Posts Tagged ‘Yoenis Cespedes’

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In recent years, the left field position has been a blend of what makes the other two spots across the outfield significant. It is home a variety of legit corner outfield power threats, but also features a stash of defensively significant, speed based threats as well.

This year is no different, as the position is home to a grouping of diversely talent players capable of changing the game at any part of it. There are standard bearers who change the game defensively first, to an extent that is shockingly impactful from the spot. There is also a blend of true power conduits, who’s first and foremost goal is to punish the seats beyond the wall. There are also extents of true Five-Tool players, who do a little bit –as well as a lot— of everything across all nine innings.

This all adds up to say there are a lot of ways to make it among the elite at a position that calls upon so many different types of players to make their mark for their respective clubs. But it is also a spot that calls for much from its top-tier producers to stand out amongst each other. So with that, let’s have a look at the best of the best at the very diverse position.

To see last year’s rankings of the position, click here.

 

10. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs (Not Ranked in 2015)

2015: .246/.355/.487, 16 HR, 43 RBI, 6 doubles, 52 runs scored, 3 stolen bases, .842 OPS

He made as big of a late season impact as any rookie in the game. After his late season promotion to Chicago, Schwarber made a habit of launching tape measure shots, launching 13 bombs over the final two months of the season. While he did have some adjustment difficulties once the league got a look at him, hitting .143 versus lefties and .214 over the final two months, his ability to change the game instantly was invaluable.

He played his best ball in the postseason, as he hit .333 and connected for 5 home runs, becoming the Cubs’ all-time postseason leader in the process (dwell on that). And as the currently converted catcher continues to get comfortable in left field, he should embark on the currently carved course of becoming one of the most feared power threats in the National League.

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9. Matt Holliday, Cardinals (#7 in ’15)

2015: .279/.394/.410, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 16 doubles, 24 runs scored, 2 stolen bases, .804 OPS

Last 3 Years: .284/.382/.455 15 HR, 73 RBI, 28 doubles, 70 runs scored, 4 stolen bases, .837 OPS

Injuries severely limited Holliday a year ago, as he twice was sent to the disabled list with a quadriceps that limited him to 73 games. And even before the injury hit, his power numbers were drastically down and stayed low on the other side of his late season return, as hit connected for a career-low four home runs at

What did remain elite for Holliday was his on-base percentage however. He had a very strong first half in that regard before his first injury took him out. He posted a .394 mark on the year, which was fueled by his National League-record setting 45 game streak. If Holliday can re-emerge with a strengthened lower body again, he could remain a solid lower middle of the order presence, even if his elite power days are permanently behind him.

 

8. Christian Yelich, Marlins (#10 in ’15)

2015: .300/.366/.416, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 30 doubles, 63 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, .782 OPS

Last 3 Years: .290/.365/.406 7 HR, 38 RBI, 24 doubles, 64 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, .771 OPS

He overcame a very slow start to 2015 to post improvements across the board for a third consecutive year. This included career best in batting average and on-base percentage, while keeping his extra base hit, stolen base and runs scored levels consistent. He is rounding into becoming one of the more talented top of the lineup hitters in the National League, while continuing to play one of the best defensive left fields in the game.

A player that is entering his age-24 season and has continued to increase his power ratios, while not sacrificing his speed and continuing to increase his contact rate and batting average is a dangerously complete player. He matched his Wins Above Replacement level from his strong 2014 in 18 fewer games a year ago.

 

7. David Peralta, Diamondbacks (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .312/.371/.522, 17 HR, 78 RBI, 26 doubles, 61 runs scored, 9 stolen bases, .893 OPS

Last 2 Years: .301/.351/.492, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 50 runs scored, 8 stolen bases, .842 OPS

Peralta made an understated impact at the core of the Diamondback lineup and played a major part in why they became one of the biggest sleeper successes in baseball a year ago. Peralta took full advantage of his first opportunity as a full-time starter, totaling 53 extra base hits, good enough to finish in the NL top 10 for slugging percentage and on-base + slugging. Add in the fact that he also led the circuit in triples as well, and the sudden intrigue that is Peralta is complete—almost.

