Happy Opening Day to all of the baseball fans out there! I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t still emotionally hungover from last years Blue Jays playoff run. Every baseball moment from the “Bat Flip Heard Around the World” has been a complete blur, as was the subsequent offseason. Yet all of that is past us. Every team has a clean slate, and anything can happen.
American League East
2015 Record: 81-81 (3rd AL East)
O/U Wins in 2016: 78 Wins • Push
X-Factor: Chris Tillman • SP
Potential Breakout Player: Dylan Bundy • RHP
Futures Report: Hunter Harvey • RHP
2016 Final Standing: 4th AL East
Boston Red Sox
2015 Record: 78-84 (5th AL East)
O/U Wins in 2016: 87 Wins • Over
X-Factor: Clay Buchholz • SP
Potential Breakout Player: Jackie Bradley Jr. • OF
Futures Report: Yoan Moancada • 2B
2016 Final Standing: 2nd AL East
New York Yankees
2015 Record: 87-75 • (2nd AL East)
O/U Wins in 2016: 85 Wins • Under
X-Factor: Nathan Eovaldi • SP
Potential Breakout Player: Luis Severino • SP
Futures Report: Jorge Mateo • SS
2016 Final Standing: 3rd AL East
Tampa Bay Rays
2015 Record: 80-82 • (4th AL East)
O/U Wins in 2016: 82 Wins • Under
X-Factor: Corey Dickerson • OF
Potential Breakout Player: Jake Odorizzi • SP
Futures Report: Blake Snell • LHP
2016 Final Standing: 4th AL East
Toronto Blue Jays
2015 Record: 93-69 • (1st AL East)
O/U Wins in 2016: 87 Wins • Over
X-Factor: Troy Tulowitzki • SS
Potential Breakout Player: Aaron Sanchez • SP
Futures Report: Anthony Alford • OF
2016 Final Standing: 1st AL East
American League Central
Chicago White Sox
2015 Record: 76-86 • (4th AL Central)
O/U Wins in 2016: 82 Wins • Under
X-Factor: Todd Frazier • 3B
Potential Breakout Player: Carlos Rodon • SP
Futures Report: Carson Fullmer • RHP
2016 Final Standing: 4th AL Central
2015 Record: 81-80 • (3rd AL Central)
O/U Wins in 2016: 87 Wins • Under
X-Factor: Michael Brantley • OF
Potential Breakout Player: Tyler Naquin • OF
Futures Report: Bradley Zimmer • OF
2016 Final Standing: 2nd AL Central
2015 Record: 74-87 • (5th AL Central)
O/U Wins in 2016: 82.5 Wins • Under
X-Factor: Justin Verlander • SP
Potential Breakout Player: Daniel Norris • SP
Futures Report: Michael Fulmer • RHP
2016 Final Standing: 5th AL Central
Kansas City Royals
2015 Record: 95-67 • (1st AL Central)
O/U Wins in 2016: 84.5 Wins • Over
X-Factor: Lorenzo Cain • OF
Potential Breakout Player: Danny Duffy • SP
Futures Report: Raul Adalberto Mondesi • 2B/SS
2016 Final Standing: 1st AL Central
2015 Record: 83-79 • (3rd AL Central)
O/U Wins in 2016: 80 Wins • Over
X-Factor: Miguel Sano • 3B
Potential Breakout Player: Byron Buxton • OF
Futures Report: Jose Berrios • RHP
2016 Final Standing: 3rd AL Central
American League West
2015 Record: 86-76 • (2nd AL West)
O/U Wins in 2016: 87.5 Wins • Over
X-Factor: Carlos Correa • SS
Potential Breakout Player: Ken Giles • RP
Futures Report: Alex Bergman • SS
2016 Final Standing: 1st AL West
Los Angeles Angels
2015 Record: 85-77 • (3rd AL West)
O/U Wins in 2016: 79.5 Wins • Under
X-Factor: Albert Pujols • 1B/DH
Potential Breakout Player: Andrew Heaney • SP
Futures Report: Taylor Ward • C
2016 Final Standing: 4th AL West
2015 Record: 68-94 • (5th AL West)
O/U Wins in 2016: 76 Wins • Under
X-Factor: Sonny Gray • SP
Potential Breakout Player: Kendall Graveman • SP
Futures Report: Franklin Barreto • SS
2016 Final Standing: 5th AL West
2015 Record: 76-86 • (4th AL West)
O/U Wins in 2016: 82.5 Wins • Under
X-Factor: Kyle Seager • 3B
Potential Breakout Player: Taijuan Walker • SP
Futures Report: Alex Jackson • OF
2016 Final Standing: 3rd AL West
2015 Record: 88-74 • (1st AL West)
O/U Wins in 2016: 82.5 Wins • Over
X-Factor: Yu Darvish • SP
Potential Breakout Player: Roughned Odor • 2B
Futures Report: Joey Gallo • 3B
2016 Final Standing: 2nd AL West
American League MVP
- Troy Tulowitzki • SS • Toronto Blue Jays
- Carlos Correa • SS • Houston Astros
- Mookie Betts • OF • Boston Red Sox
American League Cy Young
- Chris Sale • LHP • Chicago White Sox
- Cole Hamels • LHP • Texas Rangers
