The Wild, Wild, West: AL West Preview

Mike Trout is hoping for a MVP season in 2014.

Mike Trout is hoping for a MVP season in 2014.

By: Travis Thayer

1. Oakland Athletics (95-67)

Projected Rotation: 1. Sonny Gray, 2. Jarrod Parker, 3. A.J. Griffin, 4. Scott Kazmir, 5. Dan Straily

Key Relievers: Jim Johnson, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson, Sean Doolittle

Projected Lineup
1. CF Coco Crisp
2. DH John Jaso
3. SS Jed Lowrie
4. LF Yoenis Cespedes
5. 1B Brandon Moss
6. 3B Josh Donaldson
7. RF Josh Reddick
8. C Derek Norris
9. 2B Eric Sogard

Top Prospects: SS Addison Russell, RHP Arnold Leon, SS/3B Daniel Robertson

The Oakland Athletics have become the team that wins despite having big name players.  There are few people outside of California that know who Sonny Gray or Yoenis Cespedes is.  That isn’t to say that those guys aren’t great, but it is an indication that the A’s can fly under the radar, and still be one of the MLB’s best teams.  The A’s won the AL West a year ago by winning 96 games, although they were eliminated from the playoffs in five games by the Detroit Tigers.  The Tigers have been a thorn in the A’s side, but they may have another chance for redemption as they seek their third straight AL West crown.  The A’s have the starting pitching and the bullpen to contend in any league, and their “money ball” approach on offense has worked in the past.  The A’s roster will be nearly the same as last year, but they made one huge addition to their bullpen.  Jim Johnson comes over from the Baltimore Orioles, where he saved an AL leading 50 games last season.  Johnson replaces Grant Balfour, which should allow the A’s to not miss a beat.  The A’s have found a winning formula that works for them, as they haven’t won less than 94 games the last two seasons.  If that happens again, the A’s will be the AL West Champs for the third straight season.

2. Texas Rangers (91-71)

Projected Rotation: 1. Yu Darvish, 2. Martin Perez, 3. Alexi Ogando, 4. Matt Harrison, 5. Nick Tepesch. HURT: Derek Holland

Key Relievers: Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, Tanner Scheppers, Neal Cotts

Projected Lineup
1. LF Shin-Soo Choo
2. SS Elvis Andrus
3. 1B Prince Fielder
4. 3B Adrian Beltre
5. RF Alex Rios
6. DH Mitch Moreland
7. 2B Jurickson Profar
8. C J.P. Arencibia/Geovany Soto
9. CF Leonys Martin

Top Prospects: OF Michael Choice, 2B Rougned Odor, 3B Joey Gallo

Exit Ian Kinsler, and enter Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo.  Kinsler is a great second baseman, but the Rangers will be more than happy with their new additions.  Prince Fielder is coming off a down year, but his power will be well suited in a hitters park in Arlington.  Choo, on the other hand had a great season last year in Cincinnati, and he will look to be an on-base monster for a team that scores a lot of runs.  Choo was second in the Nation League in OBP (.423) only behind former teammate Joey Votto.  The Rangers were 11th in OBP and 17th in SLG last season, but Choo and Fielder will certainly help those numbers.  Aside from a great lineup, the Rangers also field a good rotation.  Cy Young candidate, Yu Darvish headlines the group that will be without left-hander Derek Holland for the foreseeable future.  The Rangers will need Holland to come back healthy at some point in the season if they have aspirations of making a World Series run.  The player that could make the biggest difference for the Rangers is rookie Jurickson Profar.  The Rangers were able to trade second baseman Ian Kinsler because of the talented Profar.  Profar is one of baseball’s top prospects, and he is a potential star in Texas.

3. Los Angeles Angels (81-81)

Projected Rotation: 1. Jared Weaver, 2. C.J. Wilson, 3. Hector Santiago, 4. Garrett Richards, 5. Tyler Skaggs

Key Relievers: Ernesto Frieri, Sean Burnett, Kevin Jepsen, Joe Smith

Projected Lineup
1. RF Kole Calhoun
2. CF Mike Trout
3. 1B Albert Pujols
4. LF Josh Hamilton
5. 2B Howie Kendrick
6. 3B David Freese
7. C Chris Iannetta
8. SS Erick Aybar
9. DH J.B. Shuck

