FanIQ AL West Preview

Three Teams Battle for AL West Supremacy [FanIQ AL West Preview]

3/26/13 in MLB   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Blog Photo - FanIQ AL West PreviewWho had the Oakland Athletics as the 2012 AL West champions? Oakland rode pitching and defense to a surprise title, overtaking the Rangers the last day of the season. The Angels spent a lot in the winter but still ended up third. This season, it will likely be another three time battle for the division. The Angels once again spent big, poaching Texas’s biggest name. The Rangers, however, are more than just Josh Hamilton, and the A’s are a year wiser and should still be a factor. There’s even good news for the Mariners. With the bottoming-out Astros joining the division this year, the M’s should get out of last. As for who will win the division? All I’ll say for now is that this was the hardest division for me to pick a winner. Read on for our full preview of the AL West.
 
Once again note that teams are listed in predicted order of finish, and that all projected Opening Day lineups are from MLBDepthCharts.com. Bold indicates new acquisition. Italics indicate rookie.
 
Los Angeles Angels
 
Projected Lineup
 
LF Mike Trout
SS Erick Aybar
1B Albert Pujols
RF Josh Hamilton
DH Mark Trumbo
2B Howie Kendrick
3B Alberto Callaspo
C Chris Iannetta
CF Peter Bourjos
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Jered Weaver
LHP C.J. Wilson
RHP Joe Blanton
LHP Jason Vargas
RHP Tommy Hanson
 
Closer: RHP Ernesto Frieri
 
Key Losses: SP Zach Greinke, SP Dan Haren, OF Torii Hunter, DH/1B Kendrys Morales, RP Jordan Walden, SP Ervin Santana, IF Maicer Izturis
 
What do you do when you already have the greatest player of the most recent generation and the man who could become the greatest player of the next generation? If you’re the Angels, you sign what may be the most talented hitter of the current generation. Josh Hamilton switched AL West addresses this winter thanks to a 5 year, $133 million deal. When he’s on, Hamilton crushes the ball, particularly out of the yard. When he’s off though, as he was most of the second half and as the season wound down, it can get ugly. The other risks are also well known. He’s struggled with injuries in his career, and that plus his personal issues could make him an old 32. The Angels are betting that those will be long term concerns at worst and not an issue in 2013.
 
Add Hamilton to that lineup, and well, it could be fireworks. Mike Trout’s awesomeness is known throughout the land now, and he while his 2012 level is too much to ask, he'll be up among the best in baseball again. Albert Pujols’s contract is still a long-term issue, but for now he can still hit 30 homers and OPS .900. Mark Trumbo is yet another 30 homer guy who should benefit from a full year at his natural position. The rest of the lineup is full of average to above average guys who get on base at a good clip. The exception is Bourjos, but he provides plenty of value as arguably the best defensive center field in the game (good enough to move Trout to left), so anything he adds with the bat is only a plus. The whole team defends excellently, leading the league in defensive efficiency in 2012, and moving Trumbo to DH full-time can only help.
 
Unfortunately, the rotation has some question marks, quite a few of them actually. Jered Weaver is not one of them though. Weaver had another excellent season and picked up Cy Young votes for the third straight year. Somehow he’s still underrated, maybe because he’s not a traditional power pitcher. He keeps getting it done though. CJ Wilson’s first year in LA ended up a disappointment. His ERA went up by almost a full run, and given Angel  Stadium’s pitching bias, was actually a below average year (3.83 ERA, 98 ERA+). His homer rate ticked up, his walk rate went up, and his strike out went down. Not a good combination. The Angels have to have Wilson rebound. The rest of the rotation was completely overhauled due to the departures of Greinke, Haren, and Santana. In their places are well, guys. When healthy, Blanton eats innings. Vargas was good in Seattle, but his career ERA is over 1.5 higher outside of Safeco. Hanson had star potential in Atlanta, but hurt his shoulder and hasn’t been the same since. All three will benefit from Angels Stadium being a pitchers park as well, and a fantastic defense behind them. Can that combination get it done for the Angels?
 
This team is going to score some runs. The question is can they prevent enough of them. Their defensive prowess will help, but at some point another starter will have to emerge after Weaver. Still, having your biggest rivals’ best player sure goes a long way. I have them winning the exact same number of games as the year before. This year, it’ll be enough.
 
Projected Record: 89-73
 
Down on the Farm: With Mike Trout owning the big leagues and not much else behind him, the Angels’ system ranks near the bottom of the league. 3B Kaleb Cowart is the one prize left. His calling card for now is defense, but his bat keeps improving, and this year should be his biggest test yet as he hits AA. SP Nick Maronde is the team’s top pitching prospect, and he did have a nice September cameo in the bigs last year as a lefty reliever.
 
