The second in our series of 2013 MLB previews looks at the American League West. At this time last year, the conventional wisdom was that the Los Angeles Angels would ride the newly-acquired Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson to the division crown, a place they enjoyed for a lot of the first decade of the millennium, with the defending two-time American League champion Texas Rangers giving them everything they could handle. Unfortunately for Angels and Ranger fans, it didn't quite work out that way, as the upstart Oakland A's moneyballed their way to the best record in the division and the team's first post-season berth since 2006.
A year later the Angels and the newly acquired slugger Josh Hamilton are once-again the consensus pick to win the division. But what a difference a year makes. Not only did Hamilton swing the balance of power by switching allegiances from the Rangers to the Angels, but the division has a whole new team! The AL West is no longer the only division with four teams, as the Houston Astros were persuaded to change leagues and join the AL. The move of the Astros to the AL West might be a win for fans of symmetry, as MLB now enjoys six divisions with five teams each, but it will not be a win for Astros fans who like wins. The Astros look to loose a large share of their games in a very tough division. The bad news for the rest of the American League is that the west teams get to play Houston 19 times. On paper this looks to give and AL West team a leg up on the Wild Card chase. Despite what Oakland was able to do last year, it seems the division is the Angels' to loose, but then again we were saying that right around this time last year. Onto the AL West team previews:
You can also check out our NL East Preview
· Athletics Preview
· Rangers Preview
· Mariners Preview
· Astros Preview
2013 Los Angeles Angels Preview
After Angels Owner Arte Moreno opened up his check book last season to sign the biggest free agents in Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, expectation in Anaheim were sky high. But the Angels went 89-73 and missed the playoffs, with both the Athletics and Rangers ending up higher in the standings. And that was with Rookie of the Year Mike Trout coming out of nowhere to emerge as one of the best players in the bigs. Not one to sit idly by, Moreno and General Manager Jerry Dipoto once again reeled in the biggest free agent fish in Josh Hamilton, who left the rival Rangers. Hamilton, 1999's #1 draft pick, has averaged .304 batting with 161 home runs and 553 RBI in six seasons as a major leaguer.
Angels Offensive Outlook:
On paper the Angels are one of the best offensive powers in the game (behind perhaps only the Tigers), but then again that was the case last year at this time. Mike Trout had about as impressive a season as you can have, and if he can avoid a sophomore slump the Angels offense will be lethal. Trout (.326 BA, 30 HR, 49 stolen bases) is expected bat leadoff in the lineup followed by Erick Aybar (.290 BA, 30 stolen bases), Albert Pujols (.285 BA, 30 HR, 105 RBI), Josh Hamilton (.285 BA 43 HR, 128 RBI) and Mark Trumbo (.268 BA, 32 HR, 95 RBI). This is about as formidable a 1-5 combination as you can have, and any pitcher who gets through that without giving up a run will breath a sigh of relief.
Alber Pujols is still among the most feared hitters in the game and will provide the Angels with plenty of offense for the Los Angeles Angels, who look like the pre-season favorites to win the AL West.
One thing to keep in mind with Hamilton is that Angels Stadium isn't quite as home run friendly as Arlington. Pujols has declined the past two seasons, but there still aren't many pitchers who would like to pitch against him. Trumbo, who was an All-Star last season, had 32 home runs last year and 29 in 2011, but struck out 153 times in 544 at bats, a whopping 26 percent of all plate appearances. At 134 the Angels had the second most stolen bases in the AL, behind just the Twins, and expect Mike Scioscia to use the small ball when he feels it is warranted. Although there is some dropoff as the lineup gets to the ninth batter, Scioscia's teams have always excelled at small ball, so don't think he will over-rely on that formidable top of the lineup. At .274, the Angels team batting average led the AL, and with 1,518 total hits trailed the Rangers by eight to tie the highest total in the AL. The Angels are expected to be even more dangerous this year, and if they miss the playoffs again, it will most likely not be because of lack of hitting.
Angels Pitching Outlook:
The Angels pitching will likely once again determine how far the Angels go, and the staff, especially the bullpen, has to improve over last year. The Halo's have two solid front end guys in Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson. Weaver (2.81 era last season, 6.8 strike outs per 9 innings) is among the best in the game, but lost some of his electricity last year after posting a 2.41 ERA in 2011. CJ Wilson had one of his worse years of recent memory (3.83 ERA, up from 2.94 in 2011) but was still above average and should rebound this season.
