AL preview: Time for Royals to rise?

James Shields and the Royals are poised to make a run in the AL Central.
Gregory Bull/AP
James Shields and the Royals are poised to make a run in the AL Central.


1. Tampa Bay

GM Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon took a 92-win team and improved the bullpen with Heath Bell and Grant Balfour, acquired one of the best defensive catchers in Ryan Hanigan, and despite future payroll concerns, held on to David Price and re-signed productive first baseman James Loney. The Rays raised their payroll to $80 million, highest in their history. The starting rotation is very solid and that should lead to a strong year.

Rookie to watch: RHP Jake Odorizzi looks to be the fifth starter. Odorizzi came from Kansas City in the James Shields deal.

2013: 92-71, 2d. Manager: Joe Maddon (9th year)

LFDavid DeJesus98838.251.729
2BBen Zobrist1681271.275.756
3BEvan Longoria1653288.269.842
RFWil Myers981353.293.831
DHMatt Joyce971847.235.747
1BJames Loney1641375.299.778
CFDesmond Jennings1331454.252.748
SSYunel Escobar130956.256.698
CRyan Hanigan44221.198.567

LHDavid Price10-83.337.31.098
RHAlex Cobb11-32.768.41.151
LHMatt Moore17-
RHChris Archer9-
RHJake Odorizzi0-13.946.71.213
RHGrant Balfour382.5910.31.197

2. Boston


It’s always difficult to replicate a World Series title. We don’t expect all of the things that went perfect for this team last season to happen again. The team lost three key players from that team — Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia — and will rely on youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. The Red Sox are strong at the top of the rotation and have excellent pitching prospects on the horizon.

Get Breaking Sports Alerts in your inbox:
Be the first to know the latest sports news as it happens.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Rookie to watch: All eyes will be on Bogaerts. The hype is big.

2013: 97-65, 1st. Manager: John Farrell (2d year)

LFDaniel Nava1391266.303.831
RFShane Victorino1401561.294.801
2BDustin Pedroia193984.301.787
DHDavid Ortiz16030103.309.959
1BMike Napoli1292392.259.842
CFGrady SizemoreINJURED IN 2013
SSXander Bogaerts1115.250.684
CA.J. Pierzynski1371770.272.722
3BWill Middlebrooks791749.227.696

LHJon Lester15-83.757.51.294
RHJohn Lackey10-133.527.71.157
LHFelix Doubront11-64.327.71.429
RHJake Peavy12-
RHClay Buchholz12-11.748.01.025
RHKoji Uehara211.0912.20.565

3. Baltimore

What was a top-flight offense added Nelson Cruz. The rotation was bolstered by Ubaldo Jimenez, but they really need young gun Kevin Gausman to emerge as a top-of-the-rotation starter. The Orioles may be vulnerable in their bullpen; they traded 50-save man Jim Johnson and are relying on Tommy Hunter to be their guy in the ninth. Overall, a dangerous team.

Rookie to watch: Gausman. With a power arm, he could be slotted anywhere, even at closer. He may hold the key to the Orioles’ success this season.


2013: 85-77, 3d. Manager: Buck Showalter (5th year)

RFNick Markakis1721059.271.685
3BManny Machado*1891471.283.746
1BChris Davis16753138.2861.004
CFAdam Jones18633108.285.811
DHNelson Cruz1102776.266.833
C Matt Wieters1232279.235.704
SSJ.J. Hardy1582576.263.738
LFNolan Reimold*25512.195.586
2BJemile WeeksMINORS IN 2013

RHUbaldo Jimenez13-93.309.61.330
RHChris Tillman16-73.717.81.221
LHWei-Yin Chen7-
RHBud Norris10-
RHMiguel Gonzalez11-83.786.31.226
RHTommy Hunter42.817.10.985

4. New York

The Yankees spent almost a half-billion dollars to revamp their lineup and add Masahiro Tanaka to their rotation. The infield defense may be a concern with 39-year-old Derek Jeter at shortstop, injury-prone Brian Roberts at second, and a Kelly Johnson/Scott Sizemore platoon at third. Led by Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and a healthy Mark Teixeira, the Yankees have a dynamic offense, but like the Orioles, they may be hurt by their lack of bullpen depth.

Rookie to watch: Second baseman Yangervis Solarte may be needed to help the infield.

