The Top Player at Every Position in the AL West: How Do the Mariners Stack Up?
Marquee names like Albert Pujols and Yu Darvish are the headlining names of the division, and the Mariners will need to step up to keep pace with their division rivals.
Here is the top player at each position in the AL West and how the Mariners compare.
Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
2011: 14-14, 3.47 ERA, 222 K
When it comes to starting pitchers Seattle actually has the best in the division. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are coming on strong and it remains to be seen how Yu Darvish will pan out, but King Felix definitely takes this one.
His 2011 stats weren't special but he was battling offensive deficiencies in Seattle and still pulled out 14 wins and a solid earned run average. The former Cy Young award winner will look to lead the Mariners to plenty of victories in 2012.
Catcher: Mike Napoli, Rangers
2011: .320, 30 HR, 75 RBI
Mike Napoli had a career year in 2011 and cemented himself as one of the best catchers in baseball, especially after hitting .350 in the World Series.
For the Mariners, Miguel Olivo and rookie Jesus Montero will share time behind the dish. Olivo showed solid power last season, and though Montero is hardly proven he has miles of potential. The two will also likely both be in the lineup at DH at some point during the year.
1st Base: Albert Pujols, Angels
2011: .299, 37 HR, 99 RBI
No brainer here. Pujols is the best first baseman in baseball and will be the best of all time.
Justin Smoak will be the starter at first for the Mariners. Smoak battled through injuries last season and finished out the year with 15 home runs.
He hasn't hit for average yet and may never hit consistently above .250, but he's proven he has power and in time he'll be a scary hitter.
2nd Base: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
2011: .255, 32 HR, 77 RBI
The AL West has plenty of talent at second, but Texas' Ian Kinsler gets the nod. He had his best power season in 2011 and like Napoli, impressed in the postseason.
Dustin Ackley will start at second for the M's, and the second-year infielder looks very promising after 90 games in the majors. Ackley hit .273 in 2011 and consistently put his bat on the ball.
3rd Base: Adrian Beltre, Rangers
2011: .296, 32 HR, 105 RBI
The Mariners can't get Beltre back and will most likely start Chone Figgins at third on opening day. Figgins had a lackluster 2011, hitting just .188 with 11 stolen bases.
Young third baseman Kyle Seager will also likely see playing time at the hot corner. He got action in 53 games and still has a long way to go, but with increased playing time again in 2012 he could develop into a solid player. Also look for Alex Liddi to slide into the lineup at third or DH.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Rangers
2011: .279, 37 stolen bases.
Elvis Andrus is another rising star in Texas. The 23-year-old gets better every season and is on everyone's radar going into 2012. He still needs to improve defensively, but he's got plenty of time to do so.
The Mariners will trot out Brendan Ryan at shortstop to start the year. Ryan doesn't offer much offensively but was a solid starter for Seattle in 2011.
Left Field: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
2011: .298, 25 HR, 94 RBI
Yet another Rangers player tops the list. Josh Hamilton plays center and left, but is listed as the starting left fielder on the Rangers' depth chart.
Seattle will platoon Mike Carp, Carlos Peguero, Trayvon Robinson and Casper Wells out in left, and my guess is that Carp will see a majority of the innings. Carp hit .276 with 12 home runs in 2011 and is a promising young player. When he slips into the designated hitter role, Casper Wells will see most of the action in left.
Center Field: Coco Crisp, Athletics
2011: .264, 49 stolen bases.
Gutierrez's health held him back last season and the Mariners hope to have him back at full strength in 2012, as he looks to repeat his 2009 numbers.
Right Field: Ichiro, Mariners
2011: .272, 40 stolen bases
This one really could be a three-way tie with Nelson Cruz and Torii Hunter, but Ichiro gets the right field crown. He had a down year by his standards in 2011, but he still managed to steal 40 bases and record seven outfield assists.
He's one of the best hitters of all time and that's why he earns the top spot. Nelson Cruz is the best power hitter of the three and Hunter is the best fielder. Ichiro is the best all-around player and will be back to his old self in 2012.
Designated Hitter: Michael Young, Rangers
2011: .338, 11 HR, 106 RBI
The ageless wonder that is Michael Young continues to produce at high levels for the Texas Rangers. He set career highs in batting average and RBI at age 35 in 2011, and age doesn't seem to be a factor in the near future.
The Mariners will rotate several players through the DH spot. Jesus Montero and Mike Carp should be the main two in that role for Eric Wedge.
Relief Pitcher: Scott Downs, Angels
2011: 6-3, 1.34 ERA, 1 save
Another toss-up as there are plenty of solid relievers in the division: Grant Balfour, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara to name a few. Scott Downs was a solid reliever in Toronto for many years and exceeded expectations in his first season with the Angels.
Seattle has a lot of unproven pitchers in the bullpen, anchored down by veterans George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo. Prospects such as Hector Noesi and Chance Ruffin will log some heavy innings in relief as well this year.
Closer: Joe Nathan, Rangers
2011: 2-1, 4.84 ERA, 14 saves
Joe Nathan was a huge offseason acquisition for the Rangers, as they landed one of the best closers in the game.
Seattle's Brandon League had an impressive year filling in for injured closer David Aardsma, converting 37-of-42 save opportunities in his first season as a full-time closer. League will have another bright year at the end of games for the Mariners in 2012.
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