In 2023, the American League Central had seven players named as a reserve or replacement into the 2023 AL All-Star team. Jose Ramirez, Salvador Perez, and Luis Robert Jr. were named as the reserve fielders, meanwhile Sonny Gray, Michael Lorenzen, Pablo Lopez, and Emmanuel Clase were all named as reserve pitchers.
As we look into the 2024 season, a few of those players won’t make this list.
The Minnesota Twins ran away with what was at one point a close race for the AL Central pennant, but finished nine games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers.
Going into the 2023 postseason, Minnesota found themselves in a AL Wild Card match-up against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Twins went on to defeat the Blue Jays 2-0 and advanced to the ALDS against the AL West’s Houston Astros and lost 3-1.
None of the teams in the AL Central are a favorite to win the World Series by any means, but it is a division with a group of players that are improving significantly, which could cause more chaos in the AL Central race in the upcoming season.
Let’s take a look and rank the best position players in this division to show which team may have the upper-hand to what should be a tight division race this year.
1. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Guardians
Ramirez has been one of the most premiere third baseman, not only in the American League, but in all of baseball. In the past eight years, Ramirez leads all MLB third baseman in doubles (301), stolen bases (182), and intentional walks (76). He has been towards the top of the list for third baseman consistently since 2017.
Last year with Shohei Ohtani’s unanimous AL MVP nod, Ramirez received 40 total points on the ballot, which was the 10th-most in the AL. Ramírez hit .282 to go along with 172 hits, 36 doubles, five triples, 24 home runs, 80 RBI, 28 stolen bases, and an .831 OPS.
One of the most underrated qualities of Ramirez at the plate is his patience. He also led third basemen in batting average and fewest strikeouts with only 73. As per usual, he led all third basemen in stolen bases and intentional walks (22). In addition to that, he led all hitters in the division with his 5.0 WAR.
Coming into 2024, the 31-year old Ramirez doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and will continue to shine on a rebuilding Cleveland Guardians team that will be exciting to watch this year. As we sit today, Ramirez remains the best player in the division.
2. Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals
This time last year, it was unclear whether or not Witt Jr. could be the everyday shortstop for the Kansas City Royals. A year later, he is the player they will build their franchise around for years to come. Especially after signing an 11-year, $288.77 million contract extension.
In just his second season in the big leagues, the 23-year-old hit 30 home runs and stole 49 bases. In doing so, Witt Jr. made history, becoming the first player to record a 30-30 season in a Royals uniform.
Playing for a team that lost 106 games, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. The average baseball fan probably didn’t realize that Witt Jr. finished seventh in the American League MVP voting.
Reminder, this is a kid that is entering his third season in the majors, and has made history in both of his first two seasons. In 2022, he also became the second rookie in history to record a 20 homerun-30 stolen base season.
Taking it a step further, only five other active players have put together more than one 20-30 season in their careers: Mike Trout (three), Ronald Acuña Jr. (two), Jose Altuve (two) and Trea Turner (two), and Witt Jr. has already done so by the age of 23.
We’re approaching a season where Witt Jr. will more than likely receive his first All-Star nod, and continue to develop into one of the next superstars of the game.
3. Luis Robert Jr., Chicago White Sox
Robert Jr. is coming off an incredible 2023 season where we witnessed his breakout season hitting 38 homeruns. Although he was third in the division in bWAR (4.4.), Robert Jr. has quickly become one of the most feared power hitters in all of baseball.
Coming into his pro career, Robert Jr. was a top 10 prospect to many right out of the gate. He also signed a lucrative six-year $50 million contract extension before he even saw a pitch in the majors. The hype has been real, and last season Robert Jr. showcased what the scouts saw of him in Cuba prior to coming to the States.
He finished third in the American League in home runs, third in slugging percentage (.542), and tied for fifth in OPS (.857). It was a good bounce back season after dealing with a groin injury in 2022.
If he can work on his approach at the plate and get those strikeouts down, he could be an AL MVP candidate.
4. Carlos Correa, Minnesota Twins
It was a very disappointing 2023 season for Carlos Correa. After hitting for an average of .291, with 152 hits, and 22 homeruns in 2022, he followed it up in 2023 with a .230 average, only 118 hits, and 18 homeruns.
Believe it or not, he still led the team in hits and doubles. In hindsight, we found out he was dealing with plantar fasciitis and was playing through it. As the postseason approached, both the Minnesota Twins and Correa were different animals.
He ended up going 9-for-22 in the postseason, adding three doubles and four RBIs. His play helped the Twins end their postseason game losing streak and postseason series drought.
Correa’s been recovering from plantar fasciitis, and expects to be healthy and ready to go this season. Taking that momentum into 2024, he should return to what the Twins expected him to be when they signed him to his huge contract.
5. Royce Lewis, Minnesota Twins
Coming off a stellar rookie campaign in 2023, the expectations for Lewis have grown significantly for the 2024 season. In 58 games, Lewis finished with a .309/.372/.548 slash line to go along with his 15 home runs and 52 RBIs. Not to mention, a pair of home runs in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Although it wasn’t enough to result in a series win, Lewis would continue his dominance at the plate in the ALDS series against the Astros.
As a former first overall pick by the Twins back in 2017, Lewis is beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. If he can work on some minor things that typically improve with more time on the field (chasing balls out of the strike zone), both Lewis and the Twins could see a great 2024 season, as it will likely be his first full season.
He dealt with oblique and knee injuries last season, so if he can escape the injury bug this season, it will be a great season from him. At the age of 24, Lewis is expected to be a star for this team and this should be the year that will give the organization the answers they need.
