AL West Preview

The teams, questions and predictions heading into spring training.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

As the top of the class out west, the Rangers and Angels aren’t only in contention for this division; they’re both looking for a World Series ring.


Los Angeles Angels                     Predicted Finish – 1st

I remember quite vividly the way I felt upon waking up early in the A.M this past December, sitting up in bed, opening my laptop, and finding out the Angels signed not only Albert Pujols, but C.J. Wilson as well. I literally jumped out of bed (yes, I get my first dose of daily news from my laptop in bed. It’s quite convenient and comfortable). I ran downstairs to turn on the T.V. and there it was; every sports network talking about the deal of the century.  

The Angels are paying about eight hundred yugidillionbajillion dollars for both Poohey and C.J., but it should be worth it; right? If anything, you know the cost of beer at Angel Stadium will be rising a tad.

*Note: yugidillionbajillion is not a real number. It is a hyperbole.

The Questions:

Who will play?

Sounds simple enough right? Well, after adding Pujols, and considering the return of Kendrys Morales, it’s not so simple.

In the outfield you have Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter all penciled in, most likely leaving out Bobby Abreu and Mike Trout. And with the corner infield positions and DH slots you have to choose between Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo and Alberto Callaspo. With a lot of options all around, here is how things are going to shake up.

You have to start Vernon Wells. He’s being paid an absurd amount of money, and although he struggled last year and will be on a leash in 2012, I’m confident he will bounce back with his average. He’s been working all off-season on his swing and he admitted he felt the pressure of a new team last year and was only swinging for the fences and not for hard hitting line drives. I expect more frozen ropes to the gap this year.

Bourjos will be in center. People have called him the ‘fastest white guy’ they have ever seen. He also has a terrific glove. And Torii Hunter will be in right field and will still put up solid numbers with a stout glove as well. Bobby Abreu’s numbers have been dwindling for years and he will be the odd man out.

In the infield Pujols will be at first base (duh), and Trumbo at third. I know the Angels are experimenting by putting Trumbo at the hot corner, but he’s a huge upgrade over Alberto Callaspo. Trumbo is athletic and young enough to make the adjustment.

Which leaves us with Mike Trout and Kendrys Morales sharing DH duties. Unless one stands out during spring training, I think it will be a clean split of time. Speaking of Morales though…

Will Kendrys Morales make a comeback?

A source of mine told me last year that he would be surprised if Morales ever played again based on the severity of his ankle injury. Brutal stuff. It’s been almost two years since Morales has been able to play, but assistant GM Scott Servais said recently that he’s been impressed with Morales’ batting practice. Trout is the #1 prospect in baseball though, so he has to get playing time as well, no matter how good Morales looks.

That being said, I’m hoping the best for Morales. Right now all signs point to playing time. But it doesn’t matter how well he is hitting; we all know he can do that. It all comes down to whether or not he can run on that surgically repaired ankle.

Rundown: One of the best rotations in baseball, if not the best. Haren and Weaver are solid aces and Wilson is probably one of the best number twos in the game. Pair that with a great manager, bullpen, and heavy bats in a stacked lineup featuring the games best hitter in Pujols, and you’re going to get a major contender. The Angels haven’t won the division since 2009 and are out for vengeance.


Texas Rangers                  Predicted finish – 2nd

Not much has changed in Texas. The departure of one pitcher has led to the signing of another, still leaving expectations at all all-time high.

The Questions:

Will the changes to the pitching staff pay off?

C.J. Wilson skipped town to return to his home city to play for the Angels. That left the Rangers with quite a decision in finding a new ‘ace’ to head their staff, and they chose Japanese import Yu Darvish.

Obviously, no one knows how well Darvish can do in the big leagues, but he was mightily impressive in Japan, posting an ERA under 2.00 the past five years. He says that he wants to be known as the best pitcher in the world. I like him.

Derek Holland is still young and maturing as a player, I’m confident he could be a solid start in hitter friendly Arlington in ‘12. He proved he can hang with the big boys in last year’s post season. Alexi Ogando made a great transition to the rotation last year after being a reliever and now they’ll experiment the same way with Neftali Feliz. If Feliz pitches as well as Ogando did in 2011, watch out; the Rangers could have a solid 1-5 staff when you consider throwing in Colby Lewis.

