Predictions - AL West

Most of the free agents have been signed so now it is time for myworld to make our Division predictions. With a number of teams in rebuilding mode many of the races will be limited. Below is myworld’s prediction for the AL West.

1. Houston Astros

Overall - They return a veteran team that only got better with the acquisition of Gerritt Cole. This creates a seven deep rotation. They led the American League in hitting by 20 points and bring all their bats back. Their pitching should be improved with Cole on the bump.

Strength - 1) Starting pitching. No team can claim a big three of Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander and Gerritt Cole. That trio should combine for 60 wins. Lance McCullers is a home grown starting pitcher who will slot in the fourth spot. Few pitchers were hotter than Charlie Morton at the end of the year. He will fit in the fifth spot. Waiting in the bullpen for the opportunity to start will be Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, who combined for 18 wins last year.
2) Up the middle. No team has a foursome up the middle like the Astros. MVP Jose Altuve starts the machine rolling at second base. Carlos Correa is a potential superstar who reminds many of Alex Rodriguez in his glory days. George Springer moved from right field to center last year and will get most of his time there. Brian McCann may be the weak link of this group, but he still has some swag behind the plate. Those four combined for 100 homeruns last year.
3) Utility - Marwin Gonzalez is a good dude to have. He plays everywhere except catcher and spent most of his outfield time in left field. Utility players usually do not come with 23 homeruns and 90 RBIs.

Weakness - 1) Catcher. At 34 Brian McCann may be headed for the down side of his career. His defense has tailed off a little. Behind him is Evan Gattis, another weak defensive catcher. Gattis may be better off in the DH role.
2) First Base. Yuli Gurriel did a good job there last year but his best position is third or second base. He will miss the first couple weeks of the season giving the Astros time to test youngsters A.J. Reed or Tyler White. Marwin Gonzalez will probably see most of the time there until Gurriel is healthy.

Top Rookie - Kyle Tucker is having a hot spring. Defensively he may be better at center than Springer. If he continues to hit in the minors the Astros may be tempted to move him to left, taking away playing time from Marwin Gonzalez, or move him to center where Springer can return to right and Josh Reddick can shift to left.

Top Prospect - Forest Whitely. His season will be delayed by 50 games because of a drug suspension but the 2016 first round pick can be dominating on the mound. At 6′7″ with a mid-90s fastball he can be scary to face.

Expected Finish - The Astros have a lot of depth in the rotation and Marwin Gonzalez can cover almost any position if an injury should occur. Astros should take this division in a walk away.

2. Los Angeles Angels

Overall - The Angels won the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. Add the best player in Japan to Mike Trout the best player in the United States and you have a pretty good duo. The pitching needs to stay healthy if the Angels want to stay with the Astros.

Strengths - 1) Mike Trout. He is the best player in baseball and as long as he stays healthy enough for centerfield the Angels will be tough.
2) Shortstop. Andrelton Simmons won the gold glove last year. Many consider him the best defensive shortstop in baseball. Last year his bat came to life with 14 homeruns and a .278 average.

3) Shohei Ohtani - The Angels hope he will help on the mound and with the bat. If he doesn’t hit the Angels may try to convince him to abandon the hitting.

Weakness - 1) Starting pitching. It needs to stay healthy. Their projected rotation has no starter with more than 25 starts. Garrett Richards and Shohei Ohtani could be a potent one/two but the duo each started less than 10 times. What follows them is back end of the rotation starters.
2) First Base. Albert Pujols is not the player he used to be. With his foot problems his best position could be DH but the Angels want to start Shohei Ohtani there in between his starts on the hill. So Pujols will try his hand at first where he only played six games last year.
3) Catcher. Can’t say we are enamored with the offense of Martin Maldonado or Rene Rivera. Their defense is strong but their production on offense will be lacking.
4) Bullpen. No established closer. They may eventually settle on Cam Bedrosian, who has better stuff than Blake Parker. Blake had 8 saves last year while Cam settled for 6.

Top Rookie - Shohei Ohtani. In Japan he could blow hitters away with his 100 mile per hour fastball. When he was not pitching he could mash fastballs 450 feet. He could be the first player in the major leagues to reach double digits in wins and homeruns. He has already done that in Japan. The last player to do that in the major leagues was a player named Babe Ruth.

Top Prospect - Taking Ohtani away from the equation the next best prospect is five tooled outfielder Jo Adell. The 2017 first round pick has excellent power and speed. Eventually he will replace Mike Trout in centerfield, a daunting task.

Expected Finish - They need Albert Pujols to extend his hot streaks and Ohtani not to struggle on inside fastballs. Having the best player in Japan and the United States should give them enough wins to capture the second wild card spot and second place in the West.

3. Texas Rangers

Overall - The Rangers may have passed their prime. They appear to be in that in between spot where age is settling in at a couple positions.

Strengths - 1)Infield. Adrian Beltre needs to defy his 39 years of age and Roughned Odor must show that last year’s .204 batting average was a fluke. Joey Gallo also struggled to hit for average (.209) and will take over first base. Odor and Gallo combined for 358 whiffs. They also combined for 71 homeruns. Elvis Andrus plays a good shortstop and his 20 homeruns and 88 RBIs was just a bonus. He needs to show those numbers were not a fluke.

