AL WEST PREVIEW – OUTFIELD
Los Angeles Angels – Combined Stats – .305/65/218
It should surprise no one by this point that the ciudado de Angels is the location of the AL West’s best outfield. In fact, I would say that this group of players is the best trio in the whole league. Xun and Trout were both All-stars in 2016, and I would expect them to be joined in 2017 by one of my favorite MLB Pro players, Nomar Mazzara (admittedly, this has a little do due with my childhood obsession with Nomar Garciappara). What makes this even more impressive is that the DH in LA is Masutaro Ohayashi, a 26 year old (he is the eldest of this super group fyi) who can play all 3 outfield positions at above average levels. This is the man who lost his spot in the outfield to what is essentially a disturbingly impressive crop of talent. Ohayashi, by the way, was an all-star last year. If you want to include him in the OF mix, then we are looking at 3 all-stars, 2 Silver Slugger awards, a gold glove, and an AL Championship series MVP. Mazarra won NONE of those awards…. And could very easily win ALL of them in 2017. I feel like I need to tone it down a bit here, because there is a very real possibility I am falling in love with this team, and as a born/raised East coaster like myself, I can’t go having positive feelings and thoughts about a west coast colossus.
What does need to be said, once again, is that this is a group that was built from within. All 4 of these fellas (side note, we are counting Ohayashi in the body of this discussion, but his numbers are not included in the top section entitled “Combined Stats”) were brought up through the Angels system, all of them having spent at least a small period of time at the AA level. Mazarra was acquired in a deal with the Marlins for Dan Haren, who pitched very well for the Fish, but is now at AAA for the Pirates. I am done, I cant look at this team anymore…. No wonder the Angels have won back to back titles.
Texas Rangers – Combined Stats – .266/68/205
Our #2 stays the same in the outfield as well, as the Rangers come in just behind the Angels. Their offensive production is very similar, but that is not a shock from a team that plays half its games in Arlington. That being said, The Rangers outfield is headlined by 2 superstars on the corners – Emory Blumentha and Xue-Liang Wong. Wong is the first international free agent of renown that I can recall in MLB Pro. He was signed in 2012 by the New York Yankees, and was promptly traded to the Rangers in exchange for Neftali Feliz. He has been at the center of the Rangers lineup ever since. Wong hit 113 HR in his first seasons in Arlington, including slugging 58 HR in 111 games in 2014 before being suspended for a positive PED test. He was on pace to SHATTER the single season HR record set by Barry Bonds (who? He doesn’t exist in MLB Pro!) in 2001, and has not displayed quite the same power since. Still, with a low HR total of 27 over the past 4 years, Wong remains one of the premier power threats in the league. The 26 year old from Taipei Taiwan is entering his final year of arbitration in 2018, and is sure to cash in eventually on these impressive numbers.
On the other side of the great grass outfield is Emory Blumentha. Blumentha just sort of showed up one day as a 32 year old minor league free agent. There isn’t really a lot of information on him before he was signed as a free agent with the Rangers, but after being signed essentially off the streets 3 years ago, Blumentha won the starting job the very next year. He spent 0 time in the minor leagues, and has been RAKING ever since. Blumentha hit 42 home runs in very first year in professional baseball, which again, was at the major league level…. At the age of 32. How is there not already a movie about this guy? What makes it even stranger is that he is not an international signing… the cat is from Lexington, KY. Regardless, this is where my coverage of the Rangers ceases. Centerfielder Gustavo Nieves does not warrant any attention at this time.
Houston Astros – Combined Stats – .255/33/103
HEY HEY HEY! Houston is not ranked last for the first time in our preview! Granted a lot of this is based off anticipated production in 2017, not on proven track records. But when I look across the OF in Houston, I see a real reason for hope in our nation’s 3rd largest city. Honestly, this is only going to get better in the very near future, when top prospect Richard Fowler comes up and inevitably replaces Patrick Leonard in RF. But we are not working on players not on the MLB roster at the moment. Lets take a look at the two players who have the majority of the Astros future riding on them currently, Nick Williams and Jeffery Moore. Both players were rookies in 2016, and both came onto the scene surrounded by and underwhelming cast. We have already covered the IF and C positions in Houston and shown how little was there, and adding in Ken Jackson (DH) and the aforementioned and forgettable Patrick Leonard does not make this a prettier picture. Despite this however, the two of these men combined for the stat line you see above. Not bad for 2 rookies with nothing around them.
