Over the past five seasons, the American League Central has been dominated by the Minnesota Twins and the Cleveland Guardians, formerly known as the Indians. In 2021, the Chicago White Sox ushered in a new era. They win the division in dominating fashion and signaled a changing of the guard.
This current iteration of the White Sox is deep and built for long-term success. No other team in the division finished above .500. However, a new up-and-coming team could throw a wrench in the White Sox plans, bringing back painful memories.
Flashback to 2011 and you’ll remember a time where the division was dominated by the Detroit Tigers. They took home the AL Central crown in four consecutive seasons. In 2012, the White Sox challenged them the entire season but could not hold off a late surge by the Tigers and fell three games short of a playoff berth.
The White Sox hopes to duplicate the early 2010’s Tigers’ success but this current version of the Tigers will not make things easy. Feasting on weak teams in the Central Division is one of the reasons the White Sox were able to coast to a division title in 2021. However, the joy ride against the Tigers may be coming to an end. Detroit showed signs of potential this season and only improved during the offseason.
The Detroit Tigers have a chance to be very annoying for the Chicago White Sox.
What makes Detroit so scary is their mix of young talent supplemented by a solid core of veterans. They are also run by one of the best managers in baseball AJ Hinch.
In their first season under Hinch, the Tigers won 77 games which are their most since 2016. The White Sox did manage to go 12-7 against the Tigers which is a positive. However, Detroit did not make it easy on them as the two sides engaged in some dogfights throughout the season.
During the offseason, the Tigers made a splash by adding Eduardo Rodrigez to a five-year, $77 million contract. Rodrigez brings playoff experience, winning the World Series with the Boston Red Sox. The following year, he finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting.
He will join a rotation that already boasts talented arms such as Casey Mize and Spencer Turnbull. Mize is just 24 and has already shown flashes in the big leagues. He posted a 3.71 ERA last season and held opponents to a .234 average. Turnbull tossed a no-hitter last season and led the Tigers pitching starting rotation with a 2.88 ERA. He also had a 0.98 WHIP.
The Tigers also added Chicago Cubs legend, Javier Baez. He signed a six-year deal worth $140 million. The move signals that the Tigers are trying to build something for the future. Baez is just 29 years old.
He has already been selected to two All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger Award, a World Series title, and was named 2016 NLCS MVP. He joins a lineup that already features some talent that is under team control for a long time.
Tigers catcher Eric Haase belted 22 home runs last season with a 104 OPS+. He has five seasons of club control remaining. Jeimer Candelario served as the Tigers everyday third baseman. He led the American League in doubles and led the Tigers in WAR. He is only 28 years old and just entering his prime.
Jonathan Schoop was a borderline All-Star who was on the White Sox radar at the trade deadline. He is now, however, signed through 2023. Akil Baddoo is a former Rule 5 draft pick who turned himself into a solid Major Leaguer. His 2.1 bWAR was the highest by a Tigers rookie position player since Austin Jackson. Baddoo is athletic and has a very high ceiling.
Robbie Grossman is one of his fellow outfielders. Grossman was a stud in 2021. He hit 23 home runs, stole 20 bases, and posted a 116 OPS+.
Meanwhile, their farm system is stocked with talent. Spencer Torkelson headlines the bunch. The 22-year-old first overall pick in 2020 has raw power. He shattered Barry Bonds’s freshman home run record at Arizona State. He is one of two Tigers players in the top 10 of MLB.com’s top prospect list.
The other is Riley Green who was a member of USA Baseball’s gold-medal-winning 18-and-Under National Team in the Pan-American Championships. He was drafted in 2019 and listed as the best pure hitter of the draft class.
Another prospect in the Top 100 is Jackson Jobe. He is one of the most advanced high school pitching prospects in recent years. His slider grades as a 70 on a scale that only goes up to 80.
Joining that crop of talent is future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabera. Cabera has been tormenting the White Sox for years with his raw opposite-field power and is just shy of 3,000 career hits. While his production has slowed, he is still a threat in the middle of the lineup.
The White Sox still have the best team in the division but they better keep their head on a swivel because the Detroit Tigers are coming.