prospect you want to watch for is Carlos Santana, who draws comps to Victor Martinez with better defense. Expect to start hearing the sweet music of Santanaís bat (yes, I went there) after June.

 Detroit Tigers
 Additions: Max Scherzer (SP), Daniel Schlereth (RP), Phil Coke (RP), Austin Jackson (OF), Jose Valverde (RP), Johnny Damon (OF)
 Losses:Curtis Granderson (OF), Brandon Lyon (RP), Placido Polanco (2B), Fernando Rodney (RP), Aubrey Huff (1B), Marcus Thames (OF)
 Free Agents:Jarrod Washburn (SP)
 Pitching
 Rotation:Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Armando Galarraga, Jeremy Bonderman
 Closer:Jose Valverde
 Analysis: The Tigers are building a rotation to compete for the next several years and the top three should be fun to watch in 2010 and beyond. After a disappointing 2008, the Verlander re-emerged as a fantasy ace in 2009, leading the league with 269 strikeouts and signing an $80 million deal that will keep him in Detroit for the next five years.

As part of the Granderson deal the Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to Arizona for 25 year-old righty Max Scherzer, who will take over Jacksonís number two spot in the rotation. Scherzer has had his innings limited in the past and had issues keeping the ball in the park but heading into his third year and moving to spacious Comerica should help improve his numbers across the board. He could join Verlander in the 200-K club as soon as this year.

Rick Porcello is the third major piece of the Tigers rotation and while he has as much upside as the first two, he is still a couple years away from fully reaching his potential. His stuff is great but he will only be 21 in 2010 and will have his workload monitored again this year.

The Tigers lost closer Rodney but brought in Valverde from Houston to close out their games. Valverde missed some time last year with injuries but still has elite stuff and is a nice step up from Rodney. Tigers fans should be happy but Ryan Perry fans will have to wait a little longer.

 Hitting
 Lineup: Austin Jackson (OF), Johnny Damon (OF), Magglio Ordonez (OF), Miguel Cabrera (1B), Brandon Inge (3B), Gerald Laird (C), Carlos Guillen (DH), Scott Sizemore (2B), Adam Everett (SS)
 Analysis: Detroit has a lot of new faces in their line-up for 2010 but it continues to be a mix of very young and very old players with Miguel Cabrera being the glue in the middle.

Two outfielders from the Yankees organization will hit at the top of the order and it will be interesting to see if Austin Jackson is ready for the big leagues. He is athletic but still raw and will have to prove he can handle lead-off duties for a team that plans to contend. Johnny Damon is a good fit in Detroit but expect a dip in home runs as Comerica is not as friendly for lefties as New Yankee Stadium was.

Rookie Scott Sizemore is expected to replace the hole at second base with the departure of Placido Polanco. Sizemore is an intriguing rookie who could contribute modestly across the board in 2010.

Guillen continues his decline and it is hard to believe he was a fantasy star just a few years ago. Ordonez appears to be following Guillen, and while he will still be useable, temper expectations to numbers closer to 2009 than 2007.

 Kansas City Royals
 Additions: Rick Ankiel (OF), Scott Podsednik (OF), Chris Getz (2B), Jason Kendall (C), Josh Fields (3B), Brian Anderson
 Losses: Miguel Oliva (C), Mike Jacobs (1B), Coco Crisp (OF), John Bucks (C), Mark Teahen (3B)
 Pitching
 Rotation: Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister
 Closer: Joakim Soria
 Analysis: While the Royals will continue to be one of the worst teams in baseball, they happen to boast one of the top Ace/Closer tandems in the majors with Greinke and Soria. Unfortunately, it gets fairly rocky after that.

Meche posted back to back solid seasons in 2007-2008 but was hampered by injuries for much of 2009. If he can get healthy he still has the skills to return to a sub-4.00 ERA and 175 strikeouts. Being a Royal means he will come cheap and is a nice low-risk, moderate-reward candidate.

Hochevar was very inconsistent in 2009, mixing brilliant outings with terrible ones. If he can put it all together, and that is a pretty big if, he has the upside to be a useful option.

Soria missed some time due to injury in May but otherwise continued to quietly be one of the top closers in baseball. The popular misconception that a bad team equals fewer saves will mean that Soria could be undervalued on Draft Day. If youíre looking for a premium closer at a discount, Soria is your man.

