AL West: Slim Fantasy Pickings in a 4-Team Division
Once a fertile ground for big bats thanks to the Bash Brothers and hitting heavyweights like Ken Griffey, Jr., the AL West has since become a young pitchers playground, but is there enough offense today to create a fantasy league leader?
Home to the American League Pennant winning Texas Rangers, the West obviously has the talent as its divisional World Series appearance proved last year, but fantasy baseball operates under its own set of rules, so let’s draft from within and see if we can create a sneaky team that can slide into September with bragging rights.
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki
Although he did not statistically have a stellar 2010 offensive campaign, Kurt Suzuki can still swing a stick, especially when stacked against his AL West behind-the-plate-peers.
Nicknamed “Kurt Klutch” during his college years at Cal State Fullerton, Suzuki is a solid backstop with a tendency to hit when it matters; meaning a repeat of his 88 RBIs from 2009 is not out of the realm of possibility.
First Base: Kendry Morales
We all remember the embarrassing broken leg incident from the 2010 season, but let’s not forget the 34 dingers Kendry Morales sent deep and the 108 RBIs he drove in only a year before.
Yes, he’s got a long way to climb back and we can only hope that he’s thought up less destructive ways to celebrate, but in a day and age where first basemen are the Terminators of the game, the AL West is a distant second to everybody else’s first.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler
Like Morales, the injury bug bit Ian Kinsler in 2010, limiting the slugger to 460 plate appearances and choking his potent potential.
Still, if you can keep Kins on the field and off of your bench, you’ve got one of the best second basemen in the game. And in that Texas offense with the Texas heat carrying the ball through the Texas night, expect a Texas-sized stat line complete with 25-plus home runs and 100 runs to boot.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus
A relative wasteland throughout most the league, shortstops get pretty weak after Ramirez and Tulowitzki are plucked off the board, so when you’re shopping for some offense at an otherwise defensive position, it helps to be a glass is half full general manager.
Elvis Andrus will not help you in RBIs, OBP, or average, but as long as his wheels stay rolling on the track, he should be good for at least 30 stolen bases and 80 or so runs. That’s as full as half full gets.
Third Base: Adrian Beltre
Although it’s highly unlikely that he’ll match what he did in Boston during his Elvis, Presley not Andrus, “It’s Now or Never” contract year, Adrian Beltre is still going to give you some pop.
Yes, things were dismal during his final season in Seattle, but he isn’t expected to carry the Rangers line-up in 2011. If he can keep his eye on the ball (and his average around the .275 mark), he should be able to net you 80 runs, 90 RBIs and 22 dingers.
Not too shabby for a player who everyone assumed had one foot through the retirement door only a year ago.
Left Field: Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton had an amazing 2008, a forgettable 2009 and a hell of a 2010. Pattern enthusiasts (if there is such a thing) would suggest a down year was inevitable in 2011, but I’m willing to roll the dice, spin the wheel and let it ride that he and his consistency demons have made amends.
What to expect? A mingling of 2008 and 2010 is a safe bet, so don’t be surprised if he puts up 90 runs, 100 RBIs and a .320 batting average to go along with a league leading OBP.
Center Field: Torii Hunter
Yes, Torii Hunter is an aging superstar, but even at 35 he’s still worth a roster spot.
Consistent and reliable with a tendency to slide headfirst into some spectacular hot streaks, Hunter is a solid RBI and Runs man who will never hurt you in Average. Past his prime, sure, but he still has 20-plus home run potential, giving you a multi-category threat who is only going to help you and very seldom hurt you.
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki
The only category that forced me to really debate amongst myself, right field had two solid options worth a look. Ichiro Suzuki and Nelson Cruz.
My gut is telling me that most people would choose Cruz for his pop potential, but with a bunch of slugs on the base paths for this team already, I went with speed over power.
Even at 37 Ichiro can move like a player half his age, ending 2010 with 42 stolen bags, but you’re not just getting speed when you commit to Hercules.
Dependable across the entire stat line, he has the potential to seriously spike your batting average in the right direction while slapping the ball around the field like a shuttlecock in a game of badminton. (Ten straight years of 200-plus hits.)
Yes, I said shuttlecock.
Designated Hitter: Michael Young
He may not stay in Texas. He may not always be a designated hitter. He may not play the season happy.
What Michael Young will do is produce as he always has, regardless of what head space he’s in.
The unsung hero of baseball gets the DH spot for this fake team, rounding out a roster that could crash and burn or thrash and earn… as in, earn you bragging rights at the end of your fantasy season.