Monday, July 17, 2006

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

The AL Central is the strongest division in baseball with the two best teams in baseball. I will attempt to answer these two questions:

1. How long can we expect the division to remain extremely difficult?
2. How do the Royals matchup talentwise and what can they do to improve?

I will start with the Tigers. Here's a look at the core players the Tigers will be building around in the next few years. Note, the number in parathesis is the year the player becomes a free agent.

The Tigers have a very impressive collection of starting pitchers in their system. Justin Verlander (2012) is a Cy Young contender in his rookie campaign. Jeremy Bonderman (2009) has become a #1 starter with a good fastball and slider combination. Mike Maroth (2009) and Nate Robertson (2010) are solid #2/#3 types and should fill out the rest of the Tigers' rotation. The Tigers signed veteran Kenny Rogers through 2007. By the end of 2007, the Tigers' two other prized pitching prospects will be ready to move into the rotation. Humberto Sanchez pitched great in the Futures game and has the stuff to be another frontline starter. 2006 Draftee Andrew Miller, arguably the top talent in the draft, also has frontline starter potential and could move quickly into the Tigers' rotation. Overall, the Tigers' rotation has an abundance of power arms and 4 starters with #1 stuff and two already performing at that level. The Tigers' bullpen has one of the best ERA's in baseball and has some hard throwers. However, with the exception of Zumaya, none of the bullpen arms are likely to be excellent long-term relievers. Nonetheless, the group of relievers (Grilli, Rodney, Spurling, Colon) give the Tigers a group of cheap, relatively young relievers through the end of the decade.

The Tigers also have a strong offensive core to complement their pitching. The Tigers' offense isn't built around one player, rather 7 different players with .800+ OPSs. Most of the Tigers offensive core is within two years of 30 years ago, so most are in their prime. A few years from now, the Tigers' offense will probably start to decline. However, the Tigers are getting very good production out of centerfielder Curtis Granderson (2012) and Chris Shelton (2011). Marcus Thames is having a breakout season, leading the Tigers with 19 HRs and a 1.027 OPS. Although not particularly young, Thames is under their control until 2011. Cameron Maybin, the Tigers' 2005 first-round selection, has impressed scouts in his debut. He's a potential 5-tool outfielder who played in the Futures game. So, the Tigers have some younger bats who should help offset the decline of the older core players.

Outlook: The Tigers have made one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent baseball times. The Tigers' farm system which was once overlooked because of poor depth has paid off great yields thanks to high draft positions. The Tigers' excellent rotation looks to be one of the best in baseball for the next few years. The Tigers haven't had any problems putting together a good offense and have most of their core players under their control for the next few years. The Tigers aren't afraid to compete for top-tier free agents so they should be able to fill any major holes. Overall, the Tigers look like the most complete team in the division and may have the best pitching staff in baseball for the next few years.

Up next: Chicago White Sox


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