Wrapping up the American League, it’s time to take a closer look at the AL West. This division has a clear front-runner (Astros), but has two other teams that look to be in win-now mode (A’s and Angels). Will the Astros’ reign continue? Will the A’s or Angels make the playoffs? Could the Rangers or Mariners surprise? Let’s discuss.
First Place: Houston Astros
Projected Record: 96-66
George Springer CF
Michael Brantley LF
Jose Altuve 2B
Carlos Correa SS
Alex Bregman 3B
Tyler White DH
Robinson Chirinos C
Yuli Gurriel 1B
Josh Reddick RF
The core that led to the Astros to a World Series title in 2017 is still intact; they’ll once again have one of the most fearsome lineups in baseball. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman remain the two stars of the lineup, and both continue to produce at an elite level. Meanwhile, both Carlos Correa and George Springer are coming off down seasons. However, Correa should rebound with a healthy back, while Springer had been a .889 OPS in 2017. New addition Michael Brantley led the league in contact rate last season and adds another terrific bat to this stacked lineup. The rest has its limitations, but with Robinson Chirino’s power and Tyler White’s tremendous season last year, this isn’t a top-heavy lineup by any means. There’s little doubt that Houston will rank amongst the league’s best in nearly every offensive category.
The Astros rotation suffered three key losses during the offseason: Dallas Keuchel (Free Agent), Charlie Morton (Free Agent), and Lance McCullers Jr. (Tommy John surgery). Therefore, although Justin Verlander and b Gerrit Cole are both Cy Young award contenders, the rotation is probably the weakness of the team. Collin McHugh was great in the bullpen last season (2.72 FIP), but he’s been an average starting pitcher throughout his career. Meanwhile, Wade Miley’s peripherals do not support his 2.57 ERA from last season, while Brad Peacock started only one game for Houston last season. Still, there is notable upside with both McHugh and Peacock’s success in the bullpen, and only the Mets can rival the duo of Verlander and Cole. The rotation may be the Astros’ weakest area, but it’s still better than most.
No bullpen may be more underrated than the unit the Astros have built. Roberto Osuna is an excellent option at closing pitcher with a career 2.65 FIP, while Hector Rondon and Will Harris remain integral pieces as well. Ryan Pressly is the X-Factor; if his 1.49 FIP during his time with the Astros is legitimate, the Astros will have another dominant pitcher at the back-end of their bullpen. Though they do not have a proven lefty in their bullpen, Chris Devenski has always been better versus lefties than righties, while lefties Reymin Guduan, Cionel Perez, and Framber Valdez could all burst onto the scene as relievers. The Astros have the perfect combination of depth and talent needed to build a dominant bullpen; it’s hard to deny that their bullpen isn’t a top-five unit in all of baseball.
The Astros are also filled with plenty of depth. Tony Kemp, Aledmys Diaz, Derek Fisher, and Jake Marisnick are all players capable of filling in if needed, while Houston has plenty of options in both the rotation and bullpen. Plus, both their top position player prospect Kyle Tucker (OF) and to pitching prospect Forrest Whitley are MLB ready; they’ll both likely both be important parts of a deep playoff push. Whitley, in particular, could either fill in the rotation behind Verlander and Cole or could be utilized in the bullpen for the short-term thanks to his elite pitching arsenal that is bound to help him a rack of strikeouts.
The Astros are definitely a top two team in the American League, along with the Yankees, and look poised to make a World Series run this season. There’s plenty of star power present, but there’s also a lot of depth. Combine that with an extremely smart front office and manager, and it’s easy to see them approaching 100 wins this season.
