<
>

AL West showdown: Position rankings

With Ian Kinsler, Howie Kendrick and Dustin Ackley (plus Jemile Weeks), second base is loaded in the AL West. US Presswire

We've reached the end of our series. It's been great fun. It's been controversial. We've laughed, we've argued, we've called each other names that would make major league umpires blush. There's been some whining, but hopefully no crying.

Here are the AL West position rankings. No, I couldn't fix things to get the Mariners close to the Rangers and Angels.

(Other divisions: AL East, AL Central, NL East, NL Central, NL West.)

Catcher

1. Mike Napoli, Rangers

2. Chris Iannetta/Hank Conger, Angels

3. Kurt Suzuki, A's

4. John Jaso/Miguel Olivo, Mariners

Napoli fell 70 plate appearances short of qualifying for the leaderboards, but his 1.046 OPS would have ranked second in the majors to only Jose Bautista. He only started 57 games behind the plate, but look for that number to increase, especially after throwing out 32 percent of base stealers and allowing only just one passed ball. Iannetta won't hit for much average but he gets on base; the big question is how he'll hit outside of Colorado -- his career OPS is .869 in Denver, .707 on the road. Suzuki is durable but his OBP has dropped from .346 in 2008 to .301 in 2011. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Jesus Montero gets behind the plate. One thing the Mariners understand: The less they see of Olivo, the better. (Even if he did spend large chunks of the season hitting cleanup. Ouch.)

First base

1. Albert Pujols, Angels

2. Justin Smoak, Mariners

3. Mitch Moreland, Rangers

4. Brandon Allen/Daric Barton/Chris Carter, A's

It may be a make-or-break season for Smoak, but while he had a disappointing 2011, he did battle a thumb injury and the death of his father. Still, his .234/.323/.396 line wasn't far off Moreland's .259/.320/.414, and Smoak didn't have the advantage of playing in Texas. In a spin off the "best shape in his life" spring training stories we see, he's also given up pizza and Mexican food in an attempt to eat healthier. He's a good sleeper for a breakout season. Oakland first basemen hit .219 with seven home runs; I'm 99.9 percent sure they'll do better than that.

Second base

1. Ian Kinsler, Rangers

2. Dustin Ackley, Mariners

3. Howie Kendrick, Angels

4. Jemile Weeks, A's

Easily the strongest position in the division, Kinsler's all-around game means he doesn't have to hit .300 to be a star. He has power (32 home runs), gets on base (89 walks), plays a terrific second base and is one of the best baserunners in the majors. Kendrick made his first All-Star Game with his best season, but he tailed off in the second half after hitting .302 before the break. Ackley and Weeks played solid baseball as a rookies, and I'll take Ackley over Kendrick based on projected improvement. As is, Ackley had a better OBP in 2011 than Kendrick (.348 to .338), and there's a good chance that gap could be even wider in 2012. Weeks can play; fourth in this group is not a knock.

Third base

1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers

2. Scott Sizemore, A's

3. Alberto Callaspo, Angels

4. Kyle Seager/Chone Figgins, Mariners

Beltre hit 23 of his 32 home runs at home, but he still rates the clear No. 1. The A's stole Sizemore from the Tigers in May for David Purcey and he hit .249/.345/.433 with Oakland in his first full season. He's already 27, so don't expect a lot of growth, but he's a solid player. The Angels have talked about trying Mark Trumbo at third; I have doubts that will work out since Trumbo has never played there, but Callaspo's .366 OBP helped the Angels rank third in the majors in OBP from third base.

Shortstop

1. Elvis Andrus, Rangers

2. Erick Aybar, Angels

3. Brendan Ryan, Mariners

4. Cliff Pennington, A's

I suppose there's a case to be made for Aybar as the top guy, but Andrus gets on base more, is more durable and plays better defense (yes, I just ignored Aybar's Gold Glove). Ryan actually may be the best defender in the league but he can't hit and plays for Seattle, so nobody notices. Pennington played through some minor injuries but rebounded to hit .303 in the second half. If you like him more than Ryan, I won't fight you on it.

Left field

1. Josh Hamilton, Rangers

2. Mike Carp, Mariners

3. Seth Smith, A's

4. Vernon Wells/Mike Trout, Angels

Hamilton has played more games in left field each of the past two seasons, so he slots in here (he's started 168 games in left, 59 in center). As a left fielder, Carp is better suited for DH, but his bat has potential as he moves into a full-time role for the first time in his career. Smith moves from Colorado to cavernous Oakland; his career splits indicate his numbers will take a tumble, plus he needs a platoon partner. If I knew Trout was going to open the season as the everyday left fielder, I'd slot him second, but the Angels seem determined to let Wells prove that his catastrophic .248 OBP last season was a fluke.

