2013 MLB Season Preview – NL East

Florida Marlins Introduce Ozzie Guillen as New Manager

NL East 2013 Preview

Miami Marlins

2012 Record: 69 – 93 (5th in NL East)

Burning Questions: Are there any Marlins fans left? Why is Jeffrey Loria still allowed to own a baseball team? Will MLB free agents ever take their talents to South Beach again? Could the Marlins be bad enough to lose 100 games? Is this the last season we see Gio Stanton in a Marlins uniform?

Offseason Additions: SP Henderson Alvarez, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, 3B Placido Polanco, LF Juan Pierre, RP Jon Rauch, RP Chad Qualls, UT Chone Figgins, C Jeff Mathis, OF Jake Marisnick (P), SP Justin Nicolino (P), IF Derek Dietrich (P), SP Anthony DeSclafani (P)

Offseason Subtractions: SS Jose Reyes, SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buehrle, OF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck, SS Yunel Escobar, RP Heath Bell, 1B Carlos Lee

Prospect Outlook: One of the few reasons to be optimistic in South Florida is the surplus of young talent obtained by the Marlins thanks in large part to their 2012 fire sale. Technically the fire sale started with the trades of Hanley Ramirez and Heath Bell before the trade deadline, but it would be the 12 player trade between Miami and Toronto that would define Miami’s offseason. The Marlins sent SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buehrle, SS Jose Reyes, utility man Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck to the Blue Jays. In exchange the Marlins received a package of 7 players including Jays top prospects Jake Marisnick (OF) and Justin Nicolino (SP) along with the slick fielding, light hitting Adeiny Hechavarria; who is poised to become the everyday SS.

Miami is loaded with high ceiling, big potential prospects. The only issue is that these prospects are a year or two away from contributing at the major league level. Two prime examples are SP Jose Fernandez and OF Christian Yelich. Both players are former 1st round picks in the MLB Amateur Draft, and both very well could make an impact late in 2013. Yelich, who was drafted in 2010, is the more experienced of the two and the more likely to make an appearance this season; his bat alone should get him some AB’s as a late season call-up. Fernandez, drafted in 2011, has the higher upside of the two and projects to be a front line starter at the major league level. In his first full pro season Fernandez went 14 – 1 with a 1.71 ERA in 25 starts split across two levels of A ball.

If Fernandez can keep up his rapid ascension of minor league levels and dominance of minor league hitters, it wouldn’t be completely out of the question to see him help pitch the Marlins to a potential 100 loss season. If you’re in a deep keeper league with a minor league system, it’s definitely worth drafting or bidding on Fernandez or Yelich for the future. It will pay off.

Best Fantasy Option: If it wasn’t for Giancarlo Stanton the answer would be nobody. Seriously. Outside of the Astros, this may be the most desolate looking fantasy roster in a long time. Thankfully they have the man they call Gio. In 2011, the world was introduced to Gio when he put up a season line of .262/34/87. Following a busy offseason that saw the Marlins acquire leadoff man Jose Reyes to pair with Hanley Ramirez in order to get runners on base for when Gio stepped up to bat. Well we know how that ended. Reyes and Stanton had superb seasons, and Hanley struggled offensively before being shipped to the Dodgers. Gio put up a line of .290/37/86 in 2012 and looked poised to become the face of the Marlins franchise for a long time. Cue Jeffrey Loria’s music.

Following the sale of most of their valuable commodities to Toronto and Los Angeles, the Marlin’s front office has successfully not only alienated their fan base (again), but also alienated their only marketable player left. So what does 2013 have in store with the man formerly known as Mike? With the Marlins not to keen on trading their young star, and no one to protect him in the lineup, it looks like Gio is stuck in baseball purgatory aka South Florida. Poor Gio, I can’t imagine how many fastballs he sees with the likes of Justin Ruggiano or Rob Brantley protecting him in the lineup. Stanton should still be good for 30+ bombs this season, but his RBI numbers will most likely suffer if no one is capable of getting on base.

Worst Case Scenario: The team has a decaying internal infrastructure that is led by a callous owner whose sole interest is to pad his own pocket opposed to worrying about his fan base. As a fan you can’t grow attached to home grown talent because it’s only a matter of time before they are sold for .70 cents on the dollar. Even home games are hard to attend, not just because of the lack of talent, but because of the sheer gaudiness of a stadium that features a 25 foot party favour in centerfield. Does this sound familiar? It’s hard to predict a worst case scenario for the Marlins when they’re living one.

Best Case Scenario: The front office decides not to shop Giancarlo Stanton (for the time being) and he continues to smash 450 foot bombs off the Latino Seussical statue in center. Other than that, pickings are slim for a potential upside to this season. Marlins fans should be optimistic about their bright young future in the minors, and the possibility of Stephen Strasburg coming to town to pitch.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 5th

wright

New York Mets

2012 Record: 74 – 88 (4th in NL East)

Burning Questions: Could the Mets be bad enough to finish below the Marlins? Is this the worst assembled outfield in the majors? Which Ike Davis shows up; the .227 hitter, or the 32 HR/90 RBI producer? Is it possible for Johan Santana to fill the void left by R.A Dickey? How will sophomore pitcher Matt Harvey perform in his first full season? Are top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler ready to contribute?

Offseason Additions: SP Shaun Marcum, OF Collin Cowgill, C John Buck, OF Marlon Byrd, RP Brandon Lyon, RP Aaron Laffey, RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Pedro Feliciano, RP Scott Atchison, C Travis d’Arnaud (P), SP Noah Syndergaard (P)

Offseason Subtractions: SP R.A. Dickey, LF Jason Bay, CF Andres Torres, SP Mike Pelfrey, OF Scott Hairston, SP Chris Young, RP Jon Rauch, RP Ramon Ramirez, IF Ronny Cedeno, C Kelly Shoppach, C Josh Thole, C Mike Nickeas, 3B Jefry Marte (P)

Prospect Outlook: In the past two seasons the Mets have traded two “franchise” players, and in return received a fantastic haul of prospects. At the 2011 trade deadline, the Mets flipped 7x All Star Carlos Beltran to the SF Giants in exchange for their top pitching prospect; Zack Wheeler. The Giants were looking to add a middle of the order bat and the Mets just happened to have one that they were willing to part with. Sure the price was steep, but the Giants didn’t flinch; that’s just the cost of making it to the playoffs. Fast forward to the 2012 offseason, this time it’s the Blue Jays who are looking to improve their roster and make a push for playoff contention. They’re after 2012 Cy Young winner R.A Dickey. The price: Two top prospects (Travis d’Arnaud & Noah Syndergaard) and John Buck. Giving up Beltran and Dickey has made the Mets a better team for the future.

Both Wheeler and d’Arnaud are projected to make an impact in 2013, and Syndergaard isn’t that far behind. In Wheeler, the Mets have a power arm that can touch 98mph and projects as a potential future ace. Last season in the minors, Wheeler compiled a 12 – 8 record with a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts over AA and AAA; he also struck out 148 batters in 149 innings. Wheeler, who was drafted in the 1st round (9th) out of high school by the Giants in 2009, is only 22 and could team up with 2012 break out Matt Harvey to give the Mets a fantastic 1-2 for years to come. He will most likely begin 2013 at AAA, but similar to Matt Harvey last season, don’t be surprised to see him called up before the All Star break.

If it wasn’t for a torn PCL ligament in his left knee, Travis d’Arnaud could very well be the starting catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. d’Arnaud tore up his knee sliding into 2nd base on July 14th, a bad break on a hustle type of play. Less than two weeks later JP Arencibia had a foul ball break his right hand sidelining him for six weeks. If it wasn’t for that torn ligament, d’Arnaud would have substituted for JP instead of Jeff Mathis. Instead d’Arnaud gets traded for an ace for the second time in his young career. The one knock on Travis has been his durability. When healthy he has the tools and make up to be a franchise catcher at the Major League level. d’Arnaud has the ability to hit for both power and average and is extremely athletic and agile catcher, who has a plus throwing arm and good game calling ability. If he can stay healthy, you can DEFINITELY count on seeing d’Arnaud at Citi Field in 2013

Best Fantasy Option: The Mets really have only one sure fire fantasy option, and that is team captain David Wright. Going into his 30th year and 10th season, Wright is looking to have a follow up to a successful 2012 campaign. In 2012, Wright went: .306/21/93 and put his dismal, injury plagued 2011 behind him. Despite his lack of a supporting cast, when healthy David Wright is a top 5 fantasy third basemen in the game. The main knock in the last few seasons has been his lack of power at home, and his durability. Team officials helped solve the home field power outage by moving the outfield walls at Citi Field in last season, and Wright responded by knocking 12 out while playing at home. The durability issue is not something that can easily be fixed. Wright plays a very demanding position (3B) and does so at a very high energy level. Injuries unfortunately are the cost that that type of player pays. Seeing as how he missed the end of the WBC with a muscle strain in his chest (intercostals) it’s tough to foresee David Wright playing in more than 135+ games. If injuries are of no concern, pencil Wright in for a .300/20/85 season.

If you’ve missed out on the Eric Hosmer’s and Freddie Freeman’s of the world, Ike Davis might be an attractive late round selection. Sure Davis won’t necessarily be a batting title candidate, but another 30+ home run season is definitely in the cards. However, with a dearth of offensively gifted players on the roster, another 90+ RBI season seems very unlikely. Matt Harvey is another player who could help your team out if you’re looking for a 3rd starter or bench starter.

Worst Case Scenario: The front office of your team could be tied to a white collar criminal that pulled off the single biggest ponzi scheme in US history resulting in a $162 million cash settlement and causing the team to have to sell shares in order to generate internal revenue. Oh that was last March? My bad. With a snowballs chance in hell of making the playoffs the only thing that could be worse would be any kind of significant injury to Wright or Davis, or any regression from Matt Harvey and their top prospect. Either way, it will be a long season in Queens.

Best Case Scenario: 22 year old Dwight Gooden and 24 year old Darryl Strawberry stumble through a wormhole and slip into the Mets everyday lineup thanks to the Mets return to their vintage look. Ageless wonder Jesse Orosco notices his former teammates and bails Lenny Dykstra out of jail just in time for the all star break. Keith Hernandez is noticeably absent as he is stuck filming a Just For Men commercial with Clyde Frazier. Sorry Mets fans. This actually has higher odds of happening than the 2013 Mets actually finishing ahead of the Phillies, Braves, and Nationals. Best case scenario… the Mets don’t lose more games than the Marlins. Come right out and MEET the Mets…

2013 AL West Final Standing: 4th

hamels

Philadelphia Phillies

2012 Record: 81 – 81 (3rd in NL East)

Burning Questions: Could the Phillies have an older roster than the Yankees? Do they have the oldest everyday infield (Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Young)? Was last year the beginning of the end of the Doc? How many more days does Ryan Howard have as an everyday 1B? Does Chase Utley play more than 100 games? Does Michael Young have anything left in the tank? Will Cliff Lee win more than 6 games this season (yes)? Will Cole Hamels prove to be worth his extension? Which Delmon Young shows up? Is Domonic Brown ready to finally break out? Could another so/so season mean the end for Charlie Manual in Philadelphia?

