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Posted: Thursday February 19, 2009 11:17AM; Updated: Sunday February 22, 2009 9:17PM

Spring Training Primer: AL West

Story Highlights

The Angels remain the team to beat, but their offense is still underwhelming

Texas's potent offense and Seattle's formidable pitching staff will thicken the plot

Will Oakland's young rotation, led by oft injured Justin Duchscherer, hold up?

By Melissa Segura, SI.com

Kendry Morales
Kendry Morales will have a lot of pressure to protect Vlad Guerrero like Mark Teixeira did down the stretch last season.
Larry Goren/Icon SMI

CLICK HERE FOR: Los Angeles | Oakland | Seattle | Texas

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will always be Disneyland's team and should expect nothing but another fairy-tale in the AL West this season. This year, however, the division's leading team has its share of vulnerabilities (protection for Vladimir Guerrero, anyone?), while Texas's potent offense and Seattle's formidable pitching staff will thicken the plot.

Los Angeles Angels

Location: Tempe, Ariz. (Cactus League)

2008 record: 100-62 (1st, AL West); Lost in ALDS

Winter grade: B
Losing free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira to the New York Yankees had to hurt almost as much as watching Jed Lowrie hit a roller to right in the bottom of the ninth to end the Angels' 2008 postseason. But Los Angeles rebounded with a series of short-term, savvy signings, including .300 career hitter Bobby Abreu (one year, $5 million) and underrated outfielder Juan Rivera (three years, $12.75 million).

Brian Fuentes (two years, $17.5 million) replaces single-season saves record holder Francisco Rodriguez, who departed to the Mets via free agency. Fuentes, who went from being a three-time All-Star to losing his job as the closer during the Rockies' 2007 World Series run, should benefit from leaving the hitters' haven that is Coors Field.

Key question: Who will replace Mark Teixeira?
First base, once a defensive and offensive stronghold with Teixeira, will be the Angels' biggest wild card. How well 25-year-old Kendry Morales, with just 127 major league games and a fraction of Teixeira's offensive ability, responds will be a huge key. A powerful outfield can compensate, but Morales will have to contribute.

Prospect to watch: Nick Adenhart, SP
Should right-hander Nick Adenhart, 22, show improved command (75 walks in 145 1/3 innings in Triple A) in Spring Training, he could break camp as the team's fifth starter. He will have to beat out a more experienced and more versatile Dustin Moseley, and fellow up-and-comers Anthony Ortega and Shane Loux.

Position battle to follow: Outfield
There are way too many Angels in this outfield. Abreu, Torii Hunter, Guerrero, Rivera, Gary Matthews Jr. and Reggie Willits are a tight fit. The surplus benefits Guerrero, who will have more opportunities to DH. But who will step up offensively to protect him in the lineup?

Scout's take: "They're still the class of the American League West. They have the best manager in the division. They will have trouble replacing the power Teixeira provided at the end of the season, but they have an ownership that's willing to do what they can to win. They won't be sellers. If there are any holes, they will do what they can to fill them. Their biggest issue is finding at-bats in the outfield. They're going to have to trade one of those guys (most likely Gary Matthews Jr.) and try to do it in spring training."

Oakland Athletics

Location: Phoenix, Ariz. (Cactus League)

2008 record: 75-86 (3rd, AL West)

Winter grade: B-
An anemic -- and sometimes nonexistent -- offense was the most debilitating factor in Oakland's worst season in 10 years. GM Billy Beane addressed the 2008 lineup that finished last in the majors in batting average (.242) and slugging percentage (.369) by trading for slugging outfielder Matt Holliday (.319/.386/.552, career) in November and signing prodigal son Jason Giambi (.286/.408/.534, career) to one-year deals. Along with a healthy Eric Chavez, the A's have a potent middle of the lineup to take pressure off a young pitching rotation.

Key question: Will Oakland's young rotation hold up?
Rangers ace Kevin Millwood alone has more than three times the starts (344) than the entire A's projected rotation of Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden (109). Eveland leads the staff with 35 career starts, but Duchscherer, coming off his second hip surgery in as many years, has had the most success (31-24, 3.14 ERA). Trusting their season to untested arms is nothing new to the Oakland faithful, who remember a few guys named Hudson, Mulder and Zito.

Prospect to watch: Aaron Cunningham, OF
The A's, true to form, aren't exactly short on prospects. Cunningham hit above .300 with an OPS better than .800 at every stop in the minors except for a 10-game, Class A stop in Kansas. The 22-year-old will push for a roster spot.

Position battle to follow: Shortstop
After trying to give away Bobby Crosby by placing him on unconditional waivers this winter, the 2004 AL Rookie of the League will have newbie Cliff Pennington at his heels. Should Pennington emerge or Oakland land free agent Orlando Cabrera, the injury-prone Crosby may find himself stuck on the trading block again.

Scout's take: "I don't like the club they're sending out there. I like the Matt Holliday deal, but I can't imagine him wanting to sign there long term. Did they grab him as a chip to get more pieces [in the future]? Their starting pitching is unproven. Some people think Duchscherer is a better reliever than starter. He doesn't possess great stuff. He's been able to start because he developed such a good cutter, but the more looks you get at him during a game gives the offense a chance to figure him out. I like the Russ Springer signing in the bullpen. He brings a veteran arm to the pen."

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