AL West power rankings
By JOSHUA BROWN
College Contributor Network
In part three of our 2015 MLB preview, we finish up the American League, taking a look at the AL West. Last year, with the Angels securely winning the division with a 98-64 record, the race for the second spot (and eventual Wild Card) came down to the wire. The Cinderella Seattle Mariners fell just short, finishing one game behind the Jon Lester-led Oakland A's with the postseason not treating the West very kindly.
1. Los Angeles Angels
Even with the best record in the American League it was another failed year in the City of Angels after falling to the Royals in the ALDS. The talent is still certainly there for Mike Scioscia's team, but the window is getting closer and closer to being shut. A top-five of Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and David Freese is still one of the best in baseball, but with age starting to creep in for Pujols and Hamilton it is becoming now or never for this group. Expect Trout to have another MVP season patrolling the outfield of Angel Stadium, while posting 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI.
LAA took a step forward in the pitching department this season, getting prospect Andrew Heaney, which came at the hefty price of Howie Kendrick. This is one of the Angels deepest rotations in years featuring Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Heaney. The Angels always seem to have a stretch of games where the offense gets in a funk, and this rotation is perfect to bail it out.
2. Seattle Mariners
Nelson Cruz was a huge addition for the Mariners this offseason. The Mariners all of a sudden feature a dynamic middle of the order in Robinson Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager. With a solid rest of the lineup, expect the Mariners to, at the very least, get a Wildcard spot, if not compete with the Angels for the division.
The top two of the rotation is one of the best in baseball with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. After that the Mariners could struggle, as James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias fill out the 3-5. If Paxton and Walker can pitch up to expectations it will be a memorable year in Seattle, but until they prove to be a formidable middle of the rotation, the Mariners stand a step behind LAA.
3. Oakland Athletics
Losing Jon Lester in free agency was expected. Trading away Jeff Samardzija, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss was not. The addition of Billy Butler does not even begin to make up for what Bob Melvin's team lost this offseason, in what will be a mediocre year for Oakland. A top-half of the order featuring Coco Crisp, Ben Zobrist, Josh Reddick, Billy Butler, Ike Davis and Brett Lawrie is certainly not bad, but not good enough to top a much improved Seattle team.
The A's still have one of the best young pitchers in baseball with Sonny Gray and a decent supporting cast of Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez behind him. After that Oakland has virtually no pitching, something they will need with the inevitable struggles of the downgraded lineup at some point during the season.
4. Houston Astros
They aren't there yet, but things are certainly looking better for the Astros heading into 2015. The young lineup is starting to take shape headlined by Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie and Colby Rasmus. Although the Astros are still waiting for their abundance of prospects to be MLB ready, it should be a step in the right direction for a Houston team who will at least compete with the top half of the division.
The bullpen gained two huge additions in Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, who will get significant time for A.J.Hinch. Scott Feldman and Dallas Keuchel should have good years for Houston with Collin McHugh continuing to improve each season.
5. Texas Rangers
The Rangers are stuck in a bit of a limbo after not spending enough to compete, but not fully dedicating themselves to a long rebuilding project. Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland has some good pop in the middle of the order, but they are all stranded with no protection outside the 2-5 spots.
It's unfortunate Yu Darvish is wasting his prime years with a bad Rangers team, but look for him to have another big 2015 season with inevitably two no-hitter bids being lost with two outs in the ninth. Derek Holland should be a respectable number two guy for Texas, with Yovani Gallardo a nice addition as the number three starter.
Joshua Brown is a Sports Correspondent for the Boston Globe. He is a color commentator for Northeastern University basketball and hockey and also writes for USCHO and College Hoops Daily. Follow him on Twitter: @josh_brown31