Tommy Hanson has been good in the past, but a bad year last season (4.48 ERA, 27 home runs allowed) and nagging injuries could dampen his performance. The Braves were willing to part with Hanson for reliever Jordan Walden, so you have to think the Braves were not expecting Hanson to return to the form he showed early in his career. RHP Joe Blanton has been solid and can strike out anyone at any time. Left-hander Jason Vargas was acquired from the Mariners. Vargas relies on off-speed to get batter out. But that also causes a lot of home runs, 35 of 'em last year, while pitching in the pitcher friendly Safeco Field, tied for second most in the bigs. But Vargas is also a reliable workhorse who put in 217 1/3 innings with the Mariners. Joe Blanton and Hanson were also good in that regard, so the starting pitching should at least help the bullpen out.
RHP closer Ryan Madson is still recovering from Tommy John's surgery he had in April of 2012, but he has been a great reliever and should pick up where he left off.
The Angels pitching staff did loose some veteran arms in RHP Zack Greinke (who went to the Dodgers), RHP Dan Haren (Nationals), and RHP Ervin Santana (traded to the Royals). However if the starting pitchers perform to their career norms, the pitching should be more predictable than last year.
Angels Key Off-Season Moves:
- Acquired via trade RHP Tommy Hanson (from the Braves), LHP Jason Vargas (Mariners), LHP Brandon Sisk (Royals) and claimed off waivers CF Scott Cousins (from Seattle).
- Signed free agents: LF Josh Hamilton (was with the Rangers), RHP Joe Blanton (Dodgers), 2B Bill Hall (Orioles), RHP Ryan Madson (was with the Reds but suffered a torn ligament in his right elbow before throwing a pitch), LHP Sean Burnett (Nationals), 2B Luis Rodriguez (Mariners), LF Matt Young (Tigers), RHP Chad Cordero (Blue Jays), and RHP Billy Buckner (Red Sox).
- The Angels traded RHP Ervin Santana (to the Royals) and 1B Kendrys Morales (Mariners).
- The Angels did no re-sign free agents RHP Zack Greinke (who went to the Dodgers), CF Torii Hunter (Tigers), RHP Dan Haren (Nationals), 3B Maicer Izturis, LHP Greg Smith, and LF Ryan Langerhans (all Blue Jays), C Bobby Wilson (Yankees) and LF Trevor Crowe (Astros).
2013 Oakland Athletics Preview
The Athletics came out of nowhere to be one of the best teams in baseball last year, in part because they were one of the best teams in preventing opponents from scoring runs. The defense played a part in that as well as the fact that Oakland led the league in strikeouts last season with 1387.
Athletics Offensive Outlook:
If the Athletics are going to score enough runs to repeat as AL West Champs they are going to need their young hitters to do what we've come to expect from Billy Bean's teams: get on base. With Yoenis Cespedes (.292 BA, 23 HR), Brandon Moss (.291 ERA, 21 HR) and Josh Reddick (.242 BA, 32 HR) hitting together, the lineup has a chance to score a lot of runs. Cespedes batted .292 with 23 home runs in his rookie season and played a big part in the A's overall success. Moss has the potential to anchor this lineup if he can improve his discipline at the plate and cut down on strikeouts. Reddick hit 32 home runs in his first full year starting and is an intimidating batter, but needs to improve his batting average.
Helping out the young guys will be SS Hiroyuki Nakajima, who was signed during the off-season and has been one of the best players in Japan. Nakajima averaged 17 home runs, 16 stolen bases had hit .310 over six seasons in Japan. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the MLB, but could prove to be an important addition to this Athletics roster.
SS Jed Lowrie has shown flashes of brilliance over his career, but hasn't had a whole year of productivity. He has to vastly improve on his .244 average with Houston last year. Outfield Coco Crisp had a solid year last season (.259 average, 68 runs scored, 39 stolen bases), even with lost playing time. The A's have a lot of potential outfielders in the mix, so expect manager Bob Melvin to be able mix and match until he finds what works. Prospect SS Addison Russell was great across three levels of minors last year and, while still 18, is one of the emerging prospects of the AL West.
Athletics Pitching Outlook:
If Bartolo Colon was my second starter I would be worried, but the Athletics have a lot of arms in their system and could very well end up fielding a formidable 1-5 rotation. The A's pitching will benefit from above-average fielding which results in the aforementioned run prevention. The pitching staff is young, as the A's used an all-rookie rotation down the stretch last year, en-route to a 94-win-season and the division title. Those rookies did some growing up in September, and it should pay dividends as the A's attempt to hold of the Angels atop the AL West.
