2019 still feels like a long time away, but the Cleveland Indians need to be working now to stay ahead of the rest of the American League Central in 2019 and beyond.
One of the most important aspects of the MLB season is winning your division. It gives you the easiest path to the playoffs and keeps you on top of your game. The Cleveland Indians have done a pretty good job of that in recent years. But they can’t stay on top forever. The rest of the American League Central has been hard at work in their efforts to bring down the top-dog Cleveland Indians.
The progress has been slow and it doesn’t look like the Indians will have much competition in 2019. But we have seen crazy things happen, like the incredible turnaround by the Minnesota Twins in the 2017 season.
With all of this said, it’s worth taking a look around the AL Central to see exactly where the competition is… and how far away they are from contending.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox feel like they are the closest to being a serious contender in the division. They’ve had a bit of a setback with rookie sensation Michael Kopech undergoing Tommy-John surgery. He’ll likely miss the entirety of 2019.
They didn’t fare very well against the Indians in 2018, but they have a roster that has young talent and a serious building block with Jose Abreu. They also have the 3rd ranked farm system in the MLB according to MiLB.com.
Their rotation is still in a bit of a flux, with only Reynaldo Lopez owning a sub 4.00 ERA. But they also have the number three prospect in Eloy Jiminez, who we could see in the majors sometime in 2019. While they are still a good ways away from being a serious threat, things are certainly looking positive for the White Sox down the road.
We go from what felt like the closest contenders, to perhaps the furthest team away from contending. The Detroit Tigers have sold the farm in the last few years, and their farm system is far from perfect on top of that.
The Tigers farm system doesn’t even rank in the Top 15. While they finished second in the Central, they felt more like the team that finished in dead last a year prior. They have an incredible pitching prospect out of Auburn in Casey Mize. He was taken first overall in the 2018 draft and is currently in Class-A advanced Lakeland.
It’s easy to get behind a top pitching prospect, but he is still years away from pitching in the majors. Until that time, the Tigers feel like they’re sitting in limbo.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals finished last in the division. They would’ve finished last in the MLB if the Baltimore Orioles weren’t historically bad. As far as farm systems go, they’re sitting dead in the water. They did do a good job of drafting three quality pitching prospects in the first round, but they have a long way to go.
The Royals could arguably finish last in the division again. They do deserve credit for keeping games competitive with that being said. But they don’t have any young players on the big-league roster to build around. They look nothing like the team that made those World Series runs in 2014 and 2015. For now, it feels like the Royals have a long way to go before being considered contenders in the division, let alone the MLB.
Like the Tigers and Royals, the Twins appear to be heading into the rebuild territory. While they aren’t diving as deep into the rebuild, they’ve sold some key pieces. Joe Mauer will likely retire this winter, and the book is out on Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Are they pieces for the Twins to build around or are they proving to be busts?
The Twins can’t afford to have Sano and Buxton turn out to be busts, but they are in a relatively good spot with their rotation. Jose Berrios is having a great start to his MLB career, and they have some proven veterans that can keep them in contention. It’s hard to say where Minnesota is after firing manager Paul Molitor just after he won Manager of the Year.
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Clearly, the rest of the AL Central is a good ways behind the Cleveland Indians. Who knows how long that will last. The Indians will have a big winter coming up that could determine how this division shapes out for the next 3-4 years.