2018 AL West Preview

March 9, 2018

Last season, the Houston Astros won the division by 21 games, which was the largest difference in win totals between first and second place in the league. Although the chances of them winning the division by that many games again seem slim, this team is good enough to actually pull it off. The teams directly below them in the division got better over the winter, but unfortunately for them, so did the Astros

1st Place: Houston Astros
2017 record: 101-61, first in AL West, won World Series
My 2018 prediction: 106-56

Key acquisitions: Gerrit Cole (RHP)
Key departures: Luke Gregerson (RHP), Cameron Maybin (OF), Carlos Beltran (OF), Mike Fiers (RHP)

The reigning, defending, undisputed World Series champions of the world. The best team in baseball. Arguably the best lineup in baseball. Arguably the best starting rotation in baseball. The team that led the MLB in runs, hits, RBI, batting average, OBP and SLG% in 2017. It seems unfair, because if I’m being honest, it is.

Let’s start off with the lineup, which as mentioned above, led the league in most offensive categories. If you can find a weakness in this lineup, please let me know, because I’m having trouble finding one. Starting behind the plate is Brian McCann. Since 2006, McCann has failed to reach 20 home runs twice. In 2007 and 2017 he hit 18, however, this past season he only played in 97 games. The only year that McCann didn’t finish in the top 10 in home runs by a catcher was his first year in the league when he only played in 59 games, which is a streak that I don’t see ending this season. Yuli Gurriel is already 33 years old, but 2017 was his first full season in the majors. Prior to last season, Gurriel only had 137 career plate appearances in the MLB. Even though it took so long, the wait was definitely worth it. Gurriel hit 18 home runs, 75 RBI and slashed .299/.332/.486. With all of the other pieces in this lineup, there’s not much pressure on Gurriel, which makes it more likely that he repeats his ‘rookie’ season performance. Who is Houston’s second baseman, you ask? Oh, just the reigning AL MVP, no big deal.

Player A: 211 hits, 18 home runs, 76 RBI, 39 stolen bases, .334/.384/.496
Player B: 231 hits, 9 home runs, 60 RBI, 39 stolen bases, .339/.384/.443

Player A is Jose Altuve’s average stats over the past four seasons. Player B is Ichiro Suzuki in his first four seasons in the MLB. In one of the four years, Ichiro broke the all-time single season hits record, with 262. Ichiro is one of the best hitters of all time, and Altuve is putting up comparable numbers to him. Altuve is just entering what should be the prime of his career, which is a terrifying thought for opposing teams. What might be even scarier than Altuve finally entering the prime of his career is the fact that Carlos Correa is only 23 years old. Correa is already one of the best short stops in the league, and he’s only getting better. He’s hit 20 or more home runs in each of his first three seasons, his lowest wRC+ in a season is 123. Although he missed a good amount of games this past season, due to injury, he was still top 5 in home runs and RBI among short stops. Altuve and Correa are already the best middle of the infield combination in the league, and there’s a good chance that they will continue to be for the next 5-10 years. In the hot corner, the Astros have one of the best young third basemen in the league. Alex Bregman had a very good regular season in his first full year as a major leaguer. He hit 19 home runs, 71 RBI with a wRC+ of 122. However, it was under the bright lights of October where Bregman had the biggest impact. In game 1 of the ALDS, Bregman was the second batter of the game for Houston and hit a solo home run off of Chris Sale. In game 4 of the ALDS, Bregman hit a game-tying home run off of Chris Sale in the 8th inning. In game 1 of the World Series, Bregman took Clayton Kershaw deep for a game-tying home run in the 4th inning. In game 5, Bregman hit a walk-off single off of Kenley Jansen in the bottom of the 10th, which gave the Astros a 3-2 series lead. In total, Bregman had 4 home runs and 10 RBI in the postseason, including 2 home runs and 5 RBI in the World Series. Marwin Gonzalez was yet another great surprise for the Astros last season. In his breakout 2017 campaign, the switch-hitting Gonzalez had 23 home runs, 90 RBI, a .303/.377/.530 slash line with a 144 wRC+. If he can come anywhere close to repeating those numbers, especially near the bottom the order, there isn’t going to be an easy portion of the lineup for opposing pitchers. George Springer is one of my favourite players in the league, so I’m admittedly a bit biased towards him. But I truly believe he has the chance to be one of the best all-around players in the league. As the leadoff hitter for the Astros last season, Springer belted 34 home runs. If your number three of four hitter has 34 home runs in a season, you’re going to be pretty happy. If your leadoff hitter has that many? “Fuggetaboutit”. Oh, and did I mention that he won World Series MVP? Well, he did. In the seven games against the Dodgers in the Fall Classic, he hit 5 home runs with 7 RBI, while slashing .379/.471/1.000, including a home run in each of the final four games of the series. There’s a possibility that Springer could hit 35-40 home runs with around 100 RBI this upcoming season. If he does that, there’s a good chance that he’ll have a regular season MVP to go along with his World Series one. Josh Reddick had the best overall hitting season of his career in 2017. Evan Gattis should see some more at-bats this year now that Carlos Beltran has retired. Gattis projects to be the full-time DH, as opposed to splitting time at catcher with McCann, like they did last season. Only having to focus on hitting should help Gattis get back to the 25-30 home run range. This was the best lineup in baseball last season, and they have a good chance of being the best lineup this season as well.