Offseason Additions: CF Ben Revere, 3B Michael Young, SP John Lannan, RP Mike Adams, RF Delmon Young, RP Chad Durbin, RP Juan Cruz, SP Aaron Cook, C Humberto Quintero, UT Joe Mather, IF Yuniesky Betancourt

Offseason Subtractions: SP Vance Worley, 3B Placido Polanco, OF Juan Pierre, OF Nate Schierholtz, IF Ty Wigginton, RP Josh Lindblom, C Brian Schneider, RP Jose Contreras, SP Trevor May (P)

Prospect Outlook: After years of pillaging their minor league system in order to acquire big name players, the Phillies are just now beginning to restock their depleted farm system. Past trades for Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee (to name a few) saw plenty of major league calibre prospects move onto new futures with new teams. Some of these players are now looking to help impact their new clubs. In 2012, the Phillies front office realized that they were not going to win with their current roster, so they begin to sell off parts in order to obtain salary relief and prospects. Now most of these prospects are not looking to be making an impact until at least 2014-15, but we may see some young talent strut though Citizens Bank Ballpark this season.

With Carlos Ruiz looking to miss the first 25 games of the 2013 season due to suspension for a banned substance, the Phillies are slated to start Eric Kratz (who?) as their starting catcher. That could change though if catching prospect Tommy Joseph has an impressive showing in spring training. Joseph, who was acquired from the Giants in exchange for Hunter Pence, is offensively gifted with very good raw power, and the ability to drive the ball to all fields. There were questions about his defence and ability to remain behind the plate, but he has shown vast improvement in positioning, blocking and throwing out base stealers. Even if he doesn’t start with the Phillies in 2013, there is a VERY good possibility that we see him up in the majors, especially with Carlos Ruiz being a free agent at the end of the season.

Impact arms like Ethan Martin (acquired in Victorino trade to LA) and Jesse Biddle (2010 1st rounder) are both honing their craft in the minors and the days of them throwing from a big league mound are not far away. Of the two, Martin (drafted 1st round in 2008) is the more polished and therefore more likely to earn a call up at some point this season. Martin, is currently a 3 pitch pitcher with a hard fastball that touches 97 mph, he compliments that with a hard breaking slider, and a change-up that is currently being worked on.

Best Fantasy Option: For the past 5 seasons, the Phillies have had the luxury of having one of the most potent fantasy rosters in the game. Ryan Howard was always a 40 HR/ 120 RBI possibility, Jimmy Rollins was a premier SS in the game, when healthy Chase Utley was a top 3 (maybe the top) 2B in the MLB, not to mention starters like Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz; hell even Raul Ibanez was a fantasy gem in Philly… and we haven’t even got to their pitchers. The Phillies actually had the audacity to field 3 ACES in their starting rotation (Halladay, Hamels, and Lee)!! Not to mention the likes of Vance Worley, and Roy Oswalt. The Phillies had an embarrassment of riches to say the least.

So what happened? Age and injuries were the main culprit. Howard missed the first 3 months recovering from a torn Achilles tendon; Utley (34) has only averaged 100 games played in the past 3 seasons because of reoccurring knee injuries. Rollins, is also 34, and plays a physically demanding position in SS. Throw in the fact that he is projected as the lead-off hitter in 2013 and would you really be surprised if he breaks down? Even the good doctor, Roy Halladay, wasn’t immune to the injury bug. Doc, had his worst statistical season in the majors, and missed 7 weeks over the course of the 2012 season with shoulder issues. His line in 2012:

11 – 8 • 4.49 ERA • 156.1 IP • 1.22 WHIP

Those shoulder issues are most likely the baggage from his 2700 major league innings pitched. With the Doc not getting any younger, and his workload finally looking to catch up to him, I would definitely recommend staying away from the Doc this season; especially with his fastball sitting in the 86-89 mph range all spring.

In 2013, your best fantasy option on the Phillies comes down to their two left handed starters: Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee. Both lefties started over 30 games, tossed 200+ innings, and struck out 200+ batters in 2013. However, only one of them would have a record that reflected those numbers. Here are their lines:

Hamels: 17 – 6 • 3.05 ERA • 215.1 IP • 260 K’s • 1.12 WHIP

Lee: 6 – 9 • 3.16 ERA • 211 IP • 207 K’s • 1.11 WHIP

Little bit of a win difference to say the least.

Lee missed some time in 2012 with an oblique injury but that wasn’t that the cause of the low win total. The main reason was bad luck and untimely hitting. Lee had a streak of 13 starts where he went winless. His bullpen blew a few leads, and his team’s bats fell silent in close games. It happens. It’s part of the game. Hence, Hamels Cy Young calibre numbers. Although, perhaps some of Hamels dominance was attributed to him playing in a contract year; his 2012 season did
see him get rewarded with 7yr/$153 million contract extension.

If you can only have one of the two go with Hamels, especially if you are in a keeper league. That being said, don’t be disappointed if you end up with Lee, and definitely don’t overlook him based on his 2012 numbers.

Worst Case Scenario: For a team as talent loaded as the Phillies, anything but postseason ball will be considered a failure. Philly fans are not the most understanding of people, and a second straight ho hum season could end up leading to a dismantling of the team. Long term injuries to any of their stars would be the making of a disaster in Philly. Long term injuries to the big 3 in the pitching staff will stifle any chance of contending in the NL East. The right shoulder of Roy Halladay should definitely be the focal point and a main cause for concern this season, but an injury to Hamels would be absolutely devastating.

Best Case Scenario: The good doctor shrugs off his injured right shoulder, and puts up a throwback Roy Halladay season (19-7/3.30 ERA/220 IP). Lefties Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels follow suit and end up carving up the NL like its 2009. The Phillies aging stars turn back the hands of time and give Charlie Manual one of the most feared lineups in the game. Domonic Brown finally realized his immense potential and has a breakout season at the age of 26. The “good” Delmon Young shows up in Philadelphia and turns out to be the wild card that the Phillies were missing. Not quite good enough to top the Nationals for the NL East crown, the Phillies manage to surpass the Braves and land a wild card spot.

Trust me… looking at this lineup… anything is possible…

2013 AL West Final Standing: 3rd

uptons

Atlanta Braves

2012 Record: 94 – 68 (2nd in NL East)

Burning Questions: How much will the Braves miss Chipper Jones? Do the Braves have what it takes to reclaim the NL East crown? Is this the best outfield in baseball? Will a change in scenery be beneficial to both Upton brothers? Can Brian McCann rebound from a subpar 2012? How has the name Freddie Freeman not been snapped up by an upcoming ATL MC? Could this be the best bullpen in the majors? Is Julio Teheran ready to contribute to the rotation? What does Andrelton Simmons do in a full MLB season?

Offseason Additions: LF Justin Upton, CF B.J. Upton, RP Jordan Walden, 3B Chris Johnson, C Gerald Laird, UT Blake DeWitt, IF Ramiro Pena, C Matt Pagnozzi

Offseason Subtractions: 3B Chipper Jones, CF Michael Bourn, 3B Martin Prado, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Jair Jurrjens, SP Randall Delgado, IF/OF Eric Hinske, C David Ross, UT Jeff Baker, OF Matt Diaz, 1B Lyle Overbay, SP Ben Sheets, RP Chad Durbin, RP Miguel Batista, RP Peter Moylan, SS Nick Ahmed (P), SP Zeke Spruill (P), 3B Brandon Drury (P).

Prospect Outlook: The Braves have always had a managed to have good luck when it comes to developing and grooming young pitchers; especially those with “high ceilings.” In 2007, the Braves signed a lanky, unimposing 16 year old pitching prospect out of Colombia as an Amateur Free Agent. In 2011, that same prospect was named the 4th best in all of the MLB (behind Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Matt Moore); his name was Julio Teheran. Teheran burst onto the Braves radar after a good showing in rookie ball in 2009 before moving up to low A ball. In 2010, Julio went 9 – 8 with a 2.59 ERA in 24 starts across three minor league level (low A to AA). In that same year where he was heralded as the 4th best prospect in the majors (2011), Teheran made a lasting impression on the baseball world. To say that he tore up AAA is a bit of an understatement. Look for yourself:

24 Starts • 15 – 3 • 2.55 ERA • 144.2 IP • 122 K’s • 1.18 WHIP

Those are filthy numbers for anyone, let alone a 20 year old kid pitching at AAA for the first time.

That performance would earn him a late season call up where he got roughed up in his 19 innings in the Majors. So why is he not already on the roster? Well after his dominant 2011, the Braves decided that they were in no real rush to rush Teheran to the majors, especially with a full rotation, and other pitchers slightly more major league ready than Julio. Besides, what would the harm be in allowing him to dominate AAA again, right? Unfortunately they would be wrong as 2012 would prove to be an absolute nightmare for Teheran. It’s hard to say that he regressed; I would say it was more of a stall. One year removed from being proverbially “lights-out,” Teheran looked anything but. Here are his numbers from 2012:

26 Starts • 7 – 9 • 5.08 ERA • 131 IP • 97 K’s • 1.44 WHIP

Just a little bit of a difference between 2011 and 2012 to say the least. Although concerned, the Braves still brought up Teheran as a September call up. His performance with Atlanta was nothing to write home about.

So what do we expect in 2013? Which Teheran shows up for the Braves? So far the answer is the GOOD Julio Teheran. Throughout spring training Teheran has looked dominant, and showed no signs of his 2012 performance. Teheran has made 6 starts this spring and has pitched 26 innings, he has 3 wins to go along with his 35 strikeouts and 1.04 ERA; he has also one-hit three teams to boot. Teheran looks to be a lock for the 5th spot in the Braves rotation and may even surpass left Paul Maholm if he continues to look sharp. *Fantast Alert* Teheran is definitely worth taking a flier on with a late draft pick… you’ll be kicking yourself if he slips by you…

Best Fantasy Option: Need an outfielder? Look no further than the Braves trio of young, fantasy studs. The Braves made a big splash in the free agent market by signing the 28 year old B.J Upton to a 5 year/$75million deal. They weren’t done adding Upton’s though, as they traded for B.J’s younger brother Justin after he fell out of favour with the Diamondbacks organization. Now pair those two up with incumbent RF Jason Heyward, and the Braves could potentially have the best outfield in baseball. Take a look at their 162 game averages:

Heyward: .261 • 22 HR • 74 RBI • 16 SB

Upton, B.J: .255 • 20 HR • 75 RBI • 39 SB

Upton, J: .278 • 24 HR • 80 RBI • 18 SB

They’re not jaw dropping by any means, but they’re still impressive. Factor in that they’re all under 29, and surrounded by hitters like Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, and Dan Uggla; those stat lines could definitely take an upward swing. Justin Upton has the most potential and upside of the trio, followed by Heyward and B.J, but owning any one of the three greatly improves any fantasy roster.

No Braves fantasy talk would be complete without mentioning a pitcher; or in this case two. The Braves have a potential Greg Maddux 2.0 in Kris Medlan, and perhaps the best and most dominant closer in the game today in Craig Kimbrel. Last season the Washington Nationals made headlines by shutting down staff ace Stephen Strasburg in the middle of a pennant race, once he had reached his predetermined 160 innings pitched limit. Strasburg was in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, and the Nat’s didn’t want to ruin their future for a shot at today; completely understandable. The Braves were in a similar situation with Kris Medlan, who was also in his first full season back from Tommy John. Instead of having him pitch every 5th day as a starter, the Braves had Medlan start out of the bullpen as a reliever, that way they could limit his use until they needed him as a starter. Medlan made his first start on July 31st and was an absolute stud for the Braves down the stretch. In 12 starts, Medlan went 9 – 0 with a 0.97 ERA! He would finish the season with a 10 – 1 record and a 1.57 ERA.

So why didn’t the Nat’s take that option? Well probably because Strasberg was more valuable at the beginning of the year in order to pitch them into playoff contention. The Braves didnt have that pressure, so they didn’t need to rush Medlan; plus they have the luxury of being STACKED with young impact arms who can fill in when needed.