Peralta’s late emergence as a hitter is due to the fact that he spent most of his early career as pitcher before converting to an everyday outfielder. With A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt hitting ahead of him, Peralta should continue to be fed plenty of at-bats with ducks on the pond to knock in.

 

6. Ryan Braun, Brewers (#7 in right field in ’15)

2015: .285/.356/.498 25 HR, 84 RBI, 27 doubles, 87 runs scored, 24 stolen bases, .854 OPS

Last 3 Years: .279/.346/.479 18 HR, 68 RBI, 24 doubles, 62 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, .825 OPS

Braun will be returning to the position where he originally rose to prominence in 2016, and will also be doing so on the heels of a renaissance year of sorts. Braun’s production had noticeably dipped post-PED suspension and was also fueled by a string of hand injuries. However, he showed a year ago that he still has plenty of hits left in his bat, and more.

Braun pulled his slugging percentage back up to the doorstep of .500, hitting 25 homers and driving in 84 amid a mostly injured and traded away Brewer lineup. He was a presence on the base paths once again as well, swiping 24 bags and scoring 87 runs.

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5. Justin Upton, Tigers (#5 in ’15)

2015: .251/.336/.454 26 HR, 81 RBI, 26 doubles, 85 runs scored, 19 stolen bases, .790 OPS

Last 3 Years: .262/.344/.470 27 HR, 84 RBI, 29 doubles, 85 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, .814 OPS

Despite being saddled with the daunting task of Petco Park for a year, Upton proved that his power was Petco-proof, as he hit 15 of his 26 home runs at home. While never a ‘leading man’ in the sense of driving an offense single-handedly, Upton has been one of the most consistent power sources in the National League since breaking in as a 19 year old with the Diamondbacks. He has hit north of 26 home runs in four of the past five years, and reinserted the speed element back into his game last year as well, swiping 19 bases, his most since 2011.

As he relocates to Detroit this season, he will be hitting in one of the most enviable positions in the game: in front of Miguel Cabrera. An uptick in fastballs should come his way as a result, combined with having Ian Kinsler roaming the bases in front of him, should prove that his decision to bide his time and land with the Tigers could be a very healthy decision for him.

 

4. Starling Marte, Pirates (#3 in ’15)

2015: .287/.337/.444 19 HR, 81 RBI, 30 doubles, 84 runs scored, 30 stolen bases, .780 OPS

Last 3 Years: .286/.345/.446 15 HR, 57 RBI, 28 doubles, 80 runs scored, 34 stolen bases, .790 OPS

Marte’s varied attack upon a game of baseball continued to reach new heights last summer. In addition to his standard issue 30 stolen bases, wide-spanning defensive exploits (for which he netted his first Gold Glove) and .780+ OPS, Marte expanded his pure power and run production numbers as well. He clubbed career-highs in home runs, hits and RBI, while playing a career-best 153 games.

In the Pirates’ relentless offense, Marte has become an indispensable keystone atop the Pirates lineup. However, with the departures of Neil Walker and emergence of Gregory Polanco, Marte will be able to continue his growth as a run producer from the cleanup spot this season. With Polanco, Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen among those that will be ahead of him on a daily basis, Marte could stand to see yet another 20+ runs batted in attached to his 2016 total.

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3. Alex Gordon, Royals (#1 in ’15)

2015: .271/.377/.432 13 HR, 48 RBI, 18 doubles, 40 runs scored, 2 stolen bases, .809 OPS

Last 3 Years: .267/.348/.428 17 HR, 68 RBI, 26 doubles, 72 runs scored, 8 stolen bases, .776 OPS

All in all, Gordon, who came in at the number 1 spot on this list a year ago, had a season that mostly lived up to his standard offering last year. He made his third consecutive All-Star Game, was playing the tremendous defensive that has become his calling card and was actually having his best offensive year overall in some time (44 defensive runs saved since 2013). He carries a strong career on-base percentage of .348, and the .377 mark he posted last year would have been a new career high if held over a full season.