Justin Verlander is one of the best pitchers in the game today. The former Cy Young winner was acquired mid-season after spending the first 12 years of his career in Detroit. In his five regular season starts for the Astros, Verlander went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA, along with 43 strike outs in 34 innings. In the postseason, he started five games and went 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA. Last season, while with the Tigers, Verlander received an average of 5.1 runs of support per game. In his five regular season starts with the Astros, he received 6.9 runs of support per game. As he looks forward to a full season with this offence helping him out, Verlander has a great chance at securing his second career Cy Young, which should be his third, if not for him being inexplicably left off of two ballots in 2016, resulting in him losing to Rick Porcello by five points. Right behind Verlander in the rotation is another Cy Young winner. After winning the Cy Young in 2016, Dallas Keuchel has had trouble staying healthy. The past two seasons, he has only averaged 157 innings pitched. Despite the injuries, and after a terrible 2016, Keuchel was phenomenal this past season. In 23 starts he put up a 14-5 record with a 2.90 ERA and a 69 ERA-, which was only five points worse than his Cy Young season. Verlander and Keuchel are near the top of the list when it comes to 1-2 punches in the league, and there’s a chance that late in the season, these two will be battling each other to see who can capture their second Cy Young award. The only move the Astros made this off-season was when they acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Cole would be traded to the Yankees, but the teams couldn’t work a trade out, which allowed the Astros to swoop in and improve their rotation. Cole is only three years removed from finishing fourth in NL Cy Young voting. But the two seasons since then have not been good. In 2016, he went 7-10 with a 3.88 ERA in only 116 innings. Although he stayed healthy in 2017, his numbers took a hit. Last season, he went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA. Much like Verlander, Cole is going to benefit greatly from having one of the best offences in the league on his side. With the Pirates last season he only received an average of 4.5 runs of support. That number has a chance to jump by at least 2 runs per game, which should take pressure off of Cole, allowing him to win more games and improve his numbers. Lance McCullers has all the makings of becoming an Ace. And yet, he’s going to be the 4th or 5th starter for this Astros team. McCullers showed in the postseason that he can be an incredible reliever, but it’s in Houston’s best interest to continue using him as a starter and hoping he can stay healthy. Charlie Morton was an incredible signing for the Astros. Signed to a mediocre 2 year $14 million contract in November of 2016, Morton had a 14-7 record with a 3.62 ERA, and was also the winning pitcher in game 7 of the World Series, after he came into the game in the 6th inning and pitched four innings of one run ball. Brad Peacock split the season as a starter and reliever. Despite having a 13-2 record with an ERA of 3.00, he’s probably going to start the season in the bullpen. But, if needed, he’ll be utilized as a sixth starter, even though he would probably be a middle of the rotation guy for most other teams.

The one and only weakness of this Astros team is their closer situation. In the regular season, Ken Giles was great. He converted 34-of-38 save chances, had an ERA of 2.30 and struck out 83 batters in 62.2 innings. The playoffs, however, were a disaster for Giles. In seven postseason appearances, Giles pitched 7.2 innings and allowed 10 earned runs, including three during a blown save and loss in game 4 of the World Series, which was the last game of the Series he pitched in. The Astros still have a chance to improve this position though. Greg Holland, who was tied for second in the majors in saves last season, is still a free agent. Holland had 41 saves, including 17 at home, in Colorado. If he can have that level of success in Colorado, he can definitely have it in Houston. In an ideal world, Houston would sign him as insurance in case Giles melts down once again. An 8th-9th inning of Holland-Giles or Giles-Holland would be a much needed improvement for the defending Champions.

This team should have no problem finishing with the most wins in the league. And as of right now, it’s their Championship to lose.

Player to watch: Gerrit Cole

It was between Cole or Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez was one of their best hitters last season, and will be a key piece of their lineup going into this year. But, Gerrit Cole is seen as a pitcher with the potential to be an Ace. But, because of Verlander and Keuchel being ahead of him in the rotation, he’s not going to have the pressure of being an Ace, like he did in Pittsburgh. With less pressure on his shoulders, and a much better lineup, which will result in more run support, he has the chance to put up the numbers of a 1st/2nd starter from the middle of the rotation. He is also great insurance in case Verlander or Keuchel suffer an injury.

 

 

2nd Place: Los Angeles Angels
2017 record: 80-82, second in AL West
My 2018 prediction: 88-74

Key acquisitions: Shohei Ohtani (RHP/DH), Ian Kinsler (2B), Zack Cozart (3B)
Key departures: Brandon Phillips (2B)*, Bud Norris (RHP), Yunel Escobar (3B)*

This team is going to be one of the more interesting teams to watch this season. The Angels made a few big moves in the off-season, but none were in the same stratosphere as them winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. For years, Ohtani has been dubbed the “Japanese Babe Ruth”. The reason for the nickname is his ability to both pitch and hit at a high level. Over the past five seasons in the Japan Pacific League, Ohtani at the plate has hit a total of 48 home runs, 166 RBI and slashed .286/.358/.500. Now, on the surface, those numbers don’t seem great. But those numbers are only from 1170 plate appearances, which is less than an everyday MLB player gets in two seasons. When it comes to batting, stats don’t do the trick, but the eye test tells you a lot. Ohtani hits balls that travel close to 500 feet, for comparisons sake, the longest home run of the 2017 MLB regular season was hit 495 feet by Aaron Judge. On the negative side, Ohtani struck out in about 27% of his plate appearances over that five year span, which will need to change. Luckily for the Angels, you can teach a batter to be more patient and to avoid swinging at bad pitches, you can’t teach 500 foot power.  Oh, did I mention that he also throws the ball 100 MPH? That’s right, this guy is also an incredible pitcher. In 82 career JPPL starts, Ohtani went 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strike outs in 543 innings. Ohtani’s main role in the MLB is going to be as a pitcher, although he will be serving as DH every now and then, and will be available to pinch hit on days that he’s not pitching. However, there is one big factor that I have trouble getting past when I look at all of these numbers; this was in the JPPL, not the MLB. In saying that, I’m not going to discredit his talent. I don’t care where you play, if you can hit 500 foot home runs and hit triple digits on the radar gun, there’s obviously special talent there. My main point is that in Japan, he never had to face anybody of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber or Justin Verlander’s talent level. On the other side of the ball, he’s never faced a hitter like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Altuve. It’s much easier to get away with mistakes when you are facing inferior talent, that’s not going to be the case in the MLB. For the first time in his pro career, Ohtani won’t be the best player on the diamond at all times, and it will be interesting to see how he can adjust to that. So far in Spring Training, he’s looked like he’s had no issues, but once again, it’s Spring Training. He’s facing much more minor leaguers than he will be a month from now. If I had to make a prediction now, I think he’ll be very good as a pitcher this season, but I think he’ll be a below average hitter. With all that said, there’s not a single player I’m more excited about this season than Ohtani. He is undoubtedly the most important player to come into the league in a long time. If he can be successful as a pitcher and a hitter, it will open the door for others to attempt to do the same thing at the major league level. I hope that he is all he was hyped up to be, but don’t be surprised if his first year as a Major Leaguer isn’t as good as you expected. 

Before I even get started on the Angels’ lineup, I have to address the change they made in right field. Up until this season, their right field wall was 18 feet tall, now it stands at 8 feet tall. Why the change? Well, Shohei Ohtani hits left-handed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the correlation between them acquiring a left handed hitter and them making it easier to hit home runs to right field. The only other left handed hitters who will be starters on opening day are Kole Calhoun and Luis Valbuena. Here’s a secret, the team isn’t going to change their field dimensions for those two. It’s a pretty cut and dry situation and it’s one of the many reasons why baseball is awesome. You want to change your right field wall from 18 feet to 8 feet to help out your new hitter? Sure! You want a wall that’s 40 feet tall in left field? Why not! You want a random mountain in center field? That’s fine for now, but we’ll re-visit it in a few years. Imagine if teams from other sports were able to customize their home court/field/ice? The Golden State Warriors have a three point line that’s 30 feet away from the basket instead of 23. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a field that’s 10 yards wider than any other field. Imagine all of the possibilities.

Now, finally onto the lineup. Martin Maldonado was not very good at the plate last season. Luis Valbuena displayed a lot of power, but had a batting average of .199. The team acquired Ian Kinsler from the Detroit Tigers to be their starting second baseman. Kinsler was terrible last season, but I’m willing to chalk some of the blame to the fact that he was on the dumpster fire Tigers. He’s been one of the better hitting second basemen in baseball for years, and should have a bounce back season. Andrelton Simmons is an absolute magician at short stop. In his last five seasons, dating back to 2013, his Defensive Runs Saved have been 41, 28, 25, 18, 32. He’s probably the best defender in all of baseball. At the plate, he’s never been more than average, until last year. This past season he had 14 home runs, which was the second most of his career, and 69 RBI, which was a career high. As long as he continues his defensive excellence, a possible regression at the plate wouldn’t be all that bad for the Angels. But if he can duplicate last season’s stats or improve, he has the chance to have a special year. Zack Cozart was a big signing for the Angels. Last year in Cincinnati he received his first career All-Star nod. Cozart had a career high 24 home runs and 63 RBI, slashed .297/.385/.548 and had a wRC+ of 141. Cozart should be batting near the top of the lineup, so his chances of improving on his 2017 stat line are pretty good. I don’t think people are paying enough attention to how great of a move it was for the Angels to re-sign Justin Upton. The Angels acquired him in late August of last season, and he is the big bat they needed. In 152 games, between Detroit and Los Angeles, Upton hit 35 home runs, 109 RBI with an OPS+ of 135. My best guess would be that Upton will be batting either 3rd or 4th, right behind Mike Trout, which should give him plenty of opportunities to reach 100 RBI for the third time in his career. Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols both had underwhelming seasons in 2017. With the added talent in this lineup, they are both in a prime position to improve, as they are likely to have lesser roles. Side note, Albert Pujols is 38 years old and still has four years and roughly $114 million left on his contract. Sheesh! I don’t really have anything to add to that anecdote, I just felt like including it.

