Sunday, August 10, 2008

AL West Season 3 Preview

We conclude our journey around the league in the AL West, which saw the only first-time division winner in the AL last season in Anaheim. Will they make it 2 in a row?

Offense: Anaheim looks to have the best lineup in this division. James Dixon, who played just about every position as some point last season, had a monster rookie season. 3B Alex Vazquez hit a ton of home runs (61), drove in a ton of runs (164), and accumulated a ton of strikeouts (173). Outfielders Butch Swift and Pat Takada are fairly consistent hitters, and SS Maceo Coronado looks to contribute in his rookie season.

It's time for Las Vegas's young talent to produce. 1B Wally Harvey had a nice season, but 2B Jeremy Glover, 3B William Nomo, and CF Emmitt Yearwood all saw their numbers decline from season 1. All four of these guys have plenty of talent. DH Clarence Hartman needs to chip in to provide depth.

Colorado Springs is a bit behind in offensive talent. LF Alex Lim is the most talented hitter and 3B Terry Mitchell supplies the power, but after that there's not much beyond free-agent import Chip Loiselle, who is a slap hitter, and good-looking 1B Jung Zheng.

They scored 180 runs less than any other team last season, and now they're moving to Seattle. That can't bode well for this offense. Their most consistent hitter left, 2B Richard Takahashi, is coming off a neck injury from last season. CF Steve Bako underachieved last season. 1B Woody Waltman is a pretty good looking rookie. Beyond that, they have OFs Flip Chapman and Pep Osborn, all-or-nothing type guys who could see their production go way down in Safeco Field.

Pitching: All four staffs have big-time question marks. If we're going to talk about teams gambling on pitchers stepping up, we might as well start in Las Vegas. Louie Martin had a great season, and after him there's really only depth guys like Buster Charles and Rob Rehfield. Dave Stewart is the closer and Coco Hines will get first shot at setup.

It may be a curious signing for a rebuilding team, but the signing of ace Ajax Drabek vaults Seattle out of the bottom of the pitching department in my eyes. Jerry Terry and Ron Lewis are solid and should benefit from Safeco. Darren Greene is decidedly average, at best, and after that, no one really knows-for some reason Luther Stewart won't take off the blindfold that seems to be on when he pitches. The closer role is also wide open, with Ken Baez getting first shot and Trent Bollea probably next in line.

The only thing more curious than Seattle signing Drabek is Anaheim letting him go, as they'd be the odds-on favorite to repeat with him in the rotation. They return Roland Casey(who may be hard-pressed to repeat his 14-9 campaign), Andy Ramsey (who took a step back last season to 12-14, 5.11), Felipe Cela (5.28 ERA) and Alberto Leon (6.01 ERA). Horacio Lecouna comes over from Salt Lake City to take a spot in the rotation; Anaheim fans should not expect him to replace Drabek. Bernard Hynes, a former closer in the Nashville system, washed out as a starter for the Chiles last season. Who's the closer? Is it Vince Perez, or does Hynes get a shot at it?

Colorado Springs was very fortunate that Seattle (then Vancouver) was in their division to distract from their pitching woes. Ivan Castilla struggled as a rookie, going 9-16 with a 5.81 ERA, but he may be the best option they have. Marty Lane will probably be a lot like Castilla last season, being asked to do too much. Alex Lee won 5 games last season and was rewarded with $5.3 million in arbitration- not sure whether to question the organization or the arbitrator more on that one. Miller Monroe also won 5 games, and probably won't do much better. In the bullpen, Alex Cornejo blew 7 out of 20 save opportunites, but no one else is really equipped to handle the job. I'd like Achilles Hume's chances of developing into a closer if he had another season of minor league baseball under his belt. This is a mess.

1. I'll take Las Vegas (barely) over Anaheim to win the division.
2. Whichever team wins this division will get the #4 seed.
3. I like Seattle's offseason moves, but I'm not convinced they've done enough to make up the 22 games they finished behind Colorado Springs. So I'll say the Chickens finish ahead of the Killer Whales, but by less than the 22 game difference of last season.
4. As he was in Season 1, Drabek will again be the subject of trade rumors.

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