Photos courtesy of USA Today and The Spokesman-Review
Written By: Matthew Haines
Welcome to the most underrated division in baseball! The AL West resembles much of what the MLB will be, unfortunately. This will most likely be a one team race, with most other teams seeking a Wild Card position to enter the postseason. Luckily for baseball fans, the AL West will be jam-packed with talent that will keep every team a must-watch. When taking a dive into the the rosters and the numbers they post, I would not be surprised if the AL West turns out to be one of the strongest divisions in baseball. That’s right…I might, for once, disagree with the numbers. The AL West has tremendous talent where any team at any time can make a real run. Nevertheless, let’s take a look into the AL West and pray that these statements do not come back to bite me in the end.
1st: Houston Astros (obviously)
The Astros were one of the strongest teams seen in 2018, ending with 103 wins and only falling to the juggernaut that was the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. 2019 looks to be no change of tide for the Astros. With a PECOTA projection of 98-64, they currently sit highest in the MLB based solely on these projections. I cannot argue with that, as you will see, the Astros return a loaded lineup of outstanding talent that makes one say, “how did someone let this happen?”. For this reason, the Astros are my projected 2019 World Series Champions, lock it in.
Where to I even start? The Astros have so much talent, that frankly, I had to make a cutoff at Collin McHugh due to the sheer amount of star power (pun intended) in their lineup. Let’s start with the hitters. Posting an unbelievable 7.6 WAR along with 157 wRC+ is the one, the only, Alex Bregman. So yeah, he’s a stud and he’s likely not about to slow down. Currently, Bregman is projected for another massive season at 6.1 pWAR. Only time will tell if this comes to fruition, but I hope it does. Up next we have 5’6” Jose Altuve.
Haha this picture is so funny, get it? One is short and one is tall….that’s why it’s hilarious! Great job MLB, love it!
Okay back to the preview.
Altuve posted a staggering 4.9 WAR and 135 wRC+ last season, making him the second biggest contributor in the lineup. This year, he is projected to somehow improve his already elite numbers, so pitchers should have fun throwing to him as well. Rounding out the top performers last season in the Astros lineup is George Springer. Last season he saw a bit of a drop in his WAR to 2.9, but this trend is likely to stop. In 2019, he is projected for another 4+ WAR season along with a healthy 125+ wRC+. Unfortunately for opponents, the puck does not stop there. The Astros showcase one of the best pitching staffs in the league as well. First up, we have Richmond-grown, Justin Verlander. Last season saw him post an astounding 6.9 WAR along with an xFIP of 3.03. Verlander is projected for another 5.3 WAR this season as well, and will only be supported by the rest of the staff. Not far behind Verlander in the Astros’ rotation is Gerrit Cole, who saw outrageous production in 2018 as well with 6.3 WAR and xFIP of only 3.04. He will continue this production in 2019 as well, with a pWAR of 5.1 and an arsenal that will make hitters shake in the box. Rounding out the breakdown of Astros’ pitcher is reliever, Collin McHugh, who posted a 1.4 WAR along with a 3.26 xFIP last season and is likely to rise in 2019. Good luck AL West, these guys are loaded.
The 2018-19 offseason saw a couple of losses for the Astros including Marwin Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel to free agency. Keuchel will be the biggest loss for the Astros, posting a 2018 WAR of 3.6 and another projected solid season of 2.6 pWAR. While these losses will likely not affect the Astros productivity too much, there will be a bit of lost production from the lineup last season.
Players to Watch:
Somehow, the Astros also have one of the best farm systems in the game. First name to keep track of is RHP, Forrest Whitley. This guy throws HARD, and has been lighting up the minor leagues with 0.99 WHIP along with 34Ks in only 26.1 innings pitched. Currently, Whitley is projected to make his debut sometime in 2019, so Astros fans are not far away from seeing this flamethrower on a big league mound. Up next should be a familiar name for Astros fan in Kyle Tucker, who made his debut in 2018. Although his short 2018 campaign saw struggles, Tucker remains one of the top prospects in the system that will hopefully see a much more successful run in 2019. Along with prospects that made a short appearance in 2018 is Josh James, a RHP. 2019 will likely see a larger role for James as the Astros look to expand on their already stacked pitching staff. Looking further down the line, we have LF/1B, Seth Beer. Beer was one of the best players in Clemson history, and has continued his outstanding production in the minors hitting 12 HRs in 67 games, as well as an OPS of 0.885. While his projected debut is not until 2021, he is still a name to keep in mind when thinking about future stars of the organization.
2nd Place: Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are, in my opinion, the most disappointing team in the MLB today. This team is ripe with talent that has just not come to fruition as of late. Hopefully 2019 will be the change. As I am writing this article, Mike Trout just signed a for a record breaking $430 million, so hats off to the Angels for signing such an amazing athlete at such a low price. Yes, he’s that good. Likewise, word on the street is that the Angels signed quite the player development intern during winter meetings over the offseason. For some reason his name is slipping my mind at the moment, but I think you can find him on this site here and there if you look close enough.