Brett Anderson is a ground ball machine that will keep his defense busy. Bartolo Colon (AKA Bartolo Calzone) is a bit... heavier, which, combined with his 40 years, could be problematic. Jarrod Parker won 13 games last season, tying a franchise record by a rookie and took the mound for the A's in the first game of the ALDS against Detroit. Southpaw Tommy Milone has pinpoint accuracy that makes up for his lack of power. The fifth spot will likely be a battle between Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin. Straily has above-average command of a 92-94 mph fastball, slider and changeup and will likely get called up sooner rather than later. He cleaned up in Triple-A last season and is another in the A's bag of pitching prospects. Griffin has great control of a changeup, curveball and slider.
Grant Balfour will likely close, and Ryan Cook helps bolster the bullpen.
Athletics Key Off-Season Moves:
- Signed free agent SS Hiroyuki Nakajima (was with the Saitama Seibu Lions), 3B Scott Moore (Astros), LHP Justin Thomas (Yankees and Red Sox), LHP Hideki Okajima (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) and LHP Pedro Viola (Orioles).
- Acquired via trade 2B Jed Lowrie (Astros), C John Jaso (Mariners), Andrew Werner and Andy Parrino (Padres), RHP Sandy Rosario (Red Sox), RHP Chris Resop (Pirates), and 3B Jefry Marte (Mets).
- The Athletics traded 1B Chris Carter and RHP Brad Peacock (to the Astros), SS Brandon Hicks and RF Collin Cowgill (Mets), Tyson Ross and 1B A.J Kirby-Jones (Padres), RHP AJ Cole and RHP Blake Treinen (Nationals) as well as RHP Graham Godfrey (Red Sox), C Max Stassi (Astros) and RHP Zach Thornton (Pirates).
- Did no re-sign free agents 3B Brandon Inge (who went to the Pirates) SS Stephen Drew and LF Jonny Gomes (Red Sox), RHP Brandon McCarthy (Diamondbacks) and RHP Rich Thompson (Blue Jays).
2013 Texas Rangers Preview
After falling short in the World Series the previous two years, the Texas Rangers missed out on the playoffs altogether last season after loosing to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card play-in game. And after loosing the offense of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli during the offseason, it is going to be hard for the Rangers to get as far as they did last year in an AL West division that looks very competitive at the top.
Rangers Offensive Outlook:
It will be tough for Manager Ron Washington and the Rangers to replace the offense lost with the departures of Hamilton, Young and Mike . Lance Berkman, who was singed after playing with the Cardinals in 2011 and '12 was hurt last season and only played in 32 games, but hit just over .300 with 31 home runs in 2011. At age 37 its tough to know what he will do in 2013, especially with the knee troubles of recent years, but The Big Puma is the main player expected to help offset the loss of Hamilton, along with A.J. Pierzynski. Ian Kinsler brings both power and speed to the top of the lineup. Adrian Beltre had another impressive year in 2013 and is one of the best third basemen playing. A.J. Pierzynski had a career year in terms of home runs last year (27), but I for one will be surprised if he hits anywhere near that again. Especially with Geovany Soto on the roster, meaning the catching duo will have to split at bats.
Left handed Cuban defector Leonys Martin has been stellar in the minors and he should end up winning the starting job in center field. SS/2B Jurickson Profar is among the most acclaimed prospects in baseball and could have a huge impact if he makes it on the major league roster, however with Kinsler and Andrus playing his position, Washington would have to find a way to get him at bats.
Rangers Pitching Outlook:
"Yu Darvish has a solid first season in MLB and will look to continue those gains in 2013. Darvish will be counted on a little more now that the Rangers offense figures to decline.
Yu Darvish (3.90 ERA, 10.4 strikeouts per 9 innings) met all expectations coming over from Japan last year and averaged more than a strikeout an inning. As the staff ace he has to keep it going and needs to cut down on walks. Lefty Derek Holland gave up a lot of home runs last season but has electric stuff. The rotation is rounded out Matt Harrison, fireballer Alexi Ogando (who was in the bullpen last year but was decent as a starter in 2011) and some combination of Colby Lewis and youngsters Martin Perez and Robbie Ross.
Joe Nathan is getting old but has been one of the league's most dependable closers. Joakim Soria is still recovering from Tommy John's surgery but he can be an elite pitcher.