Center field

1. Peter Bourjos, Angels

2. Coco Crisp, A's

3. Leonys Martin/Julio Borbon/Craig Gentry, Rangers

4. Franklin Gutierrez, Mariners

Bourjos is an absolute elite defender who surprised with the bat, hitting .271/.327/.438 last season. All he needs to do is maintain that production to be one of the most valuable center fielders in baseball. Crisp finally stayed healthy and led the AL with 49 steals, but his injury history always makes him a risk. The Rangers would love to see Martin win the job, but he may need a little more time in Triple-A after struggling there after ripping up Double-A with a .348 average. Gutierrez can still run 'em down in center, but a stomach ailment (irritable bowel syndrome) helped contribute to a miserable 2011 (.224, one home run in 92 games). He's reportedly added 15 pounds of muscle and has his IBS under control. Mariners fans can still dream of his 2009, but that's looking far away in the rearview mirror.

Right field

1. Nelson Cruz, Rangers

2. Torii Hunter, Angels

3. Josh Reddick, A's

4. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners

Cruz misses time every season and wasn't really all that great last year (.312 OBP), plus his road numbers were horrific -- .233/.277/.411. Hunter missed only six games, he'll turn 37 in July and he's lost much of his speed, so he's no longer an elite defender and he grounds into a lot of double plays. Can you guess that I'm not too excited by either guy for the No. 1 spot? The Angels would probably be wise to play Hunter 130 games instead of 156 and they have the depth to do so. Reddick over Ichiro? Indeed. Yes, Ichiro had a terrible 2011, but here's the kicker: Reddick's .784 OPS in 2011 was higher than Ichiro's .754 OPS in 2010. Ichiro just doesn't create many runs anymore and he's clearly lost a step or two in right.

Update: With the news that Yoenis Cespedes has agreed to sign with the A's (where did that come from?), I'd probably slot him third among right fielders. In some ways he compares to Cruz: Big and strong with the ability hit the ball a long way, albeit he's a better all-around athlete than Cruz. However, like Cruz, there are concerns about his strike-zone judgment, and that leaves a wide range of possible outcomes. He could hit .275 with 25 to 30 home runs or he could hit .230 with 150 strikeouts. I'll be conservative for now, especially factoring in the immense cultural changes and the caliber of competition he's never faced before. Reddick probably moves to left field with Seth Smith becoming the team's primary DH. I like Reddick; I think his defensive edge and upside compared to Carp put him in the second slot among left fielders.

Designated hitter

1. Michael Young, Rangers

2. Jesus Montero, Mariners

3. Mark Trumbo/Kendrys Morales, Angels

4. Chris Carter/Jonny Gomes, A's

Young had a nice season, but one of the more absurd storylines of 2011 was the "Young for MVP" wave that developed; one writer even gave him a first-place vote. Young was yet another Rangers player who benefited from his home park -- he hit one home run on the road. MVPs don't hit one home run on the road. Montero will hit, and projections have him around .285/.350/.480. Angels fans fell in love with Trumbo, and while the power is legit (29 home runs as a rookie) unfortunately so is the .291 OBP. If Morales comes back after missing nearly two entire seasons, he's the better option, turning Trumbo into a four-corner utility guy of sorts.

No. 1 starter

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners

2. Jered Weaver, Angels

3. Yu Darvish, Rangers

4. Brandon McCarthy, A's

Angels fans: Let me just say, I love Weaver. I know this rating will rub you the wrong way following Weaver's Cy Young-worthy 2011. The numbers over the past two seasons, however, are quite similar:

Weaver: 2.70 ERA, 460 IP, 8.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 43 HR

Hernandez: 2.85, 483 IP, 8.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 36 HR

Weaver's 2011 numbers had some dirty air in them, however: His .250 average on balls in play was one of the lowest in the majors, well below Weaver's career .276 mark. That's a key reason he lowered his ERA from 3.01 to 2.41, despite striking out 1.5 fewer hitters per nine innings compared to 2010. You saw those numbers normalize in the second half, as his ERA rose from 1.86 to 3.21 and his home runs allowed from five in 140 innings to 15 in 95. So if you're asking which guy I'd take for 2012, I give the edge to King Felix. As for Darvish, he won't be the Rangers' Opening Day starter, but they didn't sign him to be the No. 3 guy in rotation. There's no reason not to expect a big season. McCarthy returned in 2011 after missing 2010 and had a career season by throwing strikes -- 25 walks in 25 starts. Now he has to prove he can hold up for 30-plus starts and 200 innings.

No. 2 starter

1. Dan Haren, Angels

2. Derek Holland, Rangers

3. Jason Vargas, Mariners

4. Dallas Braden, A's

Haren's season flew completely under the radar but he won 16 games while posting the best strikeout/walk ratio in the American League. When Holland is on, few guys are better, as witnessed by his league-leading four shutouts and dominant effort in Game 4 of the World Series. Braden is a question mark as he returns from shoulder surgery.