Second Place: Oakland Athletics
Projected Record: 84-78
Robbie Grossman LF
Matt Chapman 3B
Matt Olson 1B
Khris Davis DH
Stephen Piscotty RF
Jurickson Profar 2B
Ramon Laureano CF
Marcus Semien SS
Josh Phegley/Nick Hundley C
A critical part in the A’s shocking the world and winning 97 games last season was their talented lineup. Though Jed Lowrie will be missed, almost all of the core players will return in 2019. Matt Chapman is the team’s best player due to his elite fielding (29 drs) and power (.508 slugging) and is a dark horse MVP candidate. Meanwhile, Matt Olson’s hard contact rate was amongst the league’s best in 2018, so a breakout can be expected from him this season. Speaking of breakouts, Khris Davis was done just that since joining the A’s in 2016, and he remains one of the top designated hitters in the MLB. Stephen Piscotty, another player Oakland received from a trade, was tremendous in his first season with the club, while the newly acquired Jurickson Profar is starting to look like the player he was when he was a top prospect. Ramon Laureano may not be well known, but his contact-fielding combination makes him a valuable contributor, while Robbie Grossman’s on-base skills make him an ideal leadoff hitter. Marcus Semien is fine at shortstop, but Oakland is a mess currently at catcher; both Josh Phegley and Nick Hundley are well below average options behind the dish. Assuming Oakland’s key players continue to produce and improve, they’ll rank as one of the league’s top offensive and defensive teams, which should fuse together extremely well.
Aaron Brooks/Chris Bassett/Jesus Luzardo
Unlike their lineup, Oakland’s rotation provides zero optimism whatsoever. Having Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada as the top two options is embarrassing; both pitchers are projected to have ERAs around 5.00 this season and give up way too many home runs. Meanwhile, Brett Anderson re-signed with the team on a one year deal, and though he should be a decent producer for Oakland, his stamina is always an issue. Frankie Montas has pitched himself into a rotation spot with a 0.69 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13 innings in spring training, but should that overlook the fact that he only managed 65 innings in a weak rotation last year? Eventually, top pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo will be called up, and he’ll likely be their best pitcher right away. Until then, however, the A’s will be stuck with Aaron Brooks and Chris Basset at the #5 spot, neither of which are inspiring options. They may have gotten away with a sub-par rotation last year, but don’t expect the A’s to receive similar luck this year with an even worse rotation.
If the A’s are going to make a serious push in 2019, they’ll have to rely on their bullpen to carry the load. Fortunately for them, they possess one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. Blake Treinen, coming off a season with a 1.82 FIP, is easily one of the most dominant closers in all of baseball. Lou Trivino thrived in a multi-inning role last season, as did Yusmeiro Petit. Free agent acquisition Joakim Soria is coming off a terrific season (2.44 FIP) and remains one of the most consistent relievers in the MLB, while Fernando Rodney and Liam Hendricks are also both fine relievers as well. While not spectacular, Ryan Butcher and Jeremy Blevins give the team a competent lefty duo, rounding out a bullpen that can best be described as incredible.
Sticking with the bullpen, the A’s also have depth present with Ryan Dull and JB Wendelken serviceable options if needed. There’s also plenty of position player present with Chad Pinder, Franklin Barreto, and Mark Cahna, whom all play multiple positions. The rotation depth could be better, but with Luzardo ready to make an impact along with Grant Homes and James Kaprielian (if healthy), Oakland probably has enough pitchers in their farm system that are ready if injuries present themselves. Plus, catching prospect Sean Murphy will is also almost ready to make his MLB debut, and his promotion would fix the one weakness in the A’s’ lineup.
The A’s have a clear strategy towards winning in 2019: score enough runs and have a dominant bullpen to offset a weak rotation. While Oakland’s offense, defense, and bullpen is enough to prompt them to a winning record, it’s hard to see them making the playoffs with arguably the worst rotation in baseball outside of the Orioles. It’s likely they’ll be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Third Place: Los Angeles Angels
Projected Record: 77-85
David Fletcher 2B
Mike Trout CF
Andrelton Simmons SS
Justin Upton LF
*Shohei Ohtani DH
Zack Cozart 3B
Justin Bour/Albert Pujols 1B
Jonathan Lucroy C
Kole Calhoun RF
*expected to return in May
As long as you have Mike Trout, whom the Angels just signed to a twelve-year extension worth $430 million, you’re going to have a solid lineup. Still, he’s complemented by Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, and Shohei Ohtani (when healthy), all of whom have had above average production recently. After that, however, the Angels lineup looks like a mess. David Fletcher looks to be an alright second baseman, but he comes with a limited track record. Meanwhile, Zack Cozart was both hurt and awful last season after signing a three-year deal with the club in the 2017 offseason, and it’s unclear how he’ll fare this year. Bringing Justin Bour adds some power to the lineup, but between him and Albert Pujols, the Angels have one of the worst first base duos in baseball. Meanwhile, neither Jonathan Lucroy and Kole Calhoun can hit enough to be everyday players, yet that’s exactly what they’ll be asked to be this season. Trout, Simmons, Upton, and Ohtani comes to this team a powerful middle of the order, but as usual, the Angels remain heavily reliant on their main players to carry the entire load. Also per usual, that should become problematic for them this season.
