Friday, February 26, 2010

MLB Previews #2
American League West

Texas Rangers

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Ian Kinsler 2B
Michael Young 3B
Josh Hamilton LF
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Nelson Cruz RF
Chris Davis 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Elvis Andrus SS
Julio Borbon CF

Rich Harden
Scott Feldman
Colby Lewis
Derek Holland
Brandon McCarthy
Tommy Hunter
Matt Harrison
Dustin Nippert
Doug Mathis
Neftali Feliz

In essence, he who owns Vald Guerrero owns the AL West. After a surprising run to 87 wins last year, the Rangers are a trendy pick to unseat the Angels in 2010. This team can no doubt hit, and if Guerrero can stay healthy he'll add to Arlington's trademark offense. If Julio Borbon can maintain his OBP over the course of a full season, they'll have a great leadoff hitter to complement the power in the rest of the lineup.

The Rangers are still stacked at catcher, with Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez backing up Saltalamacchia. None of those three may reach the ceiling they were once thought to have, but together they're still a respectable MLB-caliber unit. Speaking of players who never lived up to their ceiling, NCAA hit king Khalil Greene joins the team
as a utility infielder. One player who hopes to avoid the "bust" tag is future first baseman Justin Smoak, who's just the tip of the iceberg for one of the best minor league systems in baseball today.

Rich Harden is always a great pickup if he can stay healthy, but that's a big if. Fortunately, a pair of no-names in Scott Feldman and Colby Lewis are expected to put up solid numbers this year. Oh, and there's also that Neftali Feliz guy, who was lights-out in the bullpen last year and is the Rangers ace-in-training.

Frank Francisco, a longtime Rangers setup man who became their closer last year, returns to the stopper role. He'll be supported by a number of bullpen mainstays, including Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day, Willie Eyre and former Orioles closer Chris Ray.

Los Angeles Angels

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Howie Kendrick 2B
Bobby Abreu RF
Torii Hunter CF
Kendry Morales 1B
Juan Rivera LF
Hideki Matsui DH
Mike Napoli C
Brandon Wood 3B
Erick Aybar SS

Ervin Santana
Jered Weaver
Joe Saunders
Scott Kazmir
Joel Piniero
Matt Palmer
Sean O'Sullivan
Trevor Bell
Anthony Ortega

Honestly, I'm not sure who the Angels leadoff hitter will be. Abreu is probably idea for that spot, but he's shied away from it in the past in favor of being a run producer. The trade of Chone Figgins is great news for Brandon Wood, who finally gets a starting spot after being blocked by Erick Aybar and others at short for many years. The addition of Hideki Matsui is great for the batting order, but perhaps not so much for the defensive lineup, since neither he nor Juan Rivera should be playing much outfield at all these days.

Fortunately, the Angels have never been short on utility outfielders. Reggie Willits is still with the club, and should see decent playing time as a defensive replacement, and when the aging outfielders need a day off. Macier Izturis is putting together a respectable career as a utility infielder, and he too should see good playing time if one of the starters should happen to falter.

If anything gets the Angels to the division crown again this year, it's their rotation. After a few rough patches, Ervin Santana and Jeff Weaver have settled down as reliable starters. Joe Saunders and Joel Piniero are workhorses. And former ace Scott Kazmir could be a steal. Not many teams can boast this much quality from all five spots in their rotation.

Of course, bullpen strength has also been a trademark of the Angels in the 2000s. Brian Fuentes returns as the team's closer, aided by ageless wonders Scot Shields and Rudy Seanez. Fireballer Fernando Rodney also gives the team a new, intriguing weapon out of the pen.

Oakland Athletics

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Coco Crisp CF
Rajai Davis LF
Jack Cust DH
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B
Kurt Suzuki C
Ryan Sweeney RF
Daric Barton 1B
Mark Ellis 2B
Cliff Pennington SS

Brett Anderson
Trevor Cahill
Ben Sheets
Justin Ducherer
Vin Mazzaro
Dallas Braden
Gio Gonzalez
Josh Outman
Clayton Mortensen

Speed and defense are the new market inefficiency. The A's got both in new centerfielder Coco Crisp. Kevin Kouzmanoff highlights a laundry list of never-has-beens trying to win the third base job. He'll be competing with Jake Fox and Dallas McPherson to take over Eric Chavez's job. (Chavez, of course, fell a little short of his own potential thanks to injuries.)

In addition to the third basemen-a-plenty, Oakland's bench also features journeyman outfielder Gabe Gross.

Like its across-the-bay counterparts, the A's will look for their young, talented pitching staff to carry a questionable offense. Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill are two of the best up-and-coming arms in the game. They'll be joined by Ben Sheets, who went from a perennial Cy Young candidate to a forgotten man after he lost all of 2009 with an injury. Among those fighting for the last few spots in the rotation is be-stirruped wonder Josh Outman.

Andrew Bailey, Oakland's token All Star from last year, returns as the closer. He'll be joined by talented setup men Brad Ziegler and Mike Wuertz, as well as Indians castoffs Craig Breslow and Jon Meloan.

Seattle Mariners

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Ken Griffey, Jr DH
Jose Lopez 2B
Casey Kotchman 1B
Rob Johnson C
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Jack Wilson SS

Felix Hernandez
Cliff Lee
Erik Bedard
Ryan Rowland-Smith
Ian Snell
Doug Fister
Luke French
Jason Vargas
Anthony Varvaro
Edward Paredes
Ryan Feierabend
Garrett Olson

Regression is a cruel mistress. Seattle, the sabermetric darlings, won 85 games last year. They then made some major upgrades. And yet it looks like they'll struggle to top .500 this year. If they do finish with a losing record, it won't be because of the bat of Milton Bradley (assuming he stays healthy and calm), the gloves of Franklin Gutierrez and Jack Wilson, or the all-around play of Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins. It's up to the rest of the lineup to come through for the Mariners.

Seattle's bench features backup outfielders Eric Byrnes and Ryan Langerhans. Both should be ready to serve as defensive replacements for Bradley, and as injury replacements when Bradley and Griffey go down. Ryan Garko could also see some time at DH if Griffey struggles, or at first base if Kotchman has trouble handling lefties. Waiting in the wings - and waiting to find a position - is top prospect Dustin Ackley. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, since Ackley is at least a year away from the bigs.

Seattle may now have the best left-right/one-two punch in the majors. If Erik Bedard can return to a level anywhere near his success with the Orioles, this team won't even need to hit to win games. But even if Bedard can't, this is still a very good rotation from top-to-bottom, with Rowland-Smith and a rejuvenated Ian Snell taking the last two spots. There's also plenty of depth, especially with Lorain County native Ryan Feierabend once again waiting in the wings after missing all of 2009 with an injury.

The old joke is that David Aardsma is ahead of Hank Aaron in the record books... alphabetically. Aardsma is also Seattle's closer. He'll be joined in the bullpen by swingman Brandon Morrow and a largely untested group of relievers.