- Chris Archer • RHP • Tampa Bay Rays
American League Rookie of the Year
- Byron Buxton • OF • Minnesota Twins
- Joey Gallo • 3B • Texas Rangers
- Blake Snell • SP • Tampa Bay Rays
Home Ballpark: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
2014 Finish: 67-95 · 5th AL West
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 76.5 · Under
What We Love:
Adrian Beltre: It seems almost a lifetime ago that Beltre mashed 48 HR with the Dodgers, but that was only 11 years ago (wow). Remember when he parlayed that season into a monstrous free agent contract in Seattle, only to have people question if he had anything left in his tank after the contract expired? Remember how he silenced those same critics by putting up a (near) career year in Boston (.321/28/102) after signing a one year deal? How about how he established himself as one of the premier 3B in the game after four straight dominant seasons in Texas?
During his four year tenure in the Lone Star State, Beltre has hit .315/117/376 in 589 games, made three All Star teams, won two Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2012. Not too shabby for a guy who seemed to be in decline following his days in Seattle (2008). Besides raking at the plate and playing exceptional defense in the field, Beltre has also managed to play himself into the Hall of Fame conversation. Beltre currently sits with a .285 career average, 395 HR, 2604 hits and four Gold Gloves; those numbers alone are borderline Hall of Fame worthy. Now factor in that Beltre could feasibly play another 3-5 years and perhaps reach 450 career HR and 3000 hits. How does this guy not get into Cooperstown?
- Seeing Prince smash baseballs (again): The Big Man only hit 3 HR in 150 AB in his Texas debut before being shut down for the season to undergo spinal fusion surgery on a herniated disk in his neck. When healthy, Fielder is among the elite power threats in MLB and his power should play well in his home field.
- Top of the order: RF Choo, SS Andrus, 1B Fielder and 3B Beltre.
- Joey Gallo’s power: Rangers top prospect might have best power in the minor leagues, having hit 104 HR in three minor league seasons.
- Watching Beltre LOSE IT when someone touches his head: Just don’t do it!
What We Hate:
Depth of Starting Rotation: Even before receiving the (disastrous) news that rotation ace, Yu Darvish, would be lost for the entire 2015 season because of Tommy John surgery, the Rangers were already being faced with a pretty thin starting rotation. Aside from the injury to Darvish, the Rangers also have starters, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez, currently sitting on the shelf with injuries. Perez will be out until mid season as he recovers from his own Tommy John surgery, while Matt Harrison, who was originally rumoured to have his career ended by injury, could potentially return by mid season as he battles back from lumbar spinal disk fusion surgery.
Heading into 2015, the Rangers will look to LHP Derek Holland to anchor the rotation, although Holland too has struggled to stay healthy and has spent time on the DL. Yovanni Gallardo was brought in from Milwaukee via trade, but with a diminishing fastball and strikeout rate who knows what to expect from the new arrival. The backend of the rotation doesn’t get much better as it will be rounded out by the trio of RHP Colby Lewis, LHP Ross Detwiler and RHP Nick Tepesch. There is also a possibility that top pitching prospect, Jake Thompson, who was acquired from Detroit for RP Joakim Soria, could make an appearance in the rotation at some point during the season.
- Yu Darvish’s Torn UCL: Rotation implications aside, Tommy John surgery for the Rangers ace will prevent fans from seeing one of the best in the game until mid 2016 (at the earliest).
- Bottom of the order: DH Mitch Moreland has the most offensive upside after the top of the order. After him, things could get bleak. The lineup should be rounded out by the likes of LF Jake Smolinski, CF Leonys Martin, 2B Rougned Odor and C Robinson Chirinos.
