2021 A.L. West Preview

With the MLB season only a few weeks away each week I will be coming out with my division previews to give insight into how I think the teams will perform this upcoming season.  These articles will coincide with the division that we preview on the podcast that week.  We will be starting in the west then and working our way east across the divisions.  In this article I will highlight the team’s offseason losses and additions, some prospects that may make an impact this season, my player to watch, my projected team record, and finally my projected division standings.

 

Houston Astros

We start with the wild card team from the A.L. West the Houston Astros finished with a sub-.500 record last season at 29-31 they entered this season after losing their All-Star Center Fielder George Springer, Brad Peacock and Josh Reddick, Chris Devenski and Roberto Osuna in free-agency.  For their additions they re-signed Michael Brantley, Pedro Baez, and Jason Castro to two year deals and Ryne Stanek to a one year deal retooling their bullpen after the losses of Osuna and Devenski.  There is truly no way for the Astros to replace George Springer but the re-signing of Brantley will help keep some pop in that lineup and keep some of the length at the top.  Letting Devenski and Osuna walk are huge negatives to the bullpen even in signing Stanek and Pedro Baez.  Osuna is still young and close to elite and Devenski has been a rock at the backend for Houston for the past few years losing them will be huge for a team already lacking in pitching depth in the bullpen.  Overall the offseason for the Astros was a net-negative up to this point.

The Astros prospect pool is lacking severely, having only 1 top 100 prospect in Forrest Whitley, a RHP who stands at 6 foot, 7 inches tall, 238 lbs with a plus four pitch mix.  He throws hard but lacks a bit in control.  I think he will make the jump to the Major League roster this season and make a nice impact as a back end of the rotation starter.  He will be imposing with his sinker sitting anywhere between 92-97 with a mid 80s slider and low 90s cutter.  His mix can and will be very effective if he can hone in on his control.

I could take the easy way out and pick Justin Verlander as my player to watch coming off of surgery and a lot of time off but I am more intrigued about their young Right Fielder Kyle Tucker.  Tucker was a highly touted prospect for many years before taking the field last year for his first full season.  He had a decent year last year in a small sample size slashing .268/.325/.512 with 42 RBI’s and 9 HR’s in 58 games.  I want to see what he can do over a full season and see if he can live up to the hype that he had throughout the minors.  

The Astros have question marks all over their team as to how consistent they will be over the long haul of the season.  Will Verlander be Verlander, can Correa, Bregman and Altuve return to their old form prior to the shortened season, how the other starters and the bullpen will perform.  I do think they will be able to be competitive in this division and overcome the adversity that I believe is present in the team and will finish with a 91-71 record.

 

Oakland Athletics

We follow up the Houston Astros with the A.L. West Division winners with a 36-24 record last season.  The Athletics enter the season losing Marcus Semien, Mike Fiers, Mike Minor, Liam Hendriks, Joakim Soria, Yusmerio Petit, Robbie Grossman, Tommy La Stella and Jake Lamb while not really adding much besides a couple of minor league free-agents who are nothing of note.  It’s a totally negative offseason for the Athletics losing a bunch of key pieces of their roster for seasons past including Semien who was becoming a more consistent fielder to go along with his hitting at shortstop, lockdown closer Liam Henriks as well as Petit and Soria who were reliable veterans in the bullpen.

Similar to the Astros the Athletics only really have 1 key prospect that will be making a real impact in the MLB this season and it’s A.J. Puk Left-Handed Pitcher standing 6 foot 7 inches, 248 lbs.  He has a plus fastball and slider but lacks control similar to Whitley of the Astros.  Although Puk has pitched at the Major League level before I want to see him stay healthy for a whole season and see what he can truly do most likely being at the back end of this Athletics rotation to start the season.  

Tony Kemp, yes I said Tony Kemp is my player to watch.  Kemp will play every day and want to see what he can do with that playing time.  He played in 49 of 60 last year and 110 combined in the season he got traded from the Astros to the Cubs.  Now that he has a true home and is not worried about the outside noise of being traded or under the strange circumstances of last season I think that Kemp can have a great season hitting anywhere from 6-8 in the lineup.  I think he can slash .268/.305/.489 which is an improvement on his career statistics and he will continue his great fielding which he is known for.

