Miguel Cabrera – Tigers
Third base in the central was irrevocably changed by the Tigers signing Prince Fielder to a nine year, $209 million deal. Miguel Cabrera, though some years and about 50 lbs ago has plenty of experience playing 3rd base with the Marlins and was the logical choice for the Tigers to move back there, instantly making him the class of the division.
Simply put, Cabrera is a machine. In 2011 he posted career highs in average .344 and OBP .448 and has averaged 33 HR and 118 RBI in a nine season span. Cabrera’s other power metrics are equally frightening, he has a career ISO of .239, with a career HR/FB % of nearly double the league average and has a SO/BB ration of just 1.57. Despite having a poor glove throughout his career and having some extra weight to carry around at the hot corner – Cabrera is one of the top 3 players in the game. Oh and one more thing, since his first full season in 2004 he has averaged just shy of 157 games played per season! Who is Detroit’s only player that can better that you ask? Price Fielder at just shy of 160, wow!
Mike Moustakas – Royals
The drop off after Cabrera is dramatic but in Moustakas the Royals may have something special. Moose’s big league debut was consistently overshadowed by an underwhelming initial call-up to the big league roster and Eric Hosmer’s consistent excellence. In September however, Moustakas gave everyone a taste of his capabilities with a .352 average to go along with four second half home runs and 26 RBI. Overall Moose put up a 2011 line of .263/.309/.367 along with some solid contact and plate discipline metrics. Moustakas was a higher rated prospect than Hosmer moving through the Royals system (which including an unbelievable season at 2 minor league levels in which he hit .322 with 36 HR and 124 RBI). Moose has star power but at the tender age of 23, it is unclear whether he is ready to translate that talent into major league numbers as early as 2012.
Danny Valencia – Twins
After impressing as a middle-season call-up in 2010 to the tune of .311/.351/.448 line in 85 games, Valencia game down to earth in his sophomore campaign after his BAbip fell 70 points between the 2 seasons. Valencia did show some pop in his second season, launching 15 HR and driving in 72 runs. Valencia also showed signs of improvement in his plate discipline; despite striking out more in 2011, he increased his walk rate and pitches per plate appearance but continuing to improve upon these marks will be crucial if Valencia is to overturn a mediocre 2011. Ron Gardenhire publicly criticized Valencia throughout the season for defensive lapses in concentration and lamented Valencia for trying to do too much with the ball instead of relying on his natural strength and pull power stroke. Valencia is off to a hot start this spring, so it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back in 2012.
Lonnie Chisenhall – Indians
Chisenhall was a mid-year promotion by the Indians who contributed solidly to their push for the AL Central before the Tigers ran away with it late in the year. The Indians hope Chisenhall can develop into a solid offensive and defensive contributor who can man their hot corner for the next 10 years. In 66 games he was good for a .255/.284/.415 line with 7 HR and 22 RBI while providing a solid glove at third. Chisenhall’s main Achilles heal in his debut was a putrid 3.6% BB/9 (MLB average 8.1%). This combined with an above average SO% led to Chisenhall’s miserable OBP. If he can improve his plate discipline (and his .344 OBP in four minor league seasons suggests he can) the Indians third base job will be his to lose for the foreseeable future.
Brent Morel – White Sox
Morel was taken by the White Sox in the 3rd round of the 2008 amateur draft and before the 2011 season Baseball America rated him as the #85 prospect in all of baseball. In his first two seasons however, he has failed to live up to his billing as a top prospect. Despite showing growth from his 2010 debut Morel managed a batting slash line of just .245/.287/.366 in 2011. Morel’s OBP was still atrocious last season despite improving his LD% and cutting his SO% in half. In two big league seasons Morel has had a BAbip of .262 so he may be in for a significant rise in OBP and batting average if he can find a few more holes this season. Still for my money, Morel is the weakest in a pretty weak field at 3B in the AL Central.