However, a nasty groin injury took him out for a month and a half mid-summer, and it took him some time to get back into form. While his defense slid some (he missed out on a fifth consecutive Gold Glove) and his average dipped as well, that was to be expected as he essential rehabbed while still returning to the lineup. Gordon still remains one of the most versatile presences in all of the game, capable of both setting the table and regularly driving in runs as well (87+ runs scored as well as 70+ RBI in each of his past four full seasons). He was worth every penny of the Royals-record contract he inked to remain the face of the franchise and second greatest player in franchise history, and should continue to remain at the All-Star level he has made his custom.

 

2. Michael Brantley, Indians (#2 in ’15)

2015: .310/.379/.480 15 HR, 84 RBI, 45 doubles, 68 runs scored, 15 stolen bases, .859 OPS

Last 3 Years: .308/.366/.462 15 HR, 85 RBI, 39 doubles, 76 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, .828 OPS

Brantley proved that his breakout 2014 season was no fluke, as he continued to hit at an elite level in all of the game last summer. His 45 doubles led the American League, and overall, only Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve have hit for a higher average than his .319 since the start of 2014.

Brantley has quietly become one of the best hitters that (cliché time) “nobody talks about”. But over the past two seasons, his effectiveness at the plate has been at an irreproachable level at the position. A patient hitter who gets the most out of his at-bats, Brantley walked nine more times than he struck out last year, while also cutting his K’s while raising his walk total for the third straight year. He also has made the most of his time on base, by also leading the AL in overall doubles and being successful in 38 of his last 40 stolen base attempts. Brantley has 563 total bases over the past two seasons, as he is just a year removed from a 200-hit campaign and a top three finish in the 2014 AL MVP vote.

 

1. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets (#8 in ’15)

2015: .291/.328/.542 35 HR, 105 RBI, 42 doubles, 101 runs scored, 7 stolen bases, .870 OPS

Last 3 Years: .265/.309/.481 28 HR, 95 RBI, 33 doubles, 88 runs scored, 7 stolen bases, .789 OPS

From day one since he broke in with the Oakland A’s, Cespedes has been one of the most freakish athletes in the game, looking better suited to be strong safety in the NFL than a multi-tooled Major League outfielder. But the latter is what he is and few players have the buffet of abilities that Cespedes puts on display on a nightly basis. Whether it be launching the long ball over the fence at a break neck speed, hawking down a ball in the gap or letting loose a laser beam throw to cut down a runner, Cespedes is one of the rare players that can change the game in every aspect possible.

But what he did in he did in his breakout 2015 was a coming of age of sorts for Cespedes turning those tools into an every night impact. After a deadline deal that sent him to the Mets over from the Detroit Tigers, Cespedes produced full-season type numbers in the course of eight weeks. In 57 games, he hammered National League pitching to the tone of a 17 home runs, a .604 slugging % and .942 on-base + slugging percentage. Over course of his time in New York, the Mets’ offensive production increased by three runs per game, the majority reason why they were able to run away with National League East title. MVP’s are not won in two months’ time, but Cespedes certainly made enough people consider it as a rational possibility.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Brett Gardner, Yankees; Khris Davis, Athletics; Melky Cabrera, White Sox.

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Over the past few seasons, left field has been a position that has undergone a lot of overhaul. Former cornerstones of the position such as Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo have moved on to other positions, while others who were holding the torch have seen declines in their value. There are also new presences at the position due to further relocations and emergent youngsters as well.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Arizona Diamondbacks

Overall, it is the most varied position in all of the outfield, where there are elements of bat-first presences, defensively-minded contributors, speed threats and then the blend of a bit of them all. But one thing that is for certain is that each of these players play a major part in the balance of their specific club and the potential of their team’s hangs in the balance of their singular play.

No pressure though, huh?

