AL West MLB Fantasy Preview
Howie Kendrick could expandon breakout year hitting in front of Albert Pujols
Transition to majors will make it hard for Yu Darvish to meet expectations
Jesus Montero could be a star but it may take some time to reach potential
Unless you're in a fantasy league in Texas or Southern California, the AL West tends to be a division that gets overlooked a little bit. It just doesn't carry the hype and bloated fantasy values of the players in the East, or the sleeper potential of those coming out of the Central.
That might change this year. The AL West boasts two of the best teams in baseball now with the powered up Angels challenging, if not passing the two-time defending AL Champion Rangers.
Only the recently-acquired Albert Pujols ranks among the top 20 fantasy options out of this division, but he can amp up the value of a lot of Angels. The Rangers should get pushed to take even another step if they want to keep up. Competition is a great thing for fantasy owners that wind up Angels and Rangers here, particularly the sleepers and potential breakouts for those teams.
The Mariners and A's are rebuilding and generally can be ignored, but the opportunities for young, unproven talent can make the fantasy talent pool deeper, too.
We break down the AL West lineups, rotations, bullpens, quotes, questions, sleepers, busts and breakouts in our latest edition of SI.com's division capsules.
The skipper said it this winter:
"There's going to be some adjustments [Kendry Morales] is going to have to make when you start to see velocity, but you're not talking about a guy that hasn't played in five years, you're talking about a guy that's missed a year and a half," Mike Scioscia said. "Sure, there are going to be some timing issues, but this guy is a hitter, and his skills are still there. His bat speed is there. He was swinging the bat very well last year when he was approaching the day where he thought he could come into spring training well. He was swinging very well. His bat speed and everything was good. That's not as much of an issue.
"It's just where is his ankle after he plays five games in a row, where is his ankle after he plays 10 games in a row. Can he play first base? Can he play DH? TYhere's so much we're not going to be able to answer right now. And like I said, I think moving forward, if Kendrick does end up being a part of what we need to do as we get through Spring Training and he is ready to start the season, that's going to give us a nice depth in an important area for us on the offensive side."
Key question: Where does Mark Trumbo fit in?
With Pujols in the fold and Morales looking more likely to be ready for Opening Day this year, Trumbo will have to find a new place to hit, particularly since Bobby Abreu isn't likely to be a regular outfielder and Mike Trout will be on the fast track from Triple-A. The Angels are going to give him a shot at third base, but that is more likely to mean 30-50 games at that position, if he can handle the transition at all. Trumbo is a sketchy fantasy pick if Morales is healthy. If not, Trumbo DH's relatively full time and is a solid middle-round slugger. Spring training will tell us.
Sleeper: Kendry Morales, DH
The Angels were confident Morales would be able to contribute last year, but he needed a second ankle surgery that ruined his year. They are even more confident this time, but the depth at 1B/DH allows them to be cautious with Morales. That should allow him to fall in the late rounds. A healthy Morales, hitting behind Pujols, can be a .290-35-110-100 monster.
Bust: C.J. Wilson, LHP
This one is said with a grain of salt: Wilson is a fantasy ace. The issue you have to be wary of is the amount of innings on his arm after transitioning from the relief role. It isn't just high-pressure regular-season innings, either; there are a lot of extreme-pressure postseason innings, too. Wilson is at risk for a sore shoulder, or elbow -- neither of which you want out of a pitcher for whom you'll have to pay a steep price.
Breakout: Howie Kendrick, 2B
Kendrick is coming off a career year at age 27. Now, he is smack dab in his prime and might finally completely take off hitting in front of Pujols. It is the comfiest batting spot in baseball and means you get a lot of good pitches to drive in hitter's counts. You don't want to mess with Pujols with men on base. Kendrick could erupt for a .315-20-100-120-15 season.
The skipper said it this winter:
"[I'm] very confident that [Joe Nathan] will be back to his old self," Ron Washington said. "When we tried last spring to give Neftali (Feliz) a chance to be a starter, we certainly weren't protected on the back end. This year Jon Daniels and everyone went out and protected us early, so we can get Feliz in the right frame of mind to become a starter.
"Toward the end of the year last year, Joe began to show form again, and we're very content with him being on the back end. He's a guy that's been in playoff situations before, and he's certainly going to get an opportunity to close quite a few ballgames down on this team."
Key question: Where do we pick Darvish in drafts this spring?
You probably shouldn't. As much talent as Darvish has, there will be a transition period. And hype is almost certain to overrate him on draft day. The current average draft position on Darvish is 116th, with his earliest pick on MockDraftCentral.com coming at No. 59. He is only going to go higher than that. You probably should use your pick at that stage on a more proven veteran who has a consistent history of 200-plus innings annually, or a hitter.