Mike Trout, enough said.
But in all serious, the Angels do bring back some solid talent for the 2019 campaign, including international phenom, Shohei Ohtani, who was a top producer in both offensive and pitch WAR, with 2.0 and 1.8 respectively. While injury may play a role in Ohtani’s production in 2019, hopefully he will be healthy and continue his solid production for the Angels for years to come. Next we have yet another underrated player within the Angels lineup, Justin Upton. Last season saw him post a 3.1 WAR along with 152 wRC+. This production is projected to continue for Upton in 2019 with a projected WAR of 2.6. The Angels pitching staff is where struggles begin to arise with true impact players. Sitting at the top of the rotation in terms of production is Andrew Heaney, who posted a 2.8 WAR and 3.68 xFIP last season, as is expected to continue production in 2019. Next up in the rotation is Tyler Skaggs, who is not far behind Heaney with a 2.4 WAR along with a 3.79 xFIP in 2018. Both starters have solid numbers and with continued production, the Angels can see a decent one-two in the starting rotation for 2019. Last player that will player a key role in the Angels’ 2019 campaign is reliever, Jose Alvarez, with a 1.2 WAR last season. Angels fan can expect him to take a heightened role in 2019 as he continues to improve on production.
The Angels had an active offseason of signings, most notably, Matt Harvey, who will hopefully provide a key piece to the Angels starting rotation puzzle. Last year saw him post a 1.5 WAR, and while projections are expecting that number to be a bit lower this year, do not be surprised if Harvey taps back into his past production and has a breakout year. Along with Harvey, the Angels signed another addition to the battery in Jonathan Lucroy, the best looking guy in baseball. Lucroy had a down year last year, only producing 0.6 WAR, but is expected to improve this season with a pWAR of 1.6, a great addition for the Angels as they look to increase production throughout the 2019 season.
Players to Watch:
Jo Adell remains the top prospect in the Angels organization and it makes sense why. While he struggled in AA last season, he still blasted 20 HRs and posted a 0.897 OPS. While his debut is likely down the road, projected for 2020, a solid year for Adell can see an early callup late in the season. The most prominent prospect expected to make a debut in 2019 is Griffin Canning. He has been tearing up the MiLB currently with 125Ks over 113.1 IP, along with a solid 1.26 WHIP. 2018 saw some struggles in AAA, but do not be surprised if we see Canning on the MLB roster towards the later months of the season.
3rd Place: Oakland Athletics
This might be the projection I have the most trouble with, at a PECOTA projection of 78-84, I just do not see it. The A’s have some of the best players players in the AL West, and with the forward thinking nature of the organization, they will likely find some way to win games and make a run at a Wild Card spot. I am not going to rant because frankly, the A’s are one of my favorite teams to watch, and should be yours, so let’s just hop into what makes this lineup such a sleeping giant in the AL West.
Up first we have breakout star, Matt Chapman. This guy can do it all, with a glove you can write home about, along with a powerful bat, it is no mystery as to how he produced a mammoth of a season in 2018, posting a 6.5 WAR along 137 wRC+. Oh yeah, and this will be only his second season. Along with Chapman is Jed Lowrie who also put up a monster of a year in 2018 with 4.9 WAR and 122 wRC+. Continuing with the A’s oddly, yet not so oddly, deep lineup is Marcus Semien, who posted an impressive 3.7 WAR in 2018 and is expected to continue this production in 2019. Continuing on A’s players with 3+ WAR in 2018 is Matt Olson, with 3.4 WAR to his name in 2018 and is expected to increase production in 2019 to 3.6. Anchoring the bullpen is, in my opinion, the best reliever in the game, Blake Treinen. 2018 saw him throwing wiffle balls on the mound, which led to an insane 3.6 WAR for the reliever. Do not expect this to stop anytime soon, for Treinen is expected to have continued impressive numbers in 2019.
The A’s had a relatively quiet offseason, with the main signing being Marco Estrada. While 2018 was not his year, posting a WAR of only 0.5, he is expected to increase production during his 2019 campaign, and can supply a key role in the A’s struggling starting rotation.
Players to Watch:
Luckily for A’s fans, they have some of the most impressive talent in the MiLB in their farm system. Topping the A’s prospects list is projected top-5 overall pick, Kyler Murray. As he carves up defenses in the NFL over the next years, A’s fans will know that in their heart, and only in their heart, he is an Athletic. Next up is probably one of the most talked about prospects in baseball in LHP, A.J. Puk. While Puk has yet to throw in a professional uniform, he is still projected to make is debut in 2019 and will likely showcase MLB quality from the start. Another LHP A’s fans can look forward to is Jesus Luzardo, who has been dominating MiLB, with a 1.09 WHIP, 129Ks, and 0.229 oppAVG throughout 109.1 innings of work. Last on prospects expecting to make an impact in 2019 is C, Sean Murphy, who has been quite impressive in the MiLB, posting a 0.850 OPS and can make an immediate impact for the A’s late in the season.