1. Alex Gordon, Royals (#2 in 2014): His impact on the game is more complete than it really appears at first look. First of all, no outfielder makes a bigger defensive impact on the game. A winner of four consecutive Gold Gloves, Gordon saved 25 runs in left last year, nine more than any other player at his position and saved 37 in full over the past two years. He also has 25 outfield assists as well, which is a right field caliber impact that changes the game with right-handed batters at the plate. Add on the fact that he hit 19 home runs and reached base at a .351% clip, and it seals the fact that he is one of the most uniquely impactful players in the game.

2-year average: .266 average/.765 OPS/20 home runs/78 RBI/30 doubles/11 stolen bases/.995 Fld%

2. Michael Brantley, Indians (Not Ranked): He had the biggest everyday breakout of 2014, as he put together all of the tools he had shown in flashes to become one of the best all-around performers in the game. Brantley finished second in the AL with 200 hits, while finishing in the top five in doubles (45), batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.385) and added in a 20 home runs, 23 stolen bases and 97 RBI for good measure as well. This was all good for a 7.0 WAR figure and a heighted expectation of epic proportions for 2015.

2-year average: .307 average/.813 OPS/15 home runs/85 RBI/36 doubles/20 stolen bases/.993 Fld%

3. Starling Marte, Pirates (#7 in ’14): He shook off a dreadfully slow start to pull together a fantastic all-around year. The 26-year-old outfield hawk (who is playing out of position in left due to who is the centerfielder on his team) set career-high marks at the plate nearly across the board. His .291 average, 144 hits, 56 RBI, 13 home runs and .808 on-base + slugging % were all high water marks. And considering he hit .348 after the All-Star break, those totals are far from fairly representative of the level he could be at this summer.

2-year average: .286 average/.796 OPS/12 home runs/46 RBI/28 doubles/36 stolen bases/.968 Fld%

4. Jayson Werth, Nationals (#10 in right field in ’14): Werth continued his pivotal all-around effort for the Nationals a year ago, topping a .290 average for the third straight year, while driving in 82 runs, scoring another 85 himself and providing some solid pop as well. He will swap spots with Bryce Harper on the corners of the DC outfield for the upcoming year, which will suit each player’s particular skill set even better.

2-year average: .304 average/.887 OPS/20 home runs/82 RBI/30 doubles/10 steals/.986 Fld%

5. Justin Upton, Padres (#5 in ’14): The Padres needed to find someone that could create an offensive spark at the core of their lineup, and Upton fits that bill perfectly. An owner of four seasons of 25 or more home runs and fresh off the heels of a career-best 102 RBI effort, it seems strange that he is still only 27-years-old. But he won his second Silver Slugger in 2014 for his wall banging feats, and is the type of hitter who’s power

2-year average: .267 average/.826 OPS/28 home runs/86 RBI/30 doubles/8 stolen bases/.975 Fld%

6. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox (#2 at shortstop in ’14): He is one of the toughest players to peg his positional value down to this year, because a) his health is always a factor in his potential impact and b) he has never played outfield before. But all things considered, Hanley remains one of the game’s most impactful talents when he is firing on all cylinders. After resisting permanent change from shortstop for so many years, it became necessary for him to cash in on his total free agent value, which he did with the Red Sox. The Green Monster should vibe well with propensity for line drives, so Hanley could have a huge impact on AL race this year—pending on availability, of course.

2-year average: .308 average/.907 OPS/16 home runs/64 RBI/30 doubles/12 stolen bases/.960 Fld% (SS)

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7. Matt Holliday, Cardinals (#1 in ’14): It was a tale of two halves for Holliday in 2014, who struggled to a very un-Holliday like .263 average during the first three months of the year. He rebounded for a solid finish to the year, and posted some more familiar totals of 20 home runs, 90 RBI and 37 doubles however. While Holliday is showing some signs of decline, he has far from passed his days as an above-average presence in the Cardinal attack.

2-year average: .285 average/.843 OPS/21 home runs/92 RBI/ 34 doubles/5 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

8. Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers (#6 in ’14): He continued to be a source of terrifying power in 2014, winning a second Home Run Derby, while making his All-Star debut. Between Oakland and Boston, Cespedes hit 22 home runs and drove in a career-best 100 runs. He also made a home on highlight reels for some incredible throws from outfield, many of which contributed to the MLB-best 16 outfield assists he totaled as well.