Rangers Key Off-Season Moves:
- Signed free agents: 1B Lance Berkman (Cardinals), C AJ Pierzynski (White Sox), 2B Jeff Baker (Braves), RHP Brett Anderson (Athletics), 1B Brandon Allen (Rays and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks), RHP Joakim Soria (Royals), RHP Jason Frasor (Blue Jays), RHP Randy Wells (Cubs), LHP Nate Robertson (Blue Jays), RF Aaron Cunningham (Indians), RHP Evan Meek (Pirates), RHP Kyle McClellan (Cardinals), RHP Collin Balester (Tigers) and LHP Scott Olsen (White Sox).
- Acquired via trade: RHP Josh Lindblom and RHP Lisalverto Bonilla (from Phillies), RF Chih-Hsien Chiang (Mariner's affiliate Jackson Generals), RHP Cory Burns (Padres), RHP Jacob Brigham (Cubs) and LHP Tommy Hottovy (Royals).
- Gone: The Rangers traded 3B Michael Young (to the Phillies), RHP Barret Loux to the (Cubs) and RHP Wilfredo Boscan (Padres).
- The Rangers did no re-sign free agents LF Josh Hamilton (Angels), RHP Ryan Dempster, 1B Mike Napoli and RHP Koji Uehara (Red Sox), RHP Mike Adams (Phillies), RHP Scott Feldman (Cubs), 2B Alberto Gonzalez (Cubs) and RHP Mark Lowe (Dodgers).
2013 Seattle Mariners Preview
The Seattle Mariners are a very young team that none-the-less has some real talent. While 2013 could be another difficult one in a tough AL West, the Mariners have improved the past two seasons and should continue heading in the right direction. With one of the youngest rosters in the league, there will be a lot of Mariner fans watching for signs of hope in a year or two. One silver lining for the Mariners is that they will likely not finish in last place again, as the Houston Astros are the favorites to take that spot in 2013.
Mariners Offensive Outlook:
The Mariners have struggled offensively, in the past few seasons especially. The team had the lowest slugging percentage in the AL last year (.369), and had just five home runs (136) more than the Royals and Twins, who tied for the least in the league. In part to address the deficiency, the Mariners moved the outfield fences in, as much as 17 feet in center field, in hopes of raising offensive production some. Safeco has been one of the roomiest outfields in baseball since the park opened in 1999.
Additionally, the Mariners added a few veteran hitters in Kendry Morales, Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez, which, when combined with blossoming talent and shorter walls, should help improve the Mariners offense quite a bit. 1B/DH Morales and 1B/OF Michael Morse should give the Mariners a better shot at scoring runs. Morales once hit 30 homers, and fans are hoping he can recapture some of the power. Morse hits for both power and average and if his injuries are behind him could have a career year.
Seattle fans are waiting for Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seagler, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, all in their early-to-mid 20s, to emerge as big league stars. They've all shown signs that they could become above average players, and fans are hoping this is the year they make the Mariners an offensive force. Jesus Montero has potential to be an offensive force, whether as a catcher, DH or 1B. C Mike Zunino was great in the minor leagues last year and could end up being a strong rookie presence if he cracks the big league club in 2013.
Mariners Pitching Outlook:
The Mariners were able to lock up Felix Hernandez long term with the largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history. As one of the MLB's elite, he will get his share of wins, especially if he can get a bit more offensive support. If his offense can produce a few runs, the strain on the young pitcher should be eased somewhat. He is still just 26 years old, but some stats indicate that Hernandez's velocity has decreased a bit in recent years.
The Mariners added Joe Saunders during the offseason to bring some veteran presence to the rotation. Saunders relies on deception to get batter outs, and his ERA has never been great. But he does have major league experience, including last season when Saunders took the mound for the Baltimore Orioles in their win over the Rangers in the AL wild card play in game. Hisashi Iwakuma had a solid campaign last year and is a capable starter. The three biggest Mariners prospects in terms of starting pitching are righty Taijuan Walker and lefties Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. Tom Wilhelmsen was a solid closer last year, and the Mariners also have 22-year-old flamethrower Carter Capps who can close as well.
Mariners Key Off-Season Moves:
- Signed free agent LF Raul Ibanez (was with the Yankees), LF Jason Bay (NY Mets), LHP Joe Saunders (Orioles), C Kelly Shoppach (Mets), RHP Jon Garland (Dodgers and Indians), RHP Jeremy Bonderman (Tigers), C Ronny Paulino (Orioles), 1B Mike Jacobs (Diamondbacks), RHP Kameron Loe (Brewers).