If you’re the kind of owner who likes to draft your closers early, the first name on your list should be Craig Kimbrel. Armed with 100 MPH heat, and filthy breaking ball, the soon to be 25 year old is arguably the best closing pitcher currently in the game today; and leads a bullpen that is one of the best in the game. Kimbrel has only been the closer for two full seasons, but he has been a dominant force in the majors since his debut in May 2010.

2010: 21 G • 7 GF • 4 – 0 • 0.44 ERA • 20 IP • 40 K’s • 1 SV • 1.21 WHIP

2011: 79 G • 64 GF • 4 – 3 • 2.10 ERA • 77 IP • 127 K’s • 46 SV • 1.04 WHIP

2012: 63 G • 56 GF • 3 – 1 • 1.01 ERA • 62.2 IP •116 K’s • 42 SV • 0.65 WHIP

Barring some unforeseen injury or case of Rick Ankiel-itis (inability to hit strike zone) look for Kimbrel to continue his late inning dominance and keep piling up the save and strikeouts

Worst Case Scenario: The Braves were one of the more active teams in the offseason as they realized that the Washington Nationals were for real last year, and definitely not going away anytime soon. The Braves made the playoffs in 2012, but fell short of advancing to the NLDS after losing out to the Cardinals in the Wild Card game. Missing out on the Wild Card and playoffs altogether in 2013 would be unacceptable. The Braves on paper are definitely in contention for a Wild Card spot, maybe even the NL East crown. If injuries pile up early on, or any of their offseason acquisitions have a dismal season, you could see the Braves fall behind both the Nationals and Phillies by season’s end. The one man who realy needs to turn things around is Brian McCann. Going into 2012, McCann had been arguably the best producing catcher in the majors, and the Braves MVP. After playing through injuries for most of the season, McCann’s season hit a low when he was left out of the starting lineup for the Wild Card game. Atlanta cannot afford for McCann to have another subpar year.

Best Case Scenario: The Upton’s and Heyward team up with Freddie Freeman to give the Braves one feared 2-3-4-5. Brian McCann proves that he is both healthy, and that last year was an anomaly and returns to his usual .280/25/98 production. Freddie Freeman has another successful season, and Andrelton Simmons builds on his rookie season to have a very productive sophomore campaign. New ace Kris Medlan and savvy vet Tim Hudson confound hitters with pinpoint control and guile. Rookie Julio Teheran is the biggest surprise of all as he shows us why he was the Braves top prospect by throwing his name into Rookie of the Year mention. The Braves starters have no qualms in handing over leads to the flame throwing Craig Kimbrel who puts his mark on the season with a 3rd consecutive 40+ saves. Braves narrowly edge the Nats for the NL East crown, and the two meet in the NLCS with a shot at the World Series on the line.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 2nd

Jayson Werth

Washington Nationals

2012 Record: 98 – 64 (1st in NL East)

Burning Questions: Will the Nats win 100 games?! Is this the best starting rotation in baseball? What is Stephen Strasburg capable of with no innings limit? How does rookie-phenom Bryce Harper perform in his sophomore season? Will Gio Gonzalez be visiting any more Miami aging clinics? How much better does Dan Haren make this team? Can Ian Desmond repeat last season? Who is the closer, Soriano or Storen? Is Jim Riggleman sure he doesn’t regret his decision to resign as manager? How sad will Expos fans be if the Nationals win the World Series? When did Jayson Werth join Duck Dynasty? Is this a clown question?

Offseason Additions: CF Denard Span, SP Dan Haren, RP Rafael Soriano, RP Jeremy Accardo, SP Ross Ohlendorf, C Chris Snyder, 1B Micah Owings, SP A.J. Cole (P), SP Blake Treinen (P)

Offseason Subtractions: 1B/OF Michael Morse, SP Edwin Jackson, RP Sean Burnett, RP Mike Gonzalez, SP John Lannan, RP Tom Gorzelanny, SP Chien-Ming Wang, IF Mark DeRosa, C Jesus Flores, SP Alex Meyer (P)

Prospect Outlook: Seeing as he’ll still be 20 come the end of the regular season, it’s hard not to consider Bryce Harper the Nationals best prospect. Harper has been a household name ever since he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old. He even dropped out of high school in order to his GED just so he could enter the MLB Amateur Draft a year earlier. There is no denying that he is a special player. On the field he is a highlight reel player, blessed with speed, power, grit, a high baseball IQ, and a cannon for a right arm. Off the field he is a pure student of the game; he lives and breathes baseball. When he isn’t trending on twitter, you can usually find him in the cage or the film room, honing his skills; perfecting his craft. Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year was partially overshadowed by another young phenom (Mike Trout), but he still had a very impressive rookie season.

.270 • 22 HR • 59 RBI • 18 SB • 56/120 BB/SO

It’ll be very exciting to see what Harper does in his second year.

The Nationals current top prospect is their 2011 1st round pick in the MLB Amateur Draft, Anthony Rendon. Rendon definitely had the toolset to be a #1 overall pick, but his history of injuries deterred some teams, so the Nationals gladly took him with their 6th overall pick when he was still on the board. The only issue for Rendon and the Nationals now is where will he play? Rendon is a 3B by trade and played it his entire college career at Rice, however he is road blocked at the MLB level by Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals have considered moving him to 2B, but Danny Espinosa has changed their minds for the time being. Rendon, will be a player in the majors, his bat will make certain of that. The question is just where will he play?

Best Fantasy Option: For fantasy owners who are looking to build a pitching heavy roster, the Nationals rotation is where you should begin your pitcher search. The Nationals front four in the rotation is as good, if not better, than any other rotation in the majors; hell even Ross Detwiler is serviceable in a deep fantasy league.

The front four is led by ace Stephen Strasburg, and co-ace Gio Gonzalez; veteran Dan Haren, and 2012 breakout Jordan Zimmerman round out the 3 and 4 spots. Here’s a look at the four’s 2012 seasons:

Strasburg: 15 – 6 • 3.16 ERA • 159.1 IP • 197 K’s • 1.15 WHIP

Gonzalez: 21 – 8 • 2.89 ERA • 199.1 IP • 207 K’s • 1.13 WHIP

Haren: 12 – 13 • 4.33 ERA • 176.2 IP • 142 K’s • 1.29 WHIP

Zimmerman: 12 – 8 • 2.94 ERA • 195.2 IP • 153 K’s • 1.17 WHIP

Those are 4 pitchers who could definitely lead the Nationals to a 100 win campaign. Barring injuries or poor performance, this is a group that finished 2 wins short of 100 last year. Factor in a whole season from Stephen Strasburg, and Dan Haren apparently 100% healthy after an up and down 2012 and this could be a very scary rotation. Strasburg is definitely the one pitcher on this team that every fantasy owner wants. He most likely will be gone by the mid 2nd round, so don’t feel too bad when you have to settle for Gio Gonzalez. Dan Haren and Jordan Zimmerman should be available in the middle of the draft, and either one of them will help solidify your fantasy rotation. With a clean bill of health, and a loaded lineup and bullpen, expect Haren to return to his 14 – 11/3.66ERA/200+ IP career average; he could be a steal late in a draft. Jordan Zimmerman should only continue to get better with each passing year; look for him to build on an impressive 2012.

On the offensive front, the Nats are lead by youngster Bryce Harper, and franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman. Harper will be coveted early in most drafts mainly because of hype and potential; he should be snapped up before the end of most 3rd rounds. As mentioned earlier, I see a repeat type of season for Bryce, something in the .275/22/80 region.

With names like Cabrera, Longoria, Beltre, Wright, the 3B position is the most loaded it has been in a long time. Even up and coming players like Brett Lawrie, Will Middlebrooks, Pedro Alvarez, and Mike Moustakas make this a very stacked fantasy position. The Nationals have their own big name 3B in Ryan Zimmerman, who is definitely on the short list when discussing the Top 5 3B’s in the game. Zimmerman is a gold glove defender, maybe the best at the position, and a threat offensively at the plate. The only knock on Zimmerman has been his durability. Last season Zimmerman had an offensive line of .282/25/95 in 145 games played. Despite going into his 8th season, Zimmerman is still young (28) and should continue to produce for the Nationals; a return to his career year in 2009 (.292/33/106) isn’t completely out of the question.

Other late round notables:

Ian Desmond: SS • .292 • 25 HR • 73 RBI • 21 SB

Adam LaRoche: 1B • .271 • 33 HR • 100 RBI

Both are attractive options late; especially with bigger name at their position likely to be drafted before them.

Worst Case Scenario: Stephen Strasburg starts to experience tightness in his right shoulder, causing him to be considerable amounts of the season, before being shut down in late August. Images of Mark Prior start flashing through National’s fans heads. Gio Gonzalez is haunted by his link to a PED scandal in Miami and is rattled by it throughout the season. Haren is hampered by injuries, and Zimmerman is just so/so, causing the bullpen to be overworked all season. Bryce Harper is anything but dynamic in his 2nd year in the big leagues, and Ryan Zimmerman is forced on the DL for more than one stint during the season. The Nationals inconsistency all year allows the surging Braves to pass them in the standings and easily cruise to the NL East crown. The Nats are forced into a fight for a Wild Card spot that they win, but eventually lose in the play in game itself. High expectations are dashed, and the Nats enter the offseason searching for a new manager, and a new approach.

Best Case Scenario: Ladies and Gentlemen your 2013 World Series Champions…

2013 AL West Final Standing: 1st

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Rock Bottom for Romero?

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The latest chapter in Ricky Romero’s career was written on Tuesday evening following another lack lustre spring training performance. The Blue Jay brass announced that the lefty, and former ace, would be optioned to Dunedin of the Gulf Coast League (High A ball). Romero has had a poor spring so far, posting an ERA of 6.23 over 4 starts. This comes on the heels of a disastrous 2012 campaign which was highlighted by a 13 start losing streak. His final numbers would be 9 – 14/5.77 ERA/1.67 WHIP.

Romero’s main downfall was his inability to locate his pitches for strikes; he would end up walking a career high 105 batters. It seemed that every time Romero took the mound, he did so with a can of gasoline. He looked lost and appeared to lack confidence. Even when his team would stake him a lead, Romero looked eager to give it right back.

That’s how Ricky has looked all spring.

Spring training stats usually mean nothing; performances on the other hand speak volumes. Brandon Morrow for instance has posted an ERA well over 7, but most of his scrapes had come in one poor inning. Morrow also had an excellent 2012 and very well could have been an all star if not for an oblique injury that sidelined him for 2+ months. Romero on the other hand has looked poor in every inning he’s pitched this spring and has not showed any improvement from 2012.

Despite manager John Gibbons all but “guaranteeing” a spot for him in the 5 man rotation, Romero’s demotion was made possible by JA Happ’s stellar performance this spring. The bullpen wasn’t really an option, especially with guys like Jeremy Jeffress and Brett Cecil in the mix and out of minor league options. One of Happ or Romero had to be sent down. The Jays look to have made the right decision.

Romero’s demotion has immediately brought comparisons to Roy Halladay. In 2000, Halladay posted an MLB record 10.64 ERA through 19 games (13 starts). Following that terrible season, Halladay was optioned to Class A Dunedin to start the 2001 season with the main focus being to work on his delivery. Even though his fastball was capable of lighting up the radar gun, it had minimal movement, and was susceptible to being pounded.