No. 3 starter

1. C.J. Wilson, Angels

2. Matt Harrison, Rangers

3. Brad Peacock, A's

4. Hector Noesi, Mariners

I feel Wilson is going to have a monster season. Not only did he improve across the board in his second season as a starter in 2011, but he posted a 2.31 ERA on the road. Yes, he got to pitch in Oakland and Seattle, but moving from Texas to Anaheim should be an obvious positive for his raw numbers. Harrison's first full season in the rotation may have come as a surprise but he threw strikes, kept the ball in the park and only teammate Wilson had more double plays turned behind him. Peacock was one of the pitchers acquired from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez deal, a guy who put himself on the prospect radar with huge numbers at Double-A (98.2 IP, 62 H, 23 BB, 129 SO). His upside is bigger than Noesi's, but he'll have to throw strikes.

No. 4 starter

1. Ervin Santana, Angels

2. Colby Lewis, Rangers

3. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners

4. Jarrod Parker, A's

Santana and Lewis are actually pretty similar; if you switched ballparks, Lewis may be the guy with the ERA in the mid-3.00s and Santana the guy with the ERA in the mid-4.00s. The A's bid a reported $19.1 million to negotiate with Iwakuma following the 2010 season but failed to reach an agreement and Iwakuma returned to Japan. He became a free agent, but early-season shoulder problems limited him to 119 innings. Still, he posted a 2.42 ERA, and his fastball was back to 89-92 mph by the end of the season. The Mariners signed him to a $1.5 million base contract with $3.4 million in incentives in what could be a bargain. Parker comes over from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill deal. He has No. 1 potential, but don't expect No. 1 results in 2012.

No. 5 starter

1. Neftali Feliz, Rangers

2. Jerome Williams, Angels

3. Bartolo Colon/Tyson Ross/Tom Milone, A's

4. Blake Beavan/Charlie Furbush, Mariners

I do have concerns with how well Feliz's transition to the rotation will work out. There's no denying the arm and he has the arsenal of pitches, but his 2011 results in the bullpen weren't that impressive: 4.3 BB/9 and just 7.8 K/9, hardly the numbers of a dominant closer. If he had trouble throwing strikes in relief, I wonder how that will work out as a starter.

Closer

1. Jordan Walden, Angels

2. Brandon League, Mariners

3. Joe Nathan, Rangers

4. Brian Fuentes, A's

Yes, Walden's 10 blown saves tied Carlos Marmol for most in the majors, but I love the power arm and he was just a rookie. League also has an explosive fastball, but he uses to pitch down in the strike zone and generate ground balls instead of strikeouts. He had five blown saves, although three came in one miserable week. You wonder if the Rangers would have signed Nathan if Feliz hadn't blown Game 6 of the World Series. The veteran returned from Tommy John surgery and pitched better in the second half after a shaky first two months. Still, he allowed seven home runs in 44 innings, a recipe for disaster in Texas.

Bullpen

1. Rangers -- Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara, Yoshinori Tateyama, Scott Feldman

2. Angels -- Scott Downs, LaTroy Hawkins, Rich Thompson, Hisanori Takahashi, Bobby Cassevah

3. Mariners -- Tom Wilhelmsen, Hong-Chih Kuo, Shawn Camp, Chance Ruffin, George Sherrill

4. A's -- Grant Balfour, Fautino De Los Santos, Jerry Blevins, Joey Devine, Andrew Carignan

The Rangers have the best one-two punch in Adams and Ogando. Uehara struggled after coming over from Baltimore, and there have been rumors about a trade that would send him back to the Orioles. The Rangers could go after another lefty, as right now they would be relying upon Tateyama, Michael Kirkman and non-roster invite Joe Beimel. Downs remains one of the more underrated setup guys in the majors; he has a 2.17 ERA since 2007 and Hawkins and Thompson provide strength on the right side. Seattle's pen has some upside if Kuo proves healthy and pitches like he did in 2010 with the Dodgers (1.20 ERA in 60 innings) and Ruffin proves he has the stuff that made him Detroit's first-round pick in 2010.

Intangibles

1. Angels

2. Rangers

3. Mariners

4. A's

The Angels have a lot of positives on their ledger: signing Pujols and Wilson, the possible return of Morales, the potential impact of Trout, the subtraction of Jeff Mathis. The Rangers lost Wilson but added Darvish. Remember, Wilson had a 2.94 ERA in 2011; as good as Darvish may be, it's asking a lot for him to be better than Wilson was. The Angels have depth all over the lineup, from Trout and Trumbo to Bobby Abreu and Maicer Izturis. The Rangers do have more depth in the rotation with Ogando and Feldman ready to start if necessary.

Final tally

1. Rangers, 56 points

2. Angels, 53 points

3. Mariners, 35 points

4. A's, 26 points

No surprise here: Based on this quick-and-dirty method, the Rangers and Angels will be neck and neck. A change here or there at a specific position and the Angels could have ended up with more points than the Rangers. The teams don't finish up against each other, although they do have a three-game series in Texas the final week. I have a feeling that series will mean a little something.