Like the Astros the Athletics also have many question marks surrounding them including who will close out games, who will play shortstop and how effective will their young arms be.  I think they will be competitive in this division like the Astros and are a top 2 team along with them, I think they will finish 88-74.  They still have Olson, Champan, Murphy and Piscotty offensively and I trust Montas and Bassitt so they will have some consistency there.  They will play amazing defense which will help keep them in games if behind and lock down games when ahead.  I am interested to watch and see how this team develops throughout the season.

 

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels come into this season off of a fourth place finish in the A.L. West with a 26-34 record.  The come into this season after losing Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Cam Bedrosian, Matt Andriese, Keynan Middleton, Hansel Robles to free agency and trading away Noe Ramirez and Jahmai Jones.  They added Alex Claudio, Kurt Suzuki, Jose Quintanta and Junior Guerra via free agency and Dexter Fowler, Alex Cobb, Raisel Iglesias and Jose Iglesias via trade.  The Angeles offseason confuses me every year because they are willing to spend money and make moves but they always make moves for areas that they don’t have a need for players.  They added Dexter Fowler to an outfield with Mike Trout, Jo Adell, Justin Upton and Brandon Marsh.  At this point they are just eating money between the Upton contract and the 14 million that Fowler is getting paid this season.  They added two starting pitchers which was a need but they were two pitchers in their 30s they haven’t been good in recent years when they could have pushed and tried for Bauer or Odorizzi who in my opinion are better options than Quintana and Cobb.  They lost many pieces of the bullpen and didn’t bring in much to replace what they lost.  Overall the Angels had a slightly negative offseason for me, losing more in the bullpen then they added, not really bolstering their starting rotation, adding players that will just eat at their salary cap.  Don’t get me wrong I like the moves for both Iglesias’ but I think the Angels could do much more with their willingness to spend.

The Angels have two players who should make a splash in their outfield this upcoming season one being Jo Adell who was a highly touted prospect since he was drafted and Brandon Marsh a Top 100 prospect last season.  With Justin Upton and Dexter Fowler both on expiring contracts I can see Marsh getting more time later on in the season or when Upton inevitably gets hurt.  Jo Adell is currently penciled in as the opening day right fielder and should be there for the foreseeable future.

My player to watch every year is the best player on the planet Michael Nelson Trout but I have to go with Jo Adell, playing in his first full season I want to see what he can do in a full 162.  He is a great defender but struggled in the small sample size last year hitting.  I think once he gets into the flow of a full season he will get in a groove and figure out his hitting.  He was a top prospect for many years for a reason and I think he will live up to the hype this season by breaking out.

The Angels are interesting if their pitching outperforms expectations, they can be very competitive in this open division but I don’t think that will be the case.  They have the key players in Trout, Ohtani and Rendon, and even Pujols is still a decent hitter along with Fletcher being very consistent.  With the negative in the pitching department I think they will finish 82-80 and miss the playoffs again.  Sorry Mike Trout I love you.

 

Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers enter the season coming off of a 22-38 record last season.  They have lost Corey Kluber, Juan Nicasio, Edinson Volquez, Jesse Chavez, Shin-Soo Choo, Derek Dietrich, Andrew Romine, Jeff Matthis, and Danny Santana via free agency and traded away Lance Lynn, Rafael Montero, Elvis Andrus and Scott Heineman.  They added David Dahl, Jharel Cotton, Edubray Ramos, Charlie Culberson, Drew Butera, Hunter Wood, Delino DeShields, Nick Vince and Mike Foltynewicz in free agency and Dane Dunning, Kris Davis and Nate Lowe via trade.  The Rangers are in rebuilding mode.  They did get younger by moving Lynn and not re-signing Kluber, Volquez, Chavez and Choo.  They are looking to the future which can be bright with a lot of young players coming up and getting experience during this time.  They made moves to fill their needs this season and may be able to gain more assets at the trade deadline by moving some pieces to contending teams.

