DIVISIONAL OUTLOOK: AL West—Bourjos battles Wells for AB

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

LAA's starting OF of Mike Trout in LF, Peter Bourjos (OF, LAA) in CