Full 2013 AL West Piece-by-Piece Preview, Predictions
The American League West got a makeover in the offseason, with players jumping from one team to another and an old National League franchise jumping into the fray for 2013.
After standing on top of the mountain in 2010 and 2011, the Texas Rangers (93-69) had a lousy September and opened the door for the surprising Oakland A's (94-68) to steal the division title last season.
Right behind those two teams were the Los Angeles Angels (89-73). The Halos added a familiar face to their outfield in the offseason, signing Josh Hamilton away from Texas to bolster their already powerful lineup.
It appears as if those three teams will be battling it out for the division championship once again, with the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros fighting for leftovers. Of course, we would have said the same thing about Oakland this time last year.
Here is a full, in-depth look at what the AL West has to offer in 2013.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
First, we want to take a look at the projected starting infields for all five AL West teams. Roster spots are for the most part set, so barring injury, this is how teams will look when games start.
|First Base||Brett Wallace|
|Second Base||Jose Altuve|
|Third Base||Matt Dominguez|
Even though the Astros have been working with Brett Wallace some at third base this spring, Christina De Nicola of MLB.com reports that Dominguez will likely be the starter at the hot corner. That's a smart move, as Wallace is an unathletic defensive player and Dominguez at least has the glove to play the position.
We all know that the Astros are building for the future, so this infield does not feature any real impact. Altuve is easily the best of the bunch. He is a fun hitter to watch even if he doesn't much power.
Wallace and Carlos Pena could split time between first base and DH. Pena is the better defender and will hit more home runs, but Wallace did have 20 extra-base hits in 229 at-bats last year.
Los Angeles Angels
|First Base||Albert Pujols|
|Second Base||Howie Kendrick|
|Third Base||Alberto Callaspo|
There is not a lot of mystery with the Angels on the infield. The one weak link is Alberto Callaspo, who is a solid defender at third base with seven defensive runs saved last season (per Fangraphs). He just can't hit enough for the position, with a career slash line of .275/.335/.384.
This should be a solid defensive unit, as Albert Pujols still ranks among the best first baseman in the game, and Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar are both solid up the middle.
The only player who will provide any semblance of power in the lineup is Pujols, though it will be interesting to see if his steady decline continues this season or if he can level off for a season.
|First Base||Brandon Moss|
|Second Base||Jed Lowrie|
|Third Base||Josh Donaldson|
The A's are likely going to go with a platoon at catcher, as John Jaso has a career slash line of .270/.368/.421 against right-handed pitching. Norris is still learning to play in the big leagues, but he does have good offensive potential as a power hitter who works counts and takes walks.
Moss is the incumbent third baseman, but keep an eye on how he performs in a full season. He hit 21 home runs in 265 at-bats last season, though he also struck out 90 times.
Nakajima was signed to be the team's starting shortstop, but he is leaving a lot to be desired this spring, so much so that John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that he could start the season at Triple-A.
If that happens, Shea says that Jed Lowrie would shift over to shortstop and Scott Sizemore would start at second base.
|First Base||Justin Smoak|
|Second Base||Dustin Ackley|
|Third Base||Kyle Seager|
The Mariners are hoping that Jesus Montero can hit the way he was projected to when he was the top prospect in New York's system. His rookie season was a huge disappointment, as he hit just .260/.298/.386 in 135 games.
Smoak has been getting rave reviews this spring—for whatever that is worth—hitting .434/.483/.811 in 17 games. I would urge people to wait until he starts hitting in the regular season before getting excited.
Ackley, at just 25 years old, doesn't look like he will ever turn into the hitter he was projected to be out of college. His career line of .243/.314/.360 in 243 games is a sufficient sample, not to mention that he regressed in his second season.
Ryan is the best defensive shortstop in the American League, even though he can't hit a lick. Seager provides some power without a great approach at the plate.
|First Base||Mitch Moreland|
|Second Base||Ian Kinsler|
|Third Base||Adrian Beltre|
No real surprises here, as the Rangers got A.J. Pierzynski to replace Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate. Lance Berkman might get some time at first base, but he will serve as the primary DH.
Kinsler, Andrus and Beltre form one of the best trios at second base, shortstop and third base in baseball.
Here is a look at the outfields in the American League West, led by easily the best one in all of baseball.
|Left Field||Chris Carter|
|Center Field||Justin Maxwell|
|Right Field||Rick Ankiel|
The Astros are trying to find pieces that can help them at least hold their own this season. Chris Carter has huge raw power, but there is also a lot of swing-and-miss in his game that prevents him from tapping into it.
Ankiel really just is what he is at this point. He still boasts one of the best throwing arms in all of baseball and can hold his own in right field. He just can't hit a lick.
Maxwell is the one steady presence the Astros have in the outfield. He got his first real shot to play everyday with Houston last year, and he made the most of it by hitting 18 home runs and slugging .460 in 124 games.
Los Angeles Angels
|Left Field||Mike Trout|
|Center Field||Peter Bourjos|
|Right Field||Josh Hamilton|
After getting rid of the ancient relic that is Vernon Wells, the Angels outfield alignment is officially set. Trout is the star of the group and has a lot to live up to after his historic rookie campaign.
Hamilton gives the Angels yet another high-priced impact bat to plug into the middle of the lineup. It is odd that he is playing right field, usually a more taxing position, considering how fragile his body is.
Bourjos can't hit a lick, but he is a plus-plus defensive center fielder. For a team that already has a lot of offensive firepower, defense could keep Bourjos in the lineup everyday as he posts an on-base percentage under .300.
|Left Field||Yoenis Cespedes|
|Center Field||Coco Crisp|
|Right Field||Josh Reddick|
Cespedes and Reddick hit 55 of Oakland's 195 home runs last season. Cespedes hit 23 dingers despite missing 33 games due to injuries.
Both players are also very strong defenders in the corner spots. Crisp isn't as good in center field as he once was, losing range as the years have gone on, and he never had a strong throwing arm.
As long as Reddick can find a way to make more consistent contact, he could turn into something better this season. His .305 on-base percentage would be bad for any position, but it is especially low for the high offensive demands that come with a corner outfield job.
|Left Field||Michael Morse|
|Center Field||Franklin Gutierrez|
|Right Field||Michael Saunders|
The Mariners have tried to make moves that will improve their anemic offense, most notably signing Jason Bay and trading for Michael Morse.
While Morse does have some power in his bat, he rarely stays healthy long enough to show it. He has just one season with at least 500 plate appearances (2011). The Mariners have a lot invested in him having a big year.
Gutierrez is arguably the best defensive center fielder in baseball. He can win a Gold Glove every year—that's how good he is. But he is also such a liability against right-handed pitching (.635 career OPS) that he can't play everyday.
|Left Field||David Murphy|
|Center Field||Leonys Martin|
|Right Field||Nelson Cruz|
After losing Hamilton to the Angels and not making any significant moves, the Rangers are piecing their outfield together with a few in-house options.
Murphy will take over the left-field spot vacated by Hamilton. While he isn't nearly as exciting a player, Murphy does have a .285/.348/.453 slash line in his seven-year career. He isn't as susceptible to injury as Hamilton, either.
Center field will be a position to watch, as Martin was a big bonus baby from Cuba two years ago. He will get his first real test in the big leagues this season, though it wouldn't be a surprise to see Craig Gentry (.364 career on-base percentage vs. left-handed pitching) platoon with him.
Projected Starting Rotations
The AL West is a pitching-rich division, so let's take a look at the starting rotations each team will run out there.
|No. 1 starter||Bud Norris, RHP|
|No. 2 starter||Lucas Harrell, RHP|
|No. 3 starter||Phil Humber, RHP|
|No. 4 starter||Alex White, RHP|
|No. 5 starter||Brad Peacock, RHP|
Norris is the elder statesman of the group, not to mention the one with the most big league success. He struck out 165 hitters in 168.1 innings last season, though he also had 66 walks and gave up 23 home runs.
After throwing a perfect game last year, Humber reverted back to his old self. He posted a 6.44 ERA in 102 innings with the White Sox. White is just 24 but has never solved the command issues that have plagued him for the last two years.
