There are three American League Central teams with a record of .600 or better, and the Tigers were above .500 until they lost four out of five games to the Twins over Labor Day weekend. The Minnesota Twins, to the surprise of most, have been led by terrific pitching. Their starters are solid. But a quick look around the division tells us that offense might be difficult to come by for a while as there are several quality pitchers and pitching prospects who are close.
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA Today
Here is a quick look at what AL Central starting rotations could look like in the years to come. I haven’t included any pitchers who will become a free agent after the 2020 season.
I think that you will find that the Twins, and each of the other teams in the division, have a plethora of exciting pitchers and more coming in the near future.Minnesota Twins
- Kenta Maeda
- Jose Berrios
- Michael Pineda
Maeda had been really good for the Dodgers the past four years, but he has probably never been better than he has been in his eight starts for the Twins this year. He is under team control through the 2023 season. Berrios, the 26-year-old, two-time All Star struggled early in the season but he’s proven himself over time and should remain in the Twins plans for years to come. He could be a free agent after 2022, but the Twins may want to lock him up before then. Pineda just came back from his 60-game suspension. The Twins signed him to a two-year deal last offseason, so he’ll be back in 2021. Rich Hill and Jake Odorizzi will be free agents after this season.
- Randy Dobnak
- Devin Smeltzer
- Lewis Thorpe
All three of these guys made their debuts in 2019, each showing enough promise to compete for roster spots in 2020. Dobnak was given the first shot this season and has made the best of it. He is 6-2 with a 2.72 ERA going into Tuesday’s start. Smeltzer has filled the role of long reliever or “primary” pitcher. He was optioned on Monday. Thorpe has struggled, but most would say he’s still got some ceiling.
- Jhoan Duran
- Dakota Chalmers
- Jordan Balazovic
Duran and Chalmers were easy choices last fall to add to the team’s 40-man roster. In one of the televised intrasquad games of Summer Camp, both pitched and showed Twins fans just how exciting their futures are. Both have big potential as top-of-rotation starters. The Twins top pitching prospect is Balazovic, who joined them at the Twins alternate site in St. Paul this weekend. All three could debut in 2021. And Jorge Alcala sure looks like a high-leverage bullpen arm for years to come.Cleveland
- Shane Bieber
- Carlos Carrasco
Simply put, Shane Bieber is the best pitcher in the American League. Yes, even (possibly) better than Gerrit Cole (maybe). Bieber won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2022. He’s still just 25, as well. Carrasco has been good throughout his career when he is healthy. He’s signed for two more seasons plus an option for 2023.
- Aaron Civale
- Zach Plesac
- Adam Plutko
Civale and Plesac are two examples of the pipeline that Cleveland has developed. Neither was a big-name prospect and both have shown early in their careers that they will be effective MLB pitchers. Neither will even be arbitration-eligible for two more years. Plutko hasn’t had the same level of success, but he has had several strong showings.
- Triston McKenzie
- James Karinchak
We’ve seen what James Karinchak can do out of the bullpen. Clase came to the organization in the Corey Kluber trade. He got suspended, but his stuff is on par with Karinchak. Triston McKenzie has come up and been very impressive. The supplemental first-round pick in 2015 is 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings over his three MLB starts this year. He has 19 strikeouts and four walks. Lefty Sam Hentges, from Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, reached Double-A in 2019.Chicago White Sox
- Lucas Giolito
- Dallas Keuchel
- Reynaldo Lopez
Giolito has reached the potential that made him a possible #1 overall pick in 2012 before having Tommy John surgery his senior year of high school. It took awhile with the Nationals and the White Sox, but he has become an All Star, been consistent and recently threw his first no-hitter. Keuchel is in Year 1 of his three-year deal and continues to live on control and command. Lopez has been around a bit and hasn’t been able to harness what is really good stuff.
