- Associated Press - Friday, April 3, 2015

Capsules of American League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:

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Detroit Tigers

2014: 90-72, 1st place, lost to Baltimore in Division Series.

Manager: Brad Ausmus (second season).

He’s Here: OF Yoenis Cespedes, RHP Shane Greene, RHP Alfredo Simon, OF Anthony Gose, LHP Tom Gorzelanny.

He’s Outta Here: RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Rick Porcello, OF Torii Hunter, SS Eugenio Suarez, LHP Phil Coke, UT Don Kelly, OF Ezequiel Carrera.

Projected Lineup: CF Anthony Gose (.226, 2, 13, 15 SBs with Toronto) or CF Rajai Davis (.282, 8, 51, 36 SBs), 2B Ian Kinsler (.275, 17, 92), 1B Miguel Cabrera (.313, 25, 109), DH Victor Martinez (.335, 32, 103), RF J.D. Martinez (.315, 23, 76), LF Yoenis Cespedes (.260, 22, 100 with Boston and Oakland), 3B Nick Castellanos (.259, 11, 66), C Alex Avila (.218, 11, 47), SS Jose Iglesias (.303, 3, 29 with Detroit and Boston in 2013; missed 2014 season due to injury).

Rotation: LH David Price (15-12, 3.26, MLB-best 271 Ks with Detroit and Tampa Bay), RH Justin Verlander (15-12, 4.54), RH Anibal Sanchez (8-5, 3.43), RH Shane Greene (5-4, 3.78 with New York Yankees), RH Alfredo Simon (15-10, 3.44 with Cincinnati).

Key Relievers: RH Joe Nathan (5-4, 4.81, 35/42 saves), RH Joakim Soria (2-4, 3.25, 18/20 saves with Detroit and Texas), RH Bruce Rondon (1-2, 3.45 in 2013; missed 2014 season due to injury), RH Al Alburquerque (3-1, 2.51), LH Tom Gorzelanny (0-0, 0.86 with Milwaukee).

Hot Spots: The bullpen was a problem last season, and although the Tigers brought back many of the same relievers from 2014, they might not be as patient with Nathan if he starts slowly at age 40. Rondon’s return from elbow surgery could be crucial. Verlander is starting the season on the disabled list because of tightness in his right triceps, and Cabrera and Martinez are both recovering from offseason operations and missed a good chunk of the exhibition season. If those two sluggers are ready when the season starts, the biggest question about the lineup would probably be the top two spots. If Kinsler leads off, there’s no obvious choice to hit second. If Gose and Davis can get on base enough to handle the leadoff spot, Kinsler can drop down to No. 2 and bat in front of Cabrera and Martinez.

Outlook: After four consecutive AL Central titles, the Tigers are not a clear favorite this season. Kansas City finished only a game back last year before its run to the American League pennant, and both Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox look threatening. After losing Scherzer to free agency, Detroit is hoping for a bounce-back season from Verlander. There are still enough stars on this roster to contend for a championship, but the top players need to be healthy and performing. Price pitched Detroit to a division-clinching win on the final day of the 2014 season, and now the Tigers are hoping a full season of the left-hander will help stave off any major decline in their fortunes.

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Kansas City Royals

2014: 89-73, second place, lost to San Francisco in World Series.

Manager: Ned Yost (sixth season).

He’s Here: RHP Edinson Volquez, DH Kendrys Morales, OF Alex Rios, RHP Kris Medlen, RHP Chris Young, RHP Ryan Madson.

He’s Outta Here: RHP James Shields, DH Billy Butler, OF Nori Aoki, RHP Aaron Crow, 2B Johnny Giavotella, INF Jayson Nix, OF Raul Ibanez, OF Josh Willingham.

Projected Lineup: SS Alcides Escobar (.285, 3 HRs, 50 RBIs, 31 SBs), LF Alex Gordon (.266, 19, 74), 1B Eric Hosmer (.270, 9, 58), DH Kendrys Morales (.218, 8, 42 with Minnesota and Seattle), RF Alex Rios (.280, 4, 54 with Texas), C Salvador Perez (.260, 17, 70), RF Lorenzo Cain (.301, 5, 53), 3B Mike Moustakas (.212, 15, 54), 2B Omar Infante (.252, 6, 66).

Rotation: RH Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20 ERA), LH Jason Vargas (11-10, 3.71), RH Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04 with Pittsburgh), LH Danny Duffy (9-12, 2.53), RH Jeremy Guthrie (13-11, 4.13).

Key Relievers: RH Greg Holland (1-3, 1.44, 46 saves), RH Wade Davis (9-2, 1.00), RH Kelvin Herrera (4-3, 1.41), RH Luke Hochevar (Tommy John surgery), LH Franklin Morales (6-9, 5.37 with Colorado), RH Chris Young (12-9, 3.65 with Seattle).

