Posts Tagged ‘Jose Altuve’

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After a few years of being one of the weaker positions in the game, there has been a renaissance of sorts at second base in the past year. Part of it has been younger players making their mark in the game, while another part has been old standards continuing to carry the torch. But all things considered, second base is once again home to a variety of impact-level talents around the game.

This proves in splitting the hairs of the position and assigning ranks. While it gets a bit easier at the top, the upper-middle class of the position is very tightly knit. In some cases, it breaks down to what you may be looking for. Is it middle of the lineup pop….or elite glove work? Is it a pure speed threat to mix things up…or on-base threats that set the table for their more powerful teammates?

Regardless of what it is, it can be found on the list below. So let’s have a look through the best of the best at second base headed into 2016.

To get caught up on where this list stood headed into last spring, click here.

 

10. Logan Forsythe, Rays (Not Ranked in ’15)

2015: .281/.359/.444, 17 HR, 68 RBI, 69 runs scored, 9 stolen bases, .804 OPS

Last 3 Years: .251/.323/.388, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 41 runs scored, 6 stoletn bases, .712 OPS

A breakout 2015 sees Forsythe inch his way onto the list. He was a much needed source of offense for the scattershot Rays lineup. He played in 153 games and posted the second highest WAR among AL second basemen, totaling a 5.1 win figure. Amongst his teammates in Tampa, Forsythe finished second on his club in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI and total bases, while leading in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.

This was due to him hitting the third most home runs, third most RBI and working out the second highest on-base percentage among all AL 2B’s.

 

9. Brandon Phillips, Reds (Not Ranked in ’15)

2015 Stats: .294/.328/.395, 12 HR, 70 RBI, 19 doubles, 69 runs scored, 23 stolen bases, .723 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.315/.389, 13 HR, 75 RBI, 23 doubles, 64 runs scored, 10 stolen bases, .704 OPS

Don’t call it a comeback, but after a few seasons of decline, Phillips posted a vintage-like year in 2015, posting his first over .290 average/70 RBI season since 2011. He also topped 20 stolen bases for the first time since 2009 as well.

What had not tarnished was his sterling defense at second base, which still remains at a top tier level in all of baseball. He made the third fewest errors of all National League second basemen, while posting the second best defensive WAR (0.9) of all full-time NL 2B’s.

 

8. Brian Dozier, Twins (#10 in ’15)

2015 Stats:  .236/.307/.444, 28 HR, 77 RBI, 101 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, .751 OPS

Last 3 Years: .240/.322/.425, 23 HR, 71 RBI, 95 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, .747 OPS

Dozier has been the low key engine that has pushed the revival of the Minnesota Twins towards some legit competitive waters entering 2016. He made his All-Star debut a year ago, and in all actuality it was a year later than it was due.

Dozier finished with 23 home runs, 71 RBI and 21 stolen bases in his breakout 2014 season. He proved it was no fluke year the following season by upping his homers to 28, RBI to 77 and topping 100 runs for second straight year as well. Those 28 long balls led all MLB second baseman, making it the second year that he has led the MLB in the category at the position. All in all, only Ian Kinsler and Jose Altuve have posted a higher collective AL 2B WAR over the past two years than Dozier.

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7. Ben Zobrist, Cubs (#5 in ’15)

2015: .276/.359/.450, 13 HR, 56 RBI, 36 doubles, 76 runs scored, 3 stolen bases, .809 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.356/.413, 12 HR, 60 RBI, 35 doubles, 79 runs scored, 8 stolen bases, .769 OPS

Known more for his versatility, perhaps it would be more apt Zobrist to be noted for his stunning consistency. He regularly posts premier on-base figures to go with strong extra base hit totals as well— he has posted at least a .350 OBP to go along with 34+ doubles and 10+ home runs annually since 2011.

This strong penchant for finding base helps him have a purpose in every lineup (his offseason move to Chicago will be his fourth team in the last three years), but also be able to make an impact as well. Zobrist was one of the final pieces the Royals acquired in their successful push for a World Series title, and he held his own in October as well. He posted a .303 postseason average, while scoring 15 runs and of course, reaching base at a .365 clip.

 

6. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (#4 in ’15)

2015: .291/.356/.441, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 19 doubles, 46 runs scored, 2 stolen bases, .797 OPS

Last 3 Years: .291/.356/.408, 9 HR, 60 RBI, 31 doubles, 70 runs scored, 8 stolen bases, .763 OPS

It was certainly a quality over quantity year for Pedroia, as he played in his fewest amount of games since 2010, but still found a way to out-homer himself from his single-season totals the previous two years (9 and 7, respectively).