I’m separating this portion from the rest of the lineup discussion out of respect for the best player in baseball. In Mike Trout’s first 6 full seasons in the majors, the worst Trout has finished in MVP voting has been 4th. That was this past season, in a year where he only played 114 games. Even though he missed a significant amount of time, he still hit 33 home runs, and led the league with a 187 OPS+. Other than last season, he has won two MVPs and has been runner-up three times. In those six seasons, he has averaged 33 home runs, 92 RBI, 27 stolen bases and slashed .309/.414/.572, with an average OPS+ of 175. His career OPS+ is 172, which is tied with Mickey Mantle for sixth best all-time. A while ago on Twitter, somebody tweeted out their all-time great lineup, and asked others to send in theirs. After about half an hour of trying to figure out who I would choose as my center fielder, I ended up choosing Trout. I chose him over both Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr., which may seem blasphemous to most, but I don’t care. He is already one of the best players to every play in the majors, and he’s only 26 years old. A few decades from now, I’m going to be telling my children and grandchildren that I was lucky enough to be alive to watch Mike Trout play.

In terms of starting pitching, Shohei Ohtani is obviously the star of this team. If he can come anywhere close to the expectations that have been placed on him, then this team has a real chance that a postseason berth. Garrett Richards is a really good pitcher, but he can’t seem to stay healthy. In both 2016 and 2017, Richards only managed to start six games. Health is really the only question mark for Richards. If he can avoid getting injured, he’ll prove to be a valuable number two starter for this team. Andrew Heaney is still a promising young pitcher, but he hasn’t had much major league success so far in his career. He barely pitched in 2017, since he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016 and didn’t return until August. He should have no problem claiming a spot in the middle of this rotation, but much like Richards, his health is going to be the biggest concern throughout the season. Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker should end up being the 4th/5th starters for the Angels. Neither of them are anything special, but they are both good options as back of the rotation starters.

The Angels seem like another good landing spot for Greg Holland. As of right now, Blake Parker or Cam Bedrosian seem like the most likely options to open the season as closer. Last season, Parker and Bedrosian combined for 14 saves. Greg Holland had 41. If the Angels decide against signing Holland, or if he goes to another team, Parker seems like the better option to be their closer. But, this is going to be something to watch for in the coming weeks, and during the season.

Player to watch: Shohei Ohtani

Uhhh, ya think? This is the easiest of them all. If he’s all he’s built up to be, this team will make the postseason, and he’ll be in the MVP/Cy Young conversations. If not, the road to the postseason will be tough for this Angels team.

 

 

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners
2017 record: 78-84, third in AL West
My 2018 prediction: 86-76

Key acquisitions: Dee Gordon (2B/OF), Ryon Healy (1B/3B), Ichiro Suzuki (OF)
Key departures: Yonder Alonso (1B), Jarrod Dyson (OF)

I think we’re going to have a solid battle for second place in this division. Last season, the Angels finished two games above the Mariners, which is about the same separation that I would expect this season. Both teams have, what should be, great lineups. Neither team’s rotation seems like it will be anything special, but the Angels probably have the better rotation as a whole. Neither of these teams will give the Astros a run for their money, but they’re going to be in a season long battle to see who can possibly get the second wild card spot.

