Who will win the AL West?

Joe Clark, FHS Baseball Guru

In Part 3 of our 7 part MLB Preview, we look at the AL West

AL West

  • Texas Rangers (94-68)


With the trade for Cole Hamels at the 2015 Trade Deadline, the Rangers have built their rotation into one of the best in baseball. With Hamels, Martin Perez, the consistently solid Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Yu Darvish (when he returns from Tommy John surgery in mid-may), the Rangers have a rotation that should be feared throughout the league. The only weakness the Rangers really have is at catcher, where Robinson Chirinos and 2016 spring training star Bryan Holaday will split time. Prince Fielder is the heart of the Rangers lineup, and he has rebuilt his value and is once again one of the top hitters in the league. Joining Prince is Mitch Moreland at 1st, and Rougned Odor, who following last season’s .261/.316/.465 slash with 16 HR and 61 RBI in only 470 plate appearances has major breakout potential. At SS, the Rangers will need Elvis Andrus to return to his 2012 All-Star form, as his bat and defense have declined. Since his .286/.349/.378 2012 season where he posted a 1.6 dWAR, Andrus has only been worth 2.5 dWAR total from 2013-2015, while batting a mediocre .264/.317/.340. Adrian Beltre returns as the Rangers’ everyday 3B, and along with Fielder the two of them form a formidable 3-4 punch. If Ian Desmond can play a good LF and return to his 2014 form, than the Rangers will have gotten a relative bargain compared to what Desmond’s market could’ve been if he wasn’t given a qualifying offer. Last year’s Rule 5 draft selection Delino DeShields quietly had a very solid 2015 campaign, and finished 7th in AL Rookie of the Year voting. He will be the Rangers everyday centerfielder this season, and he has 50 steal potential. Shin Soo Choo bounced back nicely last season following a rough 2014, and he will be the Rangers RF. The Rangers also have a good bullpen, anchored by closer Shawn Tolleson, who saved 35 games last season. He’s joined in the Rangers pen by Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman, who was acquired from the Phillies along with Hamels at last year’s deadline. Keone Kela was also very good last season for Texas, his first in the bigs, where he put up a 2.39 ERA and 2.64 FIP. This is an incredibly talented Rangers team, and the scary thing is they could get better. Prospect Joey Gallo, the #9 prospect in baseball, has incredible power, and has 50-55 HR potential. He struggled a little when he was called up last season, but some time in AAA this season could be exactly what Gallo needs, and he could be a major force when he gets called up. They’ll face a lot of competition from the Astros and to some extent the Angels, but the Rangers are an immensely talented team, and if they can acquire a catcher (Jonathan Lucroy?), they could be serious World Series contenders

  1. Houston Astros (92-70)

Anchored by one of the best young players in baseball in Carlos Correa, the Astros, who almost beat the Royals in last season’s ALDS, should be one of the best teams in baseball yet again. There was a point when Alex Rodriguez was making more than the entire ‘Stros roster. While they still have a relatively meager $96,643,000 payroll, the 24th highest in the MLB, they aren’t being ridiculed for it anymore. A deep rotation, led by reigning AL Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel, will be they key to success for the Astros. Keuchel is joined by Colin McHugh, Mike Fiers, Scott Feldman, and interesting bounceback candidate Doug Fister in the rotation. Prospect Lance McCullers Jr. was solid last season in 22 starts (6-7, 3.22 ERA), and should see some starts when he returns from the DL. In their lineup, Correa should bat 3rd, and will be the key competition for Mike Trout in the AL MVP race. Correa is joined by 3B Luis Valbuena, and Jose Altuve, who boasted previously unseen power last season (.313/.353/.459 with 15 HR, 66 RBI, 38 SB) on his way to one of the best seasons of his career. In the outfield, the Astros brought back Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, who was acquired at last season’s trade deadline (along with Fiers), and young power hitter George Springer. All three of those guys played a big part in last season’s success, and the Astros will need similar production out of them this year. The Astros boosted their bullpen in a big way this offseason, with the acquisition of closer Ken Giles from the Phillies, but the team decided he will split closer duties with Luke Gregerson, who was very solid as the Astros closer last year. Those two join Pat Neshek and FA signing Tony Sipp as the heart of the bullpen. The Astros’ only main question mark this season lies at 1B, where they will be hoping rookie Tyler White, a former 33rd round draft pick, will be able to fill in until prospect AJ Reed is ready, or maybe even take the job and move Reed (or White) to DH and use the promising Preston Tucker as a 4th OF. This is a very talented Astros team, and don’t be surprised to see them in the ALCS.