Halladay spent half a season altering his delivery. He dropped his arm slot from “over the top” to the ¾ position. He transitioned from a power pitcher to a control artist, trading speed and power for control and consistency. He would be recalled shortly after the all star break and would post a 5 – 3 record with a 3.19 ERA in 16 starts in 2001. Halladay would go on to become one of the best pitchers in the majors and the best pitcher in Blue Jays history. The Jays are hoping that Romero can follow a similar path and make a triumphant return to the big league club.

This isn’t the first adversity that Romero has faced as a Blue Jay. Romero was infamously selected one spot ahead of Troy Tulowitzki in the first round of the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft. The Jays selected Romero because they had previously selected shortstops in the 1st round in the previous two drafts (Russ Adams and Aaron Hill). Ironically both shortstops drafted would end up having a minimal impact as a SS, and would transition to 2B at the MLB level.

While Romero toiled in the minors, Tulowitzki tore up the majors. Tulo made his debut in 2006 and was the driving force behind the Rockies World Series run in 2007. Whispers around the majors were that Romero may prove to be a “bust” and it didn’t help that then Jays GM JP Ricciardi told Sports Illustrated that he “made a mistake” by drafting Romero 6th overall. Romero would put cut that article out and tape it in his locker; using it as motivation to prove all the doubters wrong.

By the time Romero made his MLB debut in 2009, Tulowitzki was already a household name in the baseball community. Romero had an impressive rookie campaign in 2009, and showed improvement every season after that until the wheels unexpectedly fell off in 2012. Here’s a look at Romero’s first 3 seasons with the Jays:

2009: 13 – 9 • 4.30 ERA • 178 IP • 1.52 WHIP
2010: 14 – 9 •3.73 ERA •210 IP • 1.29 WHIP
2011: 15 – 11 • 2.92 ERA • 225 IP • 1.14 WHIP (All-Star)

Ricky is reportedly handling the demotion like a “pro.” He gets it. It is a business after all.

It’s a similar business decision that was made with Adam Lind last year. In Lind’s case, he was demoted to AAA after a month and a half of struggling at the plate in the majors. When he was demoted on May 17th, Lind was hitting .186/3/11; he was even put on outright waivers at one point. Lind was sent to AAA Las Vegas in order to work on his swing. Lind would spend just over a month in the minors before being recalled in late June. Lind definitely showed improvement following his recall, and he would finish 2012 with a line of .255/11/45. Maybe Romero should talk to Lind about how he handled the situation.

Ricky should look at it this way though, it’s better to go and work things out at the minor league level than have to try and figure things out under a microscope. With the Jays slated to possibly contend this season, you don’t really need Romero to crumble under the pressures that have been heaved upon the Jays in 2013.

But the question still remains, what caused Romero to “lose it”?

Is he trying too hard? Pitchers tend to become erratic and miss the zone when they’re over throwing. Could it be an emotional stress? Perhaps the pressures of becoming the de facto ace of the Jays caused Romero to over compensate and try too hard to lead by example. Maybe the issue isn’t even related to baseball and is more personal. Could his relationship with former Miss USA Rima Fakih be a factor? The only person who knows for sure is probably Romero, and even he can’t figure it out. The only thing we do know is that Romero is going to have to find whatever he lost and get it all put it together before he can go back to making an impact on the Blue Jays roster.

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2013 MLB Season Preview – AL Central

AL Central 2013 Preview

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Minnesota Twins

2012 Record: 66 – 96 (5th in AL Central)

Burning Questions: Will Justin Morneau ever return to an elite level? Are Joe Mauer’s playing days behind the plate numbered? Could this be the last year of the M&M boys in Minneapolis? Will this be Ron Gardenhire’s last run with the Twins? Are we really going to buy what Trevor Plouffe is selling? Can Josh Willingham repeat his 2012 career season? Is Aaron Hicks ready to take the reins in CF?

Offseason Additions: SP Vance Worley, SP Kevin Correia, SP Mike Pelfrey, P Rich Harden, IF Jeff Clement, OF Brandon Boggs, SP Alex Meyer (P), SP Trevor May (P)

Offseason Subtractions: CF Denard Span, RF Ben Revere, SP Carl Pavano, SP Scott Baker, RP Matt Capps, IF Alexi Casilla, IF Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Prospect Outlook: Top prospects Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer and Trevor May are 2+ years away at best. That leaves two former first round picks to make an impact on the big club. With the Twins SERIOUSLY considering starting Darin Mastroianni (I mean REALLY!?) everyday in CF, it’s kind of hard not to wonder about Aaron Hicks. Hicks, a 2008 1st rounder out of H.S, has always had considerable raw tools but never parlayed them into success while in the minors. That could change in 2013 seeing as how the Twins don’t have a proven everyday CF and with no real competition (well besides Mastoianni) this could be Hicks job to lose. Hicks has plus speed which translates into stolen bases and good range in the OF, a plus throwing arm from years as a H.S pitcher, and he is an on base machine (.379 career OBP in the minors).Another top prospect looking to take advantage of a thin Twins roster is Kyle Gibson. Like Hicks, Gibson is a former 1st round pick (2009) and was on the fast track to the majors before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. After missing the entire 2012 season following surgery and recovery, Gibson could easily earn both a ticket to Minneapolis and a spot in the starting rotation with a good showing in spring training.

Best Fantasy Option: For years this was a lock. You either went with Mauer or Morneau. Even after concussions reduced Morneau to a shell of his former prowess, you could still count on Mauer to help lead you to Fantasy glory. Now Mauer is still a solid fantasy option. He may no longer be considered a top 50 fantasy player but he can still hit for average and drive in runs at a higher clip than most catchers in the game today. His playing days behind the plate may be numbered as well. A better fantasy bet may be the former catcher, Josh Willingham. Willingham made quite an impression in his debut with the Twins in 2012. He set career highs in Home Runs (35) and RBI’s (110) and games played (145). It’s hard to say if the Hammer will match these exact numbers, but given what he’s done in his past 2 seasons; I’d be willing to bet that a 28 homer 90 RBI season is definitely in play.

Worst Case Scenario: It’s hard to come up with a worst case scenario for a team slotted to finish dead last in their division and miss the playoffs. If there is one, it’s definitely going to centre on injuries. The Twins cannot afford long term injuries to players like Mauer, Morneau, and Willingham, especially with no one who can step in and put up their kind of numbers.

Best Case Scenario: Let’s be honest here… saying that the Twins even have a chance at a Wild Card spot or the division is rather laughable. In order for that to have a remote possibility a few things would have to take place:

1. BOTH Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau not only have to stay healthy for the season, but they also have to put up MVP calibre seasons and numbers.
2. BOTH Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe would have to replicate their 2012 stats or better them.
3. Newly acquired Vance Worley and the revamped starting rotation would have to figure out how to shut down the loaded lineups of the American League.
4. Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson use dark magic to summon the talents of the late (great) Kirby Puckett and perennial HOF snub Jack Morris in order to help lead the Twins back into October baseball.

Now you can see why it is HIGHLY unlikely for there to be a whole lot of positives this year in the Twin Cities.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 5th

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Cleveland Indians

2012 Record: 68 – 94 (4th in the AL Central)

Burning Questions: Can Terry Francona replicate his Bo’Sox magic with the Tribe? Will Ubaldo Jiminez ever find what he lost? How many bases will Michael Bourn swipe this season? How many times will Mark Reynolds whiff this season? Will Carlos Santana take the next step to become an “elite” level catcher? Will Chris Perez put up enough saves to back up his mouth?

Offseason Additions: RF Nick Swisher, CF Michael Bourn, SP Brett Myers, SP Daisuke Matsuzaka, 1B Mark Reynolds, CF Drew Stubbs, RP Matt Capps, RP Rich Hill, DH Chris McGuiness, RP Matt Albers, RP Bryan Shaw, 1B Jason Giambi, IF Mike Aviles, IF Ryan Raburn, 1B Yan Gomes, SP Scott Kazmir, SP Trevor Bauer (P)

Offseason Subtractions: RF Shin-Soo Choo, 1B Casey Kotchman, CF Grady Sizemore, DH Travis Hafner, IF Jack Hannahan, IF Jason Donald, SP Jeanmar Gomez, RP Tony Sipp, RP Roberto Hernandez, RP Dan Wheeler, RP Esmil Rogers, RP Rafael Perez, 1B Lars Anderson (P)

Prospect Outlook: The Indians were one of the busier teams during the offseason. They added a new coach (Francona) and two all-star calibre outfielders (Swisher and Bourn.) They were also involved in a three team trade that saw them give up Shin Soo Choo, but acquire Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer. If you’re a fan of the Tribe, then Bauer is a HUGE reason to be excited for years to come. Bauer was drafted 3rd overall out of UCLA by the Diamondbacks; the first pick that year was Bauer’s UCLA team mate; Gerrit Cole. Although some thought Bauer to be the more polished pitcher of the two, it would be Cole’s 100mph heater that led to his name being called two spots ahead of Bauer. In his first full season in the professional baseball, Trevor Bauer proved to be an absolute stud. He TORE UP the minors going 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA through three minor league levels, eventually culminating in a call up to Chase Field on June 28th, 2012. After a cup of tea with the D-Backs, Bauer was returned to the minors for more polish and was poised to make an impact with Arizona in 2013. However, that was not to be as Arizona flipped the highly touted Bauer to the Indians back in December. The move had a lot of baseball people scratching their heads. How could the D-Backs “give up” on someone who was as young and talented as Bauer, especially with not getting a proverbial ransom back in exchange? Whispers were being heard that Bauer had “make-up” issues and was not willing to step away from his “unorthodox” training regimen, which resulted in Bauer falling out of favour with the Diamondbacks organization. Bauer has been a staunch supporter of the long toss method of baseball training; citing that a weight lifting program would have no benefit on his diminutive frame, and in fact could lead to him harming himself. Bauer’s “stubbornness” and refusal to alter his training is what ultimately led to him being handed to the Indians. It’s hard to say what kind of impact Bauer will make in Cleveland in 2013; if any at all. Right now he is definitely in the mix for the 5th rotation spot but has to prove that he has better command of his pitches, and that he is capable of learning from his errors. Either way the future looks good in Cleveland as the Indians have a potential ace waiting in the wings.

Best Fantasy Option: Could this finally be the year that Carlos Santana puts it all together and becomes the complete package that the Indians and fantasy owners have been waiting for? His rookie campaign was cut short by a devastating broken leg in 2010. Santana was able to recover and played in 155 games in 2011 spread out between C, 1B, and DH where he put up a career high 27 HR’s and 79 RBI’s. In 2012, he played 12 less games, but still managed to knock out 18 HR’s and 76 RBI. Power number haven’t been the issue with Santana, the main issue has been his paltry batting average and high strikeout numbers. If the Indians are going to have ANY kind of chance of competing in the Central they will need a big year from the man behind the plate. Santana is a VERY attractive option for fantasy owners as he plays almost every day, has availability at 1B/DH, and puts up impressive power numbers for a catcher. Out of all the catchers in the MLB he’s definitely a Top 5 choice, perhaps even a Top 3.

Worst Case Scenario: Francona allows beer and fried chicken back in the clubhouse resulting in the 2011 Boston Red Sox 2.0… Just kidding. What I’d be more concerned about is the potential for big free agent signings Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to disappoint in their Cleveland debuts. Since 2009 Swisher has had the luxury of batting in one of the best offensive lineups in baseball, AND playing half of his games in that sin-bin known as new Yankee Stadium. Progressive Field is NOT Yankee Stadium, it can be DEATH on right-handed power hitters (26% drop in power numbers). Luckily Swish is a switch hitter and therefore may be able to compensate for any diminished power from the left side. The other marquee free agent signing was CF Michael Bourn. Bourn has played his entire career in the National League and making the transition to the AL may not be a complete walk in the park. Of Swisher and Bourn, I’d be willing to bet that Bourn is the one that disappoints this season in Cleveland. If the Tribe has any plans of October baseball this season, they will need BOTH Swisher and Bourn to make a HUGE impact on the diamond.