- Remaining contracts of Fielder, Choo and Andrus: Fielder will get a princely sum of $24mil per year through 2020, Choo will get $20mil a season through 2020 and Andrus will make $15mil a season through 2020.
- Jurrickson Profar’s days as a top prospect: Two years removed from being the consensus best prospect in baseball, Rangers fans will have to wait until 2016 to see their former elite prospect back on the field after suffering (another) shoulder injury.
- On the DL: Rangers set a MLB record in 2014 when their players spent a combined 2116 days on the Disabled List.
Player to Watch: 1B Prince Fielder. It is really hard to get a pulse on what type of player Prince will be following his return from spinal fusion surgery. While the Rangers, and baseball fans far and wide, will hope to see the big man return to his old ball crushing ways, there will be no guarantees that he returns to his former dominance. As a batter, Fielder puts every possible ounce of energy he has into each and every swing. This, in turn, could be extremely dangerous and detrimental to the injury, and subsequent surgery, that cost him his 2014. Even more concerning, is knowing that there is a possibility that the spinal surgery could cause further regression and force Fielder from the game early; similar to what happened to his father, Cecil. Personally, even as a Blue Jays fan, I hope that the big man comes back better than ever. MLB is that more exciting when Prince is mashing.
Top Pitching Prospect: Jake Thompson · RHP · MLB ETA: 2015
Top Positional Prospect: Joey Gallo · 3B · MLB ETA: 2015
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=tex
Final Prediction: 5th AL West
Home Ballpark: Safeco Field
2014 Finish: 87-75 · 3rd AL West
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 85 · Over
What We Love:
Cano and the King: It must be nice to look at your team’s roster and see perennial candidates for the MVP and Cy Young awards. But that is exactly what the Mariners have in the duo of Robinson Cano and (King) Felix Hernandez. In 2014, Hernandez did everything short of sending the BBWAA gift baskets in order to win his second Cy Young. Unfortunately for Hernandez, who went 15-6 with a 2.14 ERA and struck out 248 batters over 236 innings in 2014, he was bested by Indians SP Corey Kluber. This wasn’t the first time that Hernandez finished as the runner up for the Cy, he finished 2nd to Zack Greinke back in 2009, before winning one of his own in 2010. The Mariners were the winner of the 2013 Robinson Cano Free Agent Sweepstakes, when they inked the six-time All Star to a 10yr/$240mil contract, and Cano didn’t disappoint in his Seattle debut. Cano played in 157 games for the Mariners, hitting .314/14/82 with and .836 OPS; good enough for 5th in AL MVP voting. The only negative aspect of Cano’s first season in Seattle was the impact spacious Safeco Field had on his power numbers; his 14 HR and .454 SLG% were the lowest since his 2008 totals. It should also be noted that both Cano and Hernadez are extremely durable, Hernandez hasn’t pitched less than 190 innings since 2006, and Cano hasn’t played less than 157 games since that same year. The Mariners will need both Cano and the King to be their usual elite selves this season if they want to snap that 14 year playoff drought.
- Kyle Seager at the hot corner: Underrated 3B enjoyed a breakout 2014 season and earned his first trip to the All Star game by hitting .268/25/96; he also won his first career Gold Glove.
- Iwakuma being Robin to Felix’s Batman: Only made 28 starts in 2014 due to injury but still won 15 games. He may be one of the more underrated starters in MLB.
- Untapped potential of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton: both pitchers are extremely talented and have immense potential but will need to be more consistent and durable in order to reach that potential.
- Mike Zunino’s receiving skills and game calling: Defensively gifted and did a superb job handling the Mariners pitchers as a rookie, but will need his bat to catch up to his defensive prowess.
- Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fljZ_QilQMQ
What We Hate:
Back of the Rotation: Sure the Mariners have Batman and Robin at the top of the rotation (Hernandez and Iwakuma) but after them, things are a little less certain. The Mariners 2015 rotation will be rounded out by two highly gifted, yet unproven prospects (Paxton and Walker) and a crapshoot southpaw (JA Happ). Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are the Mariners two top pitching prospects, they have an immense amount of potential, a (seemingly) limitless ceiling, and barely any major league experience. Of the two, Paxton has the most experience with 98 innings pitched, while Walker only has 53 innings to his credit. Who knows what to expect from them this season. Speaking of not knowing what to expect, JA Happ was brought in via trade from Toronto. Happ had a decent to mediocre season with the Blue Jays in 2014, going 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA in 26 starts. In his career, Happ has shown flashes of brilliance, but they have usually been spread out between below average starts. With the two unproven youngsters in the rotation, the Mariners will need Happ to perform like he has shown he can. If any of those three struggle, LHP Roenis Elias should be able to slide from the long relief role into the rotation.