After struggling to a 5.79 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie last year, Cease has settled in in 2020. He’s 5-2 with a 3.29 ERA despite 20 walks and 28 strikeouts in 41 innings.
- Michael Kopech
- Dane Dunning
- Garrett Crochet
Blessed with a triple-digit fastball, Kopech has long been a high-ranking prospect. He debuted with four games in 2018 but then underwent Tommy John surgery. He was set to return this season, maybe even opening day, Dane Dunning also had Tommy John surgery in 2018. He missed 2019. In three starts for the White Sox this year, he’s got 18 strikeouts in 14 innings. In addition, the White Sox took lefty Garrett Crochet from the University of Tennessee with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft, and he could be a fast-mover.Detroit Tigers
- Matthew Boyd
- Michael Fulmer
- Spencer Turnbull
Boyd has struggled in 2020, but he has experienced a lot of success the last two seasons. Michael Fulmer has missed time due to Tommy John surgery and is just coming back, but he was great when he won the Rookie of the Year award a few years ago. Turnbull had a bad record in 2019, but having watched him a lot, he’s got good stuff too.
- Casey Mize
- Tarik Skubal
- Tyler Alexander
- Matt Manning
- Alex Faedo
The Tigers have some very impressive pitching prospects. Casey Mize was the top pick in the 2018 draft out of Florida and he has now made four MLB starts. Tarik Skubal was their ninth round pick in 2018 out of Seattle University. He sure has looked good against the Twins these past two weekends. Those two are Top 100 prospects. So is Matt Manning who spent 2019 in AA and is in the same prospect category. In addition, Tyler Alexander is another left-hander with good stuff. Also in the Tigers bullpen is Kyle Funkhouser who has struggled with control, but he was very highly touted earlier in his college and professional career. Alex Faedo (nephew of former Twins great Lenny Faedo) was their first-round pick in 2017, and he reached AA in 2019. Oh, and they just added Coon Rapids native Logan Shore to their 60-player pool.Kansas City Royals
- Danny Duffy
- Brad Keller
- Jakob Junis
Danny Duffy has been a part of the Royals rotation for more than a decade. He’s got another year on his current contract. Keller has gradually taken on a bigger role the past three years, from bullpen work, to back-end starter to being strong in 2020. Junis has won nine games each of the past three seasons. He won't get anywhere near there this year as he is yet to earn a win.
- Brady Singer
- Kris Bubic
- Asa Lacy
- Daniel Lynch
- Jackson Kowar
- Josh Staumont
The Royals have certainly gone the direction of college pitchers with high picks in recent years and those picks are just starting to show up. Brady Singer (18th overall, Florida) and Kris Bubic (40th overall, Stanford) were both selected in the first 40 picks of the 2018 draft. They are a combined 1-9 right now, but both have shown enough to be considered part of the future. Also from the 2018 draft are Jackson Kowar (33rd overall, Florida), Daniel Lynch (34th overall, Virginia)and Austin Cox (5th round, Mercer) all have potential and have pitched at AA already. In addition, we have seen what Josh Staumont can do out of the bullpen and they just called up another prospect in Carlos Hernandez and pitched him in the bullpen. Oh, and they took Asa Lacy with the fourth overall pick in June from Texas A&M, and he has the potential to move very quickly.
So, while the Twins have seen some strong pitching in 2020 from AL Central teams, there are a lot of really good, young pitchers who will be in the division for years to come. As talented as some of the pitchers who have debuted so far ini 2020 have been, there are many more high-ceiling prospects who should be debuting in the near future too.
The Twins have a lot of high-ceiling hitting prospects. We have already seen Ryan Jeffers and Brent Rooker. We know that Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach are likely not far behind. But the Twins have high-ceiling prospects such as Jhoan Duran, Dakota Chalmers and Jordan Balazovic to counter the great pitching prospects from other division teams.
The AL Central is already a solid division, and over the next several years, it may be able to compete with others for the best division in baseball.
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