Other than that, it was frustrating year for Pedroia as the Red Sox’ struggles continued and he battled a bad hamstring himself. But when he was on the field, he was the same mix of hustle and impact he always has been. He had the third-highest on-base percentage among AL second basemen and of all players at the position that were good for at least two Wins Above Replacement, Pedroia did so with the second fewest at-bats (Devon Travis).

 

5. Jason Kipnis, Indians (#9 in ’15)

2015: .303/.372/.451, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 43 doubles, 86 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, .823 OPS

Last 3 Years: .277/.351/.414, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 35 doubles, 78 runs scored, 21 stolen bases, .766 OPS

With most of his injury issues of 2014 behind him, Kipnis returned to All-Star form a year ago and put together another fantastic season, topping .300 for the first time. This campaign was highlighted by 51 hit outburst in May, where he joined none other than Ty Cobb and Al Simmons as the only American Leaguers to ever hit the half-century in hits level in one month.

Overall, his power and speed numbers were down some from where they were a few years ago, but he still pumped out 43 doubles, good for second in the AL. Toss in another career high in triples (9) and a vastly reduced strikeout rate, and Kipnis showed that he is rounding into one of the top overall producers at the position.

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4. Robinson Cano, Mariners (#1 in ’15)

2015: .287/.334/.446, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 34 doubles, 82 runs scored, 6 stolen bases, .779 OPS

Last 3 Years: .305/.366/.471, 21 HR, 89 RBI, 37 doubles, 80 runs scored, 6 stolen bases, .838 OPS

It is certainly fair to say that Cano had a down year last season. However, the notion that he has fallen all the way off into irreversible tailspin of a career, has many eluded to during his first half struggles last year, is far off the mark.

After a pre All-Star performance that was lowlighted by a 6 home runs, a .290 on-base percentage and a .250 overall batting average, Cano went instant vintage in the second half of the year. In his final 70 games, he hit at a .330 clip, popped 15 home runs and scored 44 runs, while producing a .926 OPS, which was by and far the best in all of baseball at the second base position. The old standard bearer still has more than enough punch left in him.

 

3. Dee Gordon, Marlins (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .333/.359/.418, 4 HR, 46 RBI, 24 doubles, 88 runs scored, 58 stolen bases, .776 OPS

Last 3 Years: .306/.340/.391, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 63 runs scored, 44 stolen bases/.731 OPS

Gordon, whom the Marlins swindled away from the Dodgers prior to the 2015 season, has become the most dynamic leadoff hitter in the game today. Over the past two years, he has twice led the National League in stolen bases, stealing 122 bags over the time. During the same time period, he has 20 triples, has scored 180 runs and reached base at a .342 clip.

Yet he made his biggest stride forward in being an on-base terror when he hit .333 last season and won the National League batting title. During the course of doing so, he also ran up an NL-best 205 hits and took home a Silver Slugger as well. And top it all off and prove he’s not just two trick pony, he grabbed his first Gold Glove award as well in his second season season as a full-time second baseman.

 

2. Ian Kinsler, Tigers (#2 in ’15)

2015: .296/.342/.428, 11 HR, 73 RBI, 35 doubles, 94 runs scored, 10 stolen bases, .770 OPS

Last 3 Years: .283/.330/.420, 14 HR, 79 RBI, 35 doubles, 93 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, .750 OPS

When considering what an “All Underrated Team” might look like for the MLB over the past five years, Kinsler would be firmly entrenched at second base. This is because there is no other leadoff hitter in the game that impacts run production at a strong rate than he does.

In each of the past five years, Kinsler has driven in 70 runs, scored at least 85 (with three seasons over 100), reached double digits in home runs and topped 30 doubles. And while his speed has tailed off some in recent years, Kinsler made up for that by increasing his batting average to its highest level in seven years last season.

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1. Jose Altuve, Astros (#3 in ’15)

2015: .313/.353/.459, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 40 doubles, 86 runs scored, 38 stolen bases, .812 OPS

Last 3 Years: .313/.349/.426, 9 HR, 59 RBI, 39 doubles, 78 runs scored, 43 stolen bases, .775 OPS

425.

That is the number of hits that Altuve has run up over the past two seasons. That is a back-to-back season total that Ryne Sandberg, Joe Morgan, Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Eddie Collins or Nap Lajoie ever reached. So it should be appreciated the tear that Altuve is on throughout his first few seasons as an American Leaguer.