Best Case Scenario: The PLAYOFFS?!!? I don’t think so. The Indians would HAVE to be better than the Royals, White Sox AND the Tigers. In order for any chance of postseason ball we would have to see a number of things happen. Ubaldo Jiminez regains the magic he had in 2010 and becomes the ace that the Tribe was hoping he would be when they traded for him in 2011. He teams up with 2011 surprise Justin Masterson and new comer Trevor Bauer to create a 3-headed monster that stifles and dominates AL Central hitters. Carlos Santana puts up career high numbers and 2008 1st rounder Lonnie Chisenhall FINALLY breaks out. Francona is able to ensure that Asdrubal Cabrera doesn’t disappear after the all-star break, and that Chris Perez puts his talent where his mouth is. Throw in huge offensive seasons from free agents Swisher and Bourn and a surprise season from either Brett Myers or Scott Kazmir (remember him?) and we could have the Indians poised for a run at the Wild Card. Not completely out of the question… Just very unrealistic. The Tribe is VERY close to competing and contending for the AL Central crown, it just may still be a year or 2 away.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 4th

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Chicago White Sox

2012 Record: 85 – 77 (2nd in the AL Central)

Burning Questions: Can the Pale Hose put last season’s late collapse behind them? Will Chris Sale prove that 2012 wasn’t a fluke? How much longer can 37yr old Paul Konerko keep fighting the sands of time? Could it be Konerko’s last year in the Windy City? How much will the Sox miss A.J Pierzynski? Will Adam Dunn hit above .230 in a White Sox jersey? Will Tyler Flowers be the starting catcher all season long? Is Jake Peavy worth a 2yr/$29mil extension? Will Jeff Keppinger solve the revolving door issue at 3B?

Offseason Additions: 3B Jeff Keppinger, RP Matt Lindstrom, IF Angel Sanchez

Offseason Subtractions: C A.J. Pierzynski, 3B Kevin Youkilis, SP Brett Myers, SP Francisco Liriano, SP Phil Humber

Prospect Outlook: With their ’08 and 2010 1st round picks, Gordon Beckham and Chris Sale respectively, already contributing to the Major League roster; don’t expect any impact rookies this season. Their current top prospect is 2012 1st rounder Courtney Hawkins. Hawkins, who was picked 13th overall, doesn’t look to factor into the White Sox plans for at least 2 more years, but when he does; he’ll be a force to reckon with. That being said, if he can manage to stay healthy and cut down on his strikeouts; it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that ’09 1st rounder Jared Mitchell may make an appearance this year. Mitchell has only played two full seasons after a serious ankle injury cost him an entire season, but in those two seasons he has advanced all the way to AAA; where he’ll start this year. As stated above, Mitchell MUST cut down on his strike outs in order to make the transition to the big leagues. In just over 1000 at bats, Mitchell has struck out an alarming 402 times. With Adam Dunn already a black hole for strike outs, the White Sox can’t afford to have Mitchell doing his best Mark Reynolds impression at the plate.

Best Fantasy Option: The White Sox drafted a 6’6 180lb LHP out of Florida Gulf Coast University with the 13th pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft; Chris Sale. Sale signed his Major League contract on June 20th, 2010 and made his Major League debut that same year on August 6th. Used strictly as a reliever for his rookie and sophomore seasons, Sale showed absolutely no rookie nerves when facing the majors best. Sale’s stat line through two seasons looks like this:

2010: 2-1 • 1.93 ERA • 23.1 IP • 32 K’s • 4 SV

2011: 2-2 • 2.79 ERA • 71 IP • 79 K’s • 8 SV

Those are pretty impressive numbers to say the least for a 21 year old that jumped directly from college to the majors. Going into the 2012 season the White Sox announced that Sale would be making the transition from reliever to starter. Many pundits questioned if the Sox were making the right decision in allowing Sale to move from bullpen to the rotation. They worried about potential injuries due to an increased workload. They worried about Sale’s confidence taking a hit if AL hitters rocked him as a starter. In 2012 Chris Sale proved that they didn’t have much to worry about. Sale put up a borderline Cy Young calibre season in his first full season as an MLB starting pitcher. His numbers for the 2012 season:

17 – 8 • 3.05 ERA • 192 IP • 1.14 WHIP • 192 K’s • 1 CG

In contrast, the Boston Red Sox attempted to do the same thing with their own dominant young reliever; Daniel Bard. Where the Sox and Sale succeeded; the Bo’Sox and Bard failed spectacularly. Bard started only 10 games for the Bo’Sox before being moved back into the ‘pen before eventually being sent down to AAA. Bard’s stats for the 2012 season:

5 – 6 • 6.22 ERA • 59.1 IP • 1.73 WHIP

Bard also managed to average a 6.5 BB/9 compared to a 5.8 K/9. His struggles continued even after his demotion and the Bo’Sox are hoping former pitching coach turned manager John Farrell can return Bard to his once lights out status.

Will Sale repeat his 2012 campaign? It’s definitely possible. Although I think a 13-15 win season is more realistic.

Worst Case Scenario: In order to compete with the Tigers, Royals, and even the Indians, The Sox must have superb pitching and timely hitting. An injury to the oft-injured Jake Peavy and regression by Chris Sale would be the epitome of a worst case scenario. The chances of the Sox making a playoff run with the trio of John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Jose Quintana is pretty slim to say the least. On the offensive front Paul Konerko is not getting any younger and struggled after the all star break last season. With a continued decline in offensive numbers from the aging Konerko and a trick or treat offensive season season from Tyler Flowers and Gordon Beckham the outlook looks rather bleak. Factor in the low average, strikeout prone Adam Dunn and the never ending enigma that is Alex Rios, and it could be a long season in Chi town.

Best Case Scenario: Konerko proves that age is only a number and leads the White Sox into Wild Card contention with a vintage Paulie K season (.283 • 32 •101). The big donkey Adam Dunn puts up another all or nothing season (40HR • 200+ SO) while Alex Rios shows that he can manage to string together two quality seasons in a row with another impressive offensive output (.290 • 20 • 85). Throw in a breakout season by former 1st round draft pick Gordon Beckham and continued improvement from Alejandro de Aza and the White Sox could win a lot of games with their bats alone. Luckily for them Jake Peavy manages to stay healthy for consecutive seasons and pairs up with Chris Sale to form one of the best 1-2 punches in the AL. It wouldn`t be completely out of the question to see John Danks return to his 13 win form and help solidify the front end of the White Sox rotation.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 3rd

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Kansas City Royals

2012 Record: (72 – 90) 3rd in the AL Central

Burning Questions: Could this REALLY be the year that the Royals finally take the next step?! Will James Shields make Royals fans forget about Wil Myers? Does Eric Hosmer return to his offensive output from his rookie season? Can Mike Moustakas have a breakout season? Will Salvador Perez live up to all the hype? Will a change in scenery help Ervin Santana put last season’s woes behind him? Is Billy Butler going to continue to be the best DH in baseball? How much will the Royals miss Joakim Soria in the backend of the bullpen?

Offseason Additions: SP James Shields, SP Wade Davis, SP Ervin Santana, C George Kottaras, OF Endy Chavez, 1B/OF Xavier Nady, RP Dan Wheeler, RP George Sherill, IF Miguel Tejada, IF Brandon Wood, OF Willy Taveras

Offseason Subtractions: P Joakim Soria, SP Vin Mazzaro, RF Wil Myers (P), SP Jake Odorizzi (P), SP Mike Montgomery (P), 3B/OF Patrick Leonard (P), 1B Clint Robinson (P)

Prospect Outlook: Many expected 2013 to be the year that top prospect Wil Myers landed in Kaufmann Stadium. Although the time for his arrival is still the same, it looks as if Myers will be landing in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field. Myers proved to be the centerpiece in the trade that brought James Shields to town. For years the Royals had one of, if not the best farm system in all of baseball. The Royals have seen the fruits of their minor league system reach the majors at some point in the past 3 seasons. Prospects like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Aaron Crow, and Danny Duffy have all graduated from the Royals minor league system and are now making significant impacts on the Major League roster. Last season it looked as if Wil Myers would be a shoo-in for a late season call up as he was by far the best player in minor league baseball. In a season that saw the AL and NL impacted by two high level rookie CF’s; Myers went on to hit for a .314 AVG with 37 homeruns and 109 RBI’s through AA and AAA. Last offseason the Royals management realized that they had the offensive depth in order to contend, but were missing impact starters in their rotation. Having lost their 2 best pitchers to Tommy John surgery (Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy) the Royals turned to the trade market in order to solidify their rotation. After picking up Ervin Santana for a song, GM Dayton Moore made the move that trade that will define his tenure in KC. The Royals flipped Wil Myers and two top pitching prospects (Jake Odrizzi and Mike Montgomery) to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis. The move does makes sense for the Royals as Shields gives them the legitimate ace that the Royals have been missing for years, and Wade Davis could factor in as a backend of the rotation starter or a power arm out of the bullpen. The question will be was it worth it? It’s hard to say what Myers will do in a Rays uniform but it’s no denying that he does have the tools to make him an impact player for years to come. With current top prospect Bubba Starling at least 2-3 years away from reaching Kaufmann, and Christian Colon road blocked by Alcides Escobar at SS; don’t be expecting any impact rookies to make a headlines in KC this year.

Best Fantasy Option: It really depends on what your team needs, but the Royals do have some very attractive fantasy options to meet most needs. Eric Hosmer looks to rebound from an abysmal sophomore campaign that saw him hit just .230 and saw a drop in his power numbers. Leftfielder Alex Gordon is always good to hit for a high average and loads of doubles (AL leading 51 in 2012), but has only topped 20 homers once in his career and an output of 15-17 is more likely. Even Salvador Perez is an attractive option as a starting catcher. Perez looked to take off last year, but a torn knee ligament in spring training kept him out for half the season. His numbers through that half season (.301 • 11 • 39), plus his impressive rookie sample size in 2011, are what have fantasy owners salivating at Salvy’s potential. Newly acquired James Shields, with his usual 14 wins and 200+ innings, is as good as any option as a 2nd or 3rd in a fantasy rotation.

That being said, the Royals best fantasy option comes down to one player: Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler. Butler has been as sure of a thing in KC as Andy Reid at an all you can eat barbecue joint. His 162 game average goes like this – .300 • 20 • 91 – and seeing as he is a fulltime DH; you can bank on him playing 158+ games. Butler had a breakout year in 2009 at the age of 23 (.301 • 21 • 93) and had an All Star campaign in 2012 at the age of 26 (.313 • 29 • 107) – mind you the game was in KC. Players historically enter their prime when they hit 27, some peak early, some peak late, but usually it’s 27. Seeing as Butler has had his numbers improve with each season for the past 3 years, and that he is entering his 27th year, we could see another All Star campaign from the man they call Country Breakfast.