Texas RangersBlog Photo - FanIQ AL West Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
DH Lance Berkman
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nelson Cruz
LF David Murphy
C A.J. Pierzynski
1B Mitch Moreland
CF Leonys Martin
 
Projected Rotation
 
LHP Matt Harrison
RHP Yu Darvish
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Alexi Ogando
RHP Nicholas Tepesch
 
Closer: RHP Joe Nathan
 
Key Losses: OF Josh Hamilton, C/1B Mike Napoli, SP Ryan Dempster, SP Scott Feldman, SP Roy Oswalt, RP Koji Uehara, IF Michael Young
 
Going into September, the Rangers looked like they were in position to go for their third straight AL pennant. From there it all fell apart, as the Rangers lost the division to Oakland on the last day of the season, then lost to the Orioles in the wild card game to see their season end. Then in the offseason, Texas lost Josh Hamilton to the rival Angels, and saw every other major free agent sign elsewhere. As such, there isn’t as much talk about the Rangers going into this season.
 
On offense, it stands to reason they won’t lead the league in scoring again, given the two big losses of Hamilton and Napoli. To replace them, the Rangers took a gamble that Lance Berkman can be healthy again after just 32 games played in 2012, and added A.J. Pierzynski, who will be fine as long as they don’t expect him to be as good as last year. Regardless of those two though, the two that will be counted out to carry the lineup power-wise are Beltre and Cruz. Beltre has been gangbusters since joining the Rangers and should be up to the task. Cruz had a down year last year, and now in his 30s, it’s at the point where it’s a concern. The top of the lineup remains very good though with Kinsler and Andrus getting on base at good clips, presuming Kinsler rebounds from a down year of his own. The lineup isn’t slam dunk awesome, at least for now as they wait for a certain super prospect, but there’s no need to claim the sky is falling.
 
Like the Angels, the Achilles of the Rangers is the rotation, and again, there is one exception- in this case Yu Darvish. Darvish made adjustments as his first year in the States went on, and by the end of the season was at his best, making him prime for another step forward. Harrison’s ERA was a sparkling 3.29 last year, but he doesn’t miss enough bats to make that sustainable. He can still slot in as the #2 behind Darvish and be very good. Holland is young enough to improve, which he needs to in terms of his home run rate. The back of the rotation is where it really gets screwy though. Ogando moves back to the rotation after being in the bullpen in 2012, which is after he was in the rotation in 2011. Nicholas Tepesch has apparently earned the fifth starter job, and I’ll be frank, I have no idea who this guy is. If you’re wondering about Neftali Feliz, he’s still recovering from mid season Tommy John surgery.
 
The Rangers aren’t done yet, but they do have holes and losses, and they weren’t particularly patched up. They could still win the division, but they could also finish third.
 
Projected Record: 87-75
 
Down on the Farm: SS Jurickson Profar is considered by many to be the top prospect in all of baseball. He had a fantastic year at the plate in AA at 19. Profar is the whole package of hitting, plate discipline, potential 20 homer power, and a great arm and range for both middle infield positions. The main issue for now is that he’s blocked by Andrus and Kinsler, but make no mistake, Profar is likely to end up a superstar. Also blocked for now is 3B Mike Olt, a nice power bat with 30 homer potential, but currently blocked by Adrian Beltre and with a bat that doesn’t quite play at first, blocked he remains. SP Martin Perez is their most ready pitching prospect, but is out 2 months with a ulna fracture, which could keep him from significant big league work in 2013.

What about those surprise champs in Oakland? Turn to the next page to find out.

Oakland AthleticsBlog Photo - FanIQ AL West Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
CF Coco Crisp
3B Jed Lowrie
LF Yoenis Cespedes
1B Brandon Moss
RF Josh Reddick
DH Seth Smith
C John Jaso/Derek Norris
2B Scott Sizemore
SS Hiroyuki Nakajima
 
Projected Rotation
 
LHP Brett Anderson
RHP Jarrod Parker
LHP Tom Milone
RHP A.J. Griffin
RHP Daniel Straily
 
Closer: RHP Ryan Cook
 
Key Losses: SP Brandon McCarthy, 1B Chris Carter, SS Stephen Drew, OF Jonny Gomes, IF Brandon Inge, SP Dallas Braden, SS Cliff Pennington
 
Just when everyone had written off the Billy Beane Athletics, they went out and won the AL West and pushed Detroit to five games in the ALDS before getting Verlander’ed. Unlike the other surprise playoff team in Baltimore, Oakland’s run differential indicated a record right around their 94-68 actual record, so it wasn’t a fluke. Offensively, the lineup is led by Cespedes, who had a fantastic .292/.356/.505 rookie year and at 27 is right in his prime. The rest of the lineup's general approach is what you would expect from an Oakland team: low batting average, ability to take walks, and bats with some pop. Reddick is probably the epitome of that with his .242/.305/.463 and 32 homers last season. Moss was a revelation last year, but can’t hit lefties at all. Lowrie is an interesting pick-up if he could ever stay healthy, while Jaso was a shrewd pickup after posting a .394 OBP last year. He’ll share the job with Derek Norris, who still has a lot of potential.
 