 Hitting
 Lineup: Scott Podsednik (OF), David DeJesus (OF), Billy Butler (1B), Rick Ankiel (OF), Jose Guillen (DH), Alex Gordon (3B), Yuniesky Betancourt (SS), Chris Getz (2B), Jason Kendall (C)
 Analysis: Remember when I said ďickĒ referring to Clevelandís rotation? Kansas City is the hitting to Clevelandís pitching.

Ok, so itís not all bad. Billy Butler is a bright spot for the Royals and expected to continue to progress into a top hitter. He isnít quite ready to top 30 HR but 25 with a .290 average is a pretty safe bet at this point.

Alex Gordon was supposed to be Evan Longoria before Evan Longoria ever hit the majors but has failed to live up to expectations after three disappointing seasons. His hip injury can be partially to blame for 2009 but he still hasnít shown that he can hit lefties (and hasnít fared a whole lot better versus righties). When a guy is called the next George Brett and the future of the franchise, you want him to succeed (especially when itís a club thatís been as bad as the Royals over the past decade). Weíre willing to give him one more chance in 2010 to start putting it together but only at a very cheap price.

Some quick hits: Scotty Pods will give you the steals but donít pay for a .300 average (or 500 at bats). David DeJesus will give you a decent average but not much else.

This is getting depressing, time to move on to the 2009 AL Central Champs.

 Minnesota Twins
 Additions: J.J. Hardy (SS), Jim Thome (DH), Orlando Hudson (2B)
 Losses: Carlos Gomez (OF), Phil Humber (SP), Boof Bonser (SP), Mike Redmond (C), Orlando Cabrera (SS), Joe Crede (3B)
 Pitching
 Rotation: Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano
 Closer: Joe Nathan
 Analysis: The Twins have a solid, if unspectacular, rotation. Heading into 2009, there was a lot of fantasy buzz surrounding the trio of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Francisco Liriano but only Baker was able to live up to expectations. Baker should continue to improve upon 2009 and put up decent strikeout numbers and a sub 1.25 WHIP again. Home runs are his only Achilles heel at this point.

Slowey was also expected to take the next step in 2009 with his pinpoint control and improving strikeout rate. Unfortunately his season was cut short with wrist surgery from an injury dating back to 2008. It will remain to be seen if he can fully recover from the injury and will need to be closely watched in Spring Training.

Liriano shot up draft boards in 2009 and rewarded his owners with a 5.79 ERA and 5 wins. He is again creating pre-draft buzz with his performance in the winter leagues and might find himself moving from sleeper to overvalued for the second straight year. Like with Slowey, pay attention to his Spring Training with a focus on his command and control. He wonít ever be as dominating as he was in 2006 but if he can avoid the free passes he could put up good numbers once again.

Joe Nathan may not have ended the season the way he (and Twins fans) would have wanted but donít let that deter you from taking him as a top closing option in 2010.

 Hitting
 Lineup: Denard Span (OF), Orlando Hudson (2B), Joe Mauer (C), Justin Morneau (1B), Jason Kubel/Jim Thome (DH), Michael Cuddyer (OF), Delmon Young (OF), J.J. Hardy (SS), Brendan Harris (3B)
 Analysis: Looking at the roster shows that these are not your Twins of old. For a team that went almost 20 years without a player hitting 30 homeruns (1987-2005), they sure seem to boast a fair amount of power.

The addition of Hudson, who will hit behind Span in the 2 hole, gives the Twins an ideal top of the order for Mauer and Morneau to drive in the runs. Mauer likely wonít hit .365 or 28 homers again but otherwise itís pretty safe to expect more of the same from the top four hitters in 2010.

Jason Kubel was finally healthy enough to show why he was once the more highly regarded prospect between Morneau and himself. His lefty/righty splits are about as extreme as they get. Against righties he hit .322/.396/.617; thatís Pujols-ian. Versus lefties Kubel hit .243/.299/.345; thatís Willy Taveras-ian. Expect a regression in the counting stats and make sure you have him in your lineup when facing righties and on your bench against all lefties.

Cuddyer had a fantastic year, especially after filling in for the injured Morneau during the playoff run, but at age 30 likely peaked. Thome can still mash; Young still canít. Make sure you donít overvalue either in 2010.


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