The Angels rotation also presents an extreme concern. Tyler Skaggs did well last season (3.63 FIP) but hasn’t reached 130 innings once in his career. Andrew Heaney did eclipse that total, pitching 180 innings last season, but he also has injury concerns and is an average starter when healthy. The injury issues continue with Matt Harvey, who has had Tommy John surgery in the past and is no longer the elite pitcher he once was with the Mets. Trevor Cahill also won’t eat up many innings, and his struggles away from Oakland last don’t give him a promising look from there. The Angels also should not expect much from whoever assumes the role of the #5 spot, whether it’s Jaime Barria or someone else. There is valid reason to be worried by the rotation; it neither has the durability or talent needed for the Angels to be considered a serious playoff contender.
The Angels bullpen has the potential to be just as putrid as the rotation, especially since Keynan Middleton is now out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Cody Allen was signed this offseason to be the team’s closer, but concerns such as decreased velocity, an increased walk rate, an increased hard contact allowed suggest he’s no longer capable of filling that role. I like both Ty Buttrey and Justin Anderson, but neither has proven much at the major league level, and the same goes for Jake Jewell and Williams Jerez. Luis Garcia should fare better than he did with the Phillies with an improved defense, but neither he or Cam Bedrosian can be counted on to fill as the bridge to Allen. This is a bullpen full of mediocre middle relievers; the Angels should not have high expectations for this unit the way it is currently constructed.
The Angels have zero pitching depth, and considering the rotation’s injury history, that’s a major red flag. So is their position player depth; Tommy La Stella and Taylor Ward are the only capable bench players currently on the roster. While prospect Matt Thaiss should have the opportunity to make an impact after an impressive showing in Spring Training, he’s blocked by the unproductive duo of Bour and Pujols. Outside of Thaiss, no prospect looks to be ready to make an impact this season.
The Angels have plenty of big names with Trout, Simmons, Ohtani, and Upton, which should keep them relevant throughout the season. However, this team lacks any sort of pitching and is also very thin on depth. The result? Likely year of Mike Trout’s prime wasted on a mediocre team.
Fourth Place: Seattle Mariners
Projected Record: 71-91
Mallex Smith CF
Mitch Haniger RF
Jay Bruce 1B
Edwin Encarnacion DH
Domingo Santana RF
Kyle Seager/Ryon Healy 3B
Omar Narvaez C
Tim Beckham SS
Dee Gordon 2B
No team unloaded more talent this offseason than the Mariners, who lost: Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, among others. There is some talent remaining in the lineup, however, with Mitch Haniger at the center of it. It may not be long before he’s eventually traded, but for now, the 5-tool star remains the face of the franchise. Complimenting him in the outfield are new additions, Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana, with the latter a likely bounce-back candidate with extended playing time. Meanwhile, both Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion provide power to the lineup, and Seattle will hope that they increase their trade value. Kyle Seager (out until June), Dee Gordon, and Tim Beckham are all coming off of abysmal seasons, and I don’t have any optimism for any of them outside of possibly Seager. To top it off, Omar Narvaez is a terrific offensive catcher with the ability to get on base, but he’s a complete liability defensively. This lineup has a lot of power, but not much else. Though they’ll hit plenty of home runs, it’s unclear how many wins will come via this lineup.
The Mariners rotation is headlined with two lefties who provide some optimism, but also uncertainty. Marco Gonzales had a 3.43 FIP last season, but how will he adjust to a larger workload in 2019? Yusei Kikuchi has incredible upside, which prompted the Mariners to sign the Japanese pitcher to a seven-year contract. Still, he’s never pitched in an MLB game in America before (4.2 IP, 1 ER vs A’s in Japan Thurs.) After that, the rotation is filled with unreliable and overpaid veterans in Mike Leake and Felix Hernandez, while Wade LeBlanc likely won’t be able to sustain the success he had last season. If Gonzales and Kikuchi perform at a high level, this rotation could be decent. However, it lacks any sort of depth, and will almost certainly be a below average unit in 2019.
