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What everyone got wrong about the AL Central

@alysonfooter
September 12, 2019

Picks, predictions, prognostications. They're fun to talk about before a baseball season starts, and they pretty much fly right out the window by the time May rolls around. Now that the regular season is wrapping up, let's take a look at some of the things we thought we knew about

Picks, predictions, prognostications. They're fun to talk about before a baseball season starts, and they pretty much fly right out the window by the time May rolls around.

Now that the regular season is wrapping up, let's take a look at some of the things we thought we knew about the teams in the American League Central, but couldn't have been more wrong about. Conventional wisdom gave us every reason to believe we were on track, and we were ... until we weren't.

INDIANS

What we thought: Cleveland lost the Yan Gomes trade in November.
What actually happened: Roberto Perez stepped up.

The Indians traded Gomes on Nov. 30, bringing in right-hander Jefry Rodriguez and outfield prospect Daniel Johnson. That left catching duties in the hands of Perez, who had never served as the everyday catcher in his career. His .168 batting average and .519 OPS from 2018 didn’t bode well for Perez’s transition, but the backstop took it upon himself to get some consistent swings during the Dominican League over the offseason. He returned in ’19 with an offensive bang that no one was expecting. Here’s a look at how Gomes and Perez’s offensive numbers compare entering play on Wednesday:

Perez: 107 games, 22 homers, 55 RBIs, .754 OPS, 92 wRC+
Gomes: 82 games, nine homers, 33 RBIs, .672 OPS, 72 wRC+

Along with Perez, the Indians added a power arm in Rodriguez, who impressed early in the year (before straining a muscle in his right shoulder) when the team was short on starters, and they gained their No. 16 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, in Johnson, who’s hit .306 with an .867 OPS in 84 games since being promoted to Triple-A Columbus.

-- Mandy Bell

ROYALS

What we thought: Kansas City's speedsters would lead the charge.
What actually happened: A disappointing start changed the team's strategy.

The Royals’ offseason theme was a return to speed, which carried them to their World Series run in 2014 and win in '15. They acquired Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore, and they expected those two to add to built-in speedsters Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield, who was the MLB steals king in '18 with 45. Internally, there was talk of Kansas City stealing 200 bags as a team. There also was talk of Gore, as a designated pinch-runner, stealing anywhere from 50-70 bases, given the opportunity.

That plan fizzled when the Royals suffered a 10-game losing streak after winning their first two games, and when they lost 45 of their first 65 games. Late-game speed is only a factor when you’re competitive in the late innings, which the Royals weren’t during the first two months.

The speed plan was scrapped as Hamilton and Gore eventually were designated for assignment and then traded, and as Mondesi suffered two stints on the injured list (although he still might lead the MLB in steals even with all his missed games). The league has caught on to Merrifield, who has found it much tougher to get steals, even as he leads the league again in hits.

-- Jeffrey Flanagan

TIGERS

What we thought: Daz Cameron was nearly ready for the bigs.
What actually happened: He struggled at Triple-A.

Conventional wisdom, especially out of Spring Training, projected outfield prospect Cameron to be knocking on Detroit's door no later than September. His rapid ascent of the farm system in 2018 was simply too impressive to suggest he’d need a full year of Triple-A ball and then some. Instead, a .214 average and 152 strikeouts over 528 plate appearances with the Mud Hens put the brakes on his rise, along with Victor Reyes’ emergence from Rule 5 Draft pick to viable Major League outfielder. Cameron was left off the list of September callups, and with JaCoby Jones expected back healthy next spring, Cameron will need to re-establish his claim to an outfield spot in the Tigers' rebuild. At age 22, he still has time to do so.

-- Jason Beck

TWINS

What we thought: Minnesota would need free-agent bullpen help.
What actually happened: The team did just fine without it.

As the Twins made addition after addition to their deep stable of position players throughout the offseason, many wondered why Minnesota wasn't doing the same with pitchers in order to fortify a staff that appeared to need help in the bullpen. Come Opening Day, the Twins had made only one free-agent signing to reinforce the relief corps by inking Blake Parker to a one-year deal.

That's looking quite good for them now. Many of the relievers in this past offseason's free-agent class didn't end up being worth the money, Parker was designated for assignment in July, and the Twins' bullpen has been anchored by three homegrown pieces in Taylor Rogers, Trevor May and Tyler Duffey. Bolstered by a pair of solid midseason acquisitions in Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson, that largely homegrown bullpen is third in the AL with a 3.63 ERA since the start of August.

-- Do-Hyoung Park

WHITE SOX

What we thought: Luis Robert would need more time in the Minors.
What actually happened: He's ready for The Show.

The goal for the outfielder in 2019 simply was to have a fully healthy season and play well at an advanced Minor League level, after being limited to 50 games in an injury-plagued 2018 campaign. The thought of Robert progressing quickly existed due to the 22-year-old’s immense skill set, but after hitting .269 with no home runs last year, moving to the Majors from a start at Class A Advanced Winston-Salem wasn’t really a consideration. Robert surpassed those original goals and then some as MLB Pipeline’s Hitter of the Year. With a .328 average, 31 doubles, 32 homers and 36 stolen bases over stops with the Dash, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, Robert certainly was Major League ready even though he was not called up in September or before.

-- Scott Merkin

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.