Peacock had a breakout season in Washington's system two years ago, posting a 2.39 ERA. He fell hard in 2012, posting a 6.01 ERA in Triple-A for Oakland. He is not a big pitcher, so he doesn't get any plane on his fastball, making it easy to elevate. For the Astros, they just hope he can turn into a back-of-the-rotation innings eater.
Los Angeles Angels
|No. 1 starter||Jered Weaver, RHP|
|No. 2 starter||C.J. Wilson, LHP|
|No. 3 starter||Joe Blanton, RHP|
|No. 4 starter||Jason Vargas, LHP|
|No. 5 starter||Tommy Hanson, RHP|
This rotation starts with Weaver. No one else is close to him. He does get helped by the Angels' pitcher-friendly park, but it is hard to argue with a pitcher whose highest ERA in the last three years was 3.01.
After Weaver, there are four very big question marks. Wilson had surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow after posting a 5.54 ERA in the second half. Blanton could succeed in Los Angeles as a fly-ball pitcher in that big park. Just beware of what he does on the road. Vargas is a command-control lefty.
Hanson looks like a shell of his former self and was pulled from his last spring start against Cleveland after four innings due to triceps tightness. Once a potential No. 2 starter, if he can give you 180 league-average innings, it will be a miracle.
|No. 1 starter||Brett Anderson, LHP|
|No. 2 starter||Jarrod Parker, RHP|
|No. 3 starter||Tommy Milone, LHP|
|No. 4 starter||A.J. Griffin, RHP|
|No. 5 starter||Dan Straily, RHP|
Oakland's rotation will look that much stronger if Brett Anderson, who has been around for years but is only 25, can stay healthy all year.
This is already a solid group. Parker had a strong rookie season, posting a 3.47 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 181.1 innings. Milone is helped greatly by Oakland's spacious park (18 HR allowed in 91.1 innings on the road, compared to six in 98.2 innings at home).
Griffin was solid down the stretch last season with a 3.06 ERA in 15 games, though he did give up 93 baserunners and 10 home runs in 82.1 innings. Straily had a strong season in the minors, striking out 190 in 152 innings. He has a good changeup that allows his average fastball to play up.
|No. 1 starter||Felix Hernandez, RHP|
|No. 2 starter||Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP|
|No. 3 starter||Joe Saunders, LHP|
|No. 4 starter||Blake Beavan, RHP|
|No. 5 starter||Brandon Maurer, RHP|
What the Mariners start the season with in the rotation will almost assuredly not be what they end it with. Hernandez, fresh off signing his record-breaking contract extension, will be the anchor for a long time.
Iwakuma signed a one-year deal in the offseason after pitching in Japan for five years. Saunders found some success with Baltimore at the end of last year, but he gives up too many hits to have sustained success (10.0 per nine innings pitched last season). Beavan is another pitcher who doesn't miss enough bats to be more than filler in the back of a rotation.
Maurer is the most intriguing of Seattle's secondary starters. He has had a strong spring, striking out 22 with an ERA of 0.90 in 20 innings. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he mixes all his pitches well and commands them. He has the potential to be a No. 3 starter for this team.
|No. 1 starter||Matt Harrison, RHP|
|No. 2 starter||Yu Darvish, RHP|
|No. 3 starter||Alexi Ogando, RHP|
|No. 4 starter||Derek Holland, LHP|
|No. 5 starter||Nick Tepesch, RHP|
Why Harrison is the No. 1 starter for this team over Darvish is a mystery to me, unless Ron Washington is so out of it that he thinks wins and losses are the proper way to evaluate. It doesn't mean much after the first series of the year, so no big deal.
Ogando and Holland are two enigmas that no one knows what to do with. The former has the power arm and repertoire to start, but he spent all last year in the bullpen and may be limited in how long he stays in the rotation. The latter has plus stuff but the command and consistency has never been there.
Tepesch has really struggled this spring, giving up 24 hits in 18 innings, but the injury to Martin Perez opened up a spot and someone had to get it.