2-year average: .251 average/.744 OPS/24 home runs/90 RBI/28 doubles/7 stolen bases/.978 Fld%

9. Melky Cabrera, White Sox (Not Ranked): He had a statement year in his final one spent north of the border, hitting .300 for the third time in four years. Cabrera also connected for 16 home runs, 73 RBI and 35 doubles, all runner up numbers to previous career bests. He will join the White Sox resurgence this year and be a vital part of a potentially exciting top of the order with Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu.

2-year average: .293 average/.761 OPS/10 home runs/52 RBI/25 doubles/4 stolen bases/.992 Fld%

10. Christian Yelich, Marlins (Not Ranked): The freshly minted 23-year-old began the process of living up to his touted potential in his second season on South Beach. He announced his presence as a fantastic glove wielder, winning the NL left field Gold Glove, working up the most wide-spanning range factor at the position in the league and contributing six outfield assists as well. In addition, he hit .284 and put his speed on display offensively swiping 21 bases while connecting for six triples as the Marlins’ leadoff man.

2-year average: .285 average/.765 OPS/6 home runs/35 RBI/21 doubles/16 stolen bases/.998 Fld%

Runners Up: Corey Dickerson, Brett Gardner, Khris Davis, Evan Gattis

For more on the best of the best in baseball, stay tuned here. For more in the moment words, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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When you traditionally think of a leftfielder, the first though is most likely overwhelming power. The names of Bonds, Williams and more recently, Belle jump ahead of the pack, however, the today’s game features a more overall balance of producers at the position, more in the vein of Musial or Ramirez from days past. It is a position with some elite line drive hitters, and run creators that do so not just by hitting the ball over the fence, but by destroying outfield alleys as just as much as giving souvenirs away.

The grouping in left is also undergoing a change as well, with two perennials at the position in Ryan Braun and Carlos Gonzalez manning new positions for the upcoming season. Also, there is a new addition to the Rangers lineup that will impact the rankings as well. Regardless, it is a unique mix of producers, that is so balanced across the board that the same ten players could be picked again next season and for the most part, come across in a completely different order, yet still be justified in their standing.

Here are the top 10 players of the day in the outfield corner on the left corner of the field…

10. Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks: GM Kevin Towers made it a point to add more non-Goldschmidt based pop to his lineup, and he made a solid choice. Trumbo has hit 29, 32 and 34 home runs his first three seasons, while continually climbing his RBI total each campaign as well.

9. Brett Gardner, Yankees: An elite defender and presence on the basepaths, he led the AL in triples a year ago and has stolen 40 bases in two of his last three full seasons. Another centerfielder playing left, he routinely makes the difficult look easy in the outfield.

8. Josh Hamilton, Angels: He had his worst season last summer, seeing his full-season numbers drop across the board. However, he hit 43 home runs just two years ago and in September of last year, the ice finally cracked, as he finished the year with a .323 average.

7. Starling Marte, Pirates: He’s a centerfielder forced into a left fielder’s role due to his MVP counterpart to the side of him. However, the rangy and athletic 25-year-old ran up 41 stolen bases and 10 triples in his first year as a full-time starter.

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6. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics: He took the Home Run Derby by storm, rapping moonshot after moonshot out of Citi Field, showing the elite power that he uses to make even the massive o.Co Coliseum look small.

5. Justin Upton, Braves: He shot out of a cannon in 2013 like a ‘bat’ out of hell (literally). And while he slowed down considerably, he still finished with 27 home runs and 70 RBI in his Atlanta debut. The talent package keeps coming in flashes, but few are capable of more than he is.

4. Bryce Harper, Nationals: While he has to continue to reel in his effort some to preserve himself, when he’s is all the way there, few are more exciting than Harper. The 21-year-old already has  42 career homers and has topped 20 doubles, 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases in each of his first two seasons—and at ages when most players are in Single or Double A.

3. Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers: He will play his third outfield spot in as many years in his third home in just as many as well. In his one season visit to the National League, he finished second in on-base percentage, where he reached .423% of the time. He versatile Korean has career averages over the past two seasons of 38 doubles, 18 homers, 20 steals and 98 runs scored.

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2. Alex Gordon, Royals: He is by and far the best defensive left-fielder in the game, winner of the past two Gold Gloves for his field exploits, and sporting a gaudy 34 outfield assists since 2012. He is one year removed from an AL-best 51 doubles season and has topped 20 homers and 80 RBI two of the last three seasons.

1. Matt Holliday, Cardinals: He’s been one of the most consistent hitters in the game over his career, and is the hammer in the Cardinals balanced offering. While his defense is taking some noticeable steps back, he makes up for it has a line drive, run producing regular. 2013 marked the eighth straight year he offered at least a .295 average, 30 plus doubles and 20 plus home runs.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Domonic Brown, Curtis Granderson, Daniel Nava

 

For more on the upcoming season, follow me in real time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

Take a look back at 2010. Now take a look at 2011. In the American League West, you may get confused as to what year you’re looking at, as no matter which version you glance over, it all begins and ends in one place: Arlington. The Texas Rangers have reigned over the American League over the last two years, due to a relentless lineup and timely pitching. They have won the division by no less than nine games in each season, and pushed to within one out of the franchise’s first World Series. It’s been a good run.

2011 Final Standings

  1. Texas Rangers (96-66)
  2. Los Angeles Angels (86-76)
  3. Oakland A’s (74-88)
  4. Seattle Mariners (67-95)

But when you’re on top, somebody’s always shooting for you. And this winter, the Rangers’ top rivals in the West reloaded like no team has before. The Angels went out, paid the price and landed the biggest gun in baseball’s arsenal this winter and switched the whole game up overnight. The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners both made more strategic, yet impactful changes to their makeup as well.

But is any of it enough to dethrone the AL’s premier team? Let’s take a look at every inch of the West in CSP’s 2012 AL West preview….

All Division Team

Catcher: Mike Napoli – Rangers

First Base: Albert Pujols – Angels

Second Base: Ian Kinsler – Rangers

Third Base: Adrian Beltre – Rangers

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus – Rangers

Left Field: Coco Crisp – Athletics

Center Field: Josh Hamilton – Rangers

Right Field: Ichiro – Mariners

Designated Hitter: Michael Young – Rangers

Hamilton will follow up a roller coaster year with a contract push summer in 2012, as well as a third consecutive World Series.

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez – Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Jared Weaver – Angels

Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren – Angels

Starting Pitcher: CJ Wilson – Angels

Bullpen Righty: Mike Adams – Rangers

Bullpen Lefty: Scott Downs – Angels

Closer: Brandon League – Mariners

Top 10 Players

  1. Albert Pujols, Angels
  2. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
  3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  4. Jared Weaver, Angels
  5. Ichiro, Mariners
  1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
  2. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
  3. Dan Haren, Angels
  4. Michael Young, Rangers
  5. Elvis Andrus, Rangers

Ichiro's hits and average slid last summer, but he still notched 40 steals along the way.

Lineup

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

The Rangers were top 3 in the AL in average, home runs, runs scored and total bases, and could be better without adding a single piece. If Mike Napoli keeps up the pace he raked at over the second half of the year, and a contract year Josh Hamilton, with a bit of chip on his shoulder as well, hits as he is capable of, the nightmare in Arlington will continue. The Angels however, didn’t do much but what they did was major. Pujols’ addition will turn the Angels solid overall attack into potentially one of the most fearsome in the game. The A’s will lean heavily on untested new additions Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez, once he returns from his 50 game PED suspension.

Rotation

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

The Angels’ top three of Weaver, Haren and Ervin Santana were already tough enough, but their lifting of CJ Wilson from their division rival Rangers makes them a headache nearly all week now. The Rangers countered by adding Japanese ace Yu Darvish, but the 10 game differences between the two clubs last summer will be tested by the 16-game winner Wilson switching caps.

