2017 AL West Division Preview: Astros Rise As Rangers Decline | Def Pen
2017 AL West Preview
The young core of Jose Altuve, George Springer, etc will lead the Astros to a division title. Check out the rest of the 2017 AL West preview (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

The American League West figures to be super competitive in 2017. All 5 teams appear to be in a go for it mode to start the season. A year ago the Texas Rangers won the division but also included 3 teams that had winning records with the Astros and Mariners. The Angels and A’s figure to improve this season as well after both teams made some nice moves this offseason.

2017 AL West Division Preview

 

1st Place: Houston Astros

The Houston Astros are my pick to win the AL West. In order for that to happen, Dallas Keuchel needs to pitch to his 2015 Cy Young form. (Denis Porov, Getty Images)

The Houston Astros are my pick to win the AL West in 2017. Houston is in go for it mode adding a lot of big time veteran players not just to improve but to build a winning locker room culture as well. Manager A.J. Hinch has a beautiful young core to work with. 2017 seems to be the year Houston puts it all together, here’s how.

Starting Rotation:

Houston’s weakest link of their team starts with the rotation. The Astros will likely deal for an arm at some point but as it’s currently constructed, Houston is led by Dallas Keuchel. The former 2015 Cy Young award winner had a down year in 2016 but should rebound nicely in 2017. Colin McHugh slides in the two spot who was also much better in 2015 compared to 2016 (3.89 ERA in 2015 – 4.34 ERA in 2016). Lance McCullers will be Houston’s 3rd starter and probably has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in their rotation. McCullers, McCullers, 23, has a career ERA of 3.22 in 206.2 career innings and has a chance to become a superstar. Charlie Morton and Mike Fiers fill out the rotation as mediocre 4th and 5th options. Youngster Joe Musgrove could also become an option eventually too.

Bullpen:

The Astros hoped to have built a nice pen for themselves but it has underachieved thus far. They gave up a haul to acquire Ken Giles but he has underwhelmed during his Houston tenure thus far (4.11 ERA in 2016). The hope is he can find his former Phillies groove back in 2015 (1.80 ERA). 8th inning man Luke Gregerson was the team’s former and has taken a step back since being removed from the role. Will Harris is arguably their best reliever making an All-Star appearance last year. Tony Sipp and Chris Devenski also figure to play big roles.

Infielders:

Brian McCann was acquired from the Yankees this offseason to become the everyday catcher. He joins another former Yankee Carlos Beltran probably represents the biggest offseason addition as he is probably locked into regular DH duties. He also could play some right field with Evan Gattis also in house. As we go around the diamond, Cuban slugger Yulieski Gurriel comes with huge risk heading into this season having little experience at first and mediocre big league success to this point. The good news is Houston has a ton of other options in Marwin Gonzalez, A.J. Reed, and Tyler White as other options. The middle infield of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa is arguably the best in the league and both players are both very young. Youngster Alex Bregman rounds it out at 3rd and hit .268 during his brief big league career but has superstar potential as a former top prospect.

Outfielders:

The Stros will have a new corner outfield in 2017 with Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick in left and right. Aoki is a very high on-base guy (.353 OBP) draws a number of walks but has a fairly weak arm. Reddick doesn’t have Aoki’s speed but he is a much better defender and should hit in the .280 range. George Springer leads the group in center and has the potential to become one of the game’s best. He was a 5.0 WAR player in 2016. Lightning fast Jake Marisnick will fill in as depth.

Prospects Who Can Have Major League Impact In 2017:

Houston’s farm system is overlooked for reasons I can’t seem to fathom. They not only have a lot of young talent, but they have a lot of players who are big league ready. Top prospect Francis Martes will probably join the team mid-season and is one of the best young prospects in the game. The same can be said for teammate David Paulino who isn’t far behind. Kyle Tucker is also an exciting young outfielder who could join his brother and soon to be teammate Jake in the majors very shortly. Derek Fisher, 23, is another electrifying outfielder who hit .290 in AAA in 2016.

2nd Place: Seattle Mariners:

Nelson Cruz remains a vital force in the middle of the Mariners lineup (Ronald Martinez Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners have been the busiest team in baseball in recent years. G.M. Jerry Dipoto has completely reshaped this roster making 4 trades since 2017 alone. Seattle won 86 games a year ago which was just 3 shy of making the playoffs. With a new tinkered roster, the Mariners look to make the playoffs in 2017. Let’s preview the Mariners.

Starting Rotation:

Seattle has a pretty solid rotation heading into this season. The group is led by Felix Hernandez. The question is which guy are we getting this year. Felix is two years removed from a 2.14 ERA type of season compared to his 3.82 ERA in 2016. That’s still a good number but his strikeout and walk numbers have both declined. Japanese righty Hisashi Iwakuma is a very dependable number two option to follow Felix. Left-hander James Paxton is quietly becoming an elite option as well tossing a 3.79 ERA heading into his prime. Offseason acquisition Drew Smyly comes over from Tampa. Smyly, a former Tigers prospect, had a very bad year in 2016 (4.88 ERA in 2016) but has a career mark of 3.74 and could benefit from a change of scenery. Yovani Gallardo, Ariel Miranda, and Chris Heston will compete for the 5th spot.

