The American League West has three big budget teams but they all might be chasing the Oakland A’s by season’s end once again. Oddly enough, in breaking down the best players by division, it’s not until we get to the bullpen that anyone from the A’s roster shows up, helping define the concept of team baseball.
This division, more than any other in baseball, is proof to the theory that individual star power doesn’t equate to wins on the diamond. Who then is the best player at each position in the AL West?
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Catcher – Jason Castro, Houston Astros – In 2013, Castro began to live up to his hype. He hit .276 with a robust .350 on-base % to go along with 35 doubles and 18 bombs. He has a big task ahead of him in leading a young and evolving rotation in Houston, but few are better equipped to handle such a load.
1st Base – Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers – Out of the cavernous Comerica Park, Fielder looks to have a huge season in Arlington. I expect Albert Pujols to rebound but he won’t catch Fielder’s numbers, which should be around .280/40/120.
2nd Base – Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners – Why is everyone so worried about the power? It’s not like Cano has ever been a 40-homer guy. He’ll hit 25 dingers and well over .300 in Seattle and easily remain the best 2B in the game.
Shortstop – Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers – At just 25 years of age, Andrus has solidified himself as one of the game’s best shortstops. He set a career-high with 42 steals in ’13 and should benefit with the addition of Shin-Soo Choo in the lineup.
3rd Base – Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers – Beltre is one of the steadiest superstars in the game. Hitting alongside Fielder should only help. 300/30/100 is a virtual lock.
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels – Shame on baseball voters for allowing his first two big league seasons to go by without an MVP being awarded. Trout is the best player in the game and the thought of him getting better is literally terrifying. His OBP jumped from .399 to .432 in ’13 as he took 110 walks compared to just 67 as a rookie. A .340 season with 40 doubles, 30 homers, and 40 steals seems possible. Yikes.
Shin Soo-Choo, Texas Rangers – Choo’s .423 on-base % from last year should come back down to Earth a bit in ’14 but he will remain a great leadoff man. Even with a .380 on-base % he should still get the Rangers 20 steals and 20 homers and well over 100 runs.
Alex Rios, Texas Rangers – Part of the Runnin’ Rangers from last year, Rios elevated his value with a 42-steal season. At age 33, and with his inconsistent history, this is unlikely to continue but his power/speed combo remains tantalizing.
Designated Hitter – Raul Ibanez, Los Angeles Angels – There aren’t a lot of true DH’s in the AL West as a lot of guys will shuffle in and out of that role. Ibanez is purely a hitter these days, nothing more. Hitting 29 homers, in Seattle, when you’re north of 40, is simply mind boggling. 20 or so in Anaheim is within reach during his age 41/42 season. Crazy.
- Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers – Darvish is my preseason pick for AL Cy Young in ’14 and is the only pitcher in the game capable of a 300-strikeout season. He fanned 277 in 209.2 innings a year ago. As the innings go up, so could the K’s.
- Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners – It’s crazy to think that the soon to be 28-year old King Felix is already entering his 10th MLB season. His fastball velocity has dipped but his performance has not. Maybe with some new bats in the lineup he can approach his career-high in wins of 19.
- Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners – He might miss a month of the season with his finger tendon issue but Iwakuma proved how legit he was in 2013 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 185 K’s. If he can repeat then Seattle might make legitimate noise in ’14.
- Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels – Nobody does more with less than Weaver. And by less I am referring to a fastball that averaged just 86.8 MPH in ’13. He uses his off-speed stuff with masterful precision and will baffle hitters for years to come due to his high pitching IQ.
- CJ Wilson, Los Angeles Angels – At age 33, Wilson just keeps on piling up impressive and consistent seasons on the hill. He chews up over 200 innings/season and always posts an ERA fewer than 4 with 170+ K’s. He’s a sneaky stud.
Setup – Sean Doolittle/Ryan Cook, Oakland A’s – Finally some A’s! I love the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Cook combo platter in Oakland and it’s impossible to name one without the other as they are interchangeable and equally effective in the 7th and 8th innings based on matchups. An overlooked reason as to why the A’s have won with such regularity in recent years are these two guys, Cook and Doolittle are as legit as they come.
Closer – Jim Johnson, Oakland A’s – Rounding out the AL West is the rock solid Johnson. Gone is the fiery Grant Balfour and in is the steady Johnson who has saved 101 games over the past two seasons in Baltimore. Nothing should change in Oakland’s big yard, especially when coupled with their solid infield defense and JJ’s groundball-inducing ways.