Sunday, March 29, 2009
MLB 2009 Season Preview - AL West
AL West Champions – California Angels
(I'm tired of calling them that ridiculous "official" name)
Four Division title in the last five years is a pretty strong run in a division with only 4 teams. The Angels have emerged as a near lock to make the postseason in recent years on the strength of a multi-talented roster and solid coaching staff. Their pitching is strong and deep with 4 solid starters in John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Jered Weaver, plus former #2 man Kevlim Escobar who is recovered and due for a bounce-back year after suffering a season-ending shoulder ailment in 2008. The bullpen is among the game’s elite with new addition closer Brian Fuentes, veteran setup man Scott Shields, and young stud Jose Arredondo. The lineup is heavy on rake. Their outfield (the deepest in baseball) has 5 players that can hit over .285, including the newly acquired Bobby Abreu – one of the most underrated hitters in the game. All-Stars Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter have dipped in production in recent years but are still among the game top hitters. Third baseman Chone Figgins and Second baseman Howie Kendrick are two of the best hitters-for-average in the game. Losing slugger Mark Teixeira in the offseason was a major blow to their offense, but if youngsters Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales, along with power-hitting catcher Mike Napoli can turn it on this year, this team will finish first. But, Angels fans better watch out…the Rangers aren’t that far back in the rear view.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: With last year’s 5th starter Jon Garland departing via free agency, righty stud Nick Adenhart should have a chance to fill that role to start the year. You could do a lot worse at #5 than a guy who is drawing comparisons to former NL Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter. Also, top positional prospect Shortstop Brandon Wood is ready to take on an extended major league role this year after destroying the minors for 3 years as the Halos top overall talent, and a brief cameo over the course of last season.
How good are the bats on this team? Well, they can threaten for the Wild Card this year while trotting out a starting rotation topped by Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, both of whom would be lucky to crack the top 3-4 on nearly any other team. This squad is LOADED with guys top to bottom with guys who can flat rake. Josh “The Natural” Hamilton is one of the top multi-talented players in the game, and one of the best resurrections stories in all of sports. Second baseman Ian Kinsler is one of my dark horse candidates to win the AL MVP this year (had he not gotten hurt at the end of last season, his numbers were every bit as good as Dustin Pedroia’s). All-Star veteran Michael Young has moved to 3rd base to accommodate incoming rookie stud Elvis Andrus, who looks like a younger, better Edgar Renteria. David Murphy was one of the best rookies in the AL last year. Nelson Cruz and Marlon Byrd are due for really solid years. Catching tandem Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are good, and still might not be as good a hitter as Venezuelan prospect Max Ramirez. Chris “Crush” Davis is a player who nearly every baseball scout is predicting to be a top tier slugger at first base.
Unfortunately, with all those bats, the team still doesn’t have enough arms to get it done over the course of a full season. But, in a couple years, this team will be VERY tough to beat.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: 20 year-old Dominican flamethrower Neftali Feliz is one of the highest rated pitching prospects in the game. This whiz kid compares favorably to “King Felix” Hernandez, but with more heart. He may have enough raw talent to get a sneak peak in the bigs later this year, but he’ll likely be a year or two away from making any kind of significant contribution.
The Oakland glory days are long gone. For someone who grew up with the “Bash Brothers” and watched Rickey Henderson steal what felt like 40,000 bases, it feels strange to see the A’s in full blown rebuilding mode. There are a couple pieces on the roster that are worth building around, but this team still looks to be years away from true contention. The odd trade for outfield masher Matt Holiday definitely added some pop to the lineup. Bringing back old fan favorite slugger Jason Giambi was a nice move. Shortstop pickup Orlando Cabrera was a fantastic bargain in free agency. Masher Jack Cust is one of strongest hitters in all of baseball. The pitching looks a little thin up front with ace Justin Duchscherer looking like he could be a one-hit(year) wonder. The bullpen is fairly solid with Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler anchoring an underrated unit. But, overall, there’s not a lot to be excited about at The Coliseum for the 2009 season.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: After a strong showing for Team USA at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, righty starter Trevor Cahill seems a decent bet to start the season in the rotation for Oakland. Cahill is rated among the top 10 pitching prospects in the game, and so is lefty Brett Anderson. Anderson reminds a lot of scouts of another West Coast lefty phenom Clayton Kershaw, but might still be a year away. The traditionally pitching rich A’s have some bright youngsters again on the horizon.
Not a lot of things make sense about this team. They traded away All-Star closer J.J. Putz without another closer waiting in the wings. Journeyman Russell Branyan looks like the opening day starter at first base. Carlos Silva might be the single worst starting pitcher on the planet. On the other hand, their outfield of Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, and future Hall of Famer Ichiro has a lot of athleticism, speed and range both in the field and at the plate. Third baseman Adrian Beltre can still hit for power. Former top pitching prospect Brandan Morrow is slated to take the reigns of the #2 spot in the rotation behind ace Felix Hernandez. It’s hard to peg which half of the roster will overcome the other. Ultimately, I feel like the worse half prevails this go around, and the M’s finish last in the West.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Slugging catcher Jeff Clement is rip roaring to go in the majors this year. After spending part of last season in the Bigs and turning in a .375 avg, .813 slg, and 2 HR, Clement should supplant Japanese import Kenji Johjima as the everyday catcher within a couple weeks of the season’s start.
Coming up: NL West