Top 2024 Bounce-Back Candidates for Each Team in the AL Central

From former Cy Young finalists to a couple of oft-injured superstars, the AL Central has plenty of players looking to bounce back in 2024.

Carlos Correa
FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 23: Carlos Correa #4 of the Minnesota Twins looks on following an introductory press conference at Hammond Stadium on March 23, 2022 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

Last winter, I started a series featuring players in different categories that could all be classified as “underrated” in their own ways. While I do think that term is overused at times, breaking it down into subcategories makes it more meaningful.

Every season, plenty of players produce at a level lower than was expected of them. As a result, many of those same players enter the subsequent season with expectations lower than they should be.

Yet, whether because of expected metrics, past injury difficulties, or just pure, unanticipated down years, there is reason to believe that plenty of these “underrated” players enter the 2024 season with a chance to return to form.

The AL Central has been lackluster in recent years, and while that may not change any time soon, certain players should be much better this coming season. Here are two players from each team in the division that can bounce back in a big way in 2024.

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Chicago White Sox Bounce-Back Candidate: RHP Dylan Cease

2023 Stats: 33 GS, 177 IP, 4.58 ERA, 10.88 K/9, 4.02 BB/9, 3.7 fWAR

After finishing second in the AL Cy Young race in 2022, a race he could’ve won in many other seasons if not for the magnificence of Justin Verlander, Dylan Cease took a turn for the worse last season.

In 2022, he took a step forward and established himself as a true ace despite continued command issues. Last season, his effectiveness dropped, and with some poor luck factored in as well, his ERA more than doubled.

His strikeout numbers remained gaudy, however, and Cease posted a 3.72 FIP in comparison to a 3.10 mark in his breakout season. Still, one area of concern for Cease is that he allowed the highest hard-hit rate of his career, in large part due to a lack of fastball command.

After spending much of the winter on the trade block, Cease appears to be on track to remain the ace of the White Sox, at least until the trade deadline. He is simply way too talented to not bounce back and produce better results this year.

With stuff that ranks among the best in baseball, Cease should have better luck and defense behind him this season, helping him put up numbers somewhere in between those of his 2022 and ’23 seasons.

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Honorable Mention: DH Eloy Jiménez

On the whole, the White Sox performed well below expectations last season, which could lead to a number of players being mentioned here. However, I’ll go with the one that could legitimately hit 40 homers if things click.

Eloy Jiménez has been constantly injured throughout his career thus far, but last season he just wasn’t that great despite being largely healthy. He posted a 143 wRC+ with 16 home runs in just 84 games in 2022 but dropped down to a 105 wRC+ mark with only 18 home runs last year while playing 36 more games.

He has the hitting tools to be a true second anchor in Chicago’s lineup, alongside Luis Robert Jr. This year could be the time for him.

Cleveland Guardians Bounce-Back Candidate: 2B Andrés Giménez

2023 Stats: 153 G, 616 PA, .251/.314/.399, 15 HR, 30 SB, 97 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR

By all standards, Andrés Giménez is one of the best defensive infielders in baseball. His being on this list is purely about his offensive game, which we saw blossom more than anyone expected in 2022 before coming crashing down to earth last year.

In 2022, he was one of the best infielders in the game posting a 142 wRC+ and 6.2 fWAR. The defense remained elite last season, possibly even better, but he reverted to being an average offensive player.

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There is reason to believe that Giménez can get back to his ways offensively, though, and he was still a valuable player in a down year last year, as demonstrated by his 3.6 fWAR. He also posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career last year and continued to improve his base stealing.

While a 142 wRC+ may not be realistic for Giménez, he clearly can be an above-average hitter. At just 25 years old, he could be in line for a five-win season if he’s able to find the middle ground between his offensive numbers from the past two seasons.

Honorable Mention: OF Ramón Laureano

I could have mentioned Shane Bieber, who had a down year in 2022 by his own high standards, but he may just simply be in the next chapter of his career. Instead, I want to mention Laureano, who could become a key piece of the Cleveland outfield after being acquired last August.

Things haven’t gone great for him the past two seasons, but at just 29 years old, Laureano has a shot to reestablish himself as an everyday player on a team that needs to find outfield production. He posted a 1.9 fWAR as recently as 2021 and was an above-average hitter for the first four years of his career.

Detroit Tigers Bounce-Back Candidate: RHP Jack Flaherty

2023 Stats: 29 GS, 144.1 IP, 4.99 ERA, 9.23 K/9, 4.12 BB/9, 1.8 fWAR

This one is tricky, as most of the returning players in Detroit performed up to or exceeded expectations in a season in which the Tigers quietly finished second in the division. One of their recent additions, though, is the definition of a bounce-back signing after a career-worst season.

