Spring training is almost in full swing and the regular season is right around the corner. With rosters nearly set and the offseason in the rearview mirror, it’s time to assess the Mariners’ competition in the AL West. Like last year, we’re going to compare the three major player groups on each team to each other: the lineups, the starting rotations, and the bullpens. There have been plenty of changes for these four division rivals, so make sure you read up on the opposition before the season starts.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California Disneyland USA
Angels Projected Lineup
By now, you’re probably aware of the one glaring problem with the Angels roster: depth. It’s been a constant thorn in their side for over a decade and it’s the biggest reason why they haven’t posted a winning record since 2015 and have only reached the playoffs once over the last 13 seasons despite employing two of the best baseball players to ever play the game. This year, one of those players, Shohei Ohtani, is playing in what could be his last season in Angel red, providing some extra drama and high stakes for Los Angeles.
With Ohtani’s impending departure looming over this offseason, the Angels were fairly aggressive in bringing in the kind of depth they’ve needed for a long time, though you could make a strong argument that they didn’t go nearly far enough. On the offensive side of things, they traded for Hunter Renfroe and Gio Urshela and signed Brandon Drury and Brett Phillips. Those four probably raise the floor of the roster a bit, and provide a bit of flexibility in case of emergency, but they aren’t really all that exciting.
Like it has so often in the recent past, the success of the Angels will come down to how healthy they can keep their roster. Mike Trout has played in less than half of the team’s games over the last two seasons as a variety of maladies have prevented him from taking the field regularly. Of course, he’s MIKE TROUT when he is playing — he posted 6.0 fWAR in just 119 games last year — but the best way to neutralize him isn’t anything the Mariners can do; it’s simply him reckoning with his aging, ailing body. Anthony Rendon also needs to prove he can stay healthy for an extended period of time. He’s missed more time than Trout over these last two years, and his only full season as an Angel came in the shortened 2020 season, the first year after signing his massive seven-year deal. Oh, and Jared Walsh, their starting first baseman, underwent surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome in September. The recovery rate and timeline for that procedure is fairly unknown for hitters, though it’s certainly not very promising for pitchers.
Bringing in Drury and Urshela should provide a little more insurance in case Rendon or Walsh are sidelined for extended periods in 2023, and high-contact maven David Fletcher is still around after signing his five-year extension a couple of years ago. There are multiple contingency plans in place in case any infielder ends up on the Injured List, which is a triumph of roster construction given the names that the Angels have run out there in recent seasons.
The reinforcements aren’t all external either; Taylor Ward’s breakout last year should provide some additional length to the Angels lineup if his improvements stick. He improved both his contact quality and plate discipline en route to posting a 137 wRC+ in 135 games. That mark probably could have been higher but he suffered through an extended slump during the middle of the season after missing some time with a back injury and attempting to come back from it too early. While Ward’s got most of the attention, Luis Rengifo also enjoyed a mini-breakout in 2022. He simply got a lot more aggressive at the plate, simultaneously increasing his swing and contact rates while also producing the highest isolated power of his career. He’s penciled in as the starting shortstop and could finally have an opportunity to prove he can handle a full-time role.