Altuve wears on the opposition unlike any other player in the game today. The self-confessed 5’5 Altuve has twice led the AL in stolen bases over the past two years and took home the 2014 batting title. A three-time All-Star (with an appearance in both leagues), if Dee Gordon is baseball’s most dynamic speed threat out of the leadoff spot, Altuve is easily the best overall player inhabiting the role today. His presence on the base paths gets the rest of the Astro lineup fed a steady diet of fastballs to feast on in the cozy confines of Minute Maid Park.

Toss in the fact he took home his first Gole Glove as a byproduct of carrying the highest fielding rating at the position in the game a year ago, and it proves his across the board impacts make him among the elite players in all of the game today.

 

Just A Bit Outside: DJ LeMathieu, Rockies; Daniel Murphy, Nationals; Joe Panik, Giants

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Second base is always home to diverse spread of talents. From speedsters, to glove-first space swallowers and a few outright power conduits, there is something for everybody on second.

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With all things considered however, the position is experiencing a deeper than normal talent pool around the league. There will be several players that are both major award winners and even All-Stars from a year ago that struggled to make the final cut for this year’s top 10 or missed it altogether. Yet most likely, when I turn my attention to the overall Top 100 players in the game in March, there could be 10-13 second basemen that make it. It is just that deep of a talent pool right now.

So without any further delay, here are the top 10 second basemen in the game. With plenty of shake up, but still starting in the same place it annually does….

1. Robinson Cano, Mariners (#1 in 2014): He has been the best in the business at his position for the last half-decade, and one year into his tenure in Seattle and there are no signs of that changing yet. While his power numbers took the expected Safeco dip, Cano turned in his usual outstanding overall offering at the plate. He turned in his sixth-straight year over .300, while stealing a career high of 10 bases as well. He annually makes a 6+ level of Wins Above Replacement impact and shows no signs of wavering at age 32.

2-year average: .314 average/.868 OPS/20 HR/94 RBI/39 doubles/188 hits/.989 Fld%

2. Ian Kinsler, Tigers (#6 in ’14): He has long been one of the most productive second basemen in the game, but Kinsler turned in one of his finest performances to date in 2014. Atop the potent Tiger lineup, he set new career-highs in hits (188) and RBI (92), while scoring 100 runs, hitting 17 home runs and 40 doubles. Tack on a fantastic defensive campaign as well, and he solidly reaffirmed himself as the best non-Cano second sacker in the game.

2-year average: .276 average/.740 OPS/15 HR/82 RBI/36 doubles/15 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

3. Jose Altuve, Astros (#10 in ’14): The Houston’s mighty mite leader had a huge breakout campaign in 2014, leading the MLB in batting average (.341) and hits (225), while topping the AL in stolen bases with 56. He played a part in pulling the Astros out of the abyss they had sat in over the past three years and made his second All-Star Game over the span as well.

2-year average: .313 average/.756 OPS/6 HR/56 RBI/39 doubles/46 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

4. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (#2 in ’14): While his offensive took a slide in ’14, he remains perhaps the best infield defender in the game today. The rangy and fearless Pedroia took home his second Gold Glove in as many years, raising the overall total to four for the former MVP, Rookie of the Year and two-time World Champ. If he can uptick his batting average back up closer to his career average of .299, the BoSox will be in a much better place.

2-year average: .290 average/.752 OPS/8 HR/68 RBI/38 doubles/12 stolen bases/.995 Fld%

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5. Ben Zobrist, Athletics (#5 in ’14): The ultimate utility man has made his frequent home at second base over the past two years, so he’ll check in here once again. And while he does not have one particular area that he produces an eye popping result in, he does everything at a steady pace. He reached 150 hits, 30 doubles, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, 10 stolen bases and a .350 on-base percentage for the fourth straight year, and will bring a much needed steadying presence to his new home in Oakland.

2-year average: .273 average/.753 OPS/11 HR/62 RBI/35 doubles/10 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

6. Howie Kendrick, Dodgers (#8 in ’14): He will be switching sides of town from Anaheim to Chavez Ravine this summer, but it would be a safe bet to count on Kendrick to keep up the same steady—and annually underrated—level of play. He set a career-high in hits (181) and tied-RBI (75), while topping .290 for the second straight year.

2-year average: .295 average/.758 OPS/10 HR/64 RBI/27 doubles/10 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

7. Neil Walker, Pirates (Not Ranked): He swings a bat that is border line out of place at his position. Walker connected for 23 home runs and taking home the National League second base Silver Slugger. He became the Pirates cleanup hitter over the course of the year in response to his more powerful bat, and is also one of the most effective fielders in either league up the middle as well.