Hot Spots: The bullpen and the weight room. The Royals return their H-D-H troupe of Herrera, Davis and Holland that last year turned just about any lead after the sixth inning into a win. Throw in Luke Hochevar, back from Tommy John surgery, and most games could be reduced to five innings from the rotation. Good thing, considering Ventura and Duffy are expected to take on the leadership role that Shields vacated, despite being relatively young. As for the weight room? Well, the Royals will need to do a whole lot better than the 95 home runs they produced last season if they want to repeat as AL champs. Nobody on the team had more than 20 homers, but GM Dayton Moore is banking on Morales and Rios to help out in the power department. Both are seeking bounce-back years.

Outlook: The Royals are no longer the overlooked little brother in the stacked AL Central. After reaching Game 7 of the World Series, expectations have changed, and fans that were content with being in contention will no longer settle for a .500 record. That means there will be pressure on a lot of young players, including Hosmer and Moustakas, to assume leadership roles for the first time. If they can stay healthy like last season, and their returning core plays as well as it did in September and October, the Royals could have enough to give favorites Detroit, Cleveland and the White Sox a stiff test in their division.

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Cleveland Indians

2014: 85-77, third place.

Manager Terry Francona (third season).

He’s Here: RF-DH Brandon Moss, LHP Scott Downs, RHP Shaun Marcum, RHP Anthony Swarzak.

He’s Outta Here: RHP Justin Masterson, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, C Chris Gimenez, OF Nyjer Morgan, INF Justin Sellers.

Projected Lineup: CF Michael Bourn (.257, 3 HRs, 28 RBIs, 10 steals), 2B Jason Kipnis (.240, 6, 41), LF Michael Brantley (.327, 20, 97, 45 2Bs), 1B-C Carlos Santana (.231, 27, 85, league-high 113 walks), DH-OF Brandon Moss (.234, 25, 81 for Oakland), C-DH Yan Gomes (.278, 21, 74, 120 Ks), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (.280, 13, 59, 18 errors), RF David Murphy (.262, 8, 58, .360 with runners in scoring position) or Ryan Raburn (.200, 4, 22, 74 games), SS Jose Ramirez (.262, 2, 17, 13 sacrifices).

Rotation: RH Corey Kluber (18-9, 2.44 ERA, 34 starts, 269 Ks, Cy Young winner), RH Carlos Carrasco (8-7, 2.55, MLB-best 1.30 ERA after Aug. 10), RH Trevor Bauer (5-8, 4.18 as rookie), Zach McAllister (4-7, 5.23 in 15 starts), LH T.J. House (5-3, 3.35, 18 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Cody Allen (6-4, 24 saves in 76 games), RH Bryan Shaw (5-5, 2.59, league-high 80 games), RH Scott Atchison (6-0, 2.75 in 70 games), LH Marc Rzepczynski (0-3, 2.74, career-high 73 games).

Hot Spots: Kipnis. An All-Star in 2013, the 28-year-old had a forgettable 2014, which began with him signing a six-year, $52.5 million contract. A strained oblique landed him on the disabled list in April and Kipnis never fully recovered. He sustained a gruesome finger injury while lifting weights during an offseason he dedicated to reshaping his body. The Indians are counting on him to bounce back, drive in runs and be a team leader.

Outlook: With a strong nucleus, one of baseball’s youngest rotations and budding superstars in Brantley and Kluber, the Indians are poised to do more than just contend in ‘14. They were in the playoff race until the final weekend last season despite injuries and sub-par seasons from key players, and there’s no reason to think they won’t be in the hunt again. Francona has a gift for getting his players to buy in and believe, and the Indians are confident they can move to the top of the challenging AL Central. The lack of a bona fide power hitter remains a problem - Moss will help - and Cleveland has to be better defensively after leading the majors in errors last season.

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Chicago White Sox

2014: 73-89, fourth place.

Manager: Robin Ventura (fourth season).

He’s Here: 1B-DH Adam LaRoche, RHP Jeff Samardzija, RHP David Robertson, OF Melky Cabrera, LHP Zach Duke.

He’s Outta Here: 1B-DH Paul Konerko.

Projected Lineup: CF Adam Eaton (.300, 1, 35, 15 SBs, 9 CS), LF Melky Cabrera (.301, 16, 73 with Toronto), 1B Jose Abreu (.317, 36, 107, .383 OBP), DH Adam LaRoche (.259, 26, 92 with Washington), RF Avisail Garcia (.244, 7, 29), SS Alexei Ramirez (.273, 15, 74), 3B Conor Gillaspie (.282, 7, 57), C Tyler Flowers (.241, 15, 50), 2B Micah Johnson (.294, 5, 44 with Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte).

Rotation: LH Chris Sale (12-4, 2.17, 208 Ks, 39 BBs), RH Jeff Samardzija (7-13, 2.99, 202 Ks, 43 with Cubs, Oakland), LH Jose Quintana (9-11, 3.32), LH John Danks (11-11, 4.74), RH Hector Noesi (8-12, 4.75 with Seattle, Texas and White Sox).

Key relievers: RH David Robertson (4-5, 3.08, 39/44 saves with New York Yankees), LH Zach Duke (5-1, 2.45 with Milwaukee), RH Jake Petricka (1-6, 2.96, 14 saves), LH Dan Jennings (0-2, 1.34 with Miami), RH Daniel Webb (6-5, 3.99).

