MLB Breakout Predictions: AL Central

Caption: American League Central Teams

by Ryan Harless

Ryan Harless is a third-year undergraduate at BGSU from Hillsboro, Ohio. He is majoring in Sport Management with a Journalism Minor. Baseball and golf at all levels are his primary interests but he is also interested in combat sports, hockey, basketball, and football.

February 16, 2023

In my last article, I started a series of who I believe will be the breakout performer for each team in the National League Central. Now, for the second in a series of six, I will preview the American League Central.

Starting off is the last place team from 2022, the Kansas City Royals. This Royals’ team is an amalgamation of some long-time fan favorites like Salvador Perez and Hunter Dozier as well as a returning star in Zack Greinke. There are also some new faces like Aroldis Chapman who could help the Royals improve from last season.

However, I am looking to a very fresh face to make his stand as their breakout star. I think Maikel García will have a great year and set himself up as the ‘Shortstop of the future’ for KC. Through his five minor league seasons, he slashed .272/.349/.371 and while he only played in 9 games in 2022 he still put up a .318 batting average.

Garcia also boasts a .917 fielding percentage through his minor league career. I would look for Maikel to bat .270 with 120 hits and 60+ RBI. He should be a very exciting player to keep an eye on for 2023 and the future.

Finishing ahead of the Royals in 2022 were the 4th place Detroit Tigers. The Tigers are a very interesting team with a lot of young talent who could all have lasting impacts on the organization. I considered going with Casey Mize as I anticipate him to be a perennial all-star once he hits his stride, but he is expected to be out until September with an injury.

I think a lot of people might be looking at Spencer Torkelson to be their breakout star this year, but I believe that this is going to be the year that Akil Baddoo will fully take center stage in Detroit. Baddoo is uber fun to watch play the outfield, he is everywhere all at once and has an absolute cannon for an arm that allows him to pick off baserunners that didn’t do their homework.

Baddoo’s stats at the plate leave a little to be desired but he still has never played more than 124 games in his two years of Major League experience. If he is able to get his 27% strikeout rate down to at or below the league average (22%) he will have no issue batting .280 with 25+ homers and possibly even swiping 20+ bags. I could easily see Baddoo as a new member of the increasingly rare 20-20 club.

Finishing in the middle of the division last year were the Minnesota Twins. The Twins have had lot of notably good starting pitchers over the last few years, Jose Berrios and Sonny Gray come to mind. But I believe their breakout player this year will be Pablo Lopez who the Twins acquired from the Miami Marlins in addition to two prospects for the 2022 AL batting champion Luis Arraez.

While I don’t expect Lopez to have comparable accolades to what Arraez did last year, I do see him emerging as their new ace. He went 10-10 last year with a 3.75 ERA with Miami. But I can see him being a top-15 AL pitcher this year if he gets enough run support. I look for Lopez to go 16-8 this year with an ERA hovering around the 3.00 area. While I still don’t like the Twins trading Arraez away, I feel they could have done a lot worse than getting Lopez in return.

The Chicago White Sox finished in second place in the American League Central Division in 2022. Another team with a lot of young talent in Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, and Yoan Moncada. But I’m going to chose Michael Kopech as my breakout star for the White Sox.

Kopech has had a rough go of it in his career so far, being a highly touted prospect in 2017 and ’18 with his first MLB start. But he has been plagued by injuries throughout his career and has never really put it all together. I think if he can stay healthy for a full year he can finally reach his full potential.

Look for Kopech to have 15+ wins with a sub 2.75 ERA and if he can throw anywhere close to 200 innings, he will surely have 200+ strikeouts as well.

Finally, rounding out the AL Central are the 2022 Central champions the Cleveland Guardians. The youngest team in MLB last year took their team all the way to the ALDS where they lost to the Yankees. The Guardians are going to have another really young team in 2023 and I look for their breakout star to be one of the faces of their 2022 team, Steven Kwan.

Kwan finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting last year as well as taking home a Gold Glove award. He was an amazing contact hitter for the Guardians slashing .298/.373/.400 with 168 hits while picking up 19 stolen bases. I expect Kwan to improve on last season and bat over .300 with 175+ hits and over 20 stolen bases. Kwan reminds me of a new age Juan Pierre as far as being a contact hitter who is more than serviceable in the field. I doubt that he will ever match Pierre in terms of stolen bases which shows how the game has changed. But I think that Steven Kwan will be a new Cleveland favorite for years to come.

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