2-year average: .262 average/.784 OPS/20 HR/64 RBI/24 doubles/2 stolen bases/.990 Fld%

8. Chase Utley, Phillies (Not Ranked): He put the game on notice some a year ago that he still had it, and turned in the sort of well-rounded performance that is befitting of himself at this point in his career. Playing in the most games he has since 2009, Utley drove in 78 runs, posted 36 doubles and rebounded well from a horrendous 2013 in the field. In the process he reaffirmed the fact that while he no longer is the MVP-candidate he was early in his career, he still is at an All-Star caliber level.

2-year average: .276 average/.781 OPS/14 HR/74 RBI/30 doubles/9 stolen bases/.978 Fld%

9. Jason Kipnis, Indians (#4 in ’14):Injuries stole much of Kipnis’ thunder he carried coming in last season, but he remains a diverse talent capable of impacting a game in many ways. He has stolen 83 bases over the past three years and if he gets his power stroke back, Kipnis could be the final piece the emergent Indians need to return to the postseason.

2-year average: .263 average/.735 OPS/12 HR/62 RBI/30 doubles/26 stolen bases/.985 Fld%

10. Brian Dozier, Twins (Not Ranked): Dozier followed up a noticeable jump forward in his second season with a major one in year three. He joined the 20/20 club by taking 23 balls over the fence and swiping 21 bases, while scoring 112 runs as well. All in all, he is on the verge of beginning to push for All-Star notice, even within the current crowded second base scene in the AL.

2-year average: .243 average/.745 OPS/20 HR/68 RBI/33 doubles/18 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Dee Gordon, D.J. LeMahieu, Brandon Phillips, Daniel Murphy

The boys came to play in the American League this summer. Plenty of strong cases were made for the league’s top honor, with a mixture of standard bearers, returns to form and breakout campaigns. But in the end It was the coming of age proved to be undeniable in deciding who was the top gun in the junior circuit. And when all things are considered, it really ended up not being that close. Because the unstoppable force simply refused to be denied any longer.

2014 American League Stan Musial Player of the Year—Mike Trout, Anaheim Angels

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The coming of age has come to be. The rise of Mike Trout has been far from a secret; he has been baseball’s hottest commodity for the past three summers. However, before this summer is that there has always been a caveat to his status as the prime property in the game. Whether it was Miguel Cabrera’s undeniable run at the plate or the struggles of the Angels in light of their expectation, there has consistently been something that has stood in the way of crowning the game’s most precociously best talent with its premier prize.

But the summer of 2014 saw the irresistible force breakthrough completely. What Trout has done most remarkably in his young career is answer the task that

His ever maturing game took another turn this year, as he embraced more of the run-producing element of his game this year. Trout muscled up and hit a career-best 36 home runs, the third best total in the AL this year. He added another career-high with 111 RBI, as well as total bases with 338, both ranking as the top totals in the AL. In addition, he paced the league in runs scored for a third straight year with 115 and finished in the top 10 in doubles with 39 and second with 9 triples.

Yet at the cost of power, some of the categories that he had previously dominated took a slight dip. His averaged finished at .287, the first time he posted a full-season total below .300 (although it still finished in the top 15 in the league) and his stolen bases clipped down to 16. Also, his strikeouts jumped up to a league-high 184.

Those factors could be seen as it being a down year of sorts for Trout. Or perhaps a return to the mean after an unbelievably overwhelming start to his career. However, there was still no more important player in all aspects of the game for his team than Trout, as while he dipped in some areas, he morphed his game into exact what the Angels needed most this year.

With Josh Hamilton out of the mix with injuries, the need for a middle of the lineup run producer was needed much more than a table-setting spark plug at the top of the lineup. So when call was made for help there, Trout answered and channeled his talents into fueling one the AL’s most potent offenses. He drove in 20 runs in three separate months and hit at least five home runs in each month. While his overall average slid some, he hit .321 in April and .361 in June.

Measuring him at the plate alone still limits the overall contributions he made. He is still the glue that holds together the Angels outfield, covering the confines of centerfield easily with some athleticism to burn. On the base paths, he puts pitchers on alert and eats extra bases for any ball that either finds a gap or a step too slow outfielder. That is why is he the visual explanation to the mystery of the Wins Above Replacement figure—which he has led the Majors in each full year of his career, including the 7.9 indispensable wins he created this time around—there is simply nothing that is outside of his reach.

