DIVISIONAL OUTLOOK: AL West—The final rotation spot in TEX

Texas Rangers

While the Rangers wait and hope for a June/July return from Tommy John surgery outpatient Colby Lewis, the battle for their #5 rotation slot has plenty of competition. Experienced Randy Wells (RHP, TEX) had his moments with the Cubs awhile back, but his career has since been torpedoed by forearm and elbow problems. With decent Ctl but minus any standout skill, Wells will need health to succeed. The other veteran in the competition is swingman GBer Kyle McClellan (RHP, TEX),  who has also had his career interrupted by injuries (elbow, shoulder) in 2011-12—and who is already reportedly experiencing back discomfort.

The real favorites appear to be a group of youngsters that include 21-year-old prospect Martin Perez (LHP, TEX), who has health, pedigree and an ability to induce GBs. But Perez' inability to miss bats and spotty Ctl also led to a 1.7 Cmd and a 4.82/5.45 ERA/xERA combo. Twenty-four-year-old Justin Grimm (RHP, TEX) may not have Perez' upside, but his Cmd is more advanced. And 2012 surprise Robbie Ross (LHP, TEX) may be the most interesting watch of them all, given his 2.22/3.52 ERA/xERA combo and 62% GB% and  of the pen. Now in late February, the job appears to be wide-open.

 

Houston Astros

Astros manager Bo Porter's comments this past week pertaining to his 1B/DH situation further illustrates the collection of moving parts in HOU. While not ruling out Brett Wallace (1B, HOU) seeing time at 3B—a scenario raised here several weeks ago—Porter said that he is projecting Wallace as his primary 1B, meaning that free agent acquisition Carlos Pena (1B/DH, HOU) will be penciled in at DH, at least against RHPs.

This particular configuration would move recent acquisition Chris Carter (DH/1B, HOU) to LF for more AB than we've initially projected. It could also squeeze JD Martinez (OF, HOU) for playing time, given that Martinez is a sub-par defender whose plodding speed and fringy arm strength doesn't play well elsewhere. Carter has a huge advantage in over Martinez in power, an average skill at best for Martinez. 

We'll have a better picture of things in another month, but Martinez may need some serious March production to remain relevant.

 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Angels' weakest link among their starting position players is at 3B, where Alberto Callaspo (3B, LAA) has recently signed a modest two-year contract and is expected to hold down the job over the better part of that time. Callaspo's meager offensive contributions come in the form of contact and patience that are undermined by sub-par power and speed. He's been able to hit at least .280 in three of the past five seasons, but a four-year decline in xBA—now down to .255—warn not to bet on a repeat. He fares best in simulation formats, where he gets credit for plus defense.

Though most of LAA's bench jobs will be determined in March, Callaspo is likely to be spelled by glove-first utility 26-year-old Andrew Romine (SS, LAA), who can swipe a base in a pinch, but whose career .277 minor league BA and 19 HR in over 2200 AB say he won't see extended playing time. Thirty-three-year-old veteran Bill Hall (3B, LAA) is in camp, but a sub-70% ct% over the past five years appears to have trumped what power remains,. 

An extended Callaspo injury could open a window for Luis Jimenez (3B, LAA), a 25-year-old rookie whose career .302 BA remains mildly interesting, but whose free-swinging ways and doubles power have held him back. Callaspo is really holding the spot for the Angels' best prospect, switch-hitting Kaleb Cowart (3B, LAA), who is likely to begin 2013 at High-A or Double-A. Cowart's mid-2014 ETA means that the Angels 3B won't be notably productive until further notice.

 

Oakland Athletics

The pitching-rich A's appear to have a nice problem at the bottom of their rotation in March, where Dan Straily (RHP, OAK) and Bartolo Colon (RHP, OAK) are battling for the #5 spot. Straily is coming off a fine minor league campaign that saw him whiff 190 batters in 152 IP while compiling a 2.78 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. But in spite of an outwardly promising 3.89 ERA and 7.3 Dom (in 39 IP) that followed in OAK, a 55% FB%, 3.7 Ctl, 5.04 xERA and a pedestrian 91 mph fastball say he could struggle initially at the MLB level.

Colon is coming off a 50-game suspension for PED use while with OAK last year, which alone makes him an interesting re-sign. And in spite of his 3.43/4.23 ERA/xERA combo and 4.3 Cmd in 152 IP prior to his suspension, Colon will be closely scrutinized. At 39, he's a good candidate for a partial season at best.

Swing-man Travis Blackley (LHP, OAK) is also reportedly being stretched out for some starting assignments, which is hardly surprising given the level of risk with starters like Colon and Brett Anderson. But Blackley's 4.54 ERA in 79 IP as a SP—2.86 as a reliever—suggest that his stuff is stretched in that role. Straily remains the early Opening Day favorite and best bet for long-term success.

 

Seattle Mariners

Faced with a crowded docket for playing time at the 1B/DH and corner OF spots, SEA manager Eric Wedge reaffirmed last week that Justin Smoak (1B, SEA) will be the Mariners' primary 1B this season barring "something drastic." "Drastic" is a good way to describe Smoak's recent starts, particularly in 2012 before another strong September finish. In spite of owning a career .223/.306/.377 line in 1258 AB, Smoak continues to tease with his xPX and end-of-year production. Safeco's shrinking dimensions help make him an end-of-roster play again, but he'll be on a short leash in what is likely his final shot to catch on as a Mariner.

If Smoak can keep his job, the playing time loser here looks to be Raul Ibanez (DH, SEA), who looked like a platoon player vs. RHP at the time of his signing, but now looks like something less in light of SEA's subsequent moves. Kendrys Morales would be a near-fixture at DH vs. RHP, leaving Ibanez to battle a slew of better defensive OFs for RF playing time—including Michael Saunders, should defensive wizard Franklin Gutierrez generate any offense in CF. At age 40, the obstacles confronting Ibanez' productivity should make you think twice before rostering him, at least until Smoak fizzles again.

 

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