2013: 85-77, 3d. Manager: Joe Girardi (7th year)

CFJacoby Ellsbury172953.298.781
SSDerek Jeter1217.190.542
RFCarlos Beltran1642484.296.830
1BMark Teixeira8312.151.609
CBrian McCann912057.256.796
DHAlfonso Soriano14834101.255.791
LFBrett Gardner147852.273.759
3BKelly Johnson861652.235.715
2BBrian Roberts66839.249.704

LHCC Sabathia14-134.787.51.370
RHMasahiro TanakaPITCHED IN JAPAN IN 2013
RHHiroki Kuroda11-133.316.71.162
RHIvan Nova9-
RHMichael PinedaINJURED IN 2013
RHDavid Robertson32.0410.41.040

5. Toronto

At this time last year, the Blue Jays were the popular choice to win the division; now they’re the popular choice to finish last. Their inactivity this offseason was deafening, but if Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion all have big years, the Jays will be greatly improved. Their bullpen is solid, but they have a patchwork starting rotation beyond R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow.


Rookie to watch: Marcus Stroman, a power righthander from Duke, seems to be Toronto’s best hope for rotation help in 2014. Aaron Sanchez, too.

2013: 74-88, 5th. Manager: John Gibbons (2d year)

SSJose Reyes1131037.296.780
RFJose Bautista1172873.259.856
1BEdwin Encarnacion14436104.272.904
DHAdam Lind1342367.288.854
CFColby Rasmus1152266.276.840
LFMelky Cabrera96330.279.682
3BBrett Lawrie1021146.254.712
C Dioner Navarro721334.300.856
2BRyan Goins3028.252.609

RHR.A. Dickey14-
LHMark Buehrle12-
RHBrandon Morrow2-35.637.01.491
LHJ.A. Happ*5-74.567.51.468
RHDustin McGowan0-02.459.11.208
RHCasey Janssen342.568.50.987


1. Kansas City

The Royals could use one more big bat in the middle of their lineup, but they have a strong bullpen and a very good starting rotation even with the loss of Ervin Santana. After a couple of seasons on the verge, the time has come for a breakthrough. Their middle infield of Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar wasn’t together much in spring training because of injury, but they could be a strong duo. Luke Hochevar (Tommy John surgery) is a big loss to the bullpen.

Rookie to watch: Righty Kyle Zimmer, drafted fifth overall in 2012, could reach the majors this year.

2013: 86-76, 3d. Manager: Ned Yost (5th year)

RFNorichika Aoki171837.286.726
2BOmar Infante1441051.318.795
1BEric Hosmer1881779.302.801
DHBilly Butler1681582.289.787
LFAlex Gordon1682081.265.749
C Salvador Perez1451379.292.757
3BMike Moustakas1101242.233.651
CFLorenzo Cain100446.251.658
SSAlcides Escobar142452.234.559

RHJames Shields13-
LHJason Vargas9-
LHBruce Chen9-
RHJeremy Guthrie15-
RHYordano Ventura0-13.526.51.239
RHGreg Holland471.2113.80.866

2. Cleveland

The Indians have been resilient if nothing else. After losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir (a combined 7-2, 1.69 ERA during Cleveland’s September run), they hope young flamethrower Danny Salazar can emerge alongside ace Justin Masterson. The Indians will score runs. They must hope their bullpen, with some power arms, can do the job. A lot is being expected from Carlos Santana, who will be used at third base,catcher, and DH.

Rookie to watch: Francisco Lindor will make it easy for the Indians to part ways with soon-to-be free-agent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

2013: 92-70, 2d. Manager: Terry Francona (2d year)

CFMichael Bourn*138650.263.676
1BNick Swisher1352263.246.763
2B Jason Kipnis1601784.284.818
3BCarlos Santana1452074.268.832
LFMichael Brantley1581073.284.728
SSAsdrubal Cabrera1231464.242.700
RFDavid Murphy 961345.220.656
CYan Gomes861138.294.826
DHLonnie Chisenhall651136.225.668

RHJustin Masterson14-103.459.11.202
RHCorey Kluber11-53.858.31.262
RHZach McAllister9-93.756.81.362
RHDanny Salazar2-33.1211.31.135
RHCarlos Carrasco1-46.755.81.757
RHJohn Axford04.029.01.523

3. Detroit

The loss of Doug Fister can’t be a good thing. That puts more pressure on Justin Verlander and reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to keep performing at high levels. Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly need to log big innings. There’s also a loss of power without Prince Fielder. The Tigers are relying on 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan; they just lost setup man Bruce Rondon to Tommy John surgery.

