MLB Predictions: Josh Hamilton and the 2011 AL West Preseason All-Stars
The AL West in 2010 was full of "firsts." The Texas Rangers played in their first Fall Classic. The Oakland A's Dallas Braden threw the season's first perfect game.
The Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim lost their first baseman on a celebration at home plate after a home run, and the Seattle Mariners...well, the Seattle Mariners spent a lot of money last year and didn't finish first, but they did have the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner in Felix Hernandez.
This installment will look at the preseason All-Stars for the AL West. The team makeup will be as follows: five starting pitchers, three relief pitchers, and then one DH, catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman and a shortstop.
Undoubtedly somebody will get left off, so make your argument for your player to be a member of this AL West All-Star team.
Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners)
Where to start with the King? He won the 2010 AL Cy Young Award after finishing the season with 13 wins. Oh, but he did throw a career-high 249.2 innings last year, threw six complete games and punched out 232 batters, and he's only 24 years old.
Why the Mariners would even think about trading their young stud is beyond me, but he's definitely the ace of the division, and arguably league, All-Star team.
Starting Pitcher: Jered Weaver (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
Putting Weaver and Felix as your division's No. 1 and 2 is a pretty nasty start. Weaver had a career-low 3.01 ERA in 2010 and struck out 233 batters. Like Felix, he only won 13 games, and pretty much for the same reason: the team's lack of offense.
Weaver is a legit No. 1 guy and is deserving of a place on the squad.
Starting Pitcher: Trevor Cahill (Oakland Athletics)
Cahill is one of the most unknown stud pitchers in the business. He is in a small market but puts up big market numbers. His 18 wins and 2.97 ERA made up a top 10 pitcher last year that, to be honest, nobody really heard much about.
Cahill will anchor, dare I say, a dominant Oakland pitching staff this year. If they can score some runs, they will win the division.
Starting Pitcher: C.J. Wilson (Texas Rangers)
This was a tough call between Wilson and Colby Lewis, but based on regular season stats, I had to go with Wilson. Wilson had a nice 3.35 ERA and picked up 15 wins in his first season as a starter. What is scary, though, is the high number of walks he allowed (93) in 204 innings of work.
Still, he has great stuff and may be asked to shoulder the load that Cliff Lee carried last year. He's a solid pitcher on a solid ball club.
Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren (Los Angeles of Anaheim)
Haren seemed to find his groove again after a midseason trade from the Diamondbacks to the Angels. His win-loss record doesn't show it (5-4), but his ERA was almost two full runs better in Los Angeles than in Arizona.
He has put up solid numbers every season he's played, and 2011 will be no different. If the Angels can stay healthy, they have the ability to put runs up, which will elevate Harden's win total.
Relief Pitcher: Neftali Feliz (Texas Rangers)
Here is another head-scratcher with the anchor of the AL West bullpen: The Rangers are thinking of moving their All-Star, Rookie of the Year-winning pitcher Neftali Feliz to the starting rotation.
This guy had 40 saves last year and has electric stuff. He struck out 70 batters in 69 innings and was nails in the playoffs last year. He is the best closer in the division. Period.
Relief Pitcher: Andrew Bailey (Oakland Athletics)
Bailey is the first of two relievers on this list from the A's. Bailey was hurt the first part of last year but still managed to save 25 games. His sub-1.50 ERA is a testament to his consistency over his first two years (2009 ERA was 1.84).
He has the best of both worlds when it comes to pitching in that he can strike batters out if needed but can also make the pitch to get the double play.
As mentioned with Cahill, Bailey has the opportunity to crack the 40-save barrier if the A's offense can step up this season.
Relief Pitcher: Brian Fuentes (Oakland Athletics)
Our second relief pitcher and third pitcher off the Athletics is Brian Fuentes. I couldn't put Fernando Rodney of the Angels and David Aardsma of the Mariners on this list because I think Fuentes is better than both of them.
He had a solid 2010 season split between the Angels and the Twins, saving a total of 24 games. There was a decent amount of attention given to Fuentes this offseason, especially from the Pirates and the Rays, but Fuentes decided to return to the West Coast.
