Sunday, February 24, 2008

MLB Preview #2: AL West

The Angels

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Chone Figgins 3B
Howie Kendrick 2B
Vlad Guerrero RF
Torii Hunter CF
Garret Anderson DH
Casey Kotchman 1B
Mike Napoli C
Erick Aybar SS
Gary Matthews, Jr. LF

John Lackey
Kelvim Escobar
Jered Weaver
Jon Garland
Joe Saunders
Ervin Santana
Dustin Moseley

The trend of using multiple center field-type players in one outfield is becoming more and more popular. In the Angels case, this may not have been intentional, as they may have signed Matthews last year thinking they'd never get Hunter. Nonetheless, this lineup will contend in the West, even if Hunter falls of from his contract year numbers of 2007. On the infield, all eyes will be on the shortstop, as Orlando Cabrera was traded to make room for a pair of young studs, Aybar and Brandon Wood. Is wood a shortstop? Is he a third baseman? After playing some third last year, he's back to shortstop this spring. Veteran utilityman and former Rule V pick Macier Izturis will back up Aybar and Wood at short. The outfield is very deep, with Reggie Willits and Juan Rivera coming off the bench. That could be a good thing, with Anderson and Guerrero's health concerns. Or the Angels could use their outfield depth to trade for a prototypical third baseman.
The rotation will also compete in this division. Lackey and Escobar have quietly been putting up solid seasons on the west coast, and the rest of the starters are all good, young talents. Of course, whether or not those talents actually perform is another question. The bullpen as always is very good, with Frankie Rodriguez in a contract year, aided by Scot Sheilds, Justin Speier, and Darren Oliver.

Seattle Mariners

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Ichiro! CF
Adrian Beltre 3B
Jose Vidro DH
Raul Ibanez LF
Richie Sexson 1B
Brad Wilkerson RF
Kenji Johjima C
Jose Lopez 2B
Yuniesky Betancourt SS

Erik Bedard
Felix Hernandez
Jarrod Washburn
Miguel Batista
Carlos Silva
Horacio Ramirez
Cha Seung Baek
RA Dickey
Ryan Feierabend
Jeff Weaver

The Mariners may have surprised some by contending for the division last year, but their success this year shouldn't surprise anyone. Beltre, Vidro, and Ibanez are still putting up solid numbers, making the top four spots in the lineup very good. Johjima is a serviceable catcher, meaning that any production from Sexson, Wilkerson, and Lopez makes this a very good lineup. The bench features super utilitymen Willie Bloomquist, Miguel Cairo, and Mike Morse, and 2006 spring training favorite Charlton Jimerson.
The rotation would have been fine if Seattle had only gotten Carlos Silva this year. But then they traded for that Bedard guy to put them over the top. I'm a little surprised that they simply handed the opening day starter's job to Bedard instead of Hernandez, but then again Bedard has been in the league a whole year or two longer. The rotation is good enough that it doesn't need all those spare parts at the end - unless, of course, the top-line guys break down like they have in the past. Seattle's closer is one of the best in JJ Putz. Unfortunately, the one weak spot for the Mariners appears to be their bullpen, as a cast of no-names will be tasked with bridging the gap between the starters and Putz.

Oakland Athletics

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Mark Ellis 2B
Bobby Crosby SS
Eric Chavez 3B
Jack Cust DH
Travis Buck RF
Daric Barton/Dan Johnson 1B
Kurt Suzuki C
Emil Brown LF
Chris Denorfia/Carlos Gonzalez CF

Joe Blanton
Rich Harden
Esteban Loaiza
Chad Gaudin
Justin Duchscherer
Lenny DiNardo
Dallas Braden
Dan Meyer

For a rebuilding team, this is a decent lineup. Ellis has quietly put up solid numbers over the past few years, outpacing the production of Crosby. I'd say that Buck and Barton are less question marks than Crosby and Cust - Crosby because his numbers fell off sharply last year, and Cust because of the feared sophomore slump and the stigma of appearing on the Mitchell Report. Speaking of Barton, he has rightfully played Dan Johnson out of the first base job, meaning that Johnson and his blah offensive numbers could be trade bait come July. Suzuki will put up average numbers, which means the last remaining question marks are outfielders Brown and Denorfia (who did not play in the majors in 2007). Maybe the lack of outfield depth will finally earn Brian Stavisky a cup of coffee? No, that playing time will likely go to propects Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney, the only guys on the bench I've heard of before.
The lineup is serviceable, at least at the top. Harden's health will be a question, as always. But Loaiza and Gaudin should put up decent numbers for third and fourth starters. Huston Street is expected to bounce back from a rough 2007 at closer, and he'll be aided by veteran Alan Embree, Kiko Colero, former starter Dan Meyer, and Jerry Blevins.

Texas Rangers

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Ian Kinsler 2B
Michael Young SS
Milton Bradley RF
Josh Hamilton CF
Hank Blalock 3B
Ben Broussard 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Frank Catalanotto DH
Marlon Byrd LF

Kevin Millwood
Vincente Padilla
Jason Jennings
Brandon McCarthy
Kason Gabbard
Kameron Loe
Robinson Tejada
John Rheinecker
Luis Mendoza
AJ Murray

The Rangers really put the multiple center fielder theory to the test, with three guys who are borderline centerfielders, but who together should make for a formidable defensive outfielder. This lineup looks good on paper, but it may rely just a little too much on speculation. Kinsler, Hamilton, and Saltalamacchia will have to repeat breakout seasons. Young and Blalock will have to prove that their offensive dropoff was only temporary. Broussard will have to find consistency in his swing. Catalanotto will have to prove that he's not actually 60 years old. And Byrd will finally have to live up to the hype that's surrounded him. The bench features catcher Gerald Laird, who is decent as a starter and very good as a backup, a cameo appearance by Chris Shelton, infielder Ramon Vazquez, Travis Metcalf, who did a decent job filling in for Blalock at third last year, and bopper Jason Botts.
Apparently Texas' plan this year was to create a rotation of ten #3 starters and hope for the best. It's a shame too, because the Rangers have put together a very deep bullpen this year. Joaquin Benoit, praised as a potential closer at last year's trade deadline, will now be backing up both CJ Wilson and Eddie Guardado. New to the Rangers pen this year is Kazuo Fukumori. (What did he say about our mori?!)