He plays the game hard every time out, puts on a the full buffet of talents seemingly on-demand and for the first time, is playing it to win, as the Angels took home the AL’s best record at 98-64. When the most talented player in the game also does all of the small things more consistently than anyone else, there is not much that can be done to stop him. And that is what makes Trout so special.

And the best part about it all: it’s only beginning. Trout Version 3.0 is the MVP, just as Versions 1.0 and 2.0 laid legit claim to, albeit in completely different fashions. It is fairly certain that Version 4.0 will take the same path, but I am already looking forward to how he goes about it.

Runners Up

  1. Victor Martinez, Tigers: He was a hitting machine this year for the Tigers, often being the team’s top bat, which is saying a lot when Miguel Cabrera is a part of your lineup. He led the AL in on-base percentage (.409) and finished second with a .335 batting average, and connected for a career-best 32 home runs. He only struck out in 6% of his 641 plate appearances (42 times).
  2. Jose Altuve, Astros: Houston mighty mite posted the top average in the game at .341 and led the AL with 56 stolen bases. He also ran up a club record 225 hits while becoming the first Astro to win a batting title.
  3. Michael Brantley, Indians: It all came together for Brantley this year, as he posted one of most well-rounded campaigns in the game this year. His .327 average was third in the AL, while he also hit 20 home runs, 45 doubles, stole 23 bases and 200 total hits.
  4. Adam Jones, Orioles: Jones carried the weight both at the plate and in the field for the beat up, yet still division champion O’s. He hit 29 home runs and drove in 96, while playing perhaps the best defensive center field in the league.
  5. Josh Donaldson, Athletics: The intense leader of the A’s played his usual brilliant two-way game, driving in 98 runs and playing a far and away best third base in the game with the glove (2.7 dWAR).
  6. Nelson Cruz, Orioles: He led the AL with 40 home runs during his comeback season, and drove in 108 runs as well.
  7. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Joey Bats health stayed faithful to him, and he got back to destroying baseball to the tone of 35 homers, 103 RBI and scored 101 runs scored.
  8. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: A “down year” for Miggy has basically become one where he doesn’t win at least a batting title, and while he did not reach that mark this year, he did lead the Majors with 52 doubles and crossed 100 RBI for the 11th straight year.
  9. Robinson Cano, Mariners: The home runs weren’t as high, but his Seattle debut was definitely a success. He hit .314 with 82 RBI while reviving competitive baseball in the northwest.

Past CSP Votes

2013: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2012: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2011: Justin Verlander, Tigers

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Picking out the cream of the field at second base is always difficult, mainly because it is such a diverse position from a demands perspective. Some teams need pure defensive wizardry, while others lean for offense in a non-tradition place for it there. Some teams use it for a speed boost, while a select few get lucky enough to combine all of these factors into one.

The collection of second basemen around the MLB currently is a shining example of the hotbed for diverse talents that the position has become. And while the elite of years past are still firmly in their accustomed positions, there are more than a few up and comers that are pushing for their place within the ranks of the balanced and surprising deep talent collection.

As we continue to wait for two more voters to get a grasp on Craig Biggio, lets get a hold on the best in the game at his spot today. Here are the best at the second stop around the diamond…

10. Jose Altuve, Astros: The diminutive Houston leadoff hitter seems to be everywhere at once. He has topped both 30 doubles and stolen bases each of the past two seasons, and led all AL second basemen in double plays turned with 114.

9. Daniel Murphy, Mets: The steady Murphy has hit 78 doubles over the past two seasons, has hit below .285 only once in his career. His 188 2013 hits lead all NL second basemen returning to the position this year (Matt Carpenter is moving to third base in St. Louis).

8. Howie Kendrick, Angels: An owner of a .292 career average over 8 seasons, he’s a rightful member on the annual ‘All-Underrated’ squad, Kendrick hit .297 with 13 homers a year ago, which marks his highest power output in 3 years and top average in six.

Omar Infante, Chris Getz

7. Omar Infante, Royals: He’s does enough of everything to be a threat at all times. His .318 average lead all AL second basemen and a career-best slugging percentage (.450). A jack-of-all-trades, he can chip in at five different positions, and stands to be a very versatile weapon in Kansas City.

6. Ian Kinsler, Tigers: The odd man out in Texas is Motown’s gain. As unique a blend of second base features as the game boasts, he topped 70 RBI for the third consecutive year, stole at least 15 bags for the seventh and raised his average up to .277.