Sleeper: Joe Nathan, RHP
If Nathan really is the Rangers' closer -- and he will be as long as they don't back off on Feliz in the rotation -- he is going to be a candidate for 35- or maybe 40-plus saves. Nathan won't even have to post a sub-3.00 ERA to get to that level. He is going to be an underrated closer, a position that generally creates sleepers out of latter-rounders and busts out of the early rounders.
Bust: Nelson Cruz, OF
We already ripped on Darvish as likely to be overrated, but if you're a postseason baseball fan, you're likely to be sucked in by Cruz's hot October. Postseason heroes tend to be overrated on draft day. It is as easy to see Cruz's potential as it is easy to forget he has never had more than the 475 at-bats he got last year. He has an awful history of injury woes. You have to expect he will miss 30 games off the top; yet, he is still going to be picked as a 600 at-bat fantasy monster.
Breakout: Ian Kinsler, 2B
This is a bit of a cop-out pick, because Kinsler is already an elite fantasy second baseman, but he is still capable of a lot more. And, yes, a lot. His batting average has never been consistent but Kinsler is capable of going .300-30-110-120-30. If he gets 600 at-bats again for a second year in a row, he is going to outperform his lofty second-round draft position.
The skipper said it this winter:
"I want [Chone Figgins] to be able to play all over the place," Eric Wedge said. "I don't want to just pigeonhole him and just have him locked into third base or another position. I want him to come into spring training and be prepared to play wherever we need him to play.
"... He's been checked out again by the doctors, so knock on wood, he's completely removed from that injury that he had. So that's a big part of it."
Key question: Does Montero make that Michael Pineda trade look good?
The M's did what no team does, particularly a rebuilding one: They traded a young, potential ace in Pineda. They think they might have acquired a middle-of-the-order bat, though, in Montero. He will get a chance to be the primary DH and part-time catcher this season. He could be a future star at the catcher position in fantasy. But he likely will have a learning curve.
Sleeper: Dustin Ackley, 2B
Ackley proved not only capable of being a major leaguer, but he showed he can be a very good one right away. The second base position is getting deeper by the year, and Ackley could develop into an elite option at the position -- as soon as this year. Consider him a great fallback option if you miss out on the few studs at second base.
Bust: Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Suzuki had the worst season of his career and clearly is on the downside of his career now. He will stick around and play every day, making him a valuable fantasy option. But his projected numbers should make him a marginal one now. He should be a late-round pick, but his name won't allow him to fall that far.
Breakout: Jesus Montero, DH/C
Montero is probably more likely to disappoint than star, but the fact he will qualify as a catcher and get full-time at-bats as the DH will still make him a very valuable fantasy performer. There are few catcher-eligible fantasy options that project to get as many at-bats as Montero. The fact he might star right away is only a bonus. Even a .255-20-80 season will make him a top-five fantasy catcher option.
The skipper said it this winter:
"I think Michael Choice has come along a lot quicker than people would have thought," Bob Melvin said. "A lot of the discussion during the season about him was 'give him another full year next year and he'll be ready to play.' Then as the season went along, you get into the fall league, it's like, 'hey, maybe it's going to be halfway through the season.' And then he's playing that much better in the fall league and continued to do it.
"It's like, 'hey, if we take a look at the guy in Spring Training, you never know.' There always seemed to be a couple guys that pop up in Spring Training that do some things that you don't expect."
Key question: Who is the closer?
Fuentes has done it before and it would make sense for the A's to allow him to close, build up trade value and deal him off while the younger options fill an apprenticeship in middle and setup roles. It looks as if the A's are going to allow Balfour, Devine and De Los Santos compete for the closer's job, though. That leaves Fuentes in a left-handed setup role and that trio getting picked in more leagues than they should. Balfour is the best bet to close initially, while a healthy Devine is probably the best arm long term.
Sleeper: Chris Carter, DH
Carter has game-changing power the A's haven't had in a long, long time. He will have to earn his at-bats at first, left and DH in Spring Training, but a big spring can make him a potential sleeper slugger in deeper formats, particularly AL-only leagues. The A's have a lot of opportunities for unproven talent. There are a slew of potential sleepers here, which makes the A's a very important team to watch in spring training.
Bust: Coco Crisp, OF
In order to be a bust, you have to have some value. Very few A's do in fantasy. Crisp is one of them, coming off a 49-steal campaign. At 32, he has the look of a outfielder that is picked up for steals in rotisserie leagues at a premium and then falls well short of expectation.
Breakout: Brandon McCarthy, RHP
We were going to pick Jemile Weeks here, but his rookie season was just a bit too good. It is more likely Weeks disappoints optimistic fantasy drafters than outproduces his draft position. McCarthy is coming off a career year and slots as the A's No. 1 starter. It is very easy to forget he is still just 28 years old. He can win double-digit games with a tidy ERA and WHIP, and you can get him in the late rounds in most leagues, because very few expect anything out of the A's in terms of victories.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there and takes them very personally.
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