On the prospect side of things, there’s really only one position player who has a clear path towards making an impact in the big leagues this year. Logan O’Hoppe, who was acquired from the Phillies for Brandon Marsh last summer, will be looking to compete for the starting catcher role this spring. He’s the Angels top ranked prospect and has developed quite quickly at the plate, showing good power and a keen eye. He’s merely average defensively behind the plate which is why the Angels kept Max Stassi around to provide a veteran presence for the pitching staff. There is a very slim chance that former top prospect Jo Adell will finally figure things out — he’s only 24 after all — but with Renfroe and Ward installed beside Trout, it really seems like Adell’s chances are running thin. —JM
Astros Projected Lineup
PECOTA, one of the more historically accurate projection systems out there, doesn’t see the Astros slowing down much this season, although it does project them second in total wins in the AL behind the Yankees, at 95 vs. the Bronx Bombers’ 97.5 wins. A mere 95 wins is a significant step back from last year’s 106-win World Series champion team, but that backslide isn’t coming from the position players’ side, still projected for a robust 25.8 WARP at Baseball Prospectus. Last year PECOTA projected four Astros to have above a 3.5 WARP (Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez); this year, the number line on all those players has increased to a minimum of 4 WARP, with Tucker—the darling of multiple pre-season drafts—forecasted for a 4.9 WARP, highest on the team. It should also be noted that PECOTA might actually be underselling the Astros hitters, as the perennial thorn in the Mariners’ side/ender of their postseason ambitions, Jeremy Peña, is projected for a laughably low 1.5 WARP, which doesn’t seem like enough to cover the tip on his above-average shortstop defense. Long story short: the Astros project to be the bullies of the AL West, again, making up for some losses on the pitching side of things (deleting one Cy Young winner in Verlander) by amping things up on the position player side, both internally with new youngsters coming to the forefront as well as adding the venerable José Abreu to upgrade the first base position. Feels bad!
Names to note:
- Every year, it seems like the Astros unearth one terrifying Bloater from the subterranean depths of their organization, and while Kyle Tucker won’t elicit the same surprise from the AL West as 6’6’ Adam Basil big-daddying his way out of the caverns below Kansas City, it’s almost worse that we’ve seen him coming for so long without yet fully feeling the impact. Tucker is currently a top-10 selection in fantasy drafts, listed as high as sixth overall on the MLB mothership, with the notion that this could be the year the speed-and-power threat puts together a 30/30 season. He’s a sexy top-10 pick in most fantasy drafts and a popular pick for a breakout season post-shift ban, as he was shifted against over 90% of the time in 2022.
- It’s not so hard to understand why projection systems are low on World Series MVP Jeremy Peña—ZiPS has him for a moderate 2.7 fWAR—as between July and September, Peña’s rolling wOBA sank well above-league average, down to a nadir of .191 in mid-August (remember that for wOBA, “Very Bad” is classified as .290 and below). However, it seemed like Peña more than answered questions about whether or not he could learn to hit the breaking stuff pitchers attacked him with when he ended the Mariners’ playoff hopes by crushing a Penn Murfee slider for the eventual winning run. As much as that stings for Mariners fans, it was part of a greater trend for Peña, who rebounded from his midsummer slump with a strong finish to the season, eventually leading the Astros to post-season glory. Post-season heroics don’t factor into pre-season projections, but in this case, maybe they should.
- Like a student cramming hard at the 11th hour for a biochem exam, a 38-year-old Yuli Gurriel tried to make a strong case for a free-agency contract in the waning hours of his Astros tenure; instead the Astros went out and reloaded with 36-year-old José Abreu on a three-year deal. Abreu has never been one to strike out a lot but last year survived the effects of age, the un-juiced ball, and the organizational ineptitude of the Chicago White Sox by maintaining an above-average walk rate while cutting his strikeouts down to a career-low 16.2%, something that makes Astros’ execs eyes pop out all Tex Avery awoogah-awoogah-style. Despite his age, Abreu feels like exactly the kind of player who could have a career renaissance in Houston, who have time and time again shown they believe age ain’t nothin but a number.
- Behind Tucker, the names PECOTA likes best are José Altuve (4.5 WARP), Yordan Alvarez (4.4 WARP), and Alex Bregman (4.0 WARP). ZiPS prefers the more youthful slugger Alvarez, assigning him 5.8 fWAR, with Bregman (5.1) the next-closest, and Altuve (4.2) and Tucker (4.1) bringing up the rear, or as “rear” as a cadre of elite position player futures can be considered. Unfun!