Rookie to watch: Nick Castellanos will be the most prominent rookie introduced to the Tiger lineup. Can he handle third base or will he be shifted to left field?

2013: 93-69, 1st. Manager: Brad Ausmus (1st year)

2BIan Kinsler1511372.277.757
RFTorii Hunter1841784.304.800
1BMiguel Cabrera19344137.3481.078
DHVictor Martinez1821483.301.785
CAlex Avila751147.227.693
CF Austin Jackson1501249.272.754
3BNick CastellanosMINORS IN 2013
LFRajai Davis86624.260.687
SSAlex Gonzalez2018.177.433

RHJustin Verlander13-123.468.91.315
RHMax Scherzer21-32.9010.10.970
RHAnibal Sanchez14-82.5710.01.154
RH Rick Porcello13-84.327.21.282
LHDrew Smyly6-02.379.61.039
RHJoe Nathan431.3910.20.897

4. Chicago

The rebuilding White Sox, who lost 99 games last season, hope the $68 million expenditure for Cuban slugger Jose Abreu is worth it. Their pitching staff is led by Chris Sale, one of the best in the game. They may get enough pitching and offense to be a surprise, but Nate Jones has to step up at closer after Chicago traded Addison Reed.

Rookie to watch: Matt Davidson, acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Reed deal, has shown power but needs to work on his defense at third base.

2013: 63-99, 5th. Manager: Robin Ventura (3d year)

CFAdam Eaton63322.252.674
LFDayan Viciedo1171456.265.731
1B Jose AbreuPLAYED IN CUBA IN 2013
DH Adam Dunn1153486.219.762
RF Avisail Garcia69731.283.731
SSAlexei Ramirez181648.284.693
3B Conor Gillaspie1001340.245.695
2BGordon Beckham*99524.267.694
CTyler Flowers501024.195.603

LHChris Sale11-
RHFelipe PaulinoMINORS IN 2013
LHJose Quintana9-73.517.41.220
RHErik Johnson3-
LHJohn Danks4-144.755.81.287
RHNate Jones04.1510.31.218

5. Minnesota

The Twins tried hard to improve this offseason and probably accomplished some of their goals, including strengthening their rotation with Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey (re-signed). They tried to sign A.J. Pierzynski and Ervin Santana but failed.

Rookie to watch: Alex Meyer, a righthander with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball, will likely come to the rescue if the starting rotation remains suspect.

2013: 66-96, 4th. Manager: Ron Gardenhire (13th year)

CFAaron Hicks54827.192.597
2BBrian Dozier1361866.244.726
1BJoe Mauer1441147.324.880
LFJosh Willingham811448.208.709
RFOswaldo Arcia881443.251.734
3BTrevor Plouffe1211452.254.701
DHJason Kubel56532.216.610
CKurt Suzuki66532.232.627
SSPedro Florimon89944.221.611

RHRicky Nolasco13-113.707.41.209
RHKevin Correia9-
RHMike Pelfrey5-
RHPhil Hughes4-
RHKyle Gibson2-46.535.11.745
LHGlen Perkins362.3011.10.926


1. Los Angeles

The Angels are banking on returns to prominence by Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols and hoping that 41-year-old Raul Ibanez can make up for the power lost when they traded Mark Trumbo. If that happens, their lineup, with Mike Trout, should be dynamic. Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, added in the Trumbo three-team deal, improve the starting rotation.

Rookie to watch: C.J. Cron is a power bat who will start the season at Triple A. He could eventually fill the power void left by Trumbo.

2013: 78-84, 3d. Manager: Mike Scioscia (15th year)

LFKole Calhoun55832.282.808
CFMike Trout1902797.323.988
1BAlbert Pujols1011764.258.767
RFJosh Hamilton1442179.250.739
3BDavid Freese121960.262.721
DHRaul Ibanez1102965.242.793
2BHowie Kendrick1421354.297.775
SSErick Aybar149654.271.683
CChris Iannetta731139.225.731

RHJered Weaver11-
LHC.J. Wilson17-73.398.01.342
RHGarrett Richards7-
LHHector Santiago4-93.568.31.403
LHTyler Skaggs2-
RHErnesto Frieri373.8012.81.238

2. Oakland

The A’s won’t have Jarrod Parker (Tommy John surgery) all season and will be without another starting pitcher, A.J. Griffin, for likely the first month. Scott Kazmir was also injured late in camp. If healthy, the A’s have one of the best rotations in baseball, and their bullpen, with the addition of Jim Johnson, should be top shelf. A healthy Josh Reddick and breakout year by Yoenis Cespedes could propel the A’s.