  1. Los Angeles Angels (82-80)

The Angels are all Mike Trout. Without a solid rotation or another reliable lineup piece, this prediction may be too kind to the Angels. Garrett Richards is a solid starter, but he isn’t really a true ace, while Jered Weaver isn’t really close to the pitcher he once was. Hector Santiago is decent, and while I like Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano, the question will be if they can both produce consistently and eat up innings in the back of the Angels rotation. Andrew Heaney could also be very good when he comes back from the DL. Albert Pujols returns as the Angels DH, with 6 years and $165 million still left on the massive 10 year, $240 million deal he signed before the 2012 season. He isn’t nearly the same player he was back then, but he could still be a 30 HR threat. The promising CJ Cron returns as the full time first baseman, but he is joined by Johnny Giavotella at 2B, and while Giavotella was pretty good in 502 plate appearances last season (.272/.318/.375, 4 HR, 49 RBI), in 465 PA from 2011-2014 with Kansas City, he batted .238/.277/.334 with 4 HR and 45 RBI. I don’t think he’ll bring much in way of the bat, and he is a slightly below average defender (-1.2 career dWAR). The trade for defensive whiz SS Andrelton Simmons cost two top pitching prospects, further depleting the Angels last ranked farm system. Yunel Escobar is solid, but he won’t help the Angels get over the hump. The Angels will hope Daniel Nava can return to his 2013 form, but if not Craig Gentry should take over LF. Trout is the preseason favorite in the AL MVP race, and is the best player in baseball. He is a 30/30 threat, and will likely bat at or around .300. But the Angels haven’t done enough to help him win. RF Kole Calhoun is alright, and the Angels have a good bullpen with Huston Street, Mike Morin, and Joe Smith. Their rotation just isn’t all that great, and their lineup has too many holes for them to be a playoff team. Trout will add a couple of wins, but the bottom line is this is just a mediocre team, that without a total rebuild (which might not even be possible because outside of Trout the Angels don’t have many intriguing pieces) or big FA spending, won’t be good this year or anytime in the near future.

  1. Seattle Mariners (77-85)

It seems almost every year some publication prints a headline “Why this is the Mariners Year.” Well, this isn’t the Mariners year. Long gone are the days where Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson made up the core of a talented Mariners team, or even the Ichiro led 116 win 2001 team. Today’s Mariners are led by the still imposing Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. Cano will be good this year, but he’s still ridiculously overpaid. Cruz is a very solid power hitter, and despite the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field still managed to bash 44 HR last season. Hernandez is still probably a top 10 pitcher in baseball. Bringing back Hisashi Iwakuma and adding Wade Miley from Boston help stabilize the Mariners rotation behind Hernandez, and those three join Taijuan Walker who could have a breakout season this year, and Nate Karns, acquired in a November trade from the Rays. Adam Lind takes over at 1B after spending 2015 with the Brewers, while Ketel Marte will man SS. Kyle Seager, a good young hitter plays 3B. FA signing Nori Aoki takes over in left, while Leonys Martin takes over everyday duties in CF after being acquired from the Rangers. Seth Smith returns as the Mariners everyday right fielder, and will hope to improve upon last season’s .248/.330/.773 performance. This isn’t a very talented Mariners team, and barring a huge shakeup, they’ll remain in .500 territory the next few seasons.

  1. Oakland Athletics

After last season’s 68-94 finish, the A’s went out and shook up their bullpen with the acquisitions of Ryan Madson, John Axford, and Liam Hendriks. Despite what will be a much stronger bullpen this year, I don’t see the A’s doing a ton this season. Their starting rotation balwest2ehind the always-solid Sonny Gray is very shaky, with Rich Hill, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, and Eric Surkamp behind him. None of those guys have had sustained MLB success outside of Hill’s 2006 and 2007 seasons with the Cubs. The A’s lineup features power hitter Khris Davis, acquired in a trade with the Brewers this offseason, along with the speedy Billy Burns and ex-Red Sox OF Josh Reddick. Reddick is entering a contract year, and if he can produce the way he has the way he has the last two seasons (.269/.326/.448, 32 HR, 131 RBI in 978 PA), he

may be too expensive for the small market A’s will keep. The A’s also have Stephen Vogt, who has established himself as a top 10 catcher in the league. Yonder Alonso takes over at 1B, while Jed Lowrie returns to Oakland after a season in Houston. Marcus Semien, acquired in the 2015 Jeff Samardzija trade (along with Bassitt) remains the starting SS, and he has an interesting power/speed mix. At 3B, Danny Valencia, an intriguing power hitter, will take over the spot from Brett Lawrie, who was traded to the White Sox this offseason. Chris Coghlan, acquired from the Cubs, will be the A’s utility man, and after a good year on the south side last season, expectations will be high for him off the bench. Henderson Alvarez, a phenomenal buy-low option who was acquired this offseason as FA after being non tendered by Miami, could join the A’s rotation by  May, and he should be a nice addition for the weak rotation Oakland features now. Oakland also has an underrated farm system, and they could see top prospects Sean Manaea (acquired for Ben Zobrist at the 2015 deadline) and Matt Olson make contributions on the big league roster this season. Oakland could be solid this season, but their ceiling is probably around 84 wins, and I think their weak rotation holds them back some. They could be good in a couple of years, but for now, the A’s are in the basement of the west.