As an eighth inning guy, Fuentes will find himself picking up cheap wins and some saves in the event Bailey can't go. I like Fuentes this year in Oakland.
Designated Hitter: Michael Young (Texas Rangers)
This is a tough position because of the position. If we were playing fantasy baseball, I wouldn't have a problem putting any position player in the DH slot, but because it's "real life," I felt obligated to put in a DH.
Michael Young will be the Rangers' everyday DH this year, making this his fourth position played while with the Rangers. Although he's moved all around the infield, his numbers have always been solid, and 2011 will be no different.
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki (Oakland Athletics)
Suzuki is definitely not a household name, but he is about as solid a catcher offensively and defensively as there is in the American League. Suzuki put up almost mirror image seasons in 2009 and 2010. His numbers across the board were almost identical in those two years.
As a catcher, though, most people look at how he handles his pitching staff. Suzuki has done an outstanding job with the young Athletics rotation and is deserving of the AL West catching position.
First Base: Kendry Morales (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
Morales was on his way to a huge 2010 season until he shattered his leg in a walk-off celebration last spring. In 51 games, Morales had 11 home runs and 39 RBI at the time of his injury.
With Morales out, the Angels not only struggled scoring runs but also winning ball games (look at Jered Weaver's win total for proof). Morales is healthy this year; expect an All-Star-caliber performance from this young Angels first baseman.
Second Base: Chone Figgins (Seattle Mariners)
This is a tongue-in-cheek selection for a couple of reasons: 1) He may not play second base next year with the potential arrival of Dustin Ackley, and 2) he had a terrible season last year.
This second reason is why I think Figgins will be an All-Star this year. His numbers were horrible, and he signed the big free agent contract last year. Figgins has been a model of consistency throughout his career, and I think he'll bounce back and have a solid year. The problem is, at what position?
Third Base: Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers)
Beltre was courted by a couple of AL West teams this offseason in the A's and the Angels. He's already played for the Mariners, so why not sign with the Rangers?
Beltre had a huge 2010 season in Boston and was ninth in the MVP voting last year. Not bad for a guy who was considered to be in the latter part of his career after his time in Seattle. However, if you look at his numbers in Seattle, they weren't all bad (not compared to his walk year with the Dodgers).
Beltre will benefit from the heat and the ballpark in Texas and should put up big numbers in that tough Texas lineup.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus (Texas Rangers)
Andrus made a name for himself last year batting leadoff for the American League champion Texas Rangers. He can play solid defense and can run like a deer. He stole 33 and 32 bases the last two seasons and has averaged 80 runs over that time.
This year's numbers should improve with the addition of his left side of the infield partner Adrian Beltre. He doesn't hit for power but doesn't need to with the hitters he sets the table for.
Outfield: Ichiro (Seattle Mariners)
Ichiro is the most decorated player in the AL West. He is a defensive Gold Glove winner and a batting champion. He has the single-season career hit record in 2004 with 262 hits. They say he can hit for power but "chooses" not to and instead goes station to station, stealing an occasional base.
The only other outfielder in his league is Josh Hamilton (who will be mentioned later), and Ichiro does all of this at age 37.
Outfield: Vernon Wells (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
This was a toss-up between Wells and his outfield mate Torii Hunter. I think Wells gets the nod for his offensive power. 2010 was Wells' best offensive year since 2006, when he hit 32 home runs and drove in 106.
Some people may argue that he never lived up to the seven-year, $126 million contract that he signed in 2008, which may be true, but that was then and in the AL East. It's not saying the AL West is any easier, especially this year with Texas and Oakland, but you have to admit it will be nice for Wells not having to face the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox staff the majority of your games.
For that reason, I'll take Wells and his offense over Hunter and his defense this year.
Outfield: Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers)
Josh Hamilton may be the most complete player in the American League. He hits for power and average and can run, field and throw. His .359 batting average won the title last year, and even after missing a month with rib injuries, he still managed to hit 32 home runs and drive in 100, which earned him the league MVP.
His struggles with off-field issues are well documented, but his on-field production the last few years have solidified why Hamilton was taken as the first player overall in the 1999 draft.