Weaver set the April wins record to start last season, and ended it runner up in the Cy Young race.

1-2 Punch

  1. Angels (Weaver & Haren)
  2. Mariners (Hernandez & Vargas)
  3. Rangers (Lewis & Holland)
  4. A’s (McCarthy & Colon)

As mentioned above, the Angels’ staff is headed by one of the most potent duos in either league. Weaver and Haren combined for 34 wins, a 2.79 ERA and 390 strikeouts a year ago, with Weaver finishing second in the Cy Young vote. Don’t sleep on the Mariners duo however, with the dominant King Felix at the top, followed by Jason Vargas, who racked up three shutouts a year ago.

Bullpen

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

The Texas pen is so good that it will lose its All-Star closer, Neftali Feliz, to its rotation and barely skips a beat. With Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ugando and Koji Uehara are waiting later on, teams’ better burn their starters beyond recognition. The Angels have a very balanced pen, Downs, LaTroy Hawkins and Jordan Walden at the end. Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes head up a transitional Oakland staff with some strong young arms, and Brandon League will anchor a Mariner pen that will deliver him plenty of save chances yet again.

Tablesetters

  1. Rangers (Kinsler/Andrus)
  2. Mariners (Figgins/Ackley)
  3. A’s (Weeks/Pennington)
  4. Angels (Aybar/Abreu)

There’s arguably no more dynamic leadoff combination than Kinsler and Andrus, both possessing 30 steal potential and will continually put themselves on in front of the hell that is the middle of the Texas lineup. Ackley was highly productive after a late season promotion to Seattle, as was Jemile Weeks, who hit .300 and stole over 20 bags as a rook in ’10.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Rangers (Hamilton/Young/Beltre)
  2. Angels (Pujols/Hunter/Kendrick)
  3. Mariners (Ichiro/Carp/Montero)
  4. A’s (Crisp/Smith/Reddick)

Young had a career highs with a .338 average and 106 RBI last season, his first as a full-time DH.

It may be wiser to pray than pitch to the middle of the Rangers order. Hamilton is a career .308 hitter, with off the charts power. Beltre cracked 30 homers and 30 doubles a year ago, and in the middle is Young, who’s coming off a .338, batting title runner up season. Pujols single handedly will boost the output of Torii Hunter back to his vintage levels, while in Seattle a whole new Ichiro could be unleashed on the league, as he moves to the third spot from being one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever.

Bench

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

The Angels have depth, and it’s even spilled over into issue. They have the “problem” of finding spots for Bobby Abreu, Mike Trumbo, Kendry Morales, Ryan Langerhans and Maicer Izturis. There will be a revolving look for them all year. David Murphy and Yorvit Torrealeba are starter quality players on many other teams, and will get their fair share in Texas as well.

Defense

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

Pujols bat gets the headlines, but his glove saves many games as well. Coupled with another Gold Glove winner in Erick Aybar, a 9-time winner in Torii Hunter and a shoe in for a few in the future, Peter Bourjos, the Angels should be tough to sneak one past. Texas puts a Gold Glove winner on the field in Beltre, and two others that could easily win one any season as well in Andrus and Kinsler, one of the best double play duos in the league. Seattle runs out shutdown outfield combo of Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro as well.

Speed

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

Ichiro stole 40 bases again, and Chone Figgins (if he can remember how to get on base again) is also a huge speed threat. Add in Ackley and Gutierrez, and the Mariners can move both on the bases and in the field. The Rangers were 4th in the AL in team steals a year ago, and Coco Crisp led the AL in swipes with 49.

Manager

  1. Mike Scioscia, Angels
  2. Ron Washington, Rangers
  3. Bob Melvin, Mariners
  4. Eric Wedge, Mariners

Mike Scioscia is one of the great tacticians in the game, and now has an abundance of talent again at his hand. His presence was crucial in bringing both Pujols and Wilson to LA. Ron Washington has taken the Rangers to back-to-back World Series, and only two historic performances prevented him from being a two-time champ as well.