Right off the bat, I absolutely love the Dee Gordon trade for Seattle. This team was mediocre last season in the stolen base category, 89 in total, which was 13th in the league. In the off-season, the Mariners lost their stolen bases leader from last season, Jarrod Dyson, who stole 28 bags. How do they balance the loss of him? They trade for the reigning stolen base king. Dee Gordon led the MLB in stolen bases last season with 60. Gordon is a legitimate game changer when on the bases. Since 2014, Gordon has had 58 or more stolen bases three times, the only time he failed to reach that number was in 2016 when he only played 79 games. Even though he missed 80 games that year due to suspension, he still had 30 stolen bases, which was tied for 10th most in the league. As a team that has been primarily known for their power, Gordon’s impact on this lineup is going to be immense. Behind the plate, they have the player who had the third most home runs among catchers, Mike Zunino. Although 2017 was Zunino’s career high in home runs, that wasn’t the most impressive improvement for him as a hitter. Prior to last season, his career high batting average was .214, last season he hit .251, the best of his career. Zunino needs to cut down on the strikeouts, but as a catcher, if he can continue his production from last season, the team won’t mind all the strikeouts. The other big acquisition for the Mariners was Ryon Healy from the Athletics. Healy is only 26 and as shown a significant amount of power in his one and a half MLB seasons. In 72 games in 2016, he hit 13 home runs, followed by 25 last season. He’s on a new team, but with more support around him, his numbers should continue to improve. One of the best second basemen of all time is coming back for his 14th season. 2017 was an “off” year for Robinson Cano, yet he still ended up hitting 23 home runs, 97 RBI and .280/.338/.453. Cano is going to continue to operate out of the 3-hole, and will have plenty of chances, especially with Dee Gordon getting on base ahead of him, to get back to 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Jean Segura’s last two season have been great. In 2016, he had a career high 203 hits, with 33 stolen bases and slashed .319/.368/.499. This past season, in only 125 games, he had 157 hits, 22 stolen bases and slashed .300/.349/.427. At the age of 27, he has clearly figured it out, and is in line for a gigantic 2018. I feel bad for Kyle Seager. Over the past couple of seasons, he’s been overlooked by his younger brother, Corey. The younger Seager is one of the best young talents in the league, and is already a two time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner, at the age of 23. Kyle, 30, has been a very good player over the past six seasons, but he gets nowhere near the respect he deserves. Over those six seasons, Kyle has averaged 25 home runs, 85 RBI with a .264/.333/.450 slash line. Those obviously aren’t superstar numbers, but if you ask any team that doesn’t have a player like Nolan Arenado or Josh Donaldson as their third baseman, they’ll sign up for that kind of production any day of the week. Ben Gamel arrived in 2017. There was a stretch, from the beginning of May to the end of July, that Gamel was getting hits at will. Over that three month span, he had 99 hits in 76 games, and only failed to register a hit in 19 of those games. Unfortunately for him, he suffered an oblique strain earlier this week and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. To replace him, the team has brought back all-time Mariners legend, Ichiro Suzuki. Over the past few seasons, the 44 year old Ichiro has shown definite signs of slowing down. Ichiro only started 22 games last season, but he played in 136. As a rotational player, he only hit .255/.318/.332, which is still decent, considering his age. But, he’s just nowhere near the player he used to be. This signing seems like it’ll be more of a feel good story than anything, but it could end up being a good depth move. With the injury to Gamel, Ichiro is going to have plenty of early season opportunities to show that he still has some gas left in the tank. Mitch Haniger was red hot in April, until he got hurt. In 21 games, he hit .342/.447/.608. He missed all of May, returned in June, but wasn’t the same for the rest of the season. If he can avoid injury, he has a good chance to hit over .280 for the second straight year. Nelson Cruz is an animal. In the past four years, he’s averaged 42 home runs and 106 RBI. Even though he is 37 years old, he has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down.

This rotation isn’t exciting at all. James Paxton has been very good over the last few seasons, but he has still never pitched 25 or more games in a season. Paxton went 12-5 last season with a 2.98 ERA and a 71 ERA-. He is by far the best pitcher on this staff, and will have the expectations of a number one starter this season. Felix Hernandez was absolutely terrible in 2017. The former Cy Young winner had his worst season since 2006. Since 2014, when he finished second in Cy Young voting, he has seen a decline in his performance and numbers each year. To make things worse, he was hit with a comebacker in a Spring Training start. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be serious, and he should be ready around Opening Day. I would be shocked if Felix had himself a big time comeback season. I hate to say it, but it may be time for the King to hand over his crown. In five starts for Seattle, after being acquired during the season from St. Louis, Mike Leake went 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA. Leake will look to build on his short stint with the team, to possibly take over Felix as the team’s second starter. In the bullpen, Edwin Diaz has been incredible in his two major league seasons. He has 52 saves over the past two years, and should be in for a lot of work this upcoming season.

As a whole, this team has lots of potential. The rotation will be the only thing that holds this team back from being a serious contender.

