1) Texas Rangers – The defending AL champions have lost ace pitcher Cliff Lee, DH Vladimir Guerrerro, and stud set up man Frank Francisco, but they did add Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre. The big question is what will happen with Michael Young. If they can flip him and get a big bat to fill in for the often injured Nelson Cruz and DH when Napoli is behind the dish, it would be a nice move for the Rangers, but in the end, I see Michael Young staying in Texas. Nelson Cruz is in an outfield with MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, and Julio Borbon who has the potential to be an excellent leadoff hitter, but hasn’t put it all together just yet. If Ian Kinsler can stay healthy, he looks to get back to stud second base levels. Mitch Moreland will get a chance to hold down the first base spot, and Elvis Andrus is the best young defensive shortstop to come around since Omar Vizquel. Adrian Beltre will not have the season he had last year, but he will have one of his better years. Michael Young can fill in at any infield position when he is not DHing, and Mike Napoli will fill in at catcher or first when he is not DHing. And when Napoli is not catching, Yorvit Torrealba and Taylor Teagarden will battle to get playing time behind the plate. Their pitching staff is not as impressive as it was last season, but C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Brandon Webb, Tommy Hunter, and Derek Holland make up for a quality rotation that is more than enough to win the unimpressive AL West. Neftali Feliz is a great young closer, while Arthur Rhodes and Darren O’Day will be quality 7th and 8th inning guys, although an upgrade and moving them to middle relief is needed if they want to make another run at the World Series.
2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – The best staff in the AL West belongs to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California of…seriously, I will never get over this, the dumbest name in sports. If you want to be an LA team, move to LA, otherwise just own the fact you are a suburban white family team in the heart of Orange County just down the street from “the happiest place on Earth.” Back to baseball. They do have a staff that could really surprise people this year. Jered Weaver has developed into an ace, and Dan Haren certainly has the skill to be an ace as well. Ervin Santana is about as good a 3rd pitcher as you will find in the American League, Joel Pinero is a really good 4th pitcher, and Scott Kazmir has the stuff to be an ace, just has lost his way a bit the past couple years. Fernando Rodney will shut the door in the 9th consistently, and he has guys like Scott Downs and a familiar name, Francisco Rodriguez, coming out of the pen to set him up. No, it is not K-Rod, just a guy with the same name which is fun to see in an Angel uniform. At catcher, Jeff Mathis will be the clear cut starter with Mike Napoli now in Texas via Toronto, and Bobby Wilson is a quality backup backstop, but look out for young Hank Conger to make it to the bigs and make an impact by the end of the season. Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis are a solid defensive left side of the infield. Heard this before, “Howie Kendrick will win a batting title someday”? Well…his batting average has gone down every year for the past three years, so it is time for him to either step up or for the Angel Fans hyping him to shut up. After the freak injury that ended Kendry Morales’ season last year, his big bat will be a great impact in the middle of the order. Bobby Abreu is the DH while Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells make for the most overpaid corner outfield combo in baseball. Peter Bourjos should roam center for the between the two former center fielders that have each lost a step.
3) Oakland Athletics – Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill….heard of them? The most below the radar young staff in baseball is in Oakland. Add the battle between Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden for the fifth starter and the massive ballpark they play at in Oakland, and you have a team that can stay in the game with anyone. They have Andrew Bailey at closer and set up men Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. This team can be a surprise threat in the west if they have enough offense. So, do they? Two words…Kevin Kouzmanoff. Yes, the Padre prospect reject is still a starter in Oakland. Cliff Pennington is an ok shortstop, as is Mark Ellis at second base. Daric Barton is a far below average first baseman but can provide surprising power at times. Coco Crisp does manage center well, and David DeJesus is an underrated right fielder. Left field will be a three man race this spring between Josh Willingham, Conor Jackson, and Ryan Sweeney. Add Hideki Matsui as DH and potential emergency outfield fill in, and the A’s actually have a pretty impressive outfield. Don’t sleep on Chris Carter or Michael Taylor either, they are two rookie outfielders that can make an impact this year, or make an impact as trade bait. With top 10 catcher Kurt Suzuki rounding out the starting lineup, the A’s are a team a mid-season move or two away from making a run at the division. They are not on the list of approved teams just yet, but Michael Young is an A’s type player, and with a package of a couple young outfielders and a pitching prospect just might be enough to get him from Texas. A bit of a stretch, but to me, there isn’t a better fit for him.
4) Seattle Mariners – Worst team in the AL. Justin Smoak will be the first baseman, and while he has incredible potential, but has yet to put it together. Jack Wilson is a great defensive shortstop, but has certainly lost a step. Chone Figgins has moved back to the position he has truly thrived at third base. Brendan Ryan will start this season at second, but Dustin Ackley will earn the spot by the all-star break and will put together a really good second half. Franklin Gutierrez is a really fun center fielder to watch, and we are all familiar with Ichiro and his brilliance at the plate. In left field, look for Michael Saunders to battle Milton Bradley, and if Bradley loses that battle, he will try to get the DH spot from Jack Cust. The real offensive struggle for the Mariners will be at catcher where Miguel Olivo will try to improve the worst starting staff in baseball. King Felix is great, the rest of them are not. Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda, Luke French, and David Pauley will all battle for the last 4 starting spots. The good news, the Mariners have choices of which pitcher they want to send out and get lit up. They do have a decent back end of the bullpen. Garrett Olson to Brandon League to David Aardsma would save the leads if the Mariners could find a way to get any. But they might also be the only 3 relievers they have that deserve to play in the Major Leagues.
AL West Offensive Player of the Year – Mike Napoli – Texas Rangers – Don’t know what the Angels were thinking getting rid of him. They said it was his contract, and then they brought in the worst contract in baseball with Vernon Wells. Now Napoli finds himself in the same division he is already used to destroying. He hit 26 home runs last year while his average dropped. But now he goes to Texas where everyone’s stats improve. So look for .265/30/105 this season.
AL West Pitcher of the Year – Felix Hernandez – Seattle Mariners – 2.27 ERA, 232 Ks, 1.06 WHIP, 13-12 record. The guy keeps getting better but his offense keeps getting worse. He will pitch at a Cy Young level again this year, but the 11-14 record he will have this season will keep him from getting winning the award. But if you have a chance to watch him this year, do it, he is great on the mound, just don’t watch when the Mariners are on offense, they will bore you.
AL West Offensive Rookie of the Year – Dustin Ackley – Seattle Mariners– He will be a solid second baseman for years to come. He will never hit for power, nor will he blind anyone with his speed, but he will play a solid defense and hit for a good average. He was MVP in the Arizona Fall League, let’s see if he can string that into a good spring and win the starting job come opening day.
AL West Rookie Pitcher of the Year – Michael Pineda – Seattle Mariners – Looks like the only bright side the Mariner fans will have is the youth. Here is another guy that could really do well this season. He will have a sub 4 ERA and will likely be the #2 pitcher come end of the season. But as is the case with any pitcher not named Felix, he won’t have more than 7 wins. But he has excellent control and could strike out 150+ batters this season.
AL West Surprise Player of the Year – David DeJesus – Oakland Athletics – He has been a quiet player through his career, but mostly because he has been stuck in Kansas City. Now he is in Oakland, where the big ballpark may hurt him from time to time on foul ball outs, but the space in the outfield will more than make up for it. Look for him to hit over .300, take advantage of a hitter friendly division and get 10-15 long balls, and rack up 10 triples with 40 doubles. He won’t win any awards this year, but he will be a solid contributor to the team, offensively and defensively, if the A’s make a run this year.