By R.J. Anderson
This is the first of a series looking at all six major league divisions, with the help of Bloomberg Sports’ Spider Charts. We start today with the AL West.
The American League West figures to be the tightest division in baseball, without a clear favorite or doormat in sight. It would be inaccurate to say every team has an equal shot, but there’s certainly an opportunity for each of them to ascend to the throne and punch a ticket for October baseball. Here’s a quick look at the fantasy standouts on each club.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Even with the losses of Chone Figgins and John Lackey, the Angels have several interesting fantasy options. Kendry Morales, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and new addition Hideki Matsui represent the team’s sluggers. Meanwhile, Mike Napoli is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball; if he can shake the injury bug and wrest the full-time job from Jeff Mathis, he’ll be a great pick this season. Abreu and Hunter form two-thirds of a aging outfield, alongside Juan Rivera; though Abreu and Hunter both bring diverse skills to the table, don’t overbid on either player. Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Maicer Izturis, and Erick Aybar
have fantasy potential too, with Wood being the much hyped and much
delayed former top shortstop prospect who finally gets his shot. Kendrick in particular could be a breakout player if he can finally stay healthy for a full season.
The pitching staff could be hurt by the loss of Lackey, but ample talent remains. Brian Fuentes saved 48 games last year despite so-so peripherals; newly acquired Fernando Rodney and sleeper flamethrower Kevin Jepsen would nab saves if Fuentes falters in 2010. The rotation features Jered Weaver, a perennially good, but underrated anchor. Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana represent intriguing starting options, but both are also huge injury risks, with Kazmir opening this season on the disabled list. Joe Saunders’ peripherals suggest he’s closer to last year’s version than the 2008 addition. The Angels appear solid across the board, without any defined flaw.
The Mariners were everyone’s off-season sweethearts with the acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins, but Lee’s injury changes the outlook of this team, as does Erik Bedard’s continued battle with the machete-yielding injury bug. Regardless, Felix Hernandez is still the King, and one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball. Ryan-Rowland Smith is the type of finesse lefty who could get a boost from Safeco Field’s spacious dimensions and great outfield defense (see Jarrod Washburn, 2009), and he’ll certainly be available as a late-round flyer in any mixed league of 12 teams or less.
Ichiro is Ichiro. He’ll approach 200 hits, steal bases, and potentially get undervalued in leagues that overemphasize youth. Milton Bradley has been discussed here before, and while Seattle essentially features black holes at designated hitter and shortstop, the addition of Figgins gives Seattle another speed/contact option to bat at the top of the lineup in front of Franklin Gutierrez, who could lead the team in runs batted in. The sleeper here is either Brandon League or Mark Lowe, either of whom could get the call if David Aardsma‘s out-of-nowhere 2009 performance turns out to be a one-time deal. Meanwhile, it’s probably best to avoid Jose Lopez in the early rounds. His home run total is nice, but the switch to third base and fact that he is the absolute worst type of hitter for Safeco means you should let someone else overbid for his homers and RBI.
Given their deep stable of young talent, Texas has the greatest potential for a big leap this season, and in the next few years. The addition of Rich Harden makes them even more intriguing. Much like Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard, if Harden is healthy, he’s fire. The Rangers hope the program set forth by pitching coach Mike Maddux, as well as the innovative strength and conditioning regimen implemented by Jose Vazquez will do for Harden what they did for other Rangers pitchers last year. Scott Feldman, the biggest beneficiary of the Rangers’ pitch-to-contact approach last season with 17 wins and a 4.08 approach, is a long shot to duplicate last year’s numbers. Meanwhile, Derek Holland has considerable upside, as does Neftali Feliz; Holland will start the season in the minors, Feliz in the bullpen.
On the hitting side, Nelson Cruz will seek to duplicate the 30 HR-20 SB performance he put up in ’09, his first full major league season. Michael Young will be overvalued after some gaudy numbers last year, and is a good bet to see significant regression. Vladimir Guerrero should only be bought if he comes at a bargain price; as last season showed, the Vlad of old is gone. A deep sleeper could be David Murphy, a solid if unspectacular left-handed hitter entering the prime of his career in a deep lineup, with Arlington’s hitter-friendly backdrop acting as a tailwind.
Oakland’s offense offers little other than a sprinkling of speed, with Rajai Davis and Cliff Pennington leading the way. Pennington in particular could be a strong sleeper if he can extend his promising 2009 performance over a full season. An even bigger sleeper could be Jake Fox, who becomes the A’s designated power threat without an obvious position after the team cut Jack Cust.
At least there are a few hurlers worthy of consideration. Ben Sheets, for one, even with his health being a perpetual question mark. Brett Anderson is another, coming off an terrific rookie season that was even better than his superficial numbers suggest. Closer Andrew Bailey has health issues, as does set-up man Michael Wuertz, which could push sleeper saves candidate Tyson Ross into the equation. Ross was one of the Athletics’ top pitching prospects and will be used out of the bullpen to begin the year. He gets groundballs and has above-average stuff, which should translate to a good number of strikeouts.
If you’re in a keeper league, the A’s also feature some intriguing offensive options in the minors. Chris Carter and Michael Taylor could be up at some point this season and definitely should be on your list of sleeper pickups. Oakland probably has the lowest chance of actually winning the division, but in the wild West, anything can happen.