MLB 2012 Season Preview: AL West

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIMarch 16, 2012

MLB 2012 Season Preview: AL West

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    Over the last couple of seasons, the American League West has been fairly straightforward.

    Now, we're in 2012.

    It seems only fitting to deem the AL West as the division of change. The Angels made splashes in free agency, the Rangers have revamped their pitching, the Mariners' rebuilding is coming to a culmination and the Athletics are rebuilding...well some things never change.

    I, for one, am very much looking forward to watching this division in 2012. It's going to be exciting and explosive.

    Here's my prediction of how things will shake down.

4. Oakland Athletics

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    Moneyball was a huge hit...unfortunately the Oakland Athletics still stink.

    Billy Beane is deep in his rebuild, and the A's haven't seen playoff glory since a 2005 first-round exit.

    Offensively, this team is lacking. Yoenis Cespedes is an exciting talent, but no one knows how he'll adjust to professional ball. Jemile Weeks is the only bat worth mentioning.

    Pitching, though usually a boon for Oakland, is lacking this season. There's a slew of young talent here (Brad Peacock, Jarrod Parker and Tom Millone), but it's too early to expect dividends.

    Beane has spent the offseason giving Oakland one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. All that means is 2012 will be another season to forget.

3. Seattle Mariners

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    I really like the long-term prospects of the Seattle Mariners, but 2012 isn't going to be their season.

    The Jesus Montero trade gives Seattle one of the best young offensive cores in baseball. Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Montero each have huge ceilings.

    Returning is right field mainstay Ichiro Suzuki. 2011 let us all know that Ichiro isn't immune to aging, but he's still got wheels and a bat that can rake in hits.

    Rounding out the bunch are returning youngsters Casper Wells, Mike Carp and Michael Saunders.

    As is their M.O., pitching is what gives Seattle their competitive edge. Leading the staff is ace Felix Hernandez, AKA one of the best young pitchers in baseball.

    Behind King Felix is a back-end battery made of Jason Vargas, Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi.

    If you really want to see devastating pitching, we'll have to turn our heads to the M's farm system. Top prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are three arms that could each have a huge impact on the 2012 Mariners.

    Like their top prospects, Seattle has a really high ceiling. However, like Oakland, a plethora of young talent isn't the best way to hedge your competitive edge.

2. Texas Rangers

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    For the last two seasons, the Texas Rangers have stood as the creme de la creme of the American League West. Queue Bob Dylan.

    We all know the bats are monstrous.

    When he's not chilling on the DL, Josh Hamilton possesses one of the best bats in all of baseball. Ian Kinsler enters 2012 coming off his second 30-30 season. Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre bring the power, while Michael Young brings a little bit of everything.

    Amongst all Major League Baseball teams, the Rangers feature the deadliest amount of power in a lineup. Outside of Moreland Island, there aren't any holes here.

    Then we turn to the mound.

    Nolan Ryan has made it his personal mission as the owner of the Rangers to revamp their pitching corps. It looked like he was on track, until C.J. Wilson left.

    Now they enter 2012 leaning on Japanese import Yu Darvish, and praying he works out. The organization is also banking on the conversion of Neftali Feliz from closer back to starter.

    Rounding out the bunch is a group of mediocre misfits from Derek Holland to Colby Lewis.

    Texas has worked hard to pull themselves from the depths of the AL West, but they really blew it with their pitching this winter.

1. Los Angeles Angels of Ananheim

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    To say the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim made a splash this winter would be an understatement.

    With new GM Jerry Dipoto in tow, the Angels came out swinging—bringing in the best hitter and pitcher on the free-agent market.

    First, let's look at that rotation. It's hard to find one better in baseball. Where most stellar rotations have three front-line starters, LA has four.

    Jered Weaver and Dan Haren make up the acely one-two combo. Behind them is free-agent signee C.J. Wilson. Wilson had stellar stats in Texas, and his home/road splits show amazing potential outside of a hitter's park. Rounding everything out is Ervin Santana, who can be deadly when on his game.

    Each of these guys has the potential to dominate any hitter they come across.

    At the plate, this team is just as scary. Mark Trumbo, Kendry Morales, Torrii Hunter and Vernon Wells bring the power; Eric Aybar and Peter Bourjous bring the speed. In the middle of it all is power/speed hybrid Howie Kendrick.

    Oh, and there's that Albert Pujols guy. The best hitter of his era—on his way to best hitter in MLB history—Pujols ties this bunch of bats together.

    Also worth mentioning is super prospect Mike Trout. The 5-tool stud has the chance to win a starting job out of spring, and he only makes this group better.

    When looking at the paper, it's hard to find any team that looks better than the Angels. Their pitching is lights out, and their lineup dangerous one through nine.

    The AL West is theirs to lose—though doing so would require a lot of effort.

Final Breakdown

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    1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: sometimes paying big pays off, and Los Angeles made some great investments.

    2. Texas Rangers: the offensive is devastating, but the pitching is an uphill battle.

    3. Seattle Mariners: on break, will be back in 2013.

    4. Oakland Athletics: at least we won an Academy Award... wait, what?!