Alright, with the AL West set to take the stage later today, baseball may not have quite arrived in our little corner of the baseball universe, but it is coming! With that this will be the last week before we have a full slate of games to review. So, before things kick off, how do the projections see the division shaking out over the course of the next 162 games?
We can only hope that this is how things shake out. If the Astros steal a little of the Rangers 2016 cluster luck and start winning the one run games these projections could have the Rangers floundering at the bottom, as the Astros run away with the division! Wouldn’t that be fun!
These projections have been rehashed repeatedly over the course of the off-season, though, so let us shift our focus to the end of spring training. There is a good chance that you know the Astros new faces and have followed the final roster decisions closely, but what about the rest of the division? What new names are going to fill the opposing lineup card? What young prospects are on the cusp of joining the fun? Let’s take a quick look at how the top off-season additions, positional battles and prospects look to shake up the AL West in 2017.
1. Houston Astros (91-71)
We are going to more or less skip past the Astros, as this is where most of our attention has been focused all spring, but if you took a baseball hibernation immediately after the Cubs clinched the World Series and are just now rejoining us, here is a quick synopsis of the Astros’ off-season:
- The Astros signed Josh Reddick.
- Houston acquired catcher Brian McCann for a couple of prospects.
- Jason Castro signed with the Twins.
- Houston signed Carlos Beltran.
- The MLB finally ruled on the St Louis Cardinals hacking nonsense and awarded Houston a couple of picks.
- On roster makeup, Brad Peacock made the opening day roster, Mchugh is likely headed to the DL and AJ Reed, Tyler White and Teoscar Hernandez are set to open with the Grizzlies in Triple-A.
Opening week schedule: Four games versus the Seattle Mariners before welcoming Kansas City to Houston for a three game weekend series.
2. Los Angeles Angels (84-78)
Top Additions: None of the off-season acquisitions were earth shattering, but the Angels are hoping the reshuffling will result in more wins and a postseason push. Of note the Angels traded for Danny Espinosa to play 2B and complete what should be a very strong double play tandem with Andrelton Simmons. Outside of that the Angels added Jesse Chavez to the pitching staff, Luis Valbuena to the infield and Cameron Maybin to the outfield mix. Any one of these guys has the potential to put up a big year, but in the long run none of them project on their own to make a World Series level difference for the Angels.
Biggest Loss: The Angeles will be trotting out a very different starting rotation than a year ago, but maybe that’s a good thing. Jhoulys Chacin, Tim Lincecum, Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson all find themselves off the Angeles roster this year for varying reasons and the Angels are hoping that a younger rotation will be enough to get Mike Trout to the postseason.
Lurking on the Farm: The Angels farm system is not a pretty place, but there are a couple of bright spots. Perhaps at the top of the heap is Taylor Ward, but as a catcher in the lower levels he doesn’t project to make an impact in 2017. One guy who could end up playing out the stretch in Anaheim is Kaleb Cowart. Cowart leveraged an offensive surge in the second half of 2016 into a brief audition for the major league club, but he will open the season back in the minors.
Opening Week Schedule: The Angeles are headed to Oakland to kick off the season with a four game set before returning home to face the Mariners over the weekend.
3. Seattle Mariners (83-79)
Jerry Dipoto seems to make a trade on a near weekly basis, completing 36 since taking over in Seattle, but the biggest swing came when he sent Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte to Arizona for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and minor league lefty Zac Curtis.
Walker projects as the biggest loss from the 2016 Mariners team, while Segura should serve as the biggest addition if he can replicate his 5.7 WAR 2016. At just 24 years of age, Walker still has the potential to be a real thorn in the Mariners side and a black eye for management if he matures into a top of the rotation arm. On the other side, Segura is just 26 himself, and if he can produce a couple of 4+ WAR seasons then Mariner fans will probably be pleased with the outcome of this trade.
Other names with a chance to make an impact this season include the Danny Valencia, Drew Smyly, Jarrod Dyson and Yovani Gallardo.
Lurking on the Farm: 2016 first round pick Kyle Lewis sits atop the rankings for Seattle, but doesn’t project to debut in 2017. This leaves the door open for fellow outfielder, Tyler O’Neill to make a name for himself. O’Neill has plus power that should be enough for an everyday role sooner than later, but he will need to cut down on his strikeouts to really make an true impact on offense.
Opening Week Schedule: As noted above the Mariners are headed out on the road for seven games within the division, kicking things off with four in Houston followed by three in Anaheim.
3. Texas Rangers (83-79)
Top Additions: Jonathan Lucroy, while technically not an addition, picking up Lucroy’s option for 2017 was probably the easiest move the Rangers front office has made in recent years. A number of actual additions have a chance to produce big results, but counting on Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross to pitch meaningful innings in September is most likely a mistake. Mike Napoli is the best bet of the actual additions to provide a boost. Napoli should fill in nicely for the departed Mitch Moreland at 1B or the retired Prince Fielder as DH.
Biggest Loss: Ian Desmond is not likely to repeat his 2016 performance, but the Rangers will have to make up those stats somewhere. Getting a compensation pick takes a little sting out of the loss, but won’t help the Rangers in the win column in 2017.
Lurking on the Farm: Yoahnder Mendez is the name to watch. Pitching at four levels in 2016 including two appearances in the majors. Mendez could be the answer Rangers fans are looking for behind Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels. Look for Mendez to make his presence known in Arlington in the second half of 2017 barring injury or complete loss of command.
Opening Week Schedule: The Rangers play host to the reigning American League champions to open the year, welcoming the Indians to Arlington for three before facing off against the Athletics over the weekend.
5. Oakland Athletics (79-83)
Top Additions: Not a lot to choose from here. Santiago Casilla could regain his form and put up strong numbers at the back of the bullpen, but that would probably just result in a mid-season trade. The biggest addition from an on the field standpoint seems to be Jharel Cotton. The pitching prospect will break camp with the big league club and has been the recipient of some serious hype this off-season.
Biggest Loss: With Oakland in rebuild mode, there was not a lot to lose either, but Danny Valencia stands out as the top player to change locations. Valencia will get plenty of chances to face his old team though with the Seattle Mariners.
Lurking on the Farm: Unlike their California neighbors, the Athletics have a number of impact minor leaguers just waiting to get a chance. Cotton breaking camp with the major league team leaves a trio of prospects expected to join him in 2017 in Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman and Frankie Montas. Barreto and Chapman should both provide value on the infield for the Athletics, while Montas could be closing down games sooner than later. The best of the three looks to be Barreto, but Marcus Semien blocks his way to regular playing time at short, so he may need to switch to second in order to get his shot.
Opening Week Schedule: Like the Mariners, the Athletics stay within the AL West for opening week. Oakland will open things up with four games against the Angels before hitting the road to face the Rangers at Globe Life Park.
Series of the Week:
With it being opening week all the games are of note, so we will focus more in depth on a series of the week and pitching matchups to tune into starting with next Monday’s edition. For a couple of quick hitters though, the Rangers hosting Cleveland pits two division winners from 2016 against each other to start the season. Further, Monday night has a number of interesting pitching matchups around the league with Yu Darvish versus Corey Kluber and the duel between Dallas Keuchel and Felix Hernandez among the top options.