Rookies/Prospects To Watch

  1. Yu Darvish (Pitcher, Rangers)
  2. Jesus Montero (DH, Mariners)
  3. Yoenis Cespedes (A’s from Cuba)
  4. Mike Trout (OF, Angels)*
  5. Jarrod Parker (RHP, A’s)

Darvish is the biggest thing to come from Japan since Dice-K, but is in his mid-20’s and throws in the mid-90’s as well. He’ll hold a major role on the Texas staff from day one. Montero, acquired from the Yankees this winter, has the most raw power of any rookie in the game. Cuban sensation Cespedes’ signing in Oakland was a surprise, and he will be counted on in a big way in Oakland. Trout will start in the minors, but is either #1 or #2 on nearly all Top 100 boards of prospects for good reason that will show before the summer is over.

The much rumored Cespedes will make his debut in a surprising place in Oakland and will have some immediate expectations as well.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
  2. Brandon McCarthy, A’s
  3. Dustin Ackley, Mariners
  4. Derek Holland, Rangers
  5. Josh Reddick, A’s

Feliz has dominated the ninth since coming up in late 2009, and is now taking his intimidating stuff to the beginning of games. If he can build up the durability and repertoire to have a similar impact in the rotation, he will be among the AL’s best starters with a few years. McCarthy quietly had one of the best season’s of any pitcher in the game a year ago, and Reddick was the major piece that came back from Boston in exchange for Oakland’s All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, and for good reason.

Impact Additions

  1. Albert Pujols (Angels from Cardinals)
  2. CJ Wilson (Angels from Rangers)
  3. Joe Nathan (Rangers from Twins)
  4. Seth Smith (A’s from Rockies)
  5. Bartolo Colon (A’s from Yankees)

The Angels' huge winter spending spree landed them both the game's premier player in Pujols and their top opponents best arm in Wilson.

Pujols is the biggest signing for any team since both times A-Rod switched jerseys, and the Angels paid the price to land the game’s premier player. Paired with Wilson, they immediately changed the forecast in LA and make them the team to watch in a city long owned by the Dodgers. If Nathan can rediscover his pre-surgery form from Minnesota, the Rangers Feliz-less bullpen could be even better than before.

Finances

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

The well would seem dry after their $300 million winter, but the Angels still have cash on deck to make another move down there stretch if needed. This could prove to be the difference between them and a Rangers team that is holding back money to resign Hamilton, Young and Napoli soon.

PREDICTIONS

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

The script will finally flip back in 2012 to the way it was from 2007-2009, with the Angels climbing back to the top of the mountain. The Rangers will still be a force to be reckoned with, and won’t go down easy, but the addition of Pujols will make everyone around him in the lineup better, and the Angels weren’t pushovers before AP. On the hill, Wilson adds yet another matchup advantage to a rotation that already put the pressure down Texas a year ago. However, it’s a tale of two halves still, as the Mariners still are top heavy as it gets after Ichiro & Felix, and the A’s lineup is over reliant on a mixture of youth and not quite up to speed with LA/Texas-level veteran talents.

Due to this extreme first class/second class divide in the division, both Texas and LA could benefit the most from the expanded Wild Card spot. While the idea that it could let an extra AL East team in the mix is popular, the truth is that both of the superior teams in the West will have a lot of shots to feed on the bottom of the division. The Rangers boost two legit MVP candidates and as always, their pitching should find a way to be better than advertised. Down in LA, they have added the game’s best player and constructed a potential three All-Star rotation. When coupled with one of the game’s great strategists in Scioscia, the Angels will finish the push they started as a lesser team at the end of last summer and take the division for themselves, while the Rangers will still return to October via a Wild Card bid.

Come back next time for a look in nation’s heartland at the AL Central, where the defending champs have added some firepower via a familiar name. Yet still, they are far from out of the sites of one of the best gatherings of young talent in baseball. Until then follow me on Twitter, at @CheapSeatFan.