The American League Central has sent a team to the World Series in two of the last three years and a pair of clubs to the postseason in each of the last two seasons. Once again in 2015, it's a division worthy of attention as the regular season heads toward the promise of October.
Some prime individual talent resides in the AL Central, too, including a two-time Most Valuable Player Award winner and the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, along with a treasure chest of Gold Glove Award winners. As 2015 begins with the Kansas City Royals defending the AL pennant, here's a look at the best of the division by way of a position-by-position breakdown:
Catcher: Yan Gomes, Indians
A few of the AL's most talented players behind the plate reside in the AL Central, and Gomes stands out with his overall prowess, which ranges from framing pitches to squaring up on them. It's a close call between Gomes and the Royals' Salvador Perez, who might have a slight edge defensively, but Gomes is the superior offensive player, with the ability to hit 20 doubles and 20 homers.
First base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Until he isn't, Cabrera is the man at a very talented spot, not only in the division but the AL as a whole. There's no question White Sox phenom Jose Abreu has the talent to build on a sensational AL Rookie of the Year Award-winning campaign, and it's hard to ignore the Gold Glove defense and other qualities the Royals' Eric Hosmer brings to the table. But Cabrera remains a relentlessly dangerous hitter. While it seems he has been doing it for a very long time (which he has, since 2003), Cabrera will turn only 32 in April, so he can get back to the remarkable track record of success he had for five years (including two AL MVP Awards) before 2014, when he posted a season that was a tick or two below that historically high standard.
Second base: Ian Kinsler, Tigers
The AL Central has three of the most talented men in the game at this position, including the Indians' Jason Kipnis and the Twins' Brian Dozier. Kinsler, a veteran of nine full seasons and still getting better in some respects, is a spark plug at the top of a deep and talented Tigers lineup. Cases could be made for both Kipnis and Dozier, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that all three could wind up All-Stars in Cincinnati this summer.
Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
We're going a bit with track record here, and even if Ramirez's has been somewhat uneven, he has shown that he can hit some strong numbers while holding down the key defensive spot in the infield. The Royals' Alcides Escobar is right there with him, and Jose Ramirez is on the rise with the Indians, too.
Third base: Trevor Plouffe, Twins
The hot corner is a deep position in this division, and Plouffe stands out as a strong two-way player. He's coming off a season in which he ranked first among AL third basemen in doubles (40) and fourth in RBIs (80). The Tigers' Nick Castellanos has potential as he enters his second full season, and Conor Gillaspie of the White Sox could wind up being the class of the division, too. Mike Moustakas of the Royals certainly showed his long-awaited power bat in October as one of Kansas City's postseason heroes after a regular season that included a reset in the Minors. And Lonnie Chisenhall of the Indians has established credentials as well. It's a toss-up, and Plouffe comes out on top.
Left field: Michael Brantley, Indians
Talk about your close calls. Alex Gordon has established himself as a star, thanks to Gold Glove defense and being at the forefront of the Royals' rise to such historic heights a year ago. But Brantley broke out last season as the first Indians player -- and ninth in Major League history -- to go for at least 200 hits, 45 doubles, 20 homers and 20 steals in a season. Throw in a division newcomer in the multitalented Yoenis Cespedes of the Tigers, and the AL Central has left field covered.
Center field: Lorenzo Cain, Royals
What Cain did down the stretch last year and into a dream October for the Royals set a high standard, and 2015 will show whether he will take the next step for a full season at the No. 3 spot in the order and with athletic plays in the outfield. Adam Eaton of the White Sox is establishing himself as the division's top leadoff man, and veteran Michael Bourn is looking to make the 2015 season a healthy and strong one for the Indians.
Right field: J.D. Martinez, Tigers
A revelation a year ago, Martinez moves to right field for the Tigers and will continue to have a nice place to hit at the back end of Detroit's offensive juggernaut. This isn't the deepest of positions, but Martinez shifts to the other corner this year with a strong season behind him. Others at the spot in the AL Central include veteran Torii Hunter, now back with the Twins, and former White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, returning to the division with the Royals.
Designated hitter: Victor Martinez, Tigers
As a switch-hitting master, V-Mart isn't just the best DH around; you might be able to take the "designated" part out of that statement. Martinez made a run at the AL MVP Award in 2014 with 30/30 power and much better than 20/20 vision at the plate as the king of two-strike hits. The division has its share of boppers at this spot, with the Indians using the intriguing tandem of Brandon Moss /Nick Swisher, the White Sox turning to Adam LaRoche and the Twins' Kennys Vargas a young player of interest.
Starting pitcher: Chris Sale, White Sox
This is a stacked category for the AL Central, and it's Sale's turn for the top rung on pitching's ladder, a Cy Young Award winner in the making. Of course, Corey Kluber of the Indians hasn't let that honor out of his talented right hand after a dominant 2014 campaign, and there's also David Price -- the 2012 winner who's still very much in his prime -- alongside Justin Verlander in Detroit. Yordano Ventura of the Royals has the stuff to be an ace, and Phil Hughes has found a home in Minnesota. But it's the left-handed Sale who is best set up for big things in 2015, as a follow-up to a superb three-year run that interrupted only by a stint on the DL. He's on his way back from a spring right foot injury, and he's set up to be the ace of an up-and-coming White Sox squad.
Closer: Greg Holland, Royals
This is really a nod to Kansas City's bullpen, since a case could be made that Wade Davis had the best season of any reliever last year and Kelvin Herrera established his high-octane presence as part of a trio that was simply the best in the Majors in 2014. Together, they're a big reason the Royals have hope in 2015 after a few changes from the AL pennant-winning club. The Indians have an underrated closer in Cody Allen and the makings of a strong bullpen that will be part of a team many consider a hot item this year.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.