The O.co Coliseum’s extensive foul ground is a huge advantage for pitchers, and the home side’s staff is no exception. The top of the rotation though are not just home park creations. Anderson made just six starts last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, but those six plus his ALDS start showed he’s ready to pick right where he left off on the path to stardom. Jarrod Parker also came back from Tommy John surgery with a season that showed why he was the prize prospect acquired for Trevor Cahill. After that it gets hazier. Milone is purely a creation of the home ballpark. His home ERA was 2.74 last year, his road ERA over 2 runs higher. Griffin doesn’t have a great fastball and gives up fly balls and thus needs the home park to keep the ball out of the stands. This is still a very young rotation that did a great job last year, and overall there’s a lot to like. For you fantasy players, Ryan Cook will start the year at closer while Grant Balfour rehabs from knee surgery.
 
Most of the A’s core is either in their prime or just getting there. Do not assume they will fade back to below .500. I have them third because young talent sometimes steps back before stepping forward, especially after last year’s huge improvement. However, I could very well be wrong. I have just three games separating first and third in this division, which is me telling you it could any of the three in any order.
 
Projected Record: 86-76
 
Down on the Farm: The A’s used a lot of rookies last year, and as such, the system is a bit thinner. Last year’s first round pick SS Addison Russell, however, looks like a future star already. Straight from high school, Russell raked his way to high-A ball before the year was out. He still has a way to go to the bigs, but the start couldn’t have gone better. Straily might be the best pitching prospect in the system after a great 2012 in which he led the minor leagues in strikeouts. The A’s are hoping he can improve on his cup of coffee in Oakland last year, where he gave out homers like candy.
 
Seattle MarinersBlog Photo - FanIQ AL West Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
RF Michael Saunders
3B Kyle Seager
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Michael Morse
1B Justin Smoak
C Jesus Montero
2B Dustin Ackley
CF Franklin Gutierrez
SS Brendan Ryan
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
RHP Erasmo Ramirez
RHP Blake Beavan
 
Closer: RHP Tom Wilhelmsen
 
Key Losses: SP Jason Vargas, C John Jaso, SP Kevin Millwood, C Miguel Olivo, IF Chone Figgins
 
The Mariners can’t score runs. Safeco Field is part of this, and the team has moved the fences in a bit to help. However, it won’t matter if the team can’t get on base. Seattle was dead last in baseball in team OBP last year, the only team that couldn’t even get on base at a .300 clip. Worse, the young talent the M’s have tried to build in the lineup are the culprits. Dustin Ackley’s OBP last year? .294. Jesus Montero’s? .298. Justin Smoak’s? .290. These are supposed to be the guys that will make this offense viable in the future, and it hasn’t happened yet. This is a big year for all three of these guys, especially Smoak, who many in the industry are already writing off as a bust. Seattle brought in some reinforcements, but they are all of the 1B/LF/DH set, creating a logjam. The best of those brought in is Morales, who had a nice 2012 after a two year recovery from his broken ankle. Morse brings power and awesome at-bat music in the form of “Take on Me,” but has issues staying healthy and doesn’t bring a great OBP either. Seattle also signed Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, which would be funny if it wasn’t sad. The other problem with this logjam is it forces Montero to catch for the time being, which is not something he’s particularly good at (Kelly Shoppach was brought in as a defensive caddy). Overall though, Morales and Morse will help, and Ackley and Montero should be better, which means the offense at least might get to mediocrity.
 
Felix Hernandez is awesome and has a new long-term deal with the Mariners. Remember that M’s fans, because the rest of the rotation for now leaves a lot to be desired. As an O’s fan, Joe Saunders holds a special memory in my heart due to how he pitched in the playoffs, but in the end he’s an aging crafty left hander mostly getting by on guile. Iwakuma and Ramirez both showed significant home-road splits last year, suggesting they need their home park to get by, while Beavan doesn’t strike out anybody and doesn’t induce groundballs, which is a recipe for disaster anywhere. In reality, all these guys after King Felix are stopgaps for what’s down on the farm, and given where the M’s are competitively, there’s nothing wrong with that.
 
The Mariners have one superstar, an up and coming generation that’s stalled out in the bigs, and another generation on the way that we’ll discuss below. If the current young guys can get out of neutral, then maybe you can see the next good Seattle team. Luckily they now have the King signed long-term, which will hopefully give them some time to build that next winner.
 
