Alex Gordon and one player who needs to step up for each AL Central squad in 2017

The division could produce a World Series contender or two if some key players have big years.

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The AL Central saw the Cleveland Indians advance to the World Series, only to lose Game 7 to the Chicago Cubs in excruciating fashion.

However, the Indians are poised to compete for another American League pennant in 2017 and the remaining four clubs will try their best to make the AL Central the most competitive division in baseball.

If these five players put together good seasons, the AL Central will be one of the most exciting divisions to watch this year:

Cleveland Indians: Yan Gomes, C

The Indians sent Game 7 of the World Series into extra innings, so they clearly have a talented lineup and pitching staff. One position, however, stands out as a massive weakness.

Cleveland got absolutely nothing offensively from the catcher position with Yan Gomes finishing the season with a dismal .167 batting average and only 9 home runs and 34 RBI in 251 at-bats. Backup Roberto Perez didn’t do much better, hitting only .183 with 3 homers and 17 RBI in 153 at-bats.

With those two set to man the position again in 2017, at least getting their batting orders above .200 should be a big goal for the Indians’ backstops.

Chicago White Sox: James Shields, SP

The White Sox traded for Shields early last season and let’s just say it did not work out for them. In fact, it was a disaster.

In 22 starts, Shields went 4-12 with an abysmal 6.77 ERA. He gave up 31 home runs and struck out only 78 hitters in 114.1 innings pitched.

The Sox don’t need Shields to perform like an ace in 2017 — he’s getting too old for that — but getting him to put together a decent campaign will be a big key for the team this year.

Detroit Tigers: Jordan Zimmermann, SP

Zimmermann dealt with injuries during the 2016 season, but in the 18 games he did start, he didn’t exactly impress.

In his first season with the Tigers after coming over from the Washington Nationals, he saw his ERA balloon by a full run, from 3.66 to 4.87. He still posted a decent record of 9-7, but that said more about the Tigers’ potent offense than it did about Zimmermann’s pitching.

Since Detroit is counting on Zimmermann to fill the No. 3 spot in the starting rotation behind Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer, he’ll need to figure out how to handle American League hitters in 2017.

Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon, OF

Those looking to explain the struggles of the Royals last season could start with Gordon, who had a disappointing year at the plate.

The left fielder turned in a career-low batting average (other than 2011, when he only played half a season) of .220, 51 points lower than his 2015 mark. Complicating matters were a career-high 148 strikeouts.

If the Royals can’t get more production out of Gordon, they’ll face another playoff-less season in 2017.

Minnesota Twins: Byron Buxton, OF

This season will likely be a make-or-break year for Buxton, who was once the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball at one point.

Though Buxton has played great defense in the outfield, he looks lost at the plate, hitting only .225 and striking out an abysmal 118 times in 298 at-bats.

If Buxton can’t start making more contact, the Twins may be forced to look for new options in center field. There’s only so long Buxton can get by on being a highly rated prospect, after all.

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