5. Ben Zobrist, Rays: The game’s top utility man found a pretty steady home back at second last year, and continues to produce a fine all-around product. He committed only four errors on the season, while topping 36 doubles, finished in the top 20 in on-base percentage and made his second All-Star game.

4. Jason Kipnis, Indians: He took the step ahead in year three, reaching career-best in nine categories, including home runs (17), doubles (36) and RBI (84), while reaching 30 stolen bases for the second consecutive year. He is the axis that the resurgent Indians will build around.

3. Brandon Phillips, Reds: His average slid some and he isn’t an active base stealer anymore, but the decline of Dat Dude is overplayed. He topped 100 RBI for the first time in his career, and remains the top glove in the game at his position.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox

2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: With a healthy year on his side again, Pedroia once again showed why he’s one of the more indispensable players in the game. In addition to adding another Gold Glove to his trophy case, he sparked the World Champions with 193 hits, 42 doubles and 84 RBI, along with a .372 on-base percentage.

1. Robinson Cano, Mariners: Easily the position’s best and in the handful of the game’s best all-around talents as well. He topped 25 home runs, 190 hits, 40 doubles and a .300 average for the fifth straight year during his farewell tour in the Bronx. For much of the season, he held together a middling Yankee team and pushed them to a much more competitive effort than was to be expected. And he will be charged with the same task in his new home of Seattle—and should be well up to meeting and exceeding the challenge.

Just A Bit Outside: Marco Scutaro, Aaron Hill, Chase Utley

For more on the countdown series and the game in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to  I70 Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics

The American League West was the scene of a hijacking last year. Despite the Los Angeles Angels making the coup of all coups in landing Albert Pujols and the Texas Rangers once again returning as the powerhouse of the division, intact mostly from the year before, it was another Billy Beane crafted Oakland A’s team that prevailed in the end. After an August/September surge that saw them rise constantly through the standings, on the season’s final day the A’s took the division from the Rangers in game number 162. All in all, it was an incredibly balanced division; the last place Mariners would have finished third in American League Central. It was home to one of the greatest debut years in baseball history from Mike Trout, and hosted the top three finishers for Rookie of the Year, as well as a historic start for a particular (now former) Texas Rangers slugger.

2012 Finish

  1. A’s (94-68)
  2. Rangers (93-69)
  3. Angels (89-73)
  4. Mariners (75-87)

Moving forward a year later, and the scene has continued to shift. The Angels made the surprise splash of the offseason again, signing Josh Hamilton away from the aforementioned Rangers and pairing him with Pujols and Trout in a real-life Fantasy League lineup. The Athletics continued to add strartegic pieces to their core, to prove that last season was anything but a fluke. The Mariners were silently aggressive all winter, by adding a couple of much needed sluggers, while making Felix Hernandez the highest paid pitcher in baseball, all in an effort to continue to pull up their bootstraps from the bottom. Also, the Houston Astros swapped over leagues to join the American League, evening out the long four-team division. In the midst of all of this, where does this leave the Rangers? They have stayed steady in the league’s elite despite some critical losses over the last few years, but have they finally lost enough to lose their edge? Time to find out.

All Division Team

Catcher: AJ Pierzynski-Rangers

First Base: Albert Pujols-Angels

Second Base: Ian Kinsler-Rangers

Third Base: Adrian Beltre-Rangers

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus-Rangers

Left Field: Mike Trout-Angels

Center Field: Coco Crisp-A’s

Right Field: Josh Hamilton-Angels

Designated Hitter: Mark Trumbo-Angels

Felix Hernandez

Hernandez finished in the top 5 for the AL Cy Young for the third time in four years in 2012, with 3 years to go until he’s even 30.

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez-Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Jered Weaver-Angels

Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish-Rangers

Starting Pitcher: Brett Anderson-A’s

Righty Relief: Ryan Cook-A’s

Lefty Relief: Sean Burnett-Angels

Closer: Joe Nathan-Rangers

Top 10

  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Albert Pujols, Angels
  3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  4. Josh Hamilton, Angels
  5. Jered Weaver, Angels
  6. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
  7. Elvis Andrus, Rangers
  8. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
  9. Nelson Cruz, Rangers
  10. Yoenis Cespedes, A’s

Lineup

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners
  5. Astros

The top of the Angels lineup gets the headlines, but a core including Trumbo, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar doesn’t give many breaks either. The strength of the A’s is in numbers: Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Cespedes all topped 20 homers a year ago. The Rangers are hoping Pierzynski can have a similar follow up to his 27-home run breakout effort a year ago with the White Sox.