Projected bullpens are tricky because, by their very nature, pitchers will be moved in and out of roles depending on their success in a given situation. Here is how things look for the AL West teams in the 'pen.
|Closer||Jose Veras, RHP|
|Set-Up||Rhiner Cruz, RHP|
|Set-Up||Hector Ambriz, RHP|
|Reliever||Xavier Cedeno, LHP|
|Reliever||Josh Fields, RHP|
|Reliever||Edgar Gonzalez, RHP|
|Reliever||Wesley Wright, LHP|
The Astros have taken a lot of arms off the scrap heap to piece together their bullpen. Veras is a journeyman reliever being given the closer's job. This group could be in the middle of the pack in the AL because there are some live arms (Cruz, Ambriz, Cedeno) that can miss some bats.
In an ideal scenario, at least one of these pitchers will have a career year, and the Astros can flip him at the deadline for a decent prospect. That is the model they are following right now, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Los Angeles Angels
|Closer||Ernesto Frieri, RHP|
|Set-Up||Ryan Madson, RHP|
|Set-Up||Sean Burnett, LHP|
|Reliever||Kevin Jepsen, RHP|
|Reliever||Scott Downs, LHP|
|Reliever||Jerome Williams, RHP|
|Reliever||Garrett Richards, RHP|
Even though the Angels have yet to officially name a closer, Frieri seems like the safest bet. Madson could take over the role eventually, but Frieri struck out 13.3 hitters per nine innings with the Angels last season.
Richards has the arsenal to start, but command issues will likely relegate him to a career as a reliever. He has a big fastball and could miss a lot of bats throwing 99 in short stints, so it is worth it.
The Angels finished 22nd in bullpen ERA last season, so hopefully the addition of Madson, who will open the season on the disabled list, will give them what they need. He will need time to find his command after having Tommy John surgery last year, but the upside is worth the risk.
|Closer||Grant Balfour, RHP|
|Set-Up||Ryan Cook, RHP|
|Set-Up||Jerry Blevins, LHP|
|Reliever||Jordan Norberto, LHP|
|Reliever||Sean Doolittle, LHP|
|Reliever||Travis Blackley, LHP|
|Reliever||Pat Neshek, RHP|
Balfour took to the closer's role for the A's last season, solidifying what would become one of the best bullpens in baseball. They finished second in batting average against (.209) and fourth in team ERA (2.94).
Because of that success, the A's didn't really make any changes to the bullpen. Sean Doolittle was one of the best left-handed relievers, striking out 60 in 47.1 innings with just 11 walks and 40 hits allowed.
They are good and incredibly deep, with arms that can get hitters out from both sides of the plate or specialists capable of getting a big out late in a game.
|Closer||Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP|
|Set-Up||Stephen Pryor, RHP|
|Set-Up||Carter Capps, RHP|
|Reliever||Charlie Furbush, LHP|
|Reliever||Oliver Perez, LHP|
|Reliever||Lucas Luetge, LHP|
|Reliever||Kameron Loe, RHP|
While Wilhelmsen is listed as Seattle's closer right now, Carter Capps is the star of the group. The 22-year-old right-hander has a power fastball-curveball combination, and he uses it to miss a ton of bats.
That is not meant to take anything away from Wilhelmsen, who can bring plenty of heat and did close 29 games last year for the Mariners.
Oliver Perez could be a sneaky addition to the bullpen. If he can find any kind of command, he should at least be a viable lefty specialist. I am not expecting him to show anything. But even if he doesn't, the team can just release him.
|Closer||Joe Nathan, RHP|
|Set-Up||Jason Fraser, RHP|
|Set-Up||Michael Kirkman, LHP|
|Reliever||Robbie Ross, LHP|
|Reliever||Tanner Scheppers, RHP|
|Reliever||Josh Lindblom, RHP|
|Reliever||Derek Lowe, RHP|
Nathan's bounce-back 2012 season was Texas' gain, as the 37-year-old saved 37 games and made the loss of Neftali Feliz to Tommy John surgery (after the team tried to move him to the rotation) easier to take.
Even though the Rangers were middle-of-the-road in bullpen ERA last season (3.42), they still managed to win 93 games and make the postseason for the third straight season.
Derek Lowe could be a capable swing man when the Rangers need a long reliever, similar to the role he played for the Yankees at the end of last season. Tanner Scheppers has to work on keeping the ball down in the zone, but he has a live arm and could take a step forward in 2013.