- The Nelson Cruz contract: Not only could it be one year too late, but the Mariners haven’t gambled this much on free agent, right-handed power since the Richie Sexson/Adrian Beltre contracts a decade ago.
- Bottom of the lineup: 6 through 9 hitters could leave something to desire from an offensive producing standpoint.
- A 40lb Lighter Jesus Montero: Sure it might help him finally reach the potential that made him a top prospect, but now there is less of a chance of seeing someone throws (another) ice cream sandwich at him.
Player to Watch: OF Dustin Ackley. When the Mariners selected Ackley with the 2nd overall pick back in 2009, they believed they were drafting a player with an advanced offensive bat. Originally drafted as a 2B, Ackley, now an OF, had been experiencing an average to below average start to his major league career; before his mini-breakout in 2014. Last season, Ackley hit .245 with 14 HR and 65 RBI in 143 games, although his .293 OBP did leave something to desire. The Mariners offense will need Ackley to build off of his successes last season as, even with the Nelson Cruz signing, this could be a team that struggles to score.
Top Positional Prospect: Alex Jackson · OF · MLB ETA: 2017
Top Pitching Prospect: Edwin Diaz · RHP · MLB ETA: 2017
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=sea
Final Prediction: 1st AL West
Home Ballpark: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
2014 Finish: 88 – 74 · 2nd AL West
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 82.5 · Under
What We Love:
Starting Pitching Depth: Despite losing three starting pitchers from their 2014 rotation (Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel) and having one of the more mediocre batting orders in MLB, this is an A’s team that could remain in the postseason picture based on the strength of their pitching staff alone. The 2015 version of the A’s will head into battle with a starting rotation consisting of: RHP Sonny Gray, LHP Jesse Hahn, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Kendall Graveman and LHP Drew Pomeranz. Meanwhile 2014 rotation stalwart, RHP Jesse Chavez, will open the season pitching out of the bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter. Sonny Gray is a legitimate ace in the making and looks to build off of a very successful first full season in the big leagues (14-10/3.08 ERA/183 K in 219 IP). Scott Kazmir enjoyed his first season in Oakland, making an All Star appearance and going 15-9 with a 3.55 ERA over 190 innings. Behind those two, the Athletics will lean on trio of youngsters, two of which were brought in via trades in the offseason (Graveman and Hahn) and another, who split duties between the pen and rotation last season (Pomeranz). If any of the young arms falter or if the oft injured Kazmir breaks down, the A’s have LHP Sean Nolin in AAA, and pitchers Jarrod Parker and AJ Griffin returning from Tommy John surgery at some point during the season.
- The acquisition of the Zorilla: super utilityman, Ben Zobrist, comes over to the A’s after spending nine seasons with the Rays franchise.
- The possibility of a Pat Venditte sighting: Venditte, who is an ambidextrous pitcher, was signed to a minor league deal in the offseason.
- The 70’s and 80’s throwback jerseys: Perhaps the best in MLB.
What We Hate:
Billy Beane out Billy Beane-ing himself: I want to start out by saying that this is by NO MEANS an attempt to “hate on” the A’s GM; merely a “what was/is he thinking?” piece. Similar to the Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski trading SP Doug Fister to the Nationals for a pair of LHP prospects (Ian Krol and Robbie Ray) and a utilityman (Steve Lombardozzi), sometimes GM’s over think trades/signings and wind up regretting them later.
At last season’s Trade Deadline, Beane and the A’s were the clear cut winner, when they decided to acquire ALL OF the pitching (seriously). In two separate July trades, the A’s acquired RHP Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel from the Cubs in return for a pair of prospects (SS Addison Russell, CF Billy McKinley) and a pitcher (Dan Straily), then they picked up LHP Jon Lester and OF Jonny Gomes from the Red Sox in exchange for OF Yoenis Cespedes. In making those trades, the A’s were banking on making the World Series on the strength of their pitching staff.