Both of these men play fantastic defense (as does Fowler FWIW) and have shown great eyes at the plate. Both are only 23 years old and both are left handed. When you look at these two young men, and think about the possibility of Fowler joining them in late 2017, you start to look at an OF that has the potential to rival LA and TEX in terms of raw talent. I know I am putting a lot of stock in young guys who have not really proven themselves yet, but I am excited about the future in Houston…. At least on the grass.
Seattle Mariners – Combined Stats – .258/23/103
Here we arrive at the outlier (in one sense at least) of the AL West. I have already covered the Angels and Rangers propensity for building from the farm up, and Houston/Oakland have been forced into that path by stingy owners and shallow pockets. But the Seattle Mariners have deep pockets, and the stones to go out and acquire MLB ready talent. And as I pointed out in the coverage on their infield, they do so very well. 2 of the 3 starters in the Mariners OF were acquired post the beginning of the 2015 season. These two men are the ones we are going to focus on in this preview, as they are the two that figure to be the largest contributors for the upcoming season.
Mark Baker is Seattle’s 40th attempt to bring some stability to their CF position. That is only a slight exaggeration it feels like, but I am sure GM Justin Kaiser would agree that the centerpiece of the OF has been a tricky one to figure out in Weedle World (possible new nickname for the City of Seattle). Baker came into the league after being signed by former (and much maligned) Arizona GM Mr. Berk. I cannot, for some reason, remember his first name, so Mr. Berk it is. Baker was held onto tightly by the Diamondbacks for years, until current GM Jay Shegel decided it was time to cash in. Seattle let go of a number of promising prospects to bring in the speedy CF, but Kaiser is hopeful that this is FINALLY the end of rotating door. It is a bit concerning that Baker is coming off a very down year by his standards (.236/13/46), but most attribute this to an injury plagued campaign. The wheels are still there, and you should likely count on Baker to be a perennial 20/20 candidate in Seattle for the next 5-10 years.
Welcoming Baker to the OF will be Jeffery Walker, who played in 43 games for the Mariners in 2016. Walker was acquired, along with a few prospects (ironically, one of whom was Daz Cameron, a center piece in the deal that brought Baker to Seattle) in exchange for Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen was the latest failed attempt in CF for Seattle, but seems to have recovered in the Bronx. Walker is a high OB, good contact guy with little to no power potential. He plays the corners of both the infield and the outfield well, and works his backside off every day. While he will never wow the vast majority of the country, and will likely never make an all-star appearance (thanks in large part to the Mariners rivals from the South), Walker will be a steady presence both in the field and at the dish for the M’s.
Oakland Athletics – Combined Stats – .277/12/84
At the bottom of the division we see the Oakland Athletics. But honestly, the outfields in this division are all so talented, this isn’t as bleak of a scenario as we have seen in the previous two previews. Oakland has some talent in the OF, particularly in Stephen Brown and Joc Pederson. The third member of the outfield, Xavier Macklin, is a bit of a controversial figure in the league, or at least he is as controversial as you can be as a 3rd OF on a team that won 65 games in 2016. A’s Gm Jason Gudim is very very high on Macklin’s future, having multiple times refereed to him as a “top OF prospect in MLB Pro”. I have heard a few GM’s agree with this sentiment, and a few disagree with it over the last 12 months. I for one do not believe he will turn into anything special. Brown and Pederson however, both show real promise. Brown is a wonderful leadoff hitter, showing great patience and high OBP numbers. He also has great speed to stretch a single into a double, and put pressure on pitchers when he is on base. Pederson is a prototypical #3 hitter, and provides stability in a lineup that is sure to see a lot of turmoil over the next few years. If one day the A’s can improve on Macklin’s offensive production, they have the makings of a talented, if (by AL West Standards) slightly average OF.
Coming up next, pitching staffs!