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Jack Flaherty looked to be the future of the Cardinals pitching staff when he posted a 2.75 ERA in 33 starts at 23 years old in 2019. A combination of arm issues and ineffectiveness has largely derailed his career since then.

After missing most of the 2022 season, Flaherty was healthy for most of 2023, which he spent between St. Louis and Baltimore. Still, he turned in his worst season, posting a 4.99 ERA in 29 games (27 starts). His walk rate remained a huge issue, and he allowed much more hard contact than he did early in his career.

Nevertheless, he showed flashes of potential that made the Tigers inclined to sign him to a $14 million, one-year deal.

Flaherty will get a fresh start and a guaranteed rotation spot with Detroit where he looks to reignite his career. At just 28 years old, he should have more in the tank to offer and could be better than what we saw from him last season.

Honorable Mention: RHP Kenta Maeda

Another recently acquired pitched could provide more value for Detroit than he did last season in Minnesota. Kenta Maeda has put together a solid career but wasn’t the best version of himself last year after returning from surgery (4.23 ERA in 21 games)

His expected era was 3.77, though, and he finished the second half of the year fully healthy with a 3.79 ERA as opposed to his 5.18 mark in the first half. Maeda could end up being an underrated signing if he can pitch like his second-half self for the Tigers.

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Kansas City Royals Bounce-Back Candidate: RHP Brady Singer

2023 Stats: 29 GS, 159.2 IP, 5.52 ERA, 7.50 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, 1.9 fWAR

In 2022, the Royals seemed to have a found core piece of their future rotation, as Brady Singer began to really put things together in his third professional season. He started 24 games and finished with a 3.32 ERA as the leader of the Kansas City rotation.

Unfortunately, Singer struggled mightily to maintain that, and he finished as one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball last season. His ability to miss bats declined significantly, as his strikeout rate dropped over 5% from the year prior. He also allowed a very high 48.4% hard-hit rate.

With veterans Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo signed to lead the rotation (alongside Cole Ragans), Singer will be able to work his way back into form as a middle-of-the-rotation arm this season. The added talent and depth in Kansas City should help provide him with a lower-pressure environment to get back to doing what he does best.

Singer is still a talented arm. He may never repeat 2022, but he’s more than capable of being a solid starter for the Royals this year.

Honorable Mention: OF Hunter Renfroe

Singer’s struggles last year made him the obvious choice as a bounce-back candidate, but Hunter Renfroe is another player in this piece who should be much better in a new situation than he was last season. The outfielder posted at least 2.0 fWAR in each of his last three full seasons with at least 29 home runs in all three of those years.

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Renfroe hit just 20 home runs last year, and his wRC+ dropped all the way to 92 after reaching a career-high 124 in 2022. He should be a featured bat in the lineup for Kansas City and will strive for another 30-homer season in 2024.

Minnesota Twins Bounce-Back Candidate: SS Carlos Correa

2023 Stats: 135 G, 580 PA, .230/.312/.399, 18 HR, 0 SB, 96 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR

Carlos Correa is somehow just 29 years old heading into 2024. Because he debuted at 20 for the Astros, it feels like he should be much older than that by now.

He posted wRC+ numbers of 142, 133, and 140 in 2019, ’21, and ’22, respectively, while providing consistently strong defense at shortstop. Last season, he was nowhere near that player, putting up the first below-average offensive year of his career (2020 aside).

Correa was clearly impacted by his plantar fasciitis last season, and you don’t need me to tell you that he’s much better than a one-win player.

There is almost no need to reference any advanced metrics, as Correa is still young, and he is simply a much better player than the product we saw on the field last year. With a healthy winter to get back to form, he’s going to produce much more similarly to his previous seasons.

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The 6.2 fWAR version of Correa from 2021 may not return, but he’ll be an above-average hitter once again and help further propel a Twins lineup featuring more young talent than it has had in recent years. He showed what he’s still able to do in the postseason, and we’ll see much more of that in 2024.

Honorable Mention: OF/DH Byron Buxton

The injury curse has haunted Byron Buxton for most of his career, but he has shown legit MVP-caliber upside when at his best. Last season, the Twins chose to use him primarily as their DH in order to preserve his health, but he wasn’t very useful at the plate. When he was healthy, he hit for power but didn’t do much of anything else, batting just .207 across his 85 games.

Buxton was excellent when he was on the field in both 2021 and 2022, and he will look to get back to that level while playing more outfield again this coming season. He could be the true X-factor for Minnesota if he can bounce back and perform like we all know he’s capable of.