Player to watch: Felix Hernandez

2017 was ugly, and it’s hard to overlook it. Felix has been one of the best pitchers of this generation, but his time may be up. If he can prove to be a good number two starter, it will do wonders for this team. If he once again struggles, it’s going to be an ugly season for the King.

These next two teams should be pretty quick.

 

 

4th Place: Texas Rangers
2017 record: 78-84, fourth in AL West
My 2018 prediction: 75-87

Key acquisitions: Doug Fister (RHP), Matt Moore (LHP), Mike Minor (LHP), Tim Lincecum (RHP), Bartolo Colon (RHP)
Key departures: Andrew Cashner (RHP), Carlos Gomez (OF), Mike Napoli (1B/DH)

Once again, Bartolo Colon isn’t actually a key acquisition. But, if I have the chance to mention Big Sexy, I’m doing it.

This team doesn’t excite me at all. For some reason, there’s a part of me that thinks they might actually be a decent team. But in reality, I still think that they finish close to 10 wins under .500.

Joey Gallo has a special amount of raw power. In 2017, he hit 41 home runs. The problem? 196 strikeouts and a .209 average. Gallo is only 23 years old, so he has a lot of time to polish his approach at the plate. But it’s hard to imagine him being anything more than a 35-45 home run guy, who has trouble keeping his batting average above his strikeout total. Rougned Odor has lots of power, especially for a second basemen, but 2017 was a bad year for him. After averaging 95 strikeouts and a .265 batting average in his first three seasons, he struck out 162 times and hit .204 in 2017. Like Gallo, he’s only 23 years old, so he has a lot of time to make improvements, but last season was a bad look for him. Elvis Andrus’ 2017 was the best of his career, and it’s not really close. Prior to 2017, his career high in home runs was 9, he hit 20 last year. To go along with that amount of home runs, he stole 25 bases and hit .297/.337/.471. He has 5 years of control (plus a vesting option for a sixth), at a reasonable rate, so if the team is out of contention, they could trade him for a King’s Ransom, if they want to. Adrian Beltre only played 94 games last season, but showed that he can still produce, even at 38 years old. He’s had a batting average of .300 or higher in five of the last six seasons, and will look to continue that sort of production in his 21st MLB season. Delino DeShields is a great base stealer, but doesn’t provide much of anything else. Nomar Mazara is only 22 years old and already has 40 home runs and 165 RBI in two seasons. He has a legitimate chance at being this team’s best hitter for years to come.

Cole Hamels has been the model of consistency, up until this past season. From 2010 to 2016, he never had an ERA over 3.65, last season his ERA was 4.20. I, for one, am not too worried about this uptick in ERA, due to the fact that his ERA- was 92, which is still above average. The rest of their rotation isn’t very good. Martin Perez, Doug Fister and Matt Moore are all 4th/5th starters who will be expected to be the 2-3-4 pitchers for this team. For some reason, they want Mike Minor to be a starter. Sure, he was a good starter back in 2013, but last season, with the Royals, he was exceptional as a reliever. This team needs the bullpen help, and I would hope that Minor is put back there sometime soon. The team is also trying out Matt Bush as a starter, after he was second on the team in saves in 2017.

The only thing I care about in the bullpen is Tim Lincecum. There are rumours that Lincecum has a good chance at being the team’s closer, which is worth trying, since the team had the second fewest saves in the league last season. It seems more likely that Lincecum will be utilized as a reliever as opposed to the closer, but the idea of The Freak closing out games is intriguing. Lincecum does have some experience as a reliever at the big league level. Mainly in the 2012 postseason. Throughout that postseason he was a valuable commodity out of the bullpen, and delivered some incredible performances. Aside from Shohei Ohtani, Lincecum is probably the pitcher that I’m most excited for this upcoming season. There’s a chance that he’s a complete failure, like he was with the Angels, but I’m really hoping he turns into a legitimate bullpen arm that teams are worried about facing.