4th Place: Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are yet another team with a rather low PECOTA projection at 72-90, but an oddly good lineup. This year will be a year where the Mariners look to strengthen their lineup and continue building on their starting pitching as well as bullpen depth. Unfortunately for the Mariners, they lost a lot of key players throughout the offseason that leaves them with a largely untested lineup. Fortunately, I believe the Mariners are only a few breakout players away from really becoming a threat in the AL West, but still have a ways to go if they are to catch up to the powerhouse that is the Houston Astros.
The Mariners will be showcasing 5 very solid players in their lineup and rotation this coming year, starting with Mitch Haniger, who saw outstanding production last year with a WAR of 4.6. Unfortunately, Haniger will be above and beyond the rest of the lineup, with production dropping sharply after him. Luckily, the Mariners have solid arms in their rotation, starting with Marco Gonzales, who posted an impressive 3.6 WAR in 2018 along with a 3.43 xFIP. Gonzales is expect to continue this production, and will need to play an essential role for the Mariners if they are to exceed expectations in 2019.
This offseason was brutal for Mariners fans. Loss after loss, the Mariners saw a lot of production leave the clubhouse, with really only 1 key acquisition during the same span. The 2019 offseason saw the loss of James Paxton, Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Edwin Diaz. All players mentioned were key leaders in WAR for the Mariners, all of them with 2.5+ in WAR and expected to increase or continue production in the 2019 season. Yet, it is not all grim for Mariners outlook, 2019 also sees the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, who is expected to see an increase in production from his rather lackluster 2018 campaign.
Players to Watch:
The Mariners have a couple of prospects to keep watch of during the 2019 season, with both expected to be key additions to the club in 2019 and be immediate role players. LHP, Justus Sheffield, formerly of the Yankees, made his debut in 2018 and saw struggles. However, the young lefty shows true promise on the mound and can find himself within the starting rotation immediately. Adding to potential rotation depth is RHP, Justin Dunn, who is also expected to be called up in 2019 and play a role in the rotation. Dunn has produced well in the MiLB, with 156Ks in 135.1 IP along with an oppAVG of only 0.253. Keep an eye out for Dunn to be an impact player throughout the 2019 season.
Yeah so, the Rangers
I’ll be honest, when looking at the Rangers, I do not see much upside here. While they have acquired quite a few players in the offseason, all are projected to drop in production. The Rangers do have some young talent to look forward to, but all in all, I do not see 2019 going too well for them. This is echoed through their PECOTA projection of 70-92.
Joey Gallo will be the leader in this Rangers lineup. Last season, he lead the team in WAR with 2.8 as well as a solid 110 wRC+, and is expected to increase his production in 2019 to a pWAR of 3.2 and pwRC+ of 122. This is a major upside for Rangers fan, as Gallo is still one of the younger players in the lineup and has a solid outlook for the near future. Along with Gallo will be Rougned Odor, who’s big swinging aura will allow for a one-two punch in addition to Gallo when is comes to KOing fastballs. Although, Odor will have to fight with his projections for 2019, which are expected to drop like Ivan Drago in 2019. Anchoring the rotation for the 2019 season will be Jose Leclerc, who saw an impressive 2018 campaign posting 2.4 WAR, yet, unfortunately, is expected to drop in 2019 per projections. 2019 will also see the return of Mike Minor, another key pitcher in the Rangers’ rotation. 2018 saw a decent season for Minor, with 2.2 WAR, and is expected to increase his production in 2019 with a pWAR of 2.5 and pxFIP of 4.39.
The offseason brought a load of key players for the Rangers if they are to contend for 2nd place in the AL West. Drew Smyly, Lance Lynn, and Asdrubal Cabrera are all key signings for the Rangers. Unfortunately, all are projected to decrease in production, with none of them projected to produce more than 2.0 WAR in 2019. The offseason also saw the loss of Jurickson Profar, who would have played a key role in the Rangers lineup and is expected to increase his production to 3.4 pWAR in 2019 with the A’s. This is a key loss for the struggling Rangers, but they will have to make do.
Players to Watch:
This Rangers’ minor league system is relatively dry as of late, with few players expected to make jumps to the major league club in 2019. One such prospect expected to make the jump is RHP, Jonathan Hernandez. He has produced well in the minors so far, posting a 1.22 WHIP as well as a 0.218 oppAVG so far. If all goes well, Rangers fans can expect to see him make an impact sometime this season, hopefully for the better. Along with Hernandez is another RHP, Brocke Burk, who has seen similar numbers in the minors so far with an identical WHIP of 1.22 and an oppAVG of 0.236.
All in all, the AL West can be quite the division to spectate, as it showcases a lot of top-of-the-line talent that will keep fans entertained and involved. While the Astros should and probably will run away with the division, don’t be surprised if the A’s or Angels make a run at a postseason spot late in the season. Like all projections, they are just that, projections. Personally, I hope PECOTA has most of these teams wrong, for they all showcase a good amount of fresh talent that can greatly benefit the league as a whole. Anyways, I hope you all enjoyed the 3rd edition of our division previews, stay tuned for the next half within the next few weeks!