Bullpen:

Rookie sensation Edwin Diaz will be the Mariners closer this year and really came out of nowhere to become a really dependable option. After being called up straight from AA in 2016, Diaz tossed a 2.79 ERA to convert 18 of 22 save opportunities. He is a very high strikeout guy (15.1 per 9 innings) but tends have walk troubles. Former Marlins closer and side armer Steve Cisek is the setup man. Nick Vincent and Mark Rzepczynski will fill in behind those two guys as solid options.

Infielders:

Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz will play a platoon role at catcher this year. Zunino has really struggled as a former first round draft pick so his success this year could dictate how much Ruiz plays. Nelson Cruz, on the other hand, is as dependable as it gets with DH’s. He has ripped 40 homers or more in 3 straight seasons. Another platoon will also take place at first base. Dan Vogelbach will face right-handed pitching while Danny Valencia will see action against lefties. The rest of the infield is very talented with Robinson Cano at 2nd, Jean Segura at short, and Kyle Seager at 3rd. Each of them should be considered top 10 caliber players at their respective positions.

Outfielders:

Seattle added a major speed component (30 steals in 2016) to the outfield this year in Jarrod Dyson. The former KC Royal is no longer just a 4th outfielder and will get regular at-bats. The same can be said for centerfielder Leonys Martin who slashed .247 a year ago but covers a ton of ground in the field. Right field still remains a mystery. Mitch Hanniger, Ben Gamel, and Guillermo Heredia will all battle in spring training for that spot.

Prospects Who Can Have Major League Impact In 2017:

The farm system is a little thinned out after making so many deals. Top prospect Kyle Lewis is probably still a year away from making a contribution. Haniger, Vogelbach, and Gamel all will start the season on the big league team.

3rd Place: Texas Rangers

There’s no question Adrian Beltre is a future hall of famer. The question is whether he can help the Rangers repeat as AL West Champs in 2017? (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ranges won the division the year prior but my gut tells me they are prime suspects to take a step back in 2017. Losing Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran and others could really come back to haunt this team heading into this season. How does Texas project heading into the upcoming season?

Starting Rotation:

I have never really been a fan of Yu Darvish or Cole Hamels but they are productive starters. Hamels has pitched better than expected in the AL tossing a 3.34 ERA in 2016 and often times fools hitters with his nasty changeup. Darvish who has had problems staying healthy could have a breakout season in what is a contract year. Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner, and A.J. Griffin fill out the rest of the rotation. Neither guy was very good in 2016 which is a huge question mark entering the season. A sleeper candidate to watch is Tyson Ross who was excellent in 2015 but missed most of 2016 due to injury.

Bullpen:

The Rangers bullpen is talented but does have some questions heading into 2017. Top setup man Jake Diekman is out until the All-Star game due to colon surgery. 1-year wonder Matt Bush was also a revelation out of the bullpen a year ago so we don’t know if we can count on a 31-year-old again having another great season. Otherwise, Sam Dyson will serve as the closer this year after he threw a 2.43 ERA to go with a below average strikeout rate (7 per 9 innings). Jeremy Jeffress will be his primary setup man who used to be the closer for Milwaukee.

Infielders:

Offensively the Rangers are a very strong club despite some pitching woes. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy always swings a hot bat and ranks among the best catchers in baseball. Shin-Soo Choo is probably limited to DH duties now after injuries have hampered his career. The Mike Napoli addition is an exciting one, however. Napoli will now be on his third stint with the team after hitting 34 homers with Cleveland in 2016. The X-Factor at first base is Joey Gallo who could become the next Chris Davis or a bust altogether. Gallo has struck out 76 times in 133 major league at bats but he some really really raw power. Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus make up the middle infield. Andrus hit .302 last year while Odor popped 33 home runs. At third base is the inevitable Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. Beltre posted a 6.4 War a year ago it could realistically be considered the best defensive 3rd baseman ever. Positionless Jurickson Profar will be a depth piece that needs to figure it out sooner rather than later.

Outfielders:

The Rangers outfield is still a bit of an unknown because they have so much depth. Profar could be an option in left and seriously needs at-bats. If he struggles Ryan Rua will likely get the nod. Carlos Gomez or Delino Shields will likely be the everyday center fielder. Gomez is mysterious in his own right considering he hit just .210 with the Astros in 2016. The same can be said for former rule 5 pick Delino Deshields who was a great player in 2015 but really regressed in 2016 hitting .209. Right fielder Nomar Mazara should have that position pretty locked up. Shin-Soo Choo could see action there in a pinch.

Prospects Who Can Have Major League Impact In 2017:

The farm system is a bit depleted from making so many trades at the deadline. They still have 3 top 100 guys according to Keith Law but neither will make the majors this year. It’s hard to see anyone from this system making the big leagues in 2017.

4th Place: Los Angeles Angels

The Angels only won 74 games in 2016 despite having the best player in baseball Mike Trout. (Matt Brown/Angels Baseball LP)

The Angels have attempted to become more than Mike Trout and a bag of parts. LA has gotten rid of some of the ugly contracts and tried to piece together a nice roster. Is it good enough to contend or should they seriously consider trying to deal away Mike Trout? Let’s preview the 2017 version of the Los Angeles Angels.