Weaknesses - 1) Starting pitching. Cole Hamels did not have a good year by his standards (4.20 ERA) but he will be the Rangers ace. For the Rangers to do well he needs to pitch well. Behind him you have too many question marks in Martin Perez, Doug Fister and Matt Moore. The Rangers park tends to be a hitter’s park and these pitchers should see some nasty splits.
2) Bullpen. There is no established closer. Matt Bush was not good at it last year but may be their most established closer. Alex Claudio picked up 11 saves but he has trouble retiring righthanded batters. Perhaps the Rangers will go with a platoon closer.

3) Left Field. With the demotion of Willie Calhoun this position appears to have a big hole. The Rangers may settle for a group of Shin-Soo Choo, Drew Robinson and Ryan Rua. Willie will be back up when his service time is limited.

Top Rookie - Willie Calhoun may have already been sent down but he will be back up when April turns to May. His defense in left field is a concern but his bat could be good enough for 30 plus homeruns.

Top Prospect - Leody Taveras began to show some power last year. He will probably be promoted to High A to play there as a teenager. Leody is a gold glove candidate for centerfield with the speed and patience to fit into a leadoff role.

Expected Finish - The pitching staff will give up a lot of runs and the offense lacks the power to mount a come back. A third place finish with a lot of air between them and the Angels is the best they can hope for.

4. Seattle Mariners

Overall - An offense that is too pedestrian, relying on two aging veterans and a pitching staff that saw its prime whizz past them without a playoff appearance. There is no Wow in this lineup or on the mound.

Strengths - 1) Designated Hitter. Nelson Cruz missed another 40 homerun season by one. His 119 RBIs led the American League. Whether his 38 year old bat can continue his offensive production is open to question.
2) Second Base. At 35 Robinson Cano is getting up in age. His stolen base numbers have dropped to one and his power has fallen below the .500 slugging standard of power hitters, but his production is still quality for the position.
3) Shortstop. Jean Segura is one of the better offensive performers in the American League. Last year he hit 11 homeruns.

Weaknesses - 1) Starting Rotation. Felix Hernandez having success is the key. Without him they can only bring the brittle James Paxton as a quality rotation pitcher. It is bleak behind Hernandez and Paxton with pitchers released by other teams. Hisashi Iwakuma was limited to six starts last year because of injuries and signed a minor league contract. He won’t be ready until mid-season.
2) First Base. Ryon Healy will get the first shot. He was acquired from the Oakland Athletics. There is power in his bat with 25 homeruns but Oakland traded him because they had better options. Dan Vogelbach brings little defense to the position and may be best used as DH. Mike Ford is an unproven third option who was dumped by the Yankees.
3) Corner Outfield. Ben Gamel will miss the first month of the season. With very little depth that will force the Mariners to settle for light hitting Guillermo Heredia or the 44 year old Ichiro Suzuki, whose bat speed leaves him far below .300. Mitch Haniger played well in his 96 game stretch in right field but needs to stay healthy. There is little quality behind Gamel or Haniger.

Top Rookie - Veterans sprinkle most of the positions but Dan Vogelbach could get enough at bats rotating between first base and DH.

Top Prospects - Injuries have forced Kyle Lewis to spend too many days away from the diamond. He was hoping for a healthy year this year but knee problems shortened his Arizona Fall League stint. He had five tool potential but the knee issues could limit his speed.

Expected Finish - Too much vanilla to finish any higher than third. Their farm system will also provide little help.

5. Oakland Athletics

Overall - The Athletics seem to be floating in an ether of nothingness. It is almost as if they are not trying to be good. They make trades but seem to get no advantage from these trades. Players are traded two years before they reach their free agency which does not give the Athletics a lot of use from their players.

Strengths - 1) DH - Khris Davis has slugged 40 homeruns two years in a row. His arm and glove are not strong for the outfield so the Athletics feel a move from left field to DH is best for the defense. Some players hit better when they are more involved in the field. Give Davis a bat in his hands and he will become one of the more productive hitters in the DH slot.
2) Corner Infielders - They have two promising youngsters to fill their corner infield positions in Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. Olson slugged 24 homeruns in just 59 games. Both players will get on base via the walk and have the potential to hit 30 plus homeruns given a full season.

Weakness - 1) Left Field. The Athletics will go with Matt Joyce who struggles to hit lefthanders, which may bring out Davis to play left field. Joyce was able to show power last year with 25 homeruns, but he has been bounced around the league. Consistency has always been his weakness.
2) Catcher. Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley bring minimal offense. This will probably be a platoon since Maxwell has trouble hitting lefthanders.
3) Second Base. Jed Lowrie has always been a backup wherever he plays. Last year he had a career year. It will be interesting to see if he can repeat his production. Franklin Barreto is a good option behind him, but he is unproven.

4) Starting Pitching. Young and lacking anyone that can be called an ace or number two starter. Sean Manaea is the ace until Puk gets called up to fill the rotation.

Rookie - The Athletics always seem to have a plethora of rookies fill their roster. Dustin Fowler appears to have won the centerfield job. Franklin Barreto must wait until Lowrie struggles or gets injured before he gets an opportunity. Watch out for A.J. Puk.

Top Prospect - A.J. Puk, the Athletics first round pick in 2016 is having a good spring. It may not take much to get him a promotion and with the injury to Jharel Cotton his opportunity may be now.

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