The Rangers have 3 top 100 prospects Josh Jung who is a year or two away, Sam Huff who will be splitting time with Jose Trevino behind the plate and Dane Dunning who could be in the mix as a back-end starter in the rotation.  Getting these young players time in the majors will be helpful for the future of this franchise and will be telling if they will live up to the expectations they have been given.  I am excited to see what Dunning can do in a full season as well as what power Huff can bring to this lineup. Another player who may have an impact is Jonah Heim who has upside as a defensive catcher and is an average hitter.

There are a lot of young and exciting players to look forward to watching on this Rangers roster.  I was between two players Nick Solak and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. I ended up choosing Isiah Kiner-Falefa because he was a utility player last year and now has been chosen to take over the reins at shortstop for the Texas Rangers.  Kiner-Falefa is taking over a crucial position and now has a clear role on the team.  I want to see if he can turn this into production from not having to worry about what position he will be playing that day.  He had a decent season last year in a small sample size but slashed .280/.329/.370.  I think with a full season and more assurance of what he will be doing everyday he will have an uptick in his statistics and help become part of the core of this team along with Gallo.

As I previously stated the Rangers are in rebuilding mode so I do not think they will be competing in the division, that being said they will be in the bottom 5 teams in the MLB this season in my opinion.  They are lacking in starting pitching and proven players.  They are very young so they will be a feisty team but ultimately I think they will finish 56-106 and get a top 5 pick in next year’s draft where they could draft a pitcher Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter or Jaden Hill.

 

Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners are coming off a season where they went 27-33 which is better than expected last season with all of the youth they had.  This offseason they have lost Carl Edwards Jr., Kendal Graveman and Dee Gordon along with other relief pitchers.  They added Rafael Montero via trade, and Chris Flexen, Keynan Middleton, Roenis Elias, and Paul Swald via free agency.  They added more depth to their bullpen which was lacking talent and added additional options that could be starters to add innings.  Their starting pitching is suspect but is relatively young so if they make the just and lock in this year they could be a sleeper team in this division.

The majority of the Mariners top prospects are in A or AA ball and will be MLB ready in a year or two but they still have two players who can make an impact this year.  We all know about Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Emerson Hancock, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby who are in A or AA they also have Taylor Trammell acquired from the Padres this season and Jake Fraley who both can make an impact in their blossoming outfield along with Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger.  Trammell or Fraley could slot into the starting left fielder position this year, currently Fraley is listed there which makes sense because the Mariners may want to get a firsthand look at Trammell at Spring Training and in the minors first before bringing him up.  The Mariners have a lot of depth in the outfield so it will be interesting to see how they will maneuver all of their pieces.

With this team I was between two of their young pitchers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn both formally of New York based baseball teams.  I ended up choosing Justin Dunn because I think I know what Sheffield is currently.  Looking at Dunn’s stats last season I was intrigued, in 45.2 innings his ERA was 4.34 but the opponent batting average was .189.  This triggered that he was not giving up a lot of hits but when he was they were producing runs.  I find him an interesting case to see if he can continue to produce the results he has but giving up less runs and home runs which he gave up 10 last season.

As I said previously this team could be a sleeper in such an open division but if they reach their base line I think they will be below .500 and building a foundation for years to come.  I think they will finish 72-90 but will fight in every game and be a team you will not want to play with their young enthusiasm.  They have the pieces for the future in Lewis, Seager, Haniger and White and they will just develop further this season.

 

Division Standings/Round-Up

Houston Astros – 91-71

Oakland Athletics – 88-74

Los Angeles Angels – 82-80

Seattle Mariners – 72-90

Texas Rangers – 56-106

 

Final Note: This division should be interesting to watch with the possible upside of the Mariners and the unknowns surrounding the Astros and the Athletics and maybe the Angels figure it out and are competitive this year.

 

Mike Hindin | Take A Pitch