The AL Central could be the most competitive division in baseball this coming season. Here we rank the starting catchers in the division with the teams' MLB futures odds at sportsbooks.
1. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
The defending American League champion Royals have lost some key players this offseason, led by ace pitcher James Shields. But they have one of the AL's best catchers in place for years to come in Perez, who is just 24. No AL catcher played in more games than Perez's 150, and his 578 total regular-season at-bats were No. 2 among all big-league catchers behind Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy. Perez hit .260 with 17 home runs, 70 RBIs and 57 runs scored. That average was a moderate disappointment from .292 the season before and his on-base percentage of .289 is not very good and was a career worst. Perez might have worn down a bit as he hit .283 with 11 homers before the All-Star Break and .229 with six dingers after. Perez also struggled in Kansas City's 15 postseason games, batting .207 with one homer and six RBIs. That homer was the only run the Royals scored off the Giants' Madison Bumgarner in the entire World Series. FanGraphs projects Perez to hit .274 with 14 homers, 58 RBIs and 52 runs in 113 games.
Current Royals MLB odds to win AL pennant: +1000.
2. Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
Back in late May of last season, the Indians signed Gomes to a six-year, $23 million extension, and already that deal looks like a major steal for the Tribe. Gomes' deal includes club options for 2020 and '21 that could bring the total to $42 million over eight years. Still very team-friendly. In 2013, his first in Cleveland, Gomes hit .294 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs in 88 games. He was the clear-cut No. 1 guy last year and blossomed further, batting .278 with 21 home runs (third among AL catchers) and 74 RBIs (No. 2) for a wins above replacement number of 4.4. Gomes, who is from Brazil, was terrific after the All-Star Break last year, batting .303 with a slugging percentage of .525 and 38 RBIs in 198 at-bats. If he keeps that pace up, Gomes will jump to the top of this list. Gomes is projected to hit .257 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs in 113 games.
Current Indians MLB odds to win AL pennant: +1200.
3. Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers could have let Avila walk this offseason, but the team exercised its $5.4 million option on him for 2015 despite a disappointing '14 campaign. Avila was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball in 2011 when he hit .295 with 19 homers and 82 knocked in, all career highs. He hasn't come close to approaching those numbers since and has had a troubling problem with concussions recently. Avila's latest was in Game 3 of the NLDS loss to Baltimore and he claims to have had three "mild" concussions in his career. So one more could end his career or knock him out for weeks. Avila played in 124 games last year for the AL Central champs and hit .218 (career low) with 11 homers and 47 RBIs. He's projected to bat .230 with 10 homers, 43 RBIs and 40 runs in 98 games.
Current Tigers MLB odds to win AL pennant: +550 (second only to Angels).
4. Kurt Suzuki, Minnesota Twins
Injuries forced Joe Mauer to first base permanently or else the Twins would be No. 1 on this list -- although Mauer isn't what he used to be offensively. Suzuki made his first All-Star team last year and there was talk the rebuilding Twins might trade him before the July 31 deadline, but instead they gave Suzuki a two-year, $12 million extension. Suzuki, 31, hit .288 with three home runs and 61 RBIs in 131 games. Those were his most games played since 2011 with Oakland. This year he projects to bat .255 with six homers, 38 RBIs and 39 runs in 98 games.
Current Twins MLB odds to win AL pennant: +10000 (longest shots)
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5. Tyler Flowers, Chicago White Sox
Flowers could make me look silly for putting him last if he builds on last season, and it wouldn't surprise me if Flowers is No. 3 on this list by the end of the year. Flowers set career highs in games (127), home runs (15) and RBIs (50) last year for the Pale Hose. He was much, much better after the All-Star Break, hitting .280 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs in just 150 at-bats. If he keeps those numbers over 500 at-bats, Flowers could be an All-Star. That White Sox lineup also will be much better around him this season with some big offseason additions and better health for a few guys. Flowers does strike out a ton, but every player has flaws, and I can see 20 homers in 2015. FanGraphs isn't as high on Flowers, projecting him to hit just .208 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in 83 games.
Current White Sox MLB odds to win AL pennant: +1500.