Worst Case Scenario: Offseason acquisitions Ervin Santana and James Shields have mediocre campaigns in their KC debut. Santana proves that his 2012 campaign wasn’t just an off year (9-12 • 5.16 ERA) and sees his loss total go up for the 3rd straight season. Shields, who had been a workhorse for the Rays, struggles through wear and tear entering his 31st year and fails to hit 200 innings for only the 2nd time in his career. With Joakim Soria leaving for Arlington, Greg Holland proves ineffective as the everyday closer and the Royals are forced into a closer by committee which leads to many a blown lead. On the offensive front, franchise cornerstones Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas put up another ho-hum season and Salvador Perez can’t match the hype and struggles in his first full season. With the Royals out of playoff contention by the deadline, GM Dayton Moore starts receiving serious trade offers for KC mainstays Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. It doesn’t help KC fans to see Wil Myers become the Rays everyday CF by late April and go on to have an eventual Rookie of the Year season. It’s okay though KC, at least you have the Chiefs to look forward to errrrr…. ummm nevermind

Best Case Scenario: The Royals haven’t been to the playoff since 1985. Think about that for a second. That was before DVD’s and Blue Rays. Before the Marlins, Rockies, Rays, and DBacks were founded. I t was even before TWO wars in Iraq… TWO terrorist attacks on the WTC… and TWO DIFFERENT George Bush’s were President. Wait a sec… is there a patten there? Quickly back to topic… I think it’s safe to say that with the moves the Royals made in the offseason and the pieces that they already have in place, that anything short of a playoff appearance will be considered a failure.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 2nd

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Detroit Tigers

2012 Record: 88 – 74 (1st in the AL Central)

Burning Questions: Will the Tigers actually win more than 90 games this season? Do the Tigers have the best rotation in baseball? What does Miguel Cabrera do for a follow up? Did anybody else forget that the Tigers had Victor Martinez? Will Austin Jackson build off his 2012 success? How much gas does Torii Hunter have left in the tank? How soon until we see rookies Avasail Garcia or Nick Castellanos in the Motor City? Who clears the clubhouse spread out quicker; Miggy or Prince? Does Justin Verlander become the first $200 million pitcher? Who will be the everyday closer?

Offseason Additions: RF Torii Hunter, C Brayan Pena, SP Shawn Hill, C Ramon Cabrera (P)

Offseason Subtractions: RP Jose Valverde, IF Ryan Raburn, RP Daniel Schlereth, RF Delmon Young, C Gerald Laird, SP Andrew Oliver (P)

Prospect Outlook: For the first time since 2010 somebody other than Jose Valverde will be closing games this year in Detroit. Valverde, who had 35 saves in 2012, was shown the door after a subpar year which saw him lose the closer role late in the season and throughout the playoffs. With the Tigers choosing not to replace Valverde via free agency or the trade market; look for an in-house promotion or call-up to get the closers position. The early favourite for the role is 22 year old rookie Bruce Rondon. Rondon, who walks around at 6’3 275lbs, and possesses a 100mph fastball, was 3rd in saves in the minors last season, and he certainly looks the part of a Major League closer. The question is will he be able to translate his tools and minor league dominance into success at the Major League level? With no real competition for the closer role other than Joaquin Benoit or the ageless wonder Octavio Dotel, and a good showing in spring training; expect Rondon to receive the bulk of the save opportunities in 2013. With the signing of Torii Hunter in the offseason it’s hard to see how much of a role prospect Avisail Garcia will play in 2013. Garcia impressed in a sample size showing in the regular season and played big time minutes for Jim Leyland in the playoffs. However with Hunter, Austin Jackson, and Andy Dirks looking as the everyday outfielders, and Quintin Berry expected to be the 4th OF; it’s hard to see where Garcia fits in. With Garcia already struggling to get playing time, I wouldn’t expect top prospect Nick Castellanos to make an appearance until late in the season, or as an injury replacement. Castellanos was Detroit’s top pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur draft and his bat has him sitting at AAA knocking on the big league door. Detroit had Castellanos switch to the OF from 3B as he was road blocked by Miguel Cabrera.

Best Fantasy Option: Want to talk about an embarrassment of riches… where would you like to start with the Tigers? Let’s be honest… is there any one player you would rather have than the reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera? Miggy is THE best player in the game today. He hasn’t hit for less than .300 since 2008. Hasn’t failed to hit 30+ home runs since 2006, and the last time he drove in less than 100 RBI’s was his rookie season in 2003, and even then he had 62 RBI’s in 87 games. Sadly, the only way that you’ll end up with Miggy is:

a) You have the 1st overall pick and want to go with a more proven player. Sorry Mike Trout.
b) You have the 2nd overall pick and the team ahead of you drafted Mike Trout.
c) You’re in a keeper league and you drafted Miguel Cabrera in a previous draft.

Luckily for you, the Tigers possess another feared slugger and fantasy monster in Prince Fielder. The Tigers shocked the baseball world in the 2011 offseason when they landed Prince Fielder for the handsome price of $214 million over 9 years. In Fielder, the Tigers got one of the ELITE power hitters in the game today, and a sure fire candidate to become the teams DH by year 3 of his contract. Say what you will about the deal, what you can’t say is that Fielder was a disappointment. Prince would play in all 162 games and produced a line of .313 • 30 HR • 108 RBI in his Motown debut. With a plethora of quality first basemen in the MLB, I’d definitely put Prince in the top 3 with Joey Votto and Albert Pujols.

On the mound the Tigers have (arguably) the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander and a strikeout artist in Max Scherzer. Last year Verlander and Scherzer were arguably the best 1-2 pitching duo in the majors. Their 2012 stats:

Verlander: 17 – 8 • 2.64 ERA • 238.1 IP • 239 K’s • 1.06 WHIP

Scherzer: 16 -7 • 3.74 ERA • 187.2 IP • 231 K’s • 1.27 WHIP

Verlander’s the epitome of a fantasy stud. He’ll do it all for you: wins, K’s, innings. He’ll also be gone by the 2nd round in most pools. Scherzer might be the more attractive option as you’ll be able to pick up a few other pieces for your team before having to worry about picking him up.

Honourable Mention: Austin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Alex Avila, Victor Martinez

Worst Case Scenario: Last season the Tigers won the Central and made it to the World Series with an 87 win season. I’m not so sure that a playoff berth or World Series appearance will be good enough this year around. The Tigers possess the type of roster that one would create in GM mode in MLB the Show. Although they have a stacked roster, any kind of injury or regression to Cabrera, Fielder, or Verlander would be devastating. Players of their calibre cannot be replaced by a simple call-up or waiver claim. With teams like the Royals and Indians making big offseason moves, and the always dangerous White Sox not being a team to sleep on; the Tigers will need every man healthy and firing on all cylinders in order to hold back the competition and claim another AL Central crown.

Best Case Scenario: Your team has the best position player and pitcher in the game today? Check. Those players are surrounded by a strong supporting cast? Check. The team has a quality coaching staff and a front office with a win now attitude? Check. The team is poised to contend for multiple titles? Check. World Series or bust? Check!

2013 AL West Final Standing: 1st

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Mike Trout and the Evolution of the Man Crush

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“Mike Trout is a humble, clean-shaven baseball prodigy from a small town in southern New Jersey. He works at Angel Stadium, three and a half miles from places called Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street, U.S.A. His story springs from all of them.” – Sportswriter Tyler Kepner

Man Crush: When a straight man has a “crush” on another man, not sexual but kind of idolizing him.

Man crushes on athletes develop pretty much instantaneously. They can stem from an actual highlight (diving catch, mammoth home run) to just the way that a certain player carries them self. Everyone has different criteria as to why they are attracted to, and crush on specific athletes. For me, it usually boils down to how said individual played/approached the game, and the amount of swagger they exuded whilst doing so. Monogamy is not something that I practice where sports is concerned. I feel like Annie or Millie from Bull Durham with the way I go through ball players. I have no shame in saying that I am a downright whore as a fan. I often crush on multiple players a week; sometimes even a night. I use them up and spit them out. Rarely though does a man crushes develop into a full fledged fan-ship. There have been a few cases though…

One of my most tenured man crushes to date has been Chase Utley. I loved every god damn thing about that man. His hustle, grit, power; hell I even loved his freaking hair! How could you not fall in love with a player that required an industrial amount of bleach and detergent just to get his uniform clean? Sadly though, my man crush on Chase has deteriorated these past few seasons. I blame myself … and the injuries… mainly the injuries though. It’s hard to stay enamoured with someone when they’re hardly on the field. It is kind of ironic though that the one thing that first attracted me to Utley (his all out style of play) is the same thing that has derailed both his career, and my man crush.

The reason we refer to them as crushes is because that is exactly how they cause you to act; like a 10 year old with a school age crush all over again. They can cause you to act like a proud parent. Sometimes you can’t help but brag to family and friends alike about their performance… “I told you so and so was going to do something ridiculous tonight!!” When all is said and done, it sounds like you’re the one who put the bat in their hands as a toddler and taught them how to swing it. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. All sports fans are guilty of it. It’s what causes us to overvalue players and become over protective when people criticize or bash them. It’s all part of being a diehard sports fan. It’s what causes you get excited, nervous, tense, concerned, and giddy or whichever adjective you prefer where that player is concerned.

Swoon, that’s the adjective I use. That’s what Mike Trout does to me. He makes me swoon. His highlights make me giggle like a schoolgirl, I feel like Homer when he hears the word titmouse. He’s baseball porn and I wouldn’t hesitate to pay $9.99 a month just to watch his game tapes. Trout’s the kind of player you create when you’re making yourself in MLB the Show – ridiculous speed, hits for power, hits for average, and plays gold glove calibre defense – a legit human highlight reel. Not to mention he’s got what the scouts call “the good face.” He’s what you would expect the stereotypical wholesome, all-American boy to look like. Trout’s the kind of kid you wish/pray for your daughter to bring home.

My introduction to Mike Trout came via the Anaheim Angels 2009 Draft Review in the 2010 Edition of Athlon Sports MLB Season preview. It was a blurb, an afterthought really. It had mentioned how the Angels had drafted two High School outfielders with consecutive picks in the 1st round. The first of the picks was a Texan by the name of Randall Grichuk. The second was a native from the Garden State named Mike Trout. The Athlon Sports blurb focussed more on Grichuk as he was the first of the two drafted and hardly mentioned Trout. Unfortunately for Grichuk it would be the only time (thus far) that he overshadowed Trout.

By the time I picked up my 2011 edition of A.S, Trout was not only the Angels top prospect, but one of the top prospects in the MLB. In fact he was ranked the #1 prospect by mlb.com and #2 by Baseball America (#1 was Bryce Harper). With Trout getting more exposure and advancing through the minors there was (finally) a solid amount of game footage and highlights to help spread the word of Mike Trout. Case in point:

Two things to point out:

1. Yes, Hit and Run was on, regardless it is still ridiculous to score from 1st. ESPECIALLY on a routine ground ball to RF.

2. How many teams took note NOT to lollipop throws in from the outfield with Trout on base

In 2011, Trout played the majority of the season with the Angels AA affiliate in Arkansas where he managed to rack up these numbers:

353 AB • .326 AVG • 11 HR • 38 RBI • 33 SB • .414 OBP

Those numbers are just straight gaudy. Needless to say he got called up to the Angels and made his MLB debut on July 8th against the Mariners. Although he didn’t make a huge impact with the Angels he still managed to get 123 at bats in 40 games where he hit a ho-hum .220. Not bad for being a 19 year old.

Trout’s 2012 got off to a slow start as he was hampered with a virus for the latter portion of spring training and was assigned to AAA Salt Lake City to start the season; he’d be there for just 20 games. In those 20 games though Trout successfully hit in 31 of his 77 at bats (.403) and was called back up to the majors before the end of April. What transpired after his call up is the kind of stuff that gains you permanent admittance to Cooperstown.

From his season debut until the end of the season, all Mike Trout did was completely wow the baseball world. In 139 games for the Angels, Mike Trout dropped this on Major League teams:

559 AB • .326 AVG • 30 HR • 83 RBI • 129 R • 49 SB • .399 OBP

Excuse me while I pick up my jaw…

Those stats are straight up absurd and laughable. There are a few more absurd things to consider when you look back at Mike Trout’s remarkable 2012 campaign:

1. At the time of Trout’s call up the Angels were 7 games below .500 (7-14) and in last place in the AL West. Not to mention that their HUGE free agent signing (Albert Pujols) was stuck in a homerless drought and had driven in less runs than most journeymen in the MLB. Trout would prove to be a huge spark plug to the Halos as they would be in 2nd place in the West and above .500 come the end of May.

2. Mike Trout for MVP?? Yeah, that one ALMOST happened. If it hadn’t been for Miguel Cabrera becoming the first MLB hitter to hit for the Triple Crown since Yaz in 1967, you can almost guarantee that Trout would have become the youngest MVP since Vida Blue took home MVP honours in 1971 as a 21/22 year old.

3. Trout was not the only highly touted prospect to make his debut within the first month of the season. Bryce Harper, the so-called LeBron James of baseball, was called up by the Washington Nationals the day after Trout was re-called by the Halos. Harper, who had garnered national attention when he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 17 year old, was regarded as THE BEST prospect in the game. Although Harper would go on to have a tremendous rookie campaign, taking home NL Rookie of the Year honours along the way, his season would come in a fairly distant second place compared to Trout’s. It really puts MLB in one hell of a good marketing predicament as they now have two under-21 year olds to build the future of the game around. Not to mention the next bar room debate question for the next 10+ years… who would you rather build your team around… Trout or Harper?? C’mon… that’s a clown question bro.

What will Trout do for a follow up in 2013? Will he put up a .400 season?? Will he join the 50/50 club?? Will he set a modern day record for runs scored in a season? Maybe he’ll swipe 70 bags… but is 100 really out of the question? Will the 15lbs of extra muscle hinder his dynamic speed? Most frightening, perhaps he’ll realize that he’s only 21 and come back down to earth a bit! Can we call it a “sophomore slump” if he doesn’t replicate his remarkable 2012 season?
One thing you can count on is that I’ll be wearing my #27 Mike Trout jersey proudly while I construct a homemade valentine for my boy Mike… Oh shit it even has stickers…

– $

2013 MLB Season Preview – AL West

astros

    Houston Astros

2012 Record: 55 – 107 (6th in the NL Central)

Burning Questions: Will the Astros win less than 60 games?? Will Carlos Pena hit above .215??Will the highlight of the season be their new/old retro look?? Do the Astros have ANY chance of finishing higher than 5th? Do they really have to face the Angels 19 times? Will MLB have to implement a mercy rule for the upcoming season? How much longer can we wait on Brett Wallace and Chris Carter to realize their immense potential?

Offseason Additions: 1B/OF Chris Carter, DH Carlos Pena, OF Rick Ankiel, SP Phil Humber, SP Erik Bedard, SP Alex White, SP John Ely, SP Brad Peacock , RP Jose Veras, C Max Stassi

Offseason Subtractions: SS Jed Lowrie, RP Wilton Lopez, RP Fernando Rodriguez, RP Rob Rasmussen, C Chris Snyder

Prospect Outlook: The Astros could have 3 top prospects impact their lineup at some point in 2013. Jonathan Singleton was the best bet to crack the major league lineup out of spring training. However the ‘stros will have to wait 50 games for Singleton to make an appearance. The 6’2 235lb power hitting first basemen will sit out the first 50 games due to an MLB suspension for a banned substance – aka the Chronic. The Astros could also see an improvement to their pitching rotation with the arrival of both Jarrod Cosart and Brad Peacock. Cosart, acquired from the Phillies for Roy Oswalt, is a power pitcher who the Astros hope will project as a frontline starter for years to come. Peacock was acquired from the A’s this past offseason for 2012 breakout Jed Lowrie and is the only one of the three to have made their Major League debut.

Best Fantasy Option: The Astros are a virtual fantasy graveyard when it comes to fantasy options. They have no “sexy” option. The only name that is actually worth drafting (depending on how deep your league is) is Jose Altuve. Last year Altuve produced the following stat line in 147 games (576 AB) – .290 • 7HR • 37RBI • 33SB – and even THAT isn’t that impressive. The reason he will be drafted says more about the thin options at 2B and less about Altuve’s resume. If you are desperate for home runs in a deep league Carlos Pena is always an option. Bank on 20-25 homers from the big man, but also bank on an average that may be below .200.

Worst Case Scenario: The Astros leave the safe haven of the NL Central for the perils of the AL West… wait this already happened?? Whoops… It’s not going to be a pretty season by any means Astros fans. Seeing as the ‘stros already slated to challenge the 1962 New York Mets and 2003 Detroit Tigers for worst team ever… no really… not a whole lot can go right this season. The only thing that could be a bigger slap in the face to the Astros would be if their young prospects are rushed to the majors and completely smacked around thus resulting in them losing confidence and flaming out.

Best Case Scenario: The MLB reverts to slo-pitch softball rules and mashers like Pena and Chris Carter clobber 100+ homers a piece leading the Astros to win games by 21-18 scores. Realistically though, even in a an ABSOLUTE BEST CASE SCENARIO, the Astros will have to have ABSOLUTELY everything click the right way just to finish ahead of the Mariners for the 4th spot in the AL West.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 5th

king felix

    Seattle Mariners

2012 Record: 75 – 87 (4th in the AL West)

Burning Questions: Will the Mariners flourish offensively with the outfield walls moved in at Safeco? Will the trio of young pitchers make the jump to the majors? Is Jesus Montero a capable everyday catcher? Has anyone ever actually seen Raul Ibanez’s birth certificate?

Offseason Additions: 1B/DH Kendrys Morales, 1B/OF Michael Morse, SP Joe Saunders, OF Raul Ibanez, OF Jason Bay, C Kelly Shoppach, IF Robert Andino, C Ronny Paulino, P Jeremy Bonderman, P Jon Garland, 1B Mike Jacobs

Offseason Subtractions: SP Jason Vargas, C John Jaso, IF Chone Figgins, C Miguel Olivo, SP Kevin Millwood, RP George Sherrill, OF Trayvon Robinson

Prospect Outlook: Finishing at or near the bottom of the Major League standings for the past couple years does have its benefits. In lieu of stockpiling W’s in the win column, what the Mariners have done is create a stockpile of high ceiling prospects throughout their minor league system. None come more heralded than the big three: Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton. All three project as frontline starters for the foreseeable future and, paired with the new $175 million dollar man (Felix Hernandez), give the Mariners a fearsome four man rotation for years to come. The most major league ready is Taijuan Walker, a supplemental first rounder (43rd) in 2010. Walker has torn through the minors and is now knock, knock, knocking on Safeco’s door. Walker may not be the only member of the big three making his debut in 2013. James Paxton (a supplemental first rounder picked by Toronto in 2009, only to re-enter the draft in 2010 where he fell to the Mariners in the 4th round) may also make an appearance sometime this season. Hultzen, the 2nd overall pick in 2011, may be at least another year from making the big league club.

Best Fantasy Option: For the past decade there have always been two Mariners that you could count on being drafted at your fantasy draft – Ichiro and Felix Hernandez. With Ichiro’s trade to the Yankees, that leaves King Felix as the remaining member of that dynamic duo. King Felix is a definite contender for “Best Pitcher in the Game Today,” and seeing as he is both 27 and signed through 2019, it looks as if he will be around for the foreseeable future. Although he may not dominate in the win column – averaging just 14 wins per season – where he does dominate is in the strikeout department. Hernandez is looking to strikeout 200 for the 5th straight season, and his season average over 8 years is 212. The one thing to be mindful of is an apparent elbow issue that caused some concern during negotiations of his 7yr/$175million extension.

If you’re in desperate need for HR’s, or need to fill a 1B/DH position, it may be worth taking a look at some of the Mariners power threats. With the fences being moved in at Safeco, the hope is that more balls will be flying out. Offseason acquisitions Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales were brought in to add some pop to the Mariners lineup. Add those two names to a lineup already consisting of Jesus Montero and that’s a pretty scary 3-4-5, not to mention 2012 surprise Kyle Seager. The only thing that can derail Morales and Morse from producing in Seattle this season are injuries. Both have had a hard time staying in the everyday lineup in the past 2 seasons.

Worst Case Scenario: The apparent elbow issue becomes more apparent as King Felix feels a pop in his elbow prompting the always feared trip to Dr. James Andrews. In his absence, the Mariners rush their trio of young prospects to the big leagues where they are exposed and smacked around by big league hitters bruising both their ERA’s and confidences alike. Is this likely? Probably not… but as someone who saw 3 of his team’s pitchers go down with season or near season ending injuries in the span of a week last season, I believe everybody’s UCL’s are at risk. It should also be noted that King Felix has never spent any significant time on the DL (cue ominous music). Injuries will need to be at a minimum if the Mariners hope to compete in the AL West, but given some of their player’s injury track record, it may be easier said than done.

Best Case Scenario: New acquisitions Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales stay injury-free and pair up with Jesus Montero to wreak havoc on AL pitching staffs. King Felix leads a revamped Mariners rotation through the regular season, earning his second career Cy Young. The Mariners receive a spark when Taijuan Walker and James Paxton debut after the all-star break, and help lead the Mariners into the hunt for the Wild Card. Could the Mariners be 2013’s version of the Oakland A’s?? It’s definitely in play…

2013 AL West Final Standing: 4th

A's

    Oakland A’s

2012 Record: 94 – 68 (1st in the AL West)

Burning Questions: Can the A’s prove last year wasn’t a fluke? Does Brett Anderson have what it takes to be an ace? Can the trio of A.J Griffin, Tom Milone, and Jarrod Parker repeat their success from 2012? How sure are we that Bartolo Colon is off PED/HGH? Will Josh Reddick put up similar numbers to 2012? What will Yoenis Cespedes do in his sophomore season?

Offseason Additions: SS/3B Jed Lowrie, CF Chris Young, SS Hiroyuki Nakajima, C John Jaso, RP Chris Resop, RP Fernando Rodriguez, SP Andrew Werner

Offseason Subtractions: SP Brandon McCarthy, 1B/OF Chris Carter, LF Jonny Gomes, SS Stephen Drew, SS Cliff Pennington, 3B Brandon Inge, SP Tyson Ross, C George Kottaras, OF Collin Cowgill, UT Brandon Hicks, SP Graham Godfrey, SP A.J. Cole (P), SP Brad Peacock

Prospect Outlook: In 2012, a 24th round pick (723 overall) in the 2009 MLB Draft surprised everybody by tearing up the minor leagues and striking out anybody who stepped in the box against him. His name: Dan Straily. Straily really wasn’t on anybody’s radar going into the 2012 season, as he was behind the likes of Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, AJ Griffin, and AJ Cole on the depth chart. With Parker, Milone, and Griffin pressed into fulltime major league service, that left Straily open to dominate the minors. In 25 minor league starts, Straily went 9-7 and struck out 190 batters in 152 innings all while holding batters to a .202 batting average… absurd! Straily earned a late season call up and continued to impress as he went 2-1 in 7 starts and struck out 32 in 39 innings. Straily looks to factor into the A’s rotation at some point this season. He is most likely to start the season with the big club, as Bartolo Colon sits out the first 5 games for PED use. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Grant Green up with the A’s in 2013. Green, who was drafted as a SS, converted to CF, and is now a 2B, has always proven that he has the bat and athleticism to play in the majors. If Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks can’t perform, don’t be surprised to see Green get the nod.

Best Fantasy Option: Going into 2012, it looked like Jemile Weeks was the man to beat when it came to identifying the A’ best fantasy option. Unfortunately, 2012 would be anything but a season to remember for the A’s, Weeks, and fantasy owners alike. Weeks went from hitting .303 in 2011, to hitting a dismal .221 in 2012. Hopefully Weeks can rebound and regain his confidence this season, especially with rumours of management souring on the young 2B, and prospect Grant Green knocking on the door. For fantasy options in 2013, it comes down to two outfielders: Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. Both players had superb debut seasons in Oakland in 2012. Yoenis Cespedes, who may be MLB’s version of “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” put up a stat line of .292, 23HR, 82RBI, and 16SB. Now remember… Cespedes was a rookie last year. That being said, it may be Josh Reddick who had the more impressive debut though. Reddick, who was acquired for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney, produced the following stat line: .242, 32HR, and 85RBI. Not bad for someone playing in their first full Major League season. Of the two, I believe that Cespedes is more likely to reproduce, or better, his numbers from 2012. That being said, I still think that Reddick will have a productive season. While I can’t guarantee you that Reddick hits 30+ homers again this season, it is in play. What I can tell you is that he definitely needs to start being more selective at the plate (151 K’s in 610 at bats) if he wishes to get that batting average above .250.

Worst Case Scenario: When a team lacks that big name bat or the proverbial ace, they must rely on players stepping up and going above and beyond expectations. That’s exactly what happened in 2012, and is a key reason why the A’s won the AL West. Well, that and a collapse by Texas. A nightmare situation would see the young starters (Parker, Milone, and Griffin) regress. Factor that in with miserable seasons from Brandon Moss, Cespedes, and Reddick, and one could see the A’s finishing 4th, behind the upstart Mariners. Will this happen? Probably not. But anything is possible when you’re built around such a young nucleus of talent.

Best Case Scenario: Led by a fully healthy Brett Anderson, the young A’s starters continue to impress and develop all season long. Prospect Dan Straily spends the entire season with the big club and flourishes as a long man/spot starter, eventually filling the 5th rotation spot for the injured/suspended Bartolo Colon. The young 3-4-5 of Cespedes, Moss and Reddick continue to mash AL pitching, with Reddick compiling 30+ for a second straight season. Jemile Weeks rebounds from a dismal 2012 campaign to regain the starting 2B job, and pairs with Coco Crisp to wreak havoc on the base paths. Even in an ABSOLUTE best case scenario, I don’t believe that the A’s will win the AL West title, but I do believe that a Wild Card berth could be in the cards.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 3rd

rangers

    Texas Rangers

2012 Record: 93 – 69 (2nd in the AL West)

Burning Questions: Can the Rangers overcome the late season collapse of 2012? Can their offense flourish without Josh Hamilton? Will the inability to land Justin Upton or Zack Greinke come back to haunt them? Will Neftali Feliz be relevant following Tommy John surgery? Will Yu Darvish suffer a sophomore slump? Will the link to a Miami youth clinic overshadow Nelson Cruz’s 2013 season? How much does AJ Pierzynski have left in the tank? What kind of an impact will uber prospects Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar have?

Offseason Additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, DH Lance Berkman, RP Jason Frasor, RP Joakim Soria, RP Josh Lindblom, C Geovany Soto, RP Kyle McClellan, UT Jeff Baker, SP Randy Wells, RP Cory Burns, RP Evan Meek, RP Collin Balester, RP Jeff Beliveau, C Eli Whiteside, 1B/OF Brandon Allen, P Nate Robertson

Offseason Subtractions: CF Josh Hamilton, C Mike Napoli, 3B Michael Young, SP Ryan Dempster, RP Mike Adams, RP Koji Uehara, SP Scott Feldman, RP Mark Lowe, P Roy Oswalt

Prospect Outlook: Following an offseason that had the Rangers linked to every big name free agent on the market, as well as being one of the key players in the Justin Upton sweepstakes, the Rangers go into the 2013 with their farm system still intact. Having missed out on Justin Upton, the Rangers were able to keep both top position prospects Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar, as well as pitcher Martin Perez. All three may be knocking on the big leagues door as sometime in 2013. Although both Profar and Olt both project to have higher upside, it may be Perez who has the most impact in 2013. Olt is road-blocked by both Adrian “don’t rub my head” Beltre at 3B and newly signed FA Lance Berkman at 1B. Profar is in a similar situation, having both Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler ahead of him at SS and 2B respectively. Seeing as how the Rangers rotation is already slated to be missing both Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz, it could be Martin Perez who steps in and shines for the Rangers this season. With no real competition behind him, the job of the 4th or 5th starter is Perez’s to lose.

Best Fantasy Option: For almost five seasons, one Ranger you could count on being in high demand come draft day was Josh Hamilton. Even with the Hammer’s departure for the division-rival Angels, the Rangers are fairly stacked, top to bottom, and so to say they have a few fantasy options is a bit of an understatement. Both Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus are elite players at their respective positions. Kinsler may be a more valuable fantasy option because of the lack of elite 2B in the majors, not to mention the perennial threat of a 30/30 season. Andrus is a speed merchant who can hurt you with both his legs and his bat, and the possibility of a .300 season is always on the table. The trio of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison may be attractive for those of you in need of an arm or two. Holland has been looking to break out for the past two seasons, and Harrison has been a splendid surprise in his first two big league campaigns. Darvish could be the wild card here, as he heads into his sophomore season. The Rangers also feature two former All-Star and 40+ save closers in Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria. Nathan, who turns 38, is coming off a 37 save season, and one has to wonder how much gas is left in the tank. Soria, on the other hand, missed all of last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.

Worst Case Scenario: The loss of Josh Hamilton and inability to replace his bat proves to be too overwhelming for the Rangers. Nelson Cruz struggles all season following PED allegations, and the aging combo of Lance Berkman and AJ Pierzynski finally break down, causing a miserable season all around. Yu Darvish follows up his rookie season with a ho-hum sophomore season, immediately causing Rangers fans to call him Dice K 2.0. The rest of the Rangers starters falter, showing Texas’ lack of depth in the starting rotation. Pierzynski, frustrated at his season and the dry heat, gets into a physical confrontation with Ron Washington in the locker room, thus forcing Derek Holland to do his Harry Carry impression to break the tension.

Best Case Scenario: The revamped lineup doesn’t miss a beat despite Hamilton’s absence. Pierzynski picks up where he left off last season in Chicago. Lance Berkman is reinvigorated in his return to Texas, and flourishes in a part 1B/part DH role with the rookie Olt. Nelson Cruz shrugs off the PED/HGH speculation by having a near career year. Yu Darvish takes the next step in both stardom and ace-hood, as he produces an impressive encore to his rookie season. Derek Holland finally has the breakout season that people have been predicting for the past 2+ seasons. The rest of the Rangers usual suspects – Andrus, Kinsler and Beltre – continue to lead the team both on and off the field. Everything clicks and the Rangers not only compete for the Wild Card, but also the AL West division crown.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 2nd

angels

    Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2012 Record: 89 – 73 (3rd in AL West)

Burning Questions: When did the Yankees move to Anaheim? Is this the scariest lineup in baseball? Is this the best 3-4-5 in baseball? What does Mike Trout do as a follow up to his historic 2012 season? Will Josh Hamilton rebound from his late season letdown? How strong is the starting rotation? Will Jered Weaver continue to baffle batters with high 80’s heat and Bugs Bunny curveball? Will Tommy Hanson make a smooth transition from NL to AL? What happens if this team fails to win the World Series?

Offseason Additions: RF Josh Hamilton, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Jason Vargas, SP Joe Blanton, RP Ryan Madson, RP Sean Burnett, IF/OF Bill Hall

Offseason Subtractions: SP Zack Greinke, RF Torii Hunter, SP Dan Haren, SP Ervin Santana, 1B/DH Kendrys Morales, IF Maicer Izturis, RP Jordan Walden, RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Jason Isringhausen

Prospect Outlook: In 2009, the Angels had back-to-back selections in the first round. They used the picks to select two high school outfielders: Randall Grichuk and Mike Trout. In 2011, Trout made his MLB debut. In 2012, he made a statement. Despite his tender age of 21, Trout is no longer considered a prospect, and may be the last prospect to graduate for a season or two. The Angels current top prospect, Kaleb Cowart, looks to be at least one full season away from manning the hot corner at Angel Stadium. Cowart is a switch hitter and has gap pop from both sides of the plate, not to mention a great amount of raw power. The former High School two-way star earned serious first round consideration as a pitcher, and possesses one of the best infield arms in the minor leagues. The Angels are in no rush to hurry him to the majors as they have Alberto Callaspo and Mark Trumbo slotted at 3B. The one prospect who may get a look out of spring training is LHP Nick Maronde. The Angels have Maronde pegged as a future starter, but his stuff may force their hand and lead to a spot in the bullpen to start the season.

Best Fantasy Option: Where to begin? This is an absolute embarrassment of riches. The Angels have a straight-up ignorant lineup. They possess three of the best players in the game today (Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton), a bona fide ace (Jered Weaver), PLUS a potential franchise 1B who isn’t allowed to play 1B (Mark Trumbo)! The funny thing is that the Angels really have FIVE top fantasy players on their roster, and the youngest (Trout) might be the best of them all. Trout is the ABSOLUTE definition of a five tool player, in that he will hit for power and average, swipe 40+ bags, and play gold-glove calibre defense. He realistically could/will produce multiple 40/40 seasons in the course of his career. Hell, a 50/50 season isn’t that much of a stretch. In all honesty, if you could only take one player from this team (or any team for that) it would be incredibly difficult not to take Trout.

However, as I mentioned above, the Angels are STACKED with talent. Let’s see the 2012 lines from a few of the other notable names:

Albert Pujols – .285 AVG • 30 HR • 105 RBI
Josh Hamilton – .285 AVG • 43 HR • 128 RBI
Mark Trumbo – .268 AVG • 32 HR • 95 RBI
Jered Weaver – 20-5 • 2.81 ERA • 142 K’s
CJ Wilson – 13-10 • 3.83 ERA • 173 K’S

Yeah, I know, it’s not a fair lineup at all. It’s still amazing to think that the Angels currently employ ARGUABLY the current best player in baseball (Trout), the best player in the past 5 years (Hamilton), and the best player of the past decade (Pujols). Absolutely ludicrous! Personally, I would invest in either Trout or Trumbo before committing to Hamilton or Pujols. I honestly believe that Pujols and Hamilton are on the decline, whereas Trout and Trumbo are just beginning to enter their primes.

Worst Case Scenario: Expectations are at an all-time high in Orange County. It truly seems that anything other than a World Series will be considered a failure. The only thing that could top that would be for the Angels to miss the playoffs altogether and for uber-phenom Mike Trout to come crashing back down to earth. I do wonder if Mike Sciosia will still be employed if the Angels fail to win it all. Then again, Ron Washington is still managing the Rangers.

Best Case Scenario: You will be able to lure two of the best players in baseball to your team, and manage to draft and develop a kid who may or may not be Mickey Mantle reincarnate. Oh wait a minute… this happened already? My apologies, Mr. Moreno. It’s difficult to envision a scenario that bests the one currently enjoyed by the Angels. Hold on! I’ve got one… How about moving the WORST team in baseball into their division so they essentially get 19 freebies a season? What do you mean the Astros are now in the AL West?? Cue facepalm.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 1st

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