Adrian-Beltre

Beltre has averaged 34 home runs and 33 doubles a season, with a .310 average against only 68 strikeouts on average as well.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Angels (Pujols/Hamilton/Trumbo)
  2. Rangers (Beltre/Cruz/Berkman)
  3. A’s (Cespedes/Moss/Reddick)
  4. Mariners (Seager/Morse/Morales)
  5. Astros (Pena/Carter/Castro)

Putting Josh Hamilton behind Pujols permanently is terrifying. It puts a total of four MVP seasons, and 73 2012 homers in the middle of the order. Add on Trumbo to the backend, and that power number surges past 100. Beltre has been a juggernaut in his two Texas seasons, smacking 36 homers in route to a top 5 MVP finish a year ago. The Mariners addition of Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales finally puts a pair of formidable bats in their lineup again.

Table Setters

  1. Rangers (Kinsler/Andrus)
  2. Angels (Trout/Aybar)
  3. Astros (Altuve/Wallace)
  4. A’s (Crisp/Lowrie)
  5. Mariners (Ackley/Gutierrez)

Trout is the most versatile offensive player in the game, and his impact out the leadoff spot is just the same as it would be hitting in the middle of the lineup. He hit 27 doubles and 8 triples in addition to leading the AL with 53 steals. Jose Altuve is the lone bright spot in the downtrodden Astros lineup, who topped 160 hits and 30 steals in his second season.

Bench

  1. A’s
  2. Angels
  3. Mariners
  4. Rangers
  5. Astros

Depth is the A’s greatest weapon, and the fact they can rotate in two former All-Stars in Chris Young and Daric Barton is just a small sign of how deep they truly are. Tag in Jemile Weeks, Seth Smith and Derek Norris, and the Oakland roster is one full of starter-caliber players.

J-Parker

Parker was one of three rookie hurlers to post either at least 13 wins or win percentage over .600% in Oakland a year ago.

Rotation

  1. A’s
  2. Rangers
  3. Angels
  4. Mariners
  5. Astros

It was pitching that launched Oakland along its improbable run up the standings last season. Behind group effort of Dan Straily, AJ Griffin, Tom Milone, Jarrod Parker and the return of Brett Anderson, they formed one of the best young rotations in baseball. The Angels added Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton in an attempt to balance out their thin staff from a year ago, and replace Zack Greinke.

1-2 Punch

  1. Angels (Weaver/Wilson)
  2. Rangers (Darvish/Holland)
  3. A’s (Anderson/Parker)
  4. Mariners (Hernandez/Iwakuma)
  5. Astros (Norris/Harrell)

King Felix has been holding up what seems like the Mariners entire universe for years now. He posted his fourth consecutive 200 strikeout year in 2012. Jered Weaver posted his first no-hitter and 20 win season last season, while CJ Wilson struggled down the stretch but still is among the best southpaws in baseball. Darvish came in second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote a year ago, and along with Holland stands to be one the young arms with a chance to make the biggest leap forward this season.

Bullpen

  1. A’s
  2. Angels
  3. Rangers
  4. Mariners
  5. Astros

The backend of the A’s pitching staff is what completes them as the best collection of arms in either league, overall. Both Cook and Grant Balfour took on closing duties last year, and were just as effective in the setup role with Sean Doolittle as well. If Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria return to their previous form for the Angels and Rangers, respectively, it could change the entire direction of both teams’ seasons.

Defense

  1. Mariners
  2. Angels
  3. Rangers
  4. A’s
  5. Astros

Between Brendan Ryan, Franklin Gutierrez and Dustin Ackley, the M’s can go get it in the field. They had the best team fielding percentage in the AL a year ago, and are a huge reason why they have been able to stay somewhat afloat despite having an anemic offense. In Trout and Peter Bourjos, the Angels easily could have two Gold Glove outfielders for a long time. The Andrus/Kinsler middle infield combo in Texas is the best in the AL, and Beltre is the best defensive infielder in baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals v Houston Astros

Altuve is a diverse threat for the Astros, who led the team in nine different categories a year ago in his second season, and also made his All-Star debut.

Speed

  1. A’s
  2. Angels
  3. Mariners
  4. Rangers
  5. Astros

Between Crisp, Cespedes, Weeks and Young, the A’s can kill it around the bases. From both steals to the extra base, they are very capable of getting the extra base that is needed to survive in their spacious home ballpark. Not too far behind are Angels, who could very well see Trout and Aybar alone top 80 steals this season.

