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5 AL Central players to watch this month

@scottmerkin
May 2, 2019

April concluded with the Twins leading the American League Central, the Indians right behind, followed by the Tigers and White Sox and the Royals. As baseball moves into May, true contenders slowly begin to separate themselves from good or bad opening months. It’s also an important stage for individual players,

April concluded with the Twins leading the American League Central, the Indians right behind, followed by the Tigers and White Sox and the Royals.

As baseball moves into May, true contenders slowly begin to separate themselves from good or bad opening months. It’s also an important stage for individual players, as they work their way back from injury or push from promotions from the Minor Leagues. Here’s a look at one player from each team in the AL Central who will be important in May:

Indians: Oscar Mercado

Mercado may not be in the big leagues just yet, but keeping an eye on the Indians' No. 19 prospect at Triple-A Columbus will be a smart idea. Cleveland has needed outfield help since the start of the season and Mercado may be the answer, but the Tribe was reluctant to carry him on the 25-man roster to start the year. But now it's May.

Through his first 22 Minor League games this season, the 24-year-old hit .302 with nine doubles, two homers, 12 RBIs and an .894 OPS. Indians manager Terry Francona recently said there will be more roster moves once Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez settle in at the plate. In that case, there's a very good chance Mercado gets his first call to the Majors by the end of the month.

Royals: Brad Boxberger

It has been no secret that the Royals’ bullpen has been the main culprit for the team’s slow start. And while there have been some signs of consistency lately, Kansas City needs Boxberger to lead a turnaround.

The Royals signed the right-hander to a one-year, $2.2 million deal this offseason expecting him to at least be a serviceable setup man. Boxberger, though, has two blown saves, three losses and an 7.30 ERA in 12 games. Wily Peralta, Ian Kennedy and Jake Diekman have been fairly reliable lately, and now it’s Boxberger’s turn to contribute and look more like the guy he was last year, when he had 32 saves for Arizona.

Tigers: Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera has shown signs of shaking off his slow start, including his first home run and his first four-hit game in a year last Friday against the White Sox. He has returned to using the whole field after a pull-heavy start. Cabrera's .327 career batting average and .970 OPS in May are his highest of any calendar month.

When the weather finally warms up in Michigan, usually so does Miggy, and he’ll have some opponents on which to boost those numbers in the Royals', Angels', Twins', Marlins' and Orioles' pitching staffs. Cabrera's hard-hit rate is firmly in the top 10 percent among MLB hitters; it’s only a matter of time before that translates into production.

Twins: Miguel Sanó

Even without the powerful bat of the 25-year-old Sano, this Twins lineup has smashed homers at a historic rate in 2019. Adding a healthy, productive Sano to the heart of it could make this starting nine the most productive group of sluggers ever assembled in Minneapolis. This May will be critical and telling for Sano, who is on track to spend most -- if not all -- of the month on an extended rehab assignment as he completes his recovery from a laceration to his right Achilles area sustained during the offseason.

While in the Minor Leagues, the Twins hope that Sano can return to the full level of conditioning that he had attained after a focused offseason of work, and that the cornerstone third baseman can translate that to more consistent results on the field. If he can use a successful May to return to the All-Star form that saw him hit 28 homers in 114 games two seasons ago, the Twins' lineup will be one of the deepest in the league.

White Sox: Lucas Giolito

The right-hander missed the equivalent of two starts due to a left hamstring strain, but he had looked like a much different pitcher before the injury in comparison to his difficult 2018. Giolito worked diligently in the offseason to adjust his mechanics, but he also altered his pitching approach. He has a set plan for every day between starts and he is better equipped to work through the inevitable rough moments during a game.

Giolito flirted with a no-hitter in his season debut and struck out five over 2 2/3 innings against the Royals in his last trip to the mound (April 17) before getting hurt.

Although the White Sox have potentially elite starting pitching on the way in Michael Kopech, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Dylan Cease at Triple-A Charlotte, having a trio of young starters emerge in Giolito, Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez becomes an important base for the rebuild.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.