Baseball fans love predictions. They look at ZiPS, Fangraphs, and all kinds of sources to see what people are predicting about the upcoming season. While most of these predictions are based on mathematical algorithms, few are based on good old fashioned gut feelings. Of course, there needs to be a mix of statistics and actually watching these players, but this series of articles will make one prediction about each MLB team.
This article will look at the AL West, making one prediction about each team. The order in which they are listed is what I believe the final standings will be this season.
Joey Gallo will burst onto the scene. A batter must have less than 130 Major League at-bats to qualify for “rookie” status, and in the short stints Rangers prospect Gallo has had in the Majors, he has amassed 133. He is therefore ineligible to win Rookie of the Year, however I believe he will put up numbers worthy of such an award. With 152 minor league home runs in only 485 games, he could become a serious power threat sooner rather than later.
Last season, the Rangers won 95 games with the help of a 20-20 season from shortstop-turned-outfielder Ian Desmond. They lost Desmond to free agency and haven’t made any large acquisitions, hoping the 23 year-old Gallo will fill the void in the lineup. With Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, and Tyson Ross leading a strong rotation as well as closer Sam Dyson anchoring a deep bullpen, the Rangers certainly have the pitching to get it done. With Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate, as well as youngsters Ryan Rua, Rougned Odor, and Nomar Mazara in the field, they have a strong offense as well. Carlos Gomez provides solid defense in center field, however his chronically inconsistent offense could be a problem.
Dallas Keuchel will return to form after a down year, seeing him go 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA as well as miss some time due to injury. His peripherals all regressed, posting his highest H/9, BB/9, and HR/9 since 2013 as well as his lowest K/9 since 2014. However now at 29 years old, I believe he will return to the form that saw him win a Cy Young award in 2015 and post a 5.0 WAR in 2014. The rest of the rotation is fairly average, however there is potential in Lance McCullers to have a breakout season.
The Astros declined in the second half of 2016, however this offseason they went out and bolstered this lineup with the acquisitions of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Josh Reddick. Those players will provide much needed veteran leadership as well as solid offensive production. Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve make up the best middle infield in the Major Leagues, and with youngsters Yulieski Gurriel and Alex Bregman manning the corners, they could have themselves a strong infield. Their bullpen is strong albeit shallow, with three or four solid relievers including closer Ken Giles.
Closer Edwin Diaz will burst onto the scene as an elite closer. Diaz was a starter in the Mariners organization, however his high-velocity fastball and lack of changeup factored into a decision to make him a reliever. He ended up being made closer, a role in which he performed admirably. The flamethrower struck out 88 batters in 51.2 innings, pitching to a 2.79 ERA, 2.04 FIP, and 1.161 WHIP. His fastball averaged at 97 mph and he hit 101 on more than one occasion. This was his first year as a reliever, and as he is just 22 years old, he anchors a deep bullpen also featuring Nick Vincent, Steve Cishek, and Mark Rzepczynski.
The Mariners have a strong infield with Kyle Seager, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, and Danny Valencia left to right, however their outfield is their weakness. They currently have Jarrod Dyson in left, Leonys Martin in center, and if the season were to start right now, rookie Mitch Haniger would be the best choice for right field. They have a powerful DH in Nelson Cruz who’s hit at least 40 home runs each of the past three seasons, however at age 36 that might be subject to change. Their potential Hall Of Fame-worthy ace Felix Hernandez had a down year in 2016, but still only 30 years old, there is no reason to think he won’t return to form and lead a strong Mariners team.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Albert Pujols will put up monster numbers, including career hit #3000 (he currently sits at 2825). The 37 year-old has been producing offensively, just not as much as his huge contract would suggest. However, with a stronger Angels lineup featuring Kole Calhoun, Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa, and of course Mike Trout, he could have the protection necessary for him to actually get pitched to. He hit 31 home runs with 119 RBIs last season so he is certainly still capable of huge numbers, and I believe the three-time MVP will once again turn some heads in 2017. He better, as he still has five years and $140 million left on his contract.
Despite having the best position player in the Major Leagues in center field, the Angels still managed to lose 88 games in 2016. They have a ton of money tied up in Pujols which constricts them financially, however they managed to land Danny Espinosa for close to nothing as well as acquire Cameron Maybin. They have a relatively weak bullpen with Huston Street as their closer, and an average rotation featuring Garret Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Ricky Nolasco, and Matt Shoemaker. They have talent, however they always seem to find a way to lose. I think their bullpen will be their ultimate downfall in 2017.
The Athletics will lose 95 games as well as trade Sonny Gray, Khris Davis, and perhaps even Rajai Davis at the deadline. They managed to win only 69 games last season, and with their only acquisition this offseason being 36 year-old Rajai Davis, they haven’t improved much. If they aren’t in total rebuilding mode already, they will be in July. Gray should rake in a serious haul of prospects, and if Khris Davis can come close to the 42 home runs and 2.8 WAR he featured in 2016, he will as well. Rajai Davis, who they signed to a one-year deal, could also be a valuable trade chip if they find a team in need of a speedy outfielder.
After Sonny Gray, their starting rotation is lacking. 26 year-old Kendall Graveman has some potential however he has yet to tap into it. Their bullpen is rather weak, featuring veteran Ryan Madson as the presumptive closer as well as lefty Sean Doolittle, who could also be dealt at the deadline. It seems like rookie Ryon Healy will be the designated hitter this season, and he could be a name to watch has he has a strong .293/.332/.452 slash line in four Minor League seasons.
Take a look at my predictions for the NL West and stay tuned for the rest of the divisions, culminating in the NL East!