Unfortunately what the A’s weren’t expecting was for their offense to completely dry up once they traded Cespedes. The A’s struggled down the stretch, lost the West to the Angels, and were bounced by the Royals in a (memorable) Wild Card game. So clearly, you would believe that Beane would be shopping for offense in the offseason? Nope. It was quite the opposite actually.
After signing free agent 1B/DH Billy Butler in late November, the A’s stunned their fans and players by trading 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for 3B Brett Lawrie and a trio of prospects (Nolin, Graveman and Franklin Barretto). Just over a week later, Beane shipped 1B/OF Brandon Moss to the Indians for a prospect (Joe Wendle). For a team that struggled to score, it was a bit of a head scratcher to see the A’s trade their two biggest run producers. Beane wasn’t done there though. The following day after trading Moss, Beane sent Samardzjia to the White Sox for a handful of prospects (Chris Bassist, Marcus Semien and Josh Phegley).
The A’s would then take a week off before making their next deal, this time they sent C Derek Norris to the Padres for a pair of pitching prospects (Hahn and RJ Alvarez). I should also mention that the A’s acquired UTIL Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar from the Rays for C John Jaso and a pair of prospects (Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell), before flipping Escobar to the Nationals for RP Tyler Clippard.
With that hectic offseason, it has been hard to get a feel for what the A’s are going for this season. Despite the signing of Butler, the trades of Donaldson, Moss and Samardzjia, made it appear that a rebuild was about to take place. Yet the acquisitions of Zobrist and Clippard make it seem that the A’s are at least going to be competitive.
- Lack of power in the lineup: Will anyone hit more than 20 HR in this lineup? Only three players penciled into the starting lineup have had a season of 25+ HR (Billy Butler, Ike Davis and Josh Reddick) and none of them have done it more than once.
- Everything about the Oakland Coliseum: An aging, decrepit stadium that features the second lowest seating in MLB and a penchant for sewage flooding. Sounds like a great fan experience!
- Catching depth: The A’s had three catchers on their roster in 2014 (John Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt). This season only one of the three remains (Vogt).
- Coco Crisp’s injured elbow: The 35yr old CF will miss the first two months of the season after reportedly needing surgery on his elbow. Crisp’s injury, adds more offensive woe to a lineup that was already looking to struggle putting up runs.
Player to Watch: SP Sonny Gray. Gray had a fantastic first full season in the majors in 2014. The diminutive starter used his mid 90’s fastball and filthy curveball to strikeout 183 batters and notch 14 wins a year ago. Last season, Gray made 33 starts and pitched 219 innings for the Athletics. This season, he is the de facto ace of this pitching staff and could be in line to surpass his numbers from a year ago.
Top Pitching Prospect: Dillon Overton · LHP · MLB ETA: 2017
Top Positional Prospect: Matt Olson · 1B · MLB ETA: 2016
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=oak
Final Prediction: 3rd AL West
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Home Ballpark: Angel Stadium of Anaheim
2014 Finish: 98 – 64 · 1st AL West
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 87.5 · Under
What We Love:
- Michael Nelson Trout: What can you really say about a player who finishes runner up for the AL MVP in his first two seasons, before winning it in his third? Did we mention that he is only 23 years old? Astoundingly, his MVP season was actually his worst season in MLB:
2012: 139 G · .326 AVG · 30 HR · 83 RBI · 49 SB · 67/139 BB/SO · .963 OPS
2013: 157 G · .323 AVG · 27 HR · 97 RBI · 33 SB · 110/136 BB/SO · .988 OPS
2014: 157 G · .287 AVG · 36 HR · 111 RBI · 16 SB · 83/184 BB/SO · .939 OPS
In a mere three seasons, Trout has wrestled the title from Miguel Cabrera to become the (arguable) Best Player in MLB; although Andrew McCutcheon is making a nice run at the title himself. There has also been talk that Trout is the consensus choice to replace Derek Jeter as the proverbial “face” of MLB. In Trout, the Angels have a legitimate five tool player, who can bat leadoff or in the three-hole, and is locked up through 2020 on an almost steal of a deal (6yrs/$144.5 mil). Nitpicking on a player of Trout’s ability is like accusing Scarlet Johansson of having pointy elbows. Nonetheless, the 2014 AL MVP will need to cut down on his strikeout rate in 2015 as he paced the American League with 184 whiffs last season.
- C.J Cron’s Potential: Former 1st round pick back in 2011 hit .256/11/37 in 242 AB in his first season with the Angels in 2014. The defensive inept Cron projects as a future 1B/DH but could start getting reps in LF to try to keep his bat in the lineup. If everything clicks for Cron, he could become a Mark Trumbo 2.0.
