American League West Prospects to Watch
Moving onto the fifth part of the “MLB Prospects to Watch 2020” Series, it’s time to hone in on the American League West. The American League West has been heavily ruled by the Houston Astros over the last few seasons. However, the overall landscape of the division could very well be changing this year.
The Houston Astros have a very good team still, but with the distractions of this offseason, one could make an argument for the Oakland Athletics winning the division. Oakland has a lot of young, intriguing prospects especially pitching prospects that are at or near the big league level. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels will be under the guidance of a new manager in Joe Maddon. The Angels primary goal right now is to find a way back to postseason baseball to get Mike Trout back to the big stage.
Coming in fourth place last season was the Texas Rangers. If there was potentially an American League dark horse to watch this coming season, it would be the Rangers. Texas has assembled a fairly reliable starting rotation and is deep at multiple positions around the diamond. Rounding out the division is the Seattle Mariners. Seattle is currently in a state of rebuild, but they should improve upon their record of last season. The Mariners have built up a good farm system the last few years and the fruits of those labors should start making it up to the big leagues sooner than later.
After an offseason full of more controversy, the Houston Astros are going to want to turn the page as soon as possible. Although, that controversy will hover over them all season long this year and it could get ugly depending on the team they are playing. Despite that though, the team is now under the direction of Dusty Baker on the field and James Click in the front office as the organization’s new General Manager.
Both Baker and Click will need to try to solidify what happened this offseason and start promoting a new culture quickly. The Astros current competitive window will likely only last another year or two, but there is still quite a bit of talent on their 26-man roster overall.
RHP Forrest Whitley
The Houston Astros number one overall prospect is right-handed pitcher Forrest Whitley. Despite having a down season overall last year, Whitley still has a bright future and should still impact the Astros major league starting rotation in a significant way. Last year, Whitley posted a 7.99 ERA over 59.2 innings of work with an opponent batting average against of .259 between Rookie Ball and Triple-A.
Despite that though, Whitley is still only 22-years old and given the need for impact starting pitching on the Astros big league roster, he still factors heavily into the team’s future plans. There’s a reason the organization has always been hesitant to deal Whitley away in the past.
Whitley’s entire pitch repertoire includes four different types of pitches and all four are dangerous to opposing hitters. Of those four pitches, Whitley ranks the highest on his fastball. Whitley’s fastball received a grade of 70 on the scouting scale. Scouts note that his fastball has great deception at all levels of the strike zone.
Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels enter this season in playoff desperation mode. The team made a significant free-agent splash this season when they inked third baseman, Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million dollar deal. Rendon is going to be a significant upgrade for the team to go along with outfielders Mike Trout and Justin Upton.
Overall, the Angels enter this season with a much stronger lineup than pitching staff. The pitching staff has a lot of uncertainty, but credit has to be given to the team for attempting to make multiple upgrades to it this offseason.
OF Jo Adell
The most promising prospect coming up in the Angels farm system is outfielder Jo Adell. Adell has a very bright future and is going to be an impact part of the next championship-caliber Angels roster. Adell was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Angels during the tenth round of the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft.
Some scouts are concerned about Adell’s overall swing-and-miss but mention that he does an excellent job recognizing pitches. Adell has the ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field and scouts note that he will be a serious home run hitter. When it comes to running the bases, Adell displays a lot of speed. Scouts also note that Adell has tremendous defensive abilities as well.
With the pending Joc Pederson trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, that does complicate the picture for Adell. However, it gives the Angels assurance and depth as well. Adell might not break Spring Training on the team’s major league roster but could very well make his debut halfway through the coming season.
As previously mentioned, the Oakland Athletics are a very intriguing team. Oakland has built up a very good farm system and many of those prospects are just starting to make it to the big league roster. Every season, the Athletics always find a way to overcome expectations and win despite having among the fewest resources in the game.