The big question will be in regards to Joe Nathan, who hasn’t been the same pitcher since 2009 before going under the knife. However, if Nathan doesn’t work out as closer, Texas has a formidable pen that features plenty of great set-up men that could take the reigns.

Is Mike Napoli for real?

Yes and no.

Yes, because the guy has always been able to mash home runs since his days in Anaheim. Now he’s in Arlington, a park that sees about as many home runs as Chuck Norris sees face plants to the bottom of his boot. I’m sorry, every time I think of Texas and Rangers, I can’t help but think about Chuck.
What isn’t for real is the average. He’s a career .264 hitter.  I think Nap will be hovering around the .275 mark, especially considering he is expected to split time because of a lingering injury he obtained during the World Series.

Rundown: Josh Hamilton and Michael Young aren’t the young pups they used to be. The Rangers are aging. Hamilton is in his early 30’s and although I believe his recent relapse won’t be any factor, he is always injury plagued as well. This all means the Rangers are ready to win now. They were only one strike away (twice) of winning the World Series, which has to hurt. If they stay away from the disabled list, and the Darvish/Feliz experiment pays off, the Rangers could finally win their first World Series.

Oakland Athletics                       Predicted Finish: 3rd

Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Guillermo Moscoso, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey: much of the core of Oakland from 2011 is gone. Unless you’re a major fan, most of these names won’t ring a bell, but these guys were the heart of the team in 2011. GM Billy Beane has been as busy as anyone this off-season in an attempt to regain some of the lost momentum. It will be a rebuilding year for Oakland in 2012, but if all plans work out, Oakland could play spoiler late into the summer.


Who is Yoenis Cespedes?

He’s the Cuban sensation that has dominated baseball in the Dominican Republic for years. He’s in his prime (27 years old) and Beane just signed him this week for four years worth $36 million.

He could be the biggest reward/bust candidate out there. While he hit .333/.424/.667 with 89 runs, 33 home runs and 99 RBI in 90 games last year in the Caribbean, it’s always hard to predict how those types of numbers will translate to big league pitching. The fact that he’s a five-tool player, which means he can steal bases too, makes general managers drool.

How will Oakland rebound with so many departures?

I like what Beane does. He has always had a knack for knowing when to let go of players for upcoming stars, and also how to get bargains for players that are under-valued. After signing Cespedes and trading for Josh Reddick (hit .280 with Boston in ’11) and a few highly touted pitching prospects, I’m confident Oakland can play .500 ball.

Rundown: They play in a pitcher’s park, and like so many teams, that’s exactly what it will come down to; pitching. Dallas Braden is trying to recover from shoulder surgery. If he is 100% it will be tremendous. Brandon McCarthy will lead the staff quietly following a career year. Prospects Brad Peacock and Jarrod Parker are reportedly studs in the making. If even one of them pitches top-notch, they could keep Oakland in contention. Also keep an eye out for speedy sophomore Jemile Weeks at second base. In my eye, he is a star in the making.


Seattle Mariners              Predicted finish: 4th

They weren’t able to make any off-season moves and are still one of the youngest teams in baseball. Growing pains will continue to ensue into 2013.


Is Ichiro done?

Sure he failed to hit .300 for the first time in his career, but does that mean he is done? No way.

According to statistics, Ichiro was a bit unlucky with his BABIP (batting average of balls in play), and considering he stole 40 bases last year tells me he hasn’t lost that much speed. I can see a .300 season for Ichiro with 25-30 swipes.

Which youngsters are ready to break out?

Micheal Pineda was on this list last year, and boy did I hit the nail on the head. He helped me win my fantasy league. But now he’s in the Bronx living the high life.

Here’s the short list of guys I really like to contribute for the M’s in 2012: Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp and Kyle Seager.

Montero is a stud who will catch a few times a week while mainly playing DH. He was traded from New York in exchange for Pineda. Ackley is a legit superstar in the making at 2nd base. Mike Carp surprised everyone when he hit .276/12/46 after being called up mid-season last year. And Kyle Seager can also rake too; he will start at 3rd base ahead of aged veteran Chone Figgins. Also keep an eye out for Casper Wells in the outfield. Justin Smoak could also bounce back from a disappointing year.

Rundown: Too young overall to contend. ‘King’ Felix Hernandez will compete for the Cy Young once again, but one pitcher can only do so much.