6. Andrés Giménez, Cleveland Guardians
Guardians second baseman Andrés Giménez is coming off his second-straight AL Gold Glove win in 2023, as he is arguably the best defensive second baseman in baseball. Giménez also took home the Platinum Glove for being the top defender in the American League last year.
His offensive stats dropped a bit in 2023 compared to 2022, but he managed to finish September with a .333/.369/.490 slash line. A drop from a 142 wRC+ in 2022, to a 97 wRC+ in 2023 is steep and can cast some doubt as to if he reach those heights from 2022 again.
Still, Giménez nearly posted an identical number of extra-base hits in the last two years, finishing with 46 and 47 respectively in 2022 and 2023. He has eclipsed 15 home runs each year and added 10 stolen bases, going from 20 in 2022, to 30 in 2023.
If Giménez can build off his strong finish to the 2023 season, there is a good chance we could see elite production from the 25-year-old again. Particularly since he is working off such a strong base with what he brings defensively.
7. Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
As a top overall pick from the 2020 MLB Draft, Torkelson has struggled to find his way in the majors — until last year. After hitting 31 homeruns, and 94 RBIs, he slugged his way to the Tiger of the Year Award (voted on by the Detroit chapter of BWAA).
The Detroit Tigers made a second-half surge that made the AL Central division race more exhilarating, and Torkelson played a huge role in that. Tork hit 19 of his 31 home runs after the All-Star break.
His 31 home runs ranked eighth in the American League, which was also was the first 30-homer season by a Tiger since Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton did it back in 2016.
In addition to that, Torkelson’s led the team with 34 doubles, 88 runs scored, 94 RBIs, and games played with 159. He doesn’t rank very high in terms of WAR, but that is mainly because of his defense. He plays first base, where he doesn’t have much opportunity to do much to raise stats like his bWAR (0.8). At the age of 23, he has the chance to become the best hitter on the club, and a guy to build around for the future in Detroit.
8. Josh Naylor, Cleveland Guardians
Naylor missed 40 games last season, so he couldn’t be higher on the list. Even with that missed time, he still finished with the eighth-most RBIs (97) in the AL. He also posted a .308 average to go along with 31 doubles, and 17 home runs. Not to be that guy, but even 10-20 more games, he finishes in the top five in RBIs at the very least.
In 2023, Naylor became a better all-around hitter, and improved his defensive range at first base. He has been playing with a chip on his shoulder, especially since his name has been thrown around in trade rumors. It’s safe to say it has helped his play and will continue to do so.
Unless, Naylor and the Guardians reach a contract extension, he will be a free-agent after 2025. A stat I love about him is his 14.9% strikeout rate. He’s a tough out at the plate, and will only get better — he’s only 26.
9. Riley Greene, Detroit Tigers
One of the most exciting things about the Tigers right now is their loaded outfield. As a typical center fielder, Greene may instead find himself playing more right field in 2024, with Parker Meadows likely winning the starting center field position. Green’s 2023 didn’t end how he had hoped, ending the season needing to get Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Greene finished the season with a .288 average, along with 11 homers and 7 SBs in only 378 at-bats. At just 22 years old, Greene hasn’t come close to reaching his potential, but now that the surgery is in his rear-view, he could spend some time in right field this season, and even possibly time as a designated hitter. He could use some fine tuning, but overall, Greene is one of the most exciting players to watch in the AL Central in 2024.
10. Vinnie Pasquantino, Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino is ready for 2024, probably more than any other player in this top 10. He missed 102 games last season, due to shoulder surgery. Prior to that, he had nine home runs, 26 RBIs and 17 doubles. Before tearing his labrum in his right shoulder in his sophomore season in the majors, he showed tons of promise at the plate. The first baseman came on hot as a rookie in 2022, slashing .295/.383/.450 in 298 appearances at the plate.
The Royals spent way more than typically do this past off-season, and it shows they’re tired of losing, and are ready to win. Now fully cleared to return to the field, Pasquantino is primed and ready for a huge 2024. As of now, he is expected to be the Opening Day starter at first base in Kansas City, and it will be exciting to watch him bounce back.
Honorable Mentions: Edouard Julien and Steven Kwan
There are a few players I really wanted to include on this list, but there’s just too many.
Edouard Julien was called up in late May of last season, and went on to have an impressive rookie season as well. After being called up, he hit 16 home runs and ran a 136 wRC+ over 109 games.
Due to his stellar play, he ended up finishing seventh in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Not bad for a first year. Add this, along with his play at the 2023 World Baseball Classic for Canada, and you’ve got a 24-year-old stud at second base grooming before ours eyes.
What made his WBC so impressive, was leading the Tournament in OPS (1.821) and slugging percentage (1.154). As the leadoff hitter in Minnesota, it could be a huge year for Julien as well.
Speaking of leadoff hitters, Steven Kwan is arguably one of the best leadoff hitters in the American League. Kwan is coming off a 2023 campaign where he nearly duplicated his 2022 stats.
In both respective seasons in Cleveland, he has accumulated 160 or more hits, and finished with an average of .260 or higher. Although his average took a little dip from his .289 mark in 2022, he still hit .268 last season, to go along with 171 hits, which was three more than 2022. He is already showing consistency at the plate.
It will be a competitive race this season in the AL Central. Teams that have been rebuilding for the past few years are starting to come together, including the Tigers, Royals and the Guardians. There is a ton of talent on all of those teams and along with the Twins, will create some chaos in the division this year.
A common theme with a lot of these players are based on what they can do with a full season, Whether it’s due to dealing with an injury, or because they’ve been making their way up to the majors. This could the year for a lot of breakouts in the AL Central, with budding stars having the chance to vie for a wide-open division.