- The Mike Scioscia Tree of Management: Of the 30 current MLB managers in the game today, three of them have been assistants under the Angels Mike Scioscia at one time or another. Those three managers include: Joe Maddon (Cubs), Bud Black (Padres) and Ron Roenicke (Brewers). No wonder teams looking for a new manager often look to see who has been coaching with Scioscia before they make their decisions.
- The pending return of staff ace, Garrett Richards.
- The Rod Carew era of throwback jerseys.
What We Hate:
- Days as a Contender: On the back of a 98 win campaign, the Angels cruised to (another) AL West title. But are the days of 90+ win seasons and division titles a thing of the past? Sure the Angels have Mike Trout in the lineup and Garrett Richards in the rotation, but after that, things start getting a bit bleak. Albert Pujols pushed the clock back in 2014 when he hit .272/28/105 over 159 games, but at 36, he is a player in decline. The 33 year old, Josh Hamilton, only played in 89 games a year ago because of a shoulder ailment, and there is no guarantee of how many games he plays in 2015 because of said shoulder injury. Hamilton was also able to avoid a suspension this season in relation to his drug relapse this past offseason. With Howie Kendrick gone (traded to the Dodgers), 2B is looking like it might be an offensive black hole this season. David Freese may be the most overrated player in the Angels lineup and has failed to live up to his 2012 All Star season where he hit .293/20/79.
What is really concerning is the lack of starting pitching depth behind Garrett Richards. Jered Weavers fastball velocity is down (again); he was reportedly in the 85mph range for the majority of Spring Training. Matt Shoemaker came out of nowhere to win 16 games in 2014, but he is as likely to turn back into a pumpkin as he is to replicate that success. CJ Wilson, despite his silky, smooth hair, was both banged up and ineffective in 2014. Tyler Skaggs is out for the season with Tommy John surgery. LHP Hector Santiago was mediocre at best in his first season in Anaheim. The Angels also brought in two pitching prospects during the offseason in the hopes that they will add some much needed starting depth. LHP Andrew Heaney was brought over from the Dodgers in exchange for 2B Howie Kendrick, and RHP Nick Tropeano was acquired from the Astros in exchange for C Hank Conger. Both pitchers are not a lock to make the opening day lineup, but both may be counted on to contribute at some point this season.
With all that being said, the Angels are a franchise that has proven in the past that they are capable of winning games no matter what, this season just may be the hardest yet.
- The remainder of Albert Pujols contract: 7 yrs/$189 mil.
- Lack of impact prospects on the farm: 2014 first round pick, LHP Sean Newcomb, has become the de facto top prospect in a paper thin minor league system.
- Potential revolving door at 2B: One of Josh Rutledge, Grant Green or Johnny Giavotella will win this job based on default.
Player to Watch: SP Garrett Richards. The 26 year old Richards was enjoying a breakout season in his first full year as a starter before he tore his patellar tendon covering 1B. Before the injury, Richards made 26 starts, went 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA and struck out 164 batters over 168.2 innings. The Angels will need Richards and his 96.3 mph fastball (2nd fastest in MLB behind Yordano Ventura) to anchor a thin rotation, if they plan on playing baseball in October.
Top Pitching Prospect: Sean Newcomb · LHP · MLB ETA: 2017
Top Positional Prospect: Roberto Baldoquin · 2B/SS · MLB ETA: 2016
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=ana
Final Prediction: 2nd AL West
Home Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
2014 Finish: 70 – 92 · 4th AL Central
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 73.5 · Over
What We Love:
- Thunder in the Lineup: If there is one thing that the Astros will not be short on in 2015, it is power. Although they might not have the “sexiest” of lineups offensively in MLB, what they do have is a lineup that will CRUSH pitches. Chris Carter alone hit 37 bombs in 2015; he also set the franchise record for most multi HR games (7). Top prospect, George Springer, showed off his impressive power stroke by hitting 20 in his rookie campaign, including hitting 7 over a 7 game span in May, before being shut down for the last two and a half months by a quad injury. Not satisfied by their lineups power, the Astros brought in Evan Gattis in a trade with the Braves and signed free agent, Colby Rasmus, to a 1yr/$8mil deal. In Gattis, the Astros get a player who has hit 43 career home runs in only 213 games; while Rasmus offers a left-handed bat capable of 25+ HR. If everyone stays healthy and performs up to their ability, there is no reason not to think that the trio of Springer, Gattis and Rasmus could hit 25-30 HR a piece. Carter on the other hand, could slug 40 or more in 2015.