- Acquired via trade LF Michael Morse (from Nationals), 1B Kendrys Morales (Angels), 2B Robert Andino (Orioles); Claimed off waivers CF Scott Cousins (Blue Jays).
- Did no re-sign free agents 3B Chone Figgins (Marlins) C Miguel Olivo (Reds), 1B Luis Jimenez (Blue Jays), 2B Luis Rodriguez (Angels), CF Darren Ford (Pirates), RF Mike Wilson (Mets), LHP George Sherrill (Royals).
- Traded: LHP Jason Vargas (Angels,) 1B Mike Carp (Red Sox), LF Trayvon Robinson (Orioles), RHP Shawn Kelley (Yankees) and C John Jaso (Athletics).
2013 Houston Astros Preview
The Astros first year in the American League will likely not be pretty. The team was the worst in the bigs last year, and moving to the more power-focused AL. With teams like the Angels, Athletics and Rangers around them, the Astros have the potential to be the worst team ever. But the Astros do have some young talent and as a rebuilding team could end up being pesky. They also have new uniforms and a new manager in Bo Porter, his first time managing a MLB club. The Astros kick-off the MLB season playing the Rangers on Opening Night.
Astros Offensive Outlook:
Probably the best offensive player on the Astros is the vertically-challenged 5'5" 2B Jose Altuve, who was an All-Star last season. He can hit .300 or better, steal a bunch of bases and even hit a few out of the ballpark. Altuve is a fan favorite worth the price of admission to an Astros game. He also inspired one of the more creative MLB blogs out there. Chris Carter can hit for power, but his strikeouts need to come down if he is going to be a major leaguer.
Many observers have decided free-agent acquisition Carlos Pena's best years are behind him. His batting average has never been great, but the .197 he posted in 160 games is not going to cut it, even on the 'Stros. However Pena's known as a power hitter, and if gets back to 30 plus homers he would be an asset. CF Rick Ankiel brings veteran experience but has batted about .250 most of his career, without much in the way of power or on-base percentage. In 68 games for the Nationals last year, Ankiel hit just .228 with five home runs. But he has been good in spring training so perhaps a move to the dessert, as well as a bit less pressure, could do him some good. 1B Jonathan Singleton has been impressive in AA and could be a star in the making, but he has to crack the Major League lineup first.
Astros Pitching Outlook:
'Stros Ace Bud Norris (4.65 ERA, 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings) had a solid 2011 but regressed back to his career norm last season, however he ended September on a high note. If he can ride that that momentum into 2013 it will go a long way toward giving the starting rotation some stability. Norris can strike people out but has control issues that make him prone to the longball. Lucas Harrell is a consistent pitcher who can pitch deep into games and threw 193 innings last season, however he is not all that effective. The once sought-after Erik Bedard has a long way to climb back to relevance, but as a veteran could end up being productive.
Jordan Lyles struggled after being rushed to the majors, but pitching in the fourth spot could be good for him. Philip Humber is best known for pitching just the 21st perfect game in MLB history in April of 2012 in a White Sox win over the Mariners. Otherwise he had not been very effective before or since. Jarred Cosart is a highly regarded prospect that could be ready to make an impact in the Majors in 2013. Jose Veras is penciled in as the closer, but his command issues could be a problem.
Astros Key Off-Season Moves:
- Signed free agent 1B Carlos Pena (Rays), CF Rick Ankiel (Nationals), LHP Erik Bedard (Pirates), LF Trevor Crowe (Indians and Angels), RHP Jose Veras (Brewers), C Jason Jaramillo (Cubs and Brewers).
- Acquired via trade 1B Chris Carter and RHP Brad Peacock (from Oakland Athletics), RHP Alex White (Rockies), RHP John Ely (Dodgers), C Max Stassi (Athletics) and RHP Alex Gillingham (Rockies).
- Traded: 2B Jed Lowrie (Athletics), RHP Wilton Lopez (Rockies), LHP Rob Rasmussen (Dodgers) and RHP Fernando Rodriguez (Athletics)
- Did no re-sign free agent RHP Armando Galarraga (Reds), 3B Scott Moore (Athletics), C Chris Snyder (Nationals), LF Brian Bogusevic (Cubs), 1B Matt Downs (Marlins), 2B Brian Bixler (Mets) and C Landon Powell (Mets).
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