- The Astros did not go out and acquire a center fielder this off-season, setting up a positional battle between Jake Meyers and Chas McCormick. Projection systems agree that Meyers has the slight edge on McCormick despite Meyers struggling after being slow to return from off-season shoulder surgery, but it was McCormick who earned more playing time during the postseason. Meyers has the ceiling, McCormick the floor; Mauricio Dubón is also in the mix here. Yordan Alvarez is maybe best-served in a DH role, which would create space for two of the three on the 25-man, but the Astros re-upping Michael Brantley this off-season complicates that picture. If there’s any positional battle where the Mariners so far look comfortably ahead of the Astros, it’s probably the outfield.
- Just kidding, it’s definitely catcher. Catcher remains the one Achilles heel on the Astros’ otherwise beyond-reproach lineup. With a 36-year-old Martín Maldonado re-upped for one year, Korey Lee has that timeframe to grow into the Astros’ catcher of the future before they possibly look elsewhere for a long-term solution. —KP
Athletics Projected Lineup
After losing 102 games in 2022, the A’s are looking to creep one step forward in their rebuild this year. Trades and free agent signings in the offseason saw Oakland shipping their best hitter, Sean Murphy, to the Braves, while picking up several high-ranking prospects and some veteran bats. The 2023 Athletics lineup will serve as a bridge until the team’s next core reaches the majors; we may see a few of those players make their debuts later in 2023, but many won’t see a big-league field until 2024. As such, this year’s A’s will again be bad — ZiPS projects them to lose 90 games, and while the lineup has improved by bolstering several positions with league-average-or-slightly-above players, there’s nary a star in sight. You’ve got names you’ve never heard before sprinkled in with names that are familiar because the player was pretty good…several years ago.
Names to Note:
- The player projected for the highest fWAR (2.5) is catcher Shea Langeliers, who takes over the primary catcher role in Murphy’s absence. In 2022 Langeliers was the A’s backup catcher, demonstrating great defense and a passable wRC+ of 97.
- Familiar infield veterans Aledmys Díaz, Jace Peterson, and Jesús Aguilar signed with the team over the winter, and project to be about replacement level offensively.
- Esteury Ruiz came to the Athletics as part of the Sean Murphy trade; the 24-year-old outfielder rocked Triple-A before struggling in 17 games in the majors in 2022, and will be competing for the starting center field job against incumbent Ramón Laureano, who struggled offensively last year.
- A late trade last week brought JJ Bleday to Oakland from Miami; the high-upside prospect debuted to disappointing results last year and joins a flush outfield pool that will be battling it out for spots in Spring Training.
- The returning faces in the A’s lineup are mostly players that were offensively sub-par last year and need to prove they can raise their offensive production (to the tune of upwards of 20 wRC+ in many cases) to keep their jobs. An exception to this is Seth Brown, who will likely continue to slug home runs and provide some much needed pop in the lineup.
- In terms of prospects who may debut later in the year, keep an eye out for Oakland’s catcher of the future Tyler Soderstrom, who rocketed from High-A to Triple-A over the course of last season.
All in all, expect the Athletics to be less bad than they were last year, but decidedly in the basement of the AL West. —LFS
Rangers Projected Lineup
|BN||Josh H. Smith||25||UTIL||L||259||101||0.9||0.8|
When Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, consolidated his hold over Greece, he left one kingdom behind: Sparta. He sent the warrior city a letter, demanding their unconditional surrender, saying “If I invade Laconia (Sparta) you will be destroyed, never to rise again.” The Spartans responded with a letter of just one word. “If.”
The Rangers have been threatening for a while now. Every year it seems like they pick up one new piece and say “this year is our year.” They hope that each new player will put them over the edge so that they can become A Contender. Will it be this year?
The Rangers are, as ever, rolling out a typical “stars and scrubs” lineup that we’ve come to know and tolerate. Although I’d say that this year it could be more useful to think of it in terms of “Stars, Scrubs, and Stinkys,” since there’s a pretty linear drop in quality through their lineup.