Top Prospects: LHP Nick Maronde, 2B, Taylor Lindsey, 3B Kaleb Cowart

Every team in the league would kill to have a lineup that includes the likes of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton.  Having that kind of talent alone should get you to the playoffs, but that hasn’t been the case so far in Los Angeles.  Mike Trout could very well have two MVP’s in his first two seasons if it weren’t for Miguel Cabrera.  Trout is undoubtebly the best player on the team, but he may not be the most important.  The Angels may only go as far as Albert Pujols can take them.  Pujols only played 99 games last year, hitting .258 with 17 home runs and 64 runs batted in.  His health is in question, but reports about his plantar fasciitis have been good – and Pujols could be primed for a big year.  Josh Hamilton also struggled last season even though he played in 52 more games than Pujols.  Hamilton batted .250 with 21 HRS and 79 RBI.  Both players are capable of having bounce back years, and they will have to in order to compete with the A’s and Rangers.  Pitching is also a concern in L.A. because of the lack of starting pitching.  Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson are solid at the top of the rotation, but they will need a solid third option to emerge at some point in 2014.  Pitching will always be the most important thing in baseball, but the reemergence of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton could save the Angels in 2014.

4. Seattle Mariners (74-88)

Projected Rotation: 1. Felix Hernandez, 2. Hisashi Iwakuma, 3. Erasmo Ramirez, 4. James Paxton, 5. Taijuan Walker

Key Relievers: Eanny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen

Projected Lineup
1. SS Brad Miller
2. 3B Kyle Seager
3. 2B Robinson Cano
4. RF Corey Hart
5. 1B Justin Smoak
6. DH Logan Morrison
7. CF Michael Saunders
8. C Mike Zunino
9. LF Dustin Ackley

Top Prospects: RHP Taijuan Walker, 3B D.J. Peterson, RHP James Paxton

A lot of people in the media have the Mariners finishing third in the AL West, and it’s all because of the addition of second baseman Robinson Cano.  I believe Cano will help the Mariners improve in 2014, but his impact alone won’t be good enough to move the Mariners out of the bottom half of the AL West.  Having said that, there is a lot to like about the Seattle Mariners.  Robinson Cano and Corey Hart were nice pick-ups that should at least get fans interested, and they will hopefully produce enough runs to help a rotation that features one of the best pitchers in the game, Felix Hernandez.  Hernandez is an absolute beast, and he will be joined in the rotation by two young studs, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker.  Much of the Mariners success will lie on the shoulders of the two young pitchers, but regardless of the Mariners win-loss record – there is something to be excited about in Seattle.  The Mariners won’t win the division crown in 2014 because the top teams are just too good, but the Mariners have put themselves in a position to compete for the next few years.

5. Houston Astros (55-107)

Projected Rotation: 1. Scott Feldman, 2. Brett Oberholtzer, 3. Jarrod Cozart, 4. Brad Peacock, 5. Dallas Kuechel

Key Relievers: Chad Qualls, Josh Fields

Projected Lineup
1. CF Dexter Fowler
2. 2B Jose Altuve
3. C Jason Castro
4. DH Chris Carter
5. 3B Matt Dominguez
6. LF Robbie Grossman
7. 1B Brett Wallace
8. RF George Springer
9. SS Jonathan Villar

Top Prospects: OF George Springer, SS Carlos Correa, RHP Mark Appel

The Astros went from getting beat up in the NL Central to getting beat up in the AL West.  The team just can’t catch a break, and they won’t be catching one this season either.  The one positive from sucking for the better half of a decade is that the team has built up a nice set of prospects that will eventually have the incredible difficult task of turning around the franchise.  Outfielder George Springer will get a chance to show what he’s made of in 2014, and I expect him to be as good as advertised.  Springer is an excellent hitter averaging .311 with 18 HRS and 53 RBI in only 62 games at AAA Oklahoma City.  Springer should crack the opening day starting lineup, and help will be on the way in the coming years.  Number one overall pick in 2012 Carlos Correa hit .320 in A-ball last year, and he is living up to the hype this spring.  Correa won’t be rushed to the majors, but it’s going to be hard to keep him in the minors because he is a rare talent at shortstop.  Right-handed pitcher Mark Appel was another first overall pick for the Astros in 2013, and he isn’t expected to spend a lot of time down on the farm either.  The Astros will yet again suffer from a long season in the sun, even with the additions of Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman.  As long as the Astros continue to cash in on their draft picks, the future will be bright – and it’s possible that one day the Astros may reign supreme in the AL West.


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