Spring AL West Preview
And now, the Mike Trout division.
4. Los Angeles of Anaheim, California
This seems like a good enough year as any that the Astros could leapfrog everyone in the West to win the division. They mostly upgraded their lineup, adding veterans Carlos Beltran, James McCann, and Nori Aoki, adding Josh Reddick at what could be his prime season, and the first chances Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel will have as a full season at the big league level. Their rotation will get a chance to improve just from an off season of rest out of Dallas Keuchel and added depth from Charlie Morton.
Texas decided not to change too much as they only added Mike Napoli, who has been a Ranger for two previous stints in his career. Hamels and Yu come into the season with injury concerns. Seattle changed the tone of their lineup in the offseason supplemented the power of Cano and Cruz with a ton of speed from LF Jarrod Dyson, and SS Jean Segura who both came over in trades. They are rolling the dice with Dan Vogelbach at 1B who has very little MLB experience under his belt.
The Angels should be an annual contender for the playoffs thanks to the core of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but they have two pretty ugly warning signs that they will stink. Those warnings are named #2 starter Ricky Nolasco and 3B Yunel Escobar. They aren't bad players, but it's never good to have them in such key roles on the team as Nolasco lacks consistency and Escobar lacks power at the hot corner. The A's made a few upgrades to their lineup through smart moves to pick up CF Rajai Davis, RF Matt Joyce and 3B Trevor Pouffe, but didn't do much to upgrade their rotation that will see ace Sonny Gray missing the start of the year.
MIke Trout (LAA)
I'd love to have this be the Jose Altuve show or that this could be the year Adrian Beltre gets the recognition he deserves for his glove, bat and leadership, but it would be an absolute shock if Mike Trout finished as low in MVP voting as 4th or 5th. In Trout's first five full seasons he has been: second, second, first, second, and first in MVP voting and won the Rookie of the Year award, five All-Star appearances, and five Silver Slugger awards. He has either hit 30 home runs or more or had 30 SB's or more in every season he has played. The season he had his worst AVG and lead the league in striking out was the first year he was named MVP. Barring a major injury, Mike Trout will be first or second in MVP voting this season. He could crap his pants on the field and still win the MVP.
Cy Young Candidate
Yu Darvish (TEX)
This was a pretty difficult candidate to select in this division, not because there was a glut of aces, but because those aces all had big red flags. Dallas Keuchel and Sonny Gray are coming off disastrous seasons after finishing first and third in Cy Young voting in 2015. Garret Richards of the Angels had a great first six starts to last season before getting injured and this season still has the uncertainty of whether he will need TJ surgery. Felix Hernandez has quite a reputation for greatness, but it's been a couple years since his ERA has dipped below 3.50. The one advantage he has over everyone else is his durability and consistency to pitch above average. Not great, however.
Darvish could use to have some of that durability to wear off on him. He missed all of 2015 and hasn't pitched a full season since 2013. He has been consistently great. Over his 100 career starts he has a 11.3 K/9 rate and a 1.18 WHIP. He is a strike out machine that doesn't tend to give up very many hits or walks. If he's lucky and healthy enough to come close to 30 starts, he'll be a front runner in the Cy Young voting.
Dark Horse of the Year (UPDATED!)
Matt Joyce (OAK)
Joyce joins the A's after a season as a super bench player for the Pirates. He played in 140 games, had 293 PA's (about half a full season's worth), had 24 extra base hits, 42 RBI, 59 walks, and a .403 OBP. That's a pretty high on base percentage for anyone in the majors let alone a player coming off the bench and he also boasts a swing with a ton of power in it. This season he'll get a chance to be an every day player for the A's with the opportunity to find a groove and make a real contribution to the middle of the A's sneaky lineup of underdogs whose statistics reaffirm the team's Moneyball reputation.
Rookie of the Year Candidate
Yulieski Gurriel (HOU)
Move over flawed Cy Young candidates, there was a more difficult category to pick for the AL West and that is for Rookie of the Year. There are only a few younger players in the West that look like they'll crack their rosters for their rookie year this year, 1B Dan Vogelbach and OF Mitch Haniger of Seattle and SP Jharel Cotton of Oakland, but none of them are ranked in the top 100 mlb.com prospects going into the season.
Gurriel is pushing 33 but is still rookie eligable. He was a legend in Cuba, signing with the Astros last season. He has a gold medal from the '04 Olympics, and represented Cuba in the '06 and '09 WBC tournaments. Over all levels, in all countries, he owns a .333 career AVG across Cuba, Japan and US play. He fills a need for the Astros as a powerful 1B and most importantly, is just a little more interesting than the other rookies in the west who have chances at MLB jobs in the first half of the season. Most of these teams have traded away their farms and the Astros prospects have all grown past being rookies, aside from the 33 year old Gurriel.
Most likely to be suspended for a fight
Rougned Odor (TEX)
This one is easy. Maybe easier than picking Mike Trout for MVP. Odor stinks from his pugnacity. He made a name for himself last season by punching Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays. The lesson he learned was to vow not to change a thing about how he handled the situation. Rougned Odor is the guy who kicked someone's ass his first day in prison and maintains that daily routine until he is wheeled out in a handcart so he can punch Hannibal Lecter.