Top MLB-Ready Prospects
One of the biggest keys to having success over a long season is being able to dip into your farm system to find impact players. Here are the top AL West prospects who can and will make a difference for their team this season.
1B Jonathan Singleton
RHP Jarred Cosart
Had Singleton not been suspended the first 50 games of the season after failing a drug test in January, odds are good he would have been called up around the All-Star break. As it stands, he will likely be a late-season call-up.
Singleton is the best impact bat to come out of the Astros' system, even though he was technically drafted by Philadelphia and traded for Hunter Pence. He has far more upside than Pence, with plus power and a great approach at the plate.
He does need work against left-handed pitching (he hit just .232/.307/.416 against southpaws last year), but he can pound righties and is very close to being ready.
Cosart has a great arm, with a plus-plus fastball and plus curveball. His command is below-average and there is violence in his delivery, to the point where he will likely have to move to the bullpen, but he has the stuff to be a closer.
Los Angeles Angels
RHP R.J. Alvarez
LHP Nick Maronde
The Angels have the worst farm system in baseball. They do have a few relievers who could play a role if the need arises.
Alvarez has power stuff to pitch at the back of a bullpen. He also has an ugly, violent delivery that will likely result in him breaking down eventually, so they might as well get what they can out of him now.
Maronde has spent most of his two seasons in the minors as a starter, though he did work out of the bullpen twice last season and could move quicker if he stays in that role. He doesn't have big stuff, but he can add some velocity to his fastball and get away with more in short stints than trying to turn a lineup over three times.
OF Michael Taylor
IF/OF Grant Green
Taylor has been floating around the minors for the last three years. His stock has dropped as his offensive profile has slowly deteriorated. He still has some power in his bat and knows how to work a count. He may not turn into a star, but he still has enough skills to turn into a solid everyday player.
Moving slowly through the A's system since being drafted out of USC in 2009, Green is finally knocking on the door to the big leagues following a solid season at Triple-A where he hit .296/.338/.458 and proved himself to be versatile by playing five different positions.
Even though there isn't a lot of power in his bat, Green does control the strike zone well and has enough bat speed to hit for a good average. He will be best served at second base, because he doesn't have a great arm or lateral range for shortstop or third base.
LHP Danny Hultzen
C Mike Zunino
The Mariners drafted Hultzen with the second pick in the 2011 draft with the idea that he would be able to move quickly and arrive in the big leagues around the same time as other top pitching prospects Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer.
Hultzen has a solid four-pitch mix that he can spot well and will use in any count. As long as his command returns to where it was in college—he walked 75 in 124 innings last season—he could be an early call-up.
With just 15 games of Double-A experience under his belt, Zunino might seem like a strange candidate for a quick call-up, except when you realize how polished all his skills are and how desperate the Mariners will be for someone competent behind the plate.
It would not be a shock to see the Mariners hold Zunino down for two months to keep his arbitration clock from ticking, but he is going to be in Seattle this season—barring injury, of course.
SS Jurickson Profar
3B Mike Olt
Most teams in baseball would have started Profar and Olt in the big leagues this season. Then again, most teams don't already have Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre at shortstop and third base, respectively.
Profar is the best prospect in baseball. His all-around skills and advanced approach at the age of 20 are remarkable. He is most valuable as a shortstop but could play second base if the Rangers want to put him there.
While overshadowed by Profar in the system, Olt is also ready to play every day in the big leagues. He does have a lot of length to his swing, causing him to strike out a lot and holding his average down, but his plus power will play right away. He is also a plus defender at third base.
Even the best coaching staff might make a difference of one win over the course of a season, but that could be the difference between a playoff berth and going home in October. Here is a look at the managers and coaches who will lead the AL West teams in 2013.
|Pitching Coach||Doug Brocail|
|Hitting Coach||John Mallee|
Bo Porter has been given the monumental task of being in charge of the Astros' rebuilding job. It is his first year as a manager in the big leagues. He previously served as the third base coach in Washington, Arizona and Florida, as well as managing in the New York-Penn League in 2006.