- Seeing the first signs of a bright future ahead: Top prospect, George Springer, made his highly anticipated debut in 2014 and did not disappoint. Astros fans can expect to see more top prospects moving up to Minute Maid Park in next year or so. There is a good chance that, given a strong performance in the minors, we could see SP Mark Appel in Houston sometime in 2015. Meanwhile, the Astros (current) top positional prospect, SS Carlos Correa, will most likely have to wait until 2016 for his call to the show.
- No more 100 loss seasons. Even though they still lost 92 games in 2014, the Astros were able to avoid making it four consecutive seasons with 100 losses or more. Given their current roster and bright future, there shouldn’t be anymore 100 loss seasons in the foreseeable future.
- Jose Altuve’s bat: Winner of the 2014 AL Batting crown with a .341 average; also set a franchise record with 225 hit
- Reinforced bullpen: The Astros signed a pair of top free agent relievers in the offseason (Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson) and brought in Joe Thatcher on a one year, reclamation deal.
- Anytime an OF has to navigate Tal’s Hill in CF.
- The Nolan Ryan era throwback jerseys.
What We Hate:
- Great Power, Greater Strikeout Rate: In the past two seasons, the Houston Astros have finished 1st and 2nd for most strikeouts as a team. In fact, the 2013 version of the Astros set a MLB record by striking out 1535 times. Last season, the Astros had seven players in their lineup strike out 100 or more times. Even with trading one of those players (Dexter Fowler) and having two others open the season in the minors (Jon Singleton and Matt Dominguez), this is a lineup that could very well break their own record for most strikeouts in a season. The main reason for the potential whiff increase is the offseason additions of Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis. Sure both players should be a lock to boost the Astros power numbers, but they should also be locks to raise their team strikeout rate too. Gattis has struck out 178 times over 213 games played, while Rasmus strikeouts an average of 157 times over a 162 game season. There is also no reason not to think that 1B Jon Singleton (134 strikeouts in 310 AB in 2014!) and 3B Matt Dominguez (125 strikeouts in 564 AB) will not be back in the Astros lineup at some point during the season.
- The whole Brady Aiken situation: The Astros drafted Aiken 1st overall in 2014 and then reneged on their original contract offer ($6.5 million) once a physical found an issue with Aiken’s UCL. The Astros attempted to sign Aiken to a lesser deal ($5 million) but Aiken refused, said he would only sign if it was a sign and trade deal, and then opted not to sign with the Astros at all. In doing so, the Astros also lost the ability to sign another high draft pick (Jacob Nix). Hindsight time… turns out Aiken does need Tommy John after all and the Astros have two picks in the top 5 of this year’s draft. So… did they make the right decision after all? Even if they did, this is still a black eye for an organization that doesn’t need any more bad publicity. Aiken, meanwhile, will undergo Tommy John surgery and will still be eligible for this year’s draft; as will the other unsigned prospect, Jacob Nix.
- Drafting SP Mark Appel over 3B Kris Bryant in 2013. Hindsight sure, but don’t you think the Astros would like a redo on this one? Carlos Correa over Byron Buxton is a little more defensible…
- Jose Altuve’s glove.
- Releasing J.D Martinez. Martinez was an absolute stud for the Tigers last season (.315/26/76) and would look awfully nice playing LF at Minute Maid.
- The whole hacking/leaking of ten months of confidential, internal trade discussions to deadspin.com in 2014 – http://deadspin.com/leaked-10-months-of-the-houston-astros-internal-trade-1597951970
Player to Watch: OF George Springer. Springer was enjoying a pretty decent rookie season in 2014, before an injury to his quadriceps forced him to miss the last two and half months. In 295 AB, Springer hit for a .231 average, added 20 HR and drove in 51 RBI; he also struck out 114 times. If he can remain healthy and cut down on the strikeouts, there is no reason not to believe that Springer cannot build upon his rookie numbers. He has the pop in his bat to hit 30 home runs and he may just accomplish that in 2015.
Top Pitching Prospect: Mark Appel · RHP · MLB ETA: 2015
Top Positional Prospect: Carlos Correa · SS · MLB ETA: 2016
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=hou
Final Prediction: 4th AL West