Starting Rotation:

The Angels rotation has some nice pieces but they have been marred via Tommy John surgery. Garrett Richards, Nick Tropeano, and Andrew Heaney underwent Tommy John last year and would otherwise be likely to be the top 3 starters in the rotation. Beyond that Tyler Skaggs has his moments here and there. Skaggs, 25, has some nice potential and threw a 4.17 ERA in 2016. Ricky Nolasco, Matt Shoemaker, and Alex Meyer will all get rotation spots as the other guys await their return from injury.

Bullpen:

Old man Huston Street is locked in at closer. Street had an abnormally horrific season in 2016 with a 6.45 ERA. Street, 33, could be nearing the end of his big league career if he continues that pace in 2017. LA does have a secret weapon with setup man Cam Bedrosian. In 45 games he threw a 1.12 ERA in 2016 to go with an 11.4 strikeout rate. Andrew Bailey, Deolis Guerra, and Jose Alvarez are the other relievers of note who are very mediocre.

Infielders:

Martin Maldonado is the new catcher this year coming from the Brewers. He provides virtually no offense but is considered a terrific defender. At this point, Albert Pujols is basically the full-time DH for the Angels. C.J. Cron is also in house to provide extra power. He is still fairly productive hitting 31 homers in 2016. New signee Luis Valbuena will get the start at first base who also has the ability to play 3rd base too. He comes in on a cheap 1-year deal and could provide a spark in the lineup hitting .260 for Houston last season. Danny Espinosa is also a new addition at 2nd base. Espinosa’s mantra basically includes a very low average to go with above-average power for the position. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons doesn’t provide much offense either but he flashes an extraordinary defensive prowess. Third baseman Yunel Escobar will also look to continue the momentum this season after slashing a .304 average in 2016.

Outfielders:

The Angels added a couple of speedsters this offseason in the form of Cam Maybin and Ben Revere. Both players have the potential to steal 30 bags each and provide instant defensive improvements in terms of covering ground. Right field will give Kole Calhoun the nod who put together a decent 2016 season and just got rewarded a fresh 3 year extension. Last but not least comes AL MVP Mike Trout who is probably heralded as the best player in baseball. That statement is obviously very feasible. Trout’s 9.9 WAR in 2016 is the best in baseball. There’s literally nothing this guy can’t do and is a 5 tool player in every facet of the game.

Prospects Who Can Have Major League Impact In 2017:

The Angels probably have the worst minor league system in baseball. The easy answer and most realistic answer is none.

5th Place: Oakland A’s

Can Sonny Gray help the A’s compete in 2017 or are they bound for last place and a total rebuild? (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The A’s always refuse to completely blow up the ship. Give Billy Beane some credit, he always puts his best foot forward working with one of the smallest budgets in baseball. When you hold the major league record for wins in a row, you know you’re doing something right. While the A’s are far from their glory days, let’s preview the 2017 version of Oakland.

Starting Rotation:

Sonny Gray will get the start opening day but is frankly coming off a bad year. His 5.69 ERA over 22 starts is unacceptable for a front line starter. Let’s hope he doesn’t have the Tim Lincecum curse as his smaller frame could be starting to break down too soon. The rest of the rotation is fairly young and unproven. Kendall Graveman hasn’t lived up to the hype of coming over in the Josh Donaldson trade but he was the only regular in the rotation from the year before. Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton are two prospects that could make a strong impression in 2017. Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden, and Jesse Hahn will battle for the 5th spot.

Bullpen:

Ryan Madson returns as the A’s closer who converted 30 saves with a 3.62 ERA in 2016. Setup men Ryan Dull and Sean Doolittle give Oakland an underrated pen as well. Veterans John Axford and Santiago Casilla also provide valuable depth.

Infielders:

Catcher Stephen Vogt was an All-Star in 2015 but took a big step back 2016 hitting just .251. Which guy will we get in 2017? Ryon Healy was the typical Billy Beane pickup that came out of nowhere last season hitting .305 in a brief stint in the majors. He is set for DH duties this year. Yonder Alonso, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semian, and Trevor Plouffe make up the lineup from first to third. Semian quietly showed some power hitting 27 homers and Plouffe was a nice addition from the Twins this offseason.

Outfielders:

Khris Davis returns to the A’s in left field bringing the thump in the middle of the order. Davis, 29, jacked 42 home runs and 102 RBI’s in 2016. Oakland also signed speedy center fielder Rajai Davis this winter. Davis was a key member of that Indians World Series team. Matt Joyce starts in right field coming over from the Pirates. Joyce hit .242 with Pittsburgh last year. Mark Canha will be the bench piece who can also play some first base.

Prospects Who Can Have Major League Impact In 2017:

Cotton, previously mentioned, will be in their rotation this year. Frankie Montas also has the poise of a future closer with big time stuff. Pitching prospects Grant Holmes and Daniel Gossett could make the majors sometime this year too.

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