Projected Record: 74-88
 
Down on the Farm: C Mike Zunino was drafted in the first round last year, signed, and immediately started raking, finishing the year in AA. He could be in the majors as soon as this year, which will allow Montero to stop catching and move to first or DH. Three pitching prospects round out the most talked about members of the M’s farm system. Danny Hultzen was the 2nd pick of the 2011 draft, but his path to the bigs detoured when he started walking everyone in AAA. Tajuan Walker has passed Hultzen on the prospect lists after he held his own in AA at age 19, which makes him very tantalizing. The last of the three is James Paxton, who has a fine curveball but has trouble with issuing free passes.

The Astros join the division this year, much to the happiness of their new rivals. Turn the page to see why.

Houston AstrosBlog Photo - FanIQ AL West Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
2B Jose Altuve
1B Brett Wallace
DH Carlos Pena
LF Chris Carter
RF Fernando Martinez
CF Justin Maxwell
C Jason Castro
SS Ronny Cedeno
3B Matt Dominguez
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Lucas Harrell
RHP Phi Humber
LHP Erik Bedard
RHP Brad Peacock
 
Closer: RHP Jose Veras

Key Losses: 3B Jed Lowrie, C Chris Snyder
 
In 2012, the Astros lost 107 games. In 2011, they lost 106. Unfortunately for the Astros as they move to a new league and division, the bottoming out isn’t quite finished. Houston is overtly in a full rebuilding mode, and thus the major league cupboard remains mostly bare. The lineup is currently filled out primarily with ex-prospects from other teams. Chris Carter, for example, has spent the last few years teasing Oakland with hot streaks followed by not being able to hit the broad sign of a barn. Fernando Martinez used to be a top prospect for the Mets. Jason Maxwell teased the Nationals but couldn’t stay healthy. Most of these guys are Quad-A players at this point, but for Houston, they’re lottery tickets. If they can show some of that old potential, great. If not, well, they probably won’t be on the next good Astros team. Carlos Pena is another lottery ticket for Houston. He was awful last year in Tampa, and thus the Astros signed him on the cheap. If he rebounds, expect Houston trade him at the deadline. Overall, with the exception of Jose Altuve and Matt Dominguez’s glove, there’s not much to look at here.
 
Norris and Harrell are average starting pitchers. That’s probably Harrell’s ceiling, while Norris has the ability to show more, but hasn’t turned into results. In a perfect world, these two would be solid three and four starters. Instead they carry the Astros’ pitching staff. This tells you what you need to know. Humber had the perfect game last year and then was terrible the rest of the way. Erik Bedard was a non-roster invitee that everyone knew was making the roster. He can still pitch effectively when healthy, which is a rare occurrence. Peacock was supposed to be the ready for the bigs prospect traded to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade. It never happened after he was torched in AAA, and thus he was traded with Carter to Houston for Jed Lowrie. These are warm bodies put in to take the ball every fifth day because someone has to. Nothing more, nothing less.
 
This Astros team is probably a little better than the last two, but it isn’t by much, and the change to the stronger AL, in particular a strong AL West, will mask any talent gains made. Jeff Luhnow has completely remade the front office, but their work is going to take a few more years to truly come to fruition. As such, it’s going to be another ugly season at Minute Maid Park.
 
Projected Record: 58-104
 
Down on the Farm: All the rebuilding is starting to result in a top farm system. 1B Jonathan Singleton is the most ready for the bigs, although he’ll miss the first 50 games of the season due to a positive test for marijuana (yet DUIs get no punishment, go figure). Last year’s first overall pick, SS Carlos Correa, ranks as Houston’s top prospect for now, but at just 18 is still quite a ways away. OF George Springer and 2B Delino DeShields Jr. still need polish, but area also worth watching. On the pitching side, many are starting to think RHP Jarrod Cosart’s future is in the bullpen, but the Astros are desperate enough for starters that he’ll probably get a few shots there.
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3/26/13   |   ML31   |   3615 respect

Wards_Page wrote:
Very comprehensive. I don't see the Mariners winning one game fewer than they did last year though. In fact, I think (I mean I hope) they improve based on the Astros and my belief that the Rangers won't be near as good as they have been.

I would think that the the returning 4 AL West teams will all be better based solely on the presence of the Astros in the division.  Unless the Astros suddenly surprise everyone.  By that reckoning I'd guess the M's get at least 8 more wins this year than last.

3/26/13   |   Wards_Page   |   248 respect

Very comprehensive. I don't see the Mariners winning one game fewer than they did last year though. In fact, I think (I mean I hope) they improve based on the Astros and my belief that the Rangers won't be near as good as they have been.