Names to Note:
- Corey Seager: Last year’s “one more piece” is projected by ZiPS for 4.6 fWAR and I believe it, provided he gets to actually play. PECOTA gives him 145 games, which may be a little optimistic. Corey’s injury history reads like a cursed rendition of the “parts of the body” song. Since 2019 he has been placed on the IL for elbow, hip, hamstrings, quad, lower back, hand, and leg injuries. He’s doing his best to collect them all. Maybe now the Titanium Man is complete and Corey will play all 162 with nary a wink of shut-eye in between.
- Marcus Semien: There’s a lot of reasons to be high on Marcus Semien for 2023. ZiPS gives him 4.9 fWAR, which would be a 0.7 win improvement on his 2022 campaign. I think he’ll certainly be A Problem, but I’m not sure about such a large gain. His 2022 107 wRC+ is low for him, especially compared to 2021, and Globe Life is pretty hitter friendly, provided you hit the ball hard. He did not hit the ball hard at all in 2022, being 18th percentile in average exit velocity. He’s 32 years old and never been a power guy. Maybe that’s just gone from him. He’s still as fast as ever though, and will be a plus defender and a danger on the basepaths. He’s just gotta get on them first.
- Jonah Heim: ZiPS gives him 3.8 fWAR, and he carries me in MLB the show so I will not disparage him here, but his xwOBA was 23rd percentile in 2022. I think PECOTA’s 1.8 WARP is more reasonable. I don’t think he’ll get enough playing time with Mitch Garver coming back to rack up that much WAR, but ZiPS loves him for some reason.
Names to see in the box score sometimes:
- Nathaniel Lowe: I am bored by Nathaniel Lowe, but he made great strides in 2022 with a 143 wRC+. Every projection system expects him to regress, and I do too, but I love a lefty first baseman, so I thought I’d give him a shout out here.
- Adolis García: Probably the biggest question mark here, García’s never really lived up to the hype in Texas. His wOBA floats up and down around league average, as if he’s a pre-calculus student coming to grips with sine waves. ZiPS projects a modest 2.2 fWAR, and I think that’s reasonable. Adolis is sometimes great with a bat, but he’s an outfielder who can’t field. That triple he gave up to J.P. at the start of 2022 by forgetting how to play baseball for 7 seconds still brings me joy.
- Josh Jung: There is reason to fear Josh Jung. He’s the Ranger’s number one prospect and he’s Here. ZiPS is higher on him than most projections, giving him 2.0 fWAR. Most are around the 1.5 mark. I think he’ll do better than that, though. He got 102 PAs last year and managed an 81 wRC+, which is respectable for a rookie. But he also struck out 38% of the time, which is far, far more than he’s done at any level of the sport. At the risk of repeating myself, it really depends on if he breaks out or not. He could certainly be A Problem, but he could also have a quiet year just learning the major league game. That’s what the big computers think he’ll do, and I have no reason to disagree.
Names to think about in 3 months and go “oh yeah, they’re on the Rangers:”
- I have heard rumors of more players named things like “Robbie Grossman” and “Sam Huff” but I don’t think they’re real.
Conceivably any or all of these guys could have a breakout year and muscle their way to a Wild Card spot. If they all live up to their upside in 2023, this could be a very scary team. We are in the same position as the ancient Spartans. The Rangers are Philip II threatening to poison our water supply, burn our crops, and deliver a plague unto our houses if they get right this year.
AL West Lineup Summary
|Team||Runs Scored/Game||wOBA||Cumulative fWAR|
|Team||Runs Scored/Game||wOBA||Cumulative fWAR|
Unsurprisingly, the Astros are projected to have the most potent offense in the division again. Their blend of patience and power throughout their lineup makes them a perennial contender for the best run scoring unit in the American League. The Mariners, Angels, and Rangers all project a bit behind Houston and within spitting distance of each other. Trout and Ohtani obviously lift the Angels above the other two, but there is very little separating these three on paper. It’s best not to talk about the A’s projections to avoid upsetting the children.