Hot Spots: Chicago is inexperienced at second base, where the rookie Johnson appears to be the leader over Carlos Sanchez in their competition. Another question mark is the back end of the rotation, although the White Sox are strong at the top with Sale, Samardzija and Quintana.

Outlook: While the crosstown Cubs added manager Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester, the White Sox had a busy offseason, too. And they believe they are poised to contend in the AL Central after back-to-back losing seasons. The White Sox added left-handed pop to their lineup when they signed LaRoche ($25 million, two years) to complement AL Rookie of the Year Abreu, and they boosted the top of the order with the addition of Cabrera ($42 million, three years). They also strengthened their rotation by acquiring Samardzija from Oakland and their bullpen by signing Robertson ($46 million, four years) and Duke ($15 million, three years). Samardzija, an Indiana native who grew up rooting for the White Sox, slides into the No. 2 spot behind Sale. With Sale out with a broken foot, Samardzija will get the start on opening day against Kansas City after pitching the past two openers for the Cubs. Robertson and Duke strengthen a bullpen that ranked among baseball’s worst last season. Chicago tied for seventh in the majors with 21 blown saves and had the fourth lowest save percentage (63.2).

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Minnesota Twins

2014: 70-92, 5th place.

Manager: Paul Molitor (first season).

He’s Here: Manager Paul Molitor, RHP Ervin Santana, RF Torii Hunter, RHP Tim Stauffer, RHP Blaine Boyer, OF Shane Robinson, RHP J.R. Graham.

He’s Outta Here: Manager Ron Gardenhire, RHP Jared Burton, RHP Anthony Swarzak, 1B-RF Chris Colabello, RF-1B Chris Parmelee.

Projected Lineup: SS Danny Santana (.319, 7 HRs, 40 RBIs, 20 SBs), 2B Brian Dozier (.242, 23, 71, 21 SBs), 1B Joe Mauer (.277, 4, 55, career-high 96 strikeouts), RF Torii Hunter (.286, 17, 83 for Detroit), DH Kennys Vargas (.274, 9, 38 in 215 ABs), 3B Trevor Plouffe (.258, 14, 80, 40 2Bs), LF Oswaldo Arcia (.231, 20, 57), C Kurt Suzuki (.288, 3, 61), CF Jordan Schafer (.285, 1, 13, 15 SBs in 130 ABs).

Projected Rotation: RH Phil Hughes (16-10, 3.52, major league-record 11.63 strikeout-walk ratio), RH Ervin Santana (14-10, 3.95 for Atlanta), RH Ricky Nolasco (6-12, 5.38), RH Kyle Gibson (13-12, 4.47), LH Tommy Milone (6-4, 4.19 in 118 innings combined for Oakland and Twins).

Key Relievers: LH Glen Perkins (4-3, 3.65, 34/40 saves), RH Casey Fien (5-6, 3.98), LH Brian Duensing (3-3, 3.31), RH Tim Stauffer (6-2, 3.50 for San Diego), RH Mike Pelfrey (0-3, 7.99 in 5 starts before injury).

Hot Spots: The starting rotation will have a permanent place at the top of the list of question marks, until the group can prove otherwise. Hughes had a stellar season after shedding the pressure of that New York Yankees uniform, but the onus will be on him to come back with another one. Nolasco, the other big-money signing for last year, can only get better after a career-worst season. Santana received a similar contract for this year, so he’ll be under plenty of scrutiny to give the Twins a good value. Milone beat out Pelfrey, who headed to the bullpen for the first time in his career. Center field is another concern, for the third straight year. After former first-round draft pick Aaron Hicks was sent to Triple-A again, his opportunity all but gone with with budding superstar Byron Buxton’s arrival on the horizon, the versatile-and-speedy Schafer became the starter by default. Shane Robinson, who appeared in 268 games over the last five years with St. Louis, will play a lot in center, too, and he and Schafer will also frequently spell Arcia and Hunter in the corners.

Outlook: Molitor has succeeded Gardenhire, who ran the dugout for the last 13 years, and brought with him the natural fresh start of a new boss. More importantly, Molitor has a keen eye for detail, a Hall of Fame plaque to his name and years of impressing young players in the organization during his time as a roving minor league instructor. There’s nowhere to go but up for a club that has averaged 96 losses over the last four seasons, but patience has worn thin within the fan base and the front office so improvement will be expected under the 58-year-old Molitor. With Buxton and other heralded prospects like third baseman Miguel Sano and pitchers Jose Berrios and Alex Meyer sure to make their major league debuts soon, the foundation for future success must be built under Molitor this season. The division will be as difficult as ever, though. Despite returning every key hitter from a team that had the third-most runs in the majors after the All-Star break last year, there will be a steep learning curve as scouting reports on young players like Santana, Vargas and Arcia pile up. The prospects of success for the Twins are brighter than before, but there is much progress yet to be made.

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