Brocail has been the Astros' pitching coach since 2011, when he took over on an interim basis midway through the season. He has not had much to work with, but he did oversee Lucas Harrell's breakout 2012 season.
Mallee has worked as the hitting instructor for the Florida Marlins in 2010-11. The team finished in the lower half of the league in runs scored and batting average both seasons.
Los Angeles Angels
|Pitching Coach||Mike Butcher|
|Hitting Coach||Jim Eppard|
Scioscia is starting to feel his seat get a little warmer, as the Angels continue to spend money without making it to the postseason. It will be fascinating to see how things play out if this team gets off to another slow start.
Butcher has been Scioscia's right-hand man for years, having served as the team's pitching coach since November 2006. He has seen pitchers like Jered Weaver and Dan Haren develop into Cy Young contenders under his watch, though the team finished just 18th in team ERA last year.
Jim Eppard took over for Mickey Hatcher after the start of the 2012 season. The team finished first in all of baseball in team batting average, fourth in OPS and runs scored.
|Pitching Coach||Curt Young|
|Hitting Coach||Chili Davis|
Bob Melvin just beat out Baltimore's Buck Showalter in AL Manager of the Year voting last year after leading the A's to a 94-68 record and the team's first division title since 2006.
Young oversaw a pitching staff comprised entirely of rookie starters down the stretch as the A's made their playoff push. The team's 3.48 ERA was second-best in the American League last season.
Davis was the man in charge of the powerful Oakland lineup that hit 195 home runs last season. This will be his third year with the team.
|Pitching Coach||Carl Willis|
|Hitting Coach||Dave Hansen|
Eric Wedge has been around as the Mariners have slowly tried to build an offense that doesn't embarrass itself on a daily basis. The team had an eight-game improvement compared to 2011, winning 75 games last season.
Willis has been Wedge's pitching coach for years, working with him during their time in Cleveland. He has been around CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee when they won Cy Young awards in Cleveland. Now he gets to work with Felix Hernandez and the young pitching this team has coming.
Hansen comes to Seattle after spending last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He coached an offense that finished 26th in runs scored, but it has to be noted that lineup was decimated by injuries early in the season before acquiring every big contract in the sport.
|Pitching Coach||Mike Maddux|
|Hitting Coach||Dave Magadan|
Washington has become a fixture in the Rangers' dugout, leading the team to three consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history and two American League Championship pennants.
Maddux is in his fifth season with the Rangers. He has had great success rebuilding a number of arms no one expected much from, as well as getting the most out of high-upside talents like Yu Darvish and C.J. Wilson. Last year's staff finished seventh with 1,286 strikeouts.
Magadan moves from Boston to Texas this season. He was with the Red Sox when Dustin Pedroia was named AL MVP in 2008 and Jacoby Ellsbury hit a career-high 32 home runs in 2011.
After all the analysis is done, here is how things will shake out in the American League West this season.
Division Winner: Texas Rangers (92-70)
While there is not one great team in the American League West, no one is deeper than Texas. The Rangers have a strong core already in the big leagues, while they're also able to dip into a talented farm system for help when a need arises.
Second Place: Los Angeles Angels (88-74)
As much as you love the top of the Angels lineup with Trout, Pujols and Hamilton, there isn't enough pitching to keep them in contention.
For those of you wondering, Mark Trumbo got left off that list because he overplayed his hand in the first half last year and the .227/.271/.359 line he had in the second half is more in line with how he will hit, though maybe with a little more power, given his approach.
Third Place: Oakland Athletics (83-79)
It would be fun to say that Oakland can do it again. Just looking at some of the performances the A's got down the stretch from unlikely sources (Josh Donaldson, so many rookie starters), it will be a surprise to see everything click again.
Fourth Place: Seattle Mariners (76-86)
When you are putting your faith for offense in Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, it is probably time to start examining how things are going with your development staff. At least the pitching will be good.
Fifth Place: Houston Astros (59-103)
At least Miami decided to trade all of its talent, with the exception of Giancarlo Stanton, to give Houston some company at the bottom.
If you want more predictions for the American League West or the other five divisions, hit me up on Twitter.
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