Player to watch: Joey Gallo/Rougned Odor

I wanted to say Lincecum, but these two are much more important to the team’s success. The home runs are great, but these two need to drastically cut down on the strikeouts and improve their batting averages. Even if they can hit around .230-.240, that would be huge for this team. 

 

 

5th Place: Oakland Athletics
2017 record: 75-87, fifth in AL West
My 2018 prediction: 71-91

Key acquisitions: Stephen Piscotty (OF)
Key departures: Ryon Healy (1B/3B)

This team is going to suck.

This is one of my favourite stat lines I’ve stumbled upon; Matt Olson hit 24 home runs last season, and yet, he only had 45 RBI. Also, he did that in only 59 games. Now that Yonder Alonso is out of town, Olson should be the team’s everyday first baseman. If he can continue hitting for power, he should be an interesting player to watch on this team, one of a few. Jed Lowrie had a surprising season and was close to being traded at the deadline and during the off-season. He’s going to be a popular name in trade rumours throughout the year, if he plays at a similar level as he did last season. Marcus Semien has shown that he can be a decent major leaguer, and if healthy, should have a good year. Matt Chapman showed a decent amount of power in his rookie season. Now that he should be getting every day at-bats, it will be interesting to see what the former first rounder can do. Khris Davis is still one of the best power hitters in the game. Back-to-back seasons of over 40 home runs and 100 RBI have helped him achieve that status. He should have no problem achieving those numbers for a third straight year, even with the lack of talent around him. Dustin Fowler and Stephen Piscotty are both nice stories going into this season. Fowler, who was a top prospect for the Yankees, suffered a gruesome knee injury in his MLB debut last year. While injured, he was traded to Oakland as a part of the Sonny Gray trade, and all indications are that he will be the team’s starting center fielder on Opening Day. After 2016, Piscotty looked like he was going to be a key piece of the Cardinals organization, especially after signing a 6 year deal in April of last year. However, his 2017 didn’t go as planned. Across the board, his 2017 numbers were nowhere near as good as they were the year prior. This off-season, Piscotty was traded to his hometown Oakland Athletics. Although his 2017 numbers took a dip, they weren’t the main factor in his trade. Piscotty’s mother was diagnosed with ALS, and it seemed that that, along with injuries, may have contributed to his lacklustre performance. So, the Cardinals did him a solid and sent him to Oakland so that he can spend more time with his mother. Truly one of the best stories of the upcoming year. Hopefully having the comfort of family and being home will allow Piscotty to get back to his 2016 form on the field. Kudos to the Cardinals for giving a mother and son the chance to spend more time together during this rough patch of their lives.

Every member of Oakland’s projected starting rotation is 27 years old or younger, which I guess is a positive. Kendall Graveman is the team’s best pitcher, but he will look to get his ERA under 4.00 for the first time in his three full seasons as an Athletic. Sean Manaea has had a good first two seasons. He’s currently 19-19 with a 4.12 career ERA. Those aren’t great numbers, but considering the teams that he’s been in, they’re actually pretty good. Paul Blackburn only has ten career starts, and was very on and off in them. In five of those games, he allowed one run or fewer. In the other five games, he let in three or more. That type of inconsistency won’t work over a full season, so the former first rounder is going to have to clean up his game in order to have a successful year. Similar to Blackburn, Daniel Mengden also displayed inconsistency in a small amount of 2017 starts. In three starts, Mengden allowed zero runs, in another three, he allowed four or more. Mengden proved that he could get deep into games, and should fight with Blackburn to be the team’s third starter.

Player to watch: Dustin Fowler

After suffering such a terrible season-ending injury, Fowler is going to have a lot to prove to his new team. Ranging from Single-A to Triple-A in the minors, from 2014 to 2017, Fowler hit 35 triples, 39 home runs, 242 RBI, with 71 stolen bases and a .284 average. He is an incredible talent, and if not for the injury, most likely wouldn’t have been traded by the Yankees. But due to circumstance, the Athletics may have just gotten themselves a franchise player.

 

 

* - Player is currently a free agent


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