Rookie to watch: Miles Head, a power-hitting first baseman/DH acquired from the Red Sox in the Andrew Bailey deal, could get the call if there are injuries.

2013: 96-68, 1st. Manager: Bob Melvin (4th year)

CFCoco Crisp1342266.261.779
3B Josh Donaldson1742493.301.883
SSJed Lowrie1751575.290.791
LFYoenis Cespedes1272680.240.737
1BBrandon Moss1143087.256.859
RFJosh Reddick871256.226.686
2BAlberto Callaspo1171058.258.702
DHJohn Jaso56321.271.759
CDerek Norris65930.246.754

RHSonny Gray5-32.679.41.109
LHScott Kazmir10-
RHJesse Chavez2-43.928.61.221
RHDan Straily10-83.967.31.241
RHA.J. Griffin*14-103.837.71.125
RHJim Johnson502.947.21.280

3. Texas

The Rangers are perennially on the doorstep of something big, but entering 2014 they don’t wow you. Adding lefthanded power in Prince Fielder and trading away Ian Kinsler to allow Jurickson Profar (when he gets healthy) to play every day should be a long-term plus. Joakim Soria is their closer?

Rookie to watch: Engel Beltre, the center fielder acquired from the Red Sox in the Eric Gagne deal, is out of options and expected to stick with the major league team.

2013: 91-72, 2d. Manager: Ron Washington (8th year)

LFShin-Soo Choo1622154.285.885
SSElvis Andrus168467.271.659
1BPrince Fielder17425106.279.819
3B Adrian Beltre1993092.315.880
RFAlex Rios1711881.278.756
DHMitch Moreland1072360.232.736
C J.P. Arencibia922155.194.592
CFLeonys Martin119849.260.698
2BJosh Wilson1214.200.562

RHYu Darvish*13-92.8311.91.073
LHMartin Perez10-63.626.11.335
RHTanner Scheppers6-21.886.91.070
LHJoe Saunders11-
RHNick Martinez MINORS IN 2013
RHJoakim Soria03.8010.61.352

4. Seattle

The big splash of the offseason was the signing of Robinson Cano, but the Mariners may not have done enough to protect him even if Corey Hart and Logan Morrison pan out. The rotation also needs another arm to go with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but the Mariners’ efforts to sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana was unsuccessful.

Rookie to watch: Taijuan Walker suffered a spring training injury but the Mariners have high hopes that he’ll take a spot in the rotation not long into the season.

2013: 71-91, 4th. Manager: Lloyd McClendon (1st year)

LFDustin Ackley97431.253.660
3BKyle Seager1602269.260.764
2BRobinson Cano19027107.314.899
DHCorey HartINJURED IN 2013
1BJustin Smoak1082050.238.746
CFLogan Morrison71636.242.709
RFMichael Saunders961246.236.720
CMike Zunino37514.214.620
SSBrad Miller81836.265.737

RHFelix Hernandez12-
RHHisashi Iwakuma*14-62.667.61.006
RHTaijuan Walker*1-03.607.21.000
RHErasmo Ramirez5-34.987.11.452
LHJames Paxton3-01.507.90.917
RHFernando Rodney373.3811.11.335

5. Houston

Predictions are usually all over the map, but not this one. Can we unanimously agree that the Astros, coming off three consecutive 100-loss seasons, will be the worst team in the AL? Let’s wait for the George Springer era to begin — he hit 37 homers in the minors last season — before we signal a new era of baseball in Houston.

Rookie to watch: Springer, a center fielder, could be the next Mike Trout type. He should be up at some point in 2014.

2013: 51-111, 5th. Manager: Bo Porter (2d year)

CFDexter Fowler1091242.263.776
2BJose Altuve177552.283.678
C Jason Castro1201856.276.835
1BChris Carter1132982.223.770
DHMarc Krauss28413.209.633
LFRobbie Grossman69421.268.702
3BMatt Dominguez1312177.241.690
RFL.J. Hoes48110.287.708
SSJonathan Villar5118.243.640

RHScott Feldman12-123.866.51.183
RHJarred Cosart1-11.955.01.350
LHBrett Oberholtzer4-52.765.71.102
RHLucas Harrell6-175.865.21.705
LH Dallas Keuchel6-
RHChad Qualls02.617.11.226

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.