Given the talent in the farm system, it would not be a surprise to see the Athletics take the American League West crown this year. Oakland will need it’s young pitching prospects to deliver on all accounts for that to happen. Although, there is a very good chance it does happen and there’s quite a bit to like about the Athletics position player group as well.
C Sean Murphy
On the Oakland Athletics Top 30 Prospects list in the number three spot is catcher Sean Murphy. Murphy is someone the Athletics view in high regard and believe will impact their big league club as soon as this year. Overall, Murphy ranks as the fourth-best catching prospect in all of baseball.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Murphy’s game is his defense. Scouts note that Murphy does a tremendous job blocking behind home plate and mention his expertise in game calling as well. When you add his strong arm to the mix, it adds even more to Murphy’s overall value. Last season alone, Murphy threw out 35.5 percent of runners who attempted to steal a base.
Projecting ahead to the future, don’t be surprised if Murphy breaks Spring Training camp as part of the Athletics 26-man roster. That is how talented Murphy is at the age of 25. Considering that Murphy has yet to reach his peak years, there’s a potential his game could become even more advanced as well.
Over the course of the past few years, the Seattle Mariners have been focused on rebuilding the amount of talent in the organization. Despite the notion that Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto never stops making trades, a lot of credit has to go to him. Seattle’s farm system is much better now compared to just a few years ago.
While those rebuilding efforts might not result in a competitive team this year. However, it will sooner than later especially as those prospects start to make it up to the big league level.
1B Evan White
The prospect to watch this coming season for the Seattle Mariners is first baseman, Evan White. White currently ranks as the organization’s fourth-best prospect. The Mariners committed themselves to White earlier this offseason when they inked him to a six-year, $24 million dollar deal.
White ranks positively in the hitting and fielding categories. On the scouting scale, White received a grade of 55 for his hit skills and a grade of 70 based on his defensive abilities. Scouts note that White is so advanced at the plate that he has the potential to hit the baseball to all parts of the field. When you combine that with White’s power potential, you get a very unique type of hitter.
Coming up through the minors, White was one of the best defensive first basemen. That alone is very good news for the Seattle Mariners. As it stands right now, White will be the Mariners Opening Day first baseman this coming year.
Heading into this season, the Texas Rangers are poised to potentially be a surprise team. Texas has added depth to its starting rotation most notably with the addition of right-hander Corey Kluber. Furthermore, the Rangers offense should do well this year with the likes of Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, and Shin-Soo Choo.
Although the Rangers won’t stand out as a potential surprise team on paper, the chips could fall in their favor if everything clicks the right way. The best part is that the Rangers window isn’t just opening for this year, but rather for the next handful of seasons.
RHP Hans Crouse
Right-handed pitcher, Hans Crouse currently ranks third on the Texas Rangers Top 30 Prospects list. Therefore, Crouse is the best pitching prospect in the organization and the one to watch the closest this year. Besides being the Rangers third-best prospect, Crouse also ranks as baseball’s number 78 overall prospect.
Scouts note that Crouse throws all of his pitches with a lot of power overall. His most notable pitch is the fastball which causes a lot of swings and misses. On the scouting scale, Crouse received a grade of 70 on that pitch. Another notable pitch in Crouse repertoire is his slider which can be deceived as a curveball at times. Crouse hits the mid-80s on that pitch and can work it up and down throughout the strike zone.
Looking ahead to the future, some scouts wonder if Crouse will be able to remain a starting pitcher. Some of those concerns stem from his overall delivery and animation that he shows on the mound. However, the Texas Rangers are committed to keeping him as a starting pitcher. Therefore, Crouse could very well impact this year’s Rangers squad.
In the end, the American League West won’t be baseball’s best division this year. However, it is a division that could surprise a lot of people, if things click the right way. One surprise could be the Oakland Athletics winning the division and ending the Houston Astros reign of first place. Additionally, another surprise could be the Texas Rangers potentially being a sleeper playoff contender. Despite that though, there are plenty of notable prospects to watch this season for all five American League West teams.