The bullpen is an even greater issue for the Mariners heading into this season. Hunter Strickland was signed to be the team’s closer, but diminished velocity and a high hard contact allowed signals that he probably shouldn’t own that role. Anthony Swarzack has been an effective reliever in the past, but how will he respond after posting a 5.48 FIP. Shawn Armstrong is a decent option out of the bullpen, as is Cory Gearrin, but neither Dan Altavilla and Nick Rumbelow have track records of success. Roenis Elias is the team’s only lefty reliever, but he’s more of a spot starter than a full-time relief pitcher. Considering how weak the rotation, the putrid state that the bullpen is in should be a major area of concern for the Mariners.
Though both pitching prospects Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson could fill in at the back-end of the rotation, there is little pitching depth present outside of those two. Meanwhile, JP Crawford should eventually take over the starting job at shortstop, but there isn’t a lot established position player depth besides him.
The Mariners are a completely one-dimensional team that will try to constantly out-slug teams. Their offense isn’t balanced enough to win that way, however, will their defense and pitching is well below average. This could be a rough season in transition.
Fifth Place: Texas Rangers
Projected Record: 70-92
Shin-Soo Choo DH
Elvis Andrus SS
Joey Gallo LF
Nomar Mazara RF
Asdrubal Cabrera 3B
Rougned Odor 2B
Delino Deshields CF
Ronald Guzman 1B
Jeff Mathis C
A usual strength for the team, the Rangers lineup’s outlook is a little cloudy at the moment; there isn’t much-proven talent. Shin-Soo Choo was an All-Star last season, posting a .810 OPS, but be struggled heavily in the second half and is a DH-only. Both Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo possess superstar potential, but to this point, only the former has shown signs of progression. Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus are solid players, but the middle infield duo may be the most inconsistent in all of baseball. Asdrubal Cabrera is a terrible defender, though it should improve with the move to third base, while Delino Deshields, Ronald Guzman, and Jeff Mathis are all defensive minded players with very limited upside offensively. All these pieces combined give Texas a lineup that has some potential, but for now, is substandard.
Like its lineup, the Rangers rotation has a huge gap between its floor and its ceiling. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn have been quality performers in the past, but neither are coming off of productive seasons. Meanwhile, Drew Smyly, Edison Volquez, and Shelby Miller, but those three threw a combined 16 innings last season, all coming from Miller. Still, all three possess the upside to at least be middle of the rotation starters; they could be effective if healthy. If the rotation produces at the level they are capable off, this should be a semi-decent unit. However, durability and consistency issues will likely plague this unit.
Coming off of a season in which he posted a 1.56 ERA, expectations will be high for closer Jose Leclerc. but a 2.60 SIERA and a low .211 BABIP allowed suggests that those expectations likely won’t be fulfilled, though he’s still a quality option. Jesse Chavez is a solid multi-inning option and should be an effective bridge to Leclerc, though his success last season mostly came when he was traded from the Rangers to the Cubs. Chris Martin, meanwhile, is quietly a solid reliever, while Jeffrey Springs gives the team at least one decent lefty. Shawn Kelly is a well-known reliever, but his home run issues likely cost him in a hitter’s friendly ballpark, while Zach McAllister and Jason Hammel haven’t shown much at all recently. With Leclerc, Chavez, Martin, and Springs, the Rangers will field an at least average bullpen. However, the depth isn’t there to carry the load of a lackluster rotation.
Depth is a major weakness for the Rangers; they have no pitching depth. Considering that their rotation comes with major injury concerns, a lack of depth will cost the Rangers dearly this season. There’s also close to zero position player depth and outfielder Willie Calhoun is the only minor leaguer likely to make an impact this season.
The Rangers have the upside to at least finish not last in the division, with some young talent in the lineup and a pitching staff that has shown flashes of excellence. However, this team is filled with inconsistent players with injury problems; a last place finish should be expected.