Monday, March 28, 2011
AL West preseason All-Star team
By David Schoenfield
Lots of pitching and defense in baseball's four-team division. Not many big sticks. (And in case you missed the other divisions: AL East, AL Central, NL East, NL Central and NL West.)
Catcher -- Kurt Suzuki, A’s. No, he’s not exactly Gene Tenace or even Terry Steinbach, and this small honor isn’t meant to suggest Suzuki is anything near a legitimate All-Star. His bat fell apart last season, perhaps fatigue from three seasons of little rest, as his average decreased 32 points and his extra-base hits fell from 53 to 33. It looks like rookie Hank Conger will hit, but he'll share time with Jeff Mathis.
First base -- Daric Barton, A’s. Doesn’t have the power you want from a first baseman, but he led the AL in walks to produce a .393 OBP, and his excellent defense made him a valuable player. Justin Smoak has upside and Mitch Moreland keeps exceeding expectations. Kendrys Morales is a question mark and begins the season on the DL.
Second base -- Ian Kinsler, Rangers. He turns 29 this season, so it’s probably time to stop thinking along the lines of "what he might do" and appreciate him for what he is. The .319 season of 2008 looks more like an aberration, but he actually posted a career-high .382 OBP in 2010. His power should return.
Third base -- Adrian Beltre, Rangers. Let’s see ... Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis and Kevin Kouzmanoff. And it’s Beltre in a unanimous vote. Beltre turns 32 on April 7 and has 1,889 career hits. He needs to average just 139 hits over the next eight seasons (through age 39) to reach 3,000.
Shortstop -- Elvis Andrus, Rangers. Cliff Pennington was actually the better player last season, according to Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball-Reference. Not surprising, considering Andrus slugged a woeful .301. Andrus had just 18 extra-base hits, tied for fewest among players with at least 600 plate appearances since 1990. (Research via Baseball-Reference.com.) On the bright side, Andrus at least draws some walks, providing hope he can improve other elements of his offensive game.
Left field -- Josh Hamilton, Rangers. He was the only AL West player to finish in the top 10 of the MVP voting last season. The only others to receive votes were Vladimir Guerrero, Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki.
Center field -- Franklin Gutierrez, Mariners. Can we get a fifth team in this division, please? Gutierrez is battling a stomach ailment that has the Mariners concerned, but who else can I pick? Coco Crisp gets hurt every year, Peter Bourjos is a supreme defender who has a long way to go with the bat and Julio Borbon is kind of a poor man's Crisp.
Right field -- Suzuki, Mariners. Nelson Cruz had a monster season with the bat, but he has yet to remain healthy for an entire year, and his season was fueled by his friendly home park as he hit .267 AVG/.324 OBP/.480 SLG on the road. Add up Ichiro’s durability, fielding and baserunning, and he gets the nod over Cruz (and Torii Hunter).
Designated hitter -- Jack Cust, Mariners. He did have the highest OPS+ of the four DHs last season (Hideki Matsui, Michael Young, Bobby Abreu). He’s also the youngest. And that’s my case.
Right-handed starter -- Felix Hernandez, Mariners. With apologies to the Angels’ 1-2 duo of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.
Left-handed starter -- Gio Gonzalez, A’s. Teammate Brett Anderson and the Rangers' C.J. Wilson are the other obvious candidates. I like Gonzalez's stuff, and he has All-Star ability if he cuts down on the walks. Anderson is a polished lefty who generated ground balls, but he battled minor elbow issues last year. Wilson was effective but wild (93 walks) and is unlikely to give up just 10 home runs again.
Closer -- Neftali Feliz, Rangers. I’m with Keith Law on this one: If Feliz spends the whole season as closer, I don’t think we’ll ever see him in the rotation.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.