American League Central

Spring Training 2003

February 13, 2003|By Roch Kubatko

Minnesota Twins

Manager: Ron Gardenhire

2002 finish: 94-67, first place

Story line: The Twins beat more than contraction last season. They won the division and reached the AL Championship Series. Now comes the part where they try to prove that 2002 wasn't a fluke.

Changing faces: Management was more concerned with keeping its pieces in place. Relievers Mike Fetters and Jose Cabrera could replace Bob Wells and Mike Jackson. Infielder Chris Gomez also joins the roster. David Ortiz was released.

Burning question: Can the rotation stay healthy and enable the Twins to defend their division title? Joe Mays missed three months last season, Brad Radke two and Eric Milton one. Rick Reed is the only starter older than 30, but these guys seem awfully brittle.

Chicago White Sox

Manager: Jerry Manuel

2002 finish: 81-81, second place

Story line: The White Sox emerged as a more serious contender this winter by trading for ace Bartolo Colon and closer Billy Koch, and retaining slugger Frank Thomas. That might be enough to overtake the Twins in an extremely weak division. At least, they think so.

Changing faces: Colon was obtained from the Expos in a three-team trade. The White Sox signed Esteban Loaiza and Gil Heredia to challenge youngster Jon Rauch for the fifth spot in the rotation. Catcher Sandy Alomar returns to the organization, and Tom Gordon and Rick White solidify the bullpen. Brian Daubach signed a minor-league contract and could be a real steal.

Burning question: After working with hitting guru Walt Hriniak, is Thomas poised for a huge offensive season or is he a hopeless case? The White Sox are gambling that Thomas can regain his MVP form and maintain a good attitude. Neither is a sure thing.

Cleveland Indians

Manager: Eric Wedge

2002 finish: 74-88, third place

Story line: After dominating the division for so many years under Mike Hargrove, the Indians are in full rebuilding mode. They've got a new manager with no name recognition, and a bunch of unproven players on the roster. Only in the AL Central could the Indians not be projected as a bottom feeder.

Changing faces: This is a pretty faceless team now that Jim Thome is gone. Shane Spencer signed as a free agent, and first baseman Travis Hafner and pitcher Aaron Myette came over from Texas. The pitching staff also added left-hander Brian Anderson and Jason Bere. Third base could go to former Oriole Casey Blake by default.

Burning question: Are the Indians better off leaving third base empty and relying on shortstop Omar Vizquel's range? Blake isn't likely to appease the fans, and the Indians are taking a real gamble if they think Ricky Gutierrez can move there from second base after having neck surgery last year. Remember when Thome played there?

Kansas City Royals

Manager: Tony Pena

2002 finish: 62-100, fourth place

Story line: Small-market team goes to the big city and gets swept. It should happen enough times to keep the Royals near the 100-loss mark again. But at least the steaks are good.

Changing faces: Albie Lopez was signed as a middle reliever, but the starters are so bad that he could crack the rotation. James Baldwin also will be in camp, with an opportunity to start. Infielder Desi Relaford and catcher Mike DiFelice have come aboard. Closer Roberto Hernandez is gone, and the leading candidate to replace him is rookie Mike MacDougal, who was dominant in Puerto Rico this winter.

Burning question: Will the Royals keep center fielder Carlos Beltran, who can become a free agent after the 2004 season and won't sign a long-term contract with them? His trade value goes down the longer he stays, but the Royals won't give him away. They want at least one top prospect, preferably two.

Detroit Tigers

Manager: Alan Trammell

2002 finish: 55-106, fifth place

Story line: Maybe a reunion of the 1984 team will cure the Tigers, who tied the Devil Rays for the worst record in the majors. Trammell will have Kirk Gibson as bench coach to lend more inexperience to the dugout. Maybe these guys can suit up and play. Anyone seen Lou Whitaker lately?

Changing faces: They need to change the entire clubhouse. This team could lose 120 games. The Tigers are the latest club to believe former Oriole Eugene Kingsale can be its everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter. Catcher Bill Haselman ranks as a significant signing in Motown, and the Tigers actually are giving left-hander Steve Avery a chance. This guy hasn't thrown a pitch that's reached the catcher since the mid-'90s.

Burning question: Can the Tigers avoid a 10th straight losing season? It would help if they could avoid a 10th straight losing April. This team knows slow starts. Nobody is asking for another 35-5, which preceded the '84 championship, but they've got a better chance of going 5-35.

Teams are listed in order of last year's finish.

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