Manager

  1. Mike Scioscia, Angels
  2. Bob Melvin, A’s
  3. Ron Washington, Rangers
  4. Eric Wedge, Mariners
  5. Bo Porter, Astros

Bob Melvin did a masterful job of pulling the most out of the talent of his club a year ago. The AL Manager of the Year won the West, and finished a game away from the ALCS. Mike Scioscia is the longest tenured manager in the MLB, and for good reason.

Finances

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. Mariners
  4. Astros
  5. A’s

The Rangers have the money to improve their roster at any time, yet they are strategic about how they do so. Despite missing out on both Greinke and Hamilton this offseason, the money they haven’t spent yet may be their most valuable commodity throughout the season. The Mariners made a big statement ($175M to Felix), while the Astros made a big commitment to starting over (dropping team payroll to under $20 million…$5M less than Felix will pull down himself).

Josh Hamilton

The Angels made waves by handing Hamilton $123 million; both boost their lineup, and sink their long-time in-division rivals hopes some.

Impact Additions

  1. Josh Hamilton (Angels from Rangers)
  2. Ryan Madson (Angels from Phillies)
  3. Kendrys Morales (Mariners from Angels)
  4. Michael Morse (Mariners from Nationals)
  5. Lance Berkman (Rangers from Cardinals)

The Angels struck a devastating blow in snatching Hamilton away from their division rivals in Texas. There may be just as much value in paying him $125 million over the next five years to keep him away from Texas as there is to having him in their lineup. The Rangers are hoping for Berkman to have a similar renaissance this season as he did two years in St. Louis to help replace Hamilton and Michael Young’s departed impact.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Brett Anderson, A’s
  2. Jarrod Parker, A’s
  3. Yoenis Cespedes, A’s
  4. AJ Griffin, A’s
  5. Yu Darvish, Rangers

Notice a trend? The A’s honestly had the season that would be more likely this year, last summer, so what could come this year is truly special. Cespedes’ roof is still far away from him, while Parker and Griffin have the stuff to be top notch pitchers for years to come. Anderson is skilled the level of being an instant Cy Young contender if he can stay on the hill and off the DL.

J-Profar

Profar is the future in Texas, but finding room for the 20 year old now is proving to be a difficult task due to the All-Star presences on board.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Jurickson Profar (Shortstop, Rangers-AAA)
  2. Mike Zunino (Catcher, Mariners-AAA)
  3. Taijuan Walker (Pitcher, Mariners-AA)
  4. Danny Hultzen (Pitcher, Mariners-AAA)
  5. Mike Olt-Rangers (Third Baseman, Rangers-AAA)

Profar is a Jeter-like talent that can impact the game in every way possible. His instincts are off the charts to be any age, but at only 20 years old, it’s a truly remarkable thing to see already. He’s good enough to force a trade of Elvis Andrus to make room for him this season. The group of Mariners prospects is impressive, but they are content with developing their young arms, and only Zunino could have a real impact on 2012’s MLB team.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. ANGELS
  2. A’S
  3. RANGERS
  4. MARINERS
  5. ASTROS

The West went through plenty of stages last season, and this one could prove to be no different. The Oakland A’s got as hot as they had since their hallowed 20-game win streak 10 years ago. But they did it with a solid core, and most importantly, good pitching. The will still be a potent player in the race this year, as will the Rangers. Texas has lost a lot, but keeps as balanced of a team as possible. In the same way that the St. Louis Cardinals stepped up their production after losing their franchise player, Texas has the same potential to do so with their mixture of veteran and maturing prospects. Both teams will be at the very top of the division, with most likely no more than five games separating them from the top by September.

Outside of the three elite teams, Seattle has made improvements to their club, and will be more equipped to support their very solid pitching staff, but does not have quite enough firepower to last out the entire year. However, a strong push through to make some noise is possible. As for the Astros, a third straight year at the top of the Draft in June 2014 is basically assured.

But all business will carry through Anaheim, a team that learned from its past sins. While they made another big splash signing in Hamilton, the attention to detail to the rest of their roster didn’t escape GM Jerry Dipoto this winter. They were among the worst at finishing games via the bullpen last year, and were plagued by a shallow starting staff as well. The additions of Madson, Sean Burnett, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas aren’t headline grabbers, but they are substantial upgrades to the foundation of the club. In the end, that’s the difference that sells it; in the West it’s all about the details. It’s what won it for the A’s last year, and now the Angels have taken that strength and added it to a rarely matched top-talent collection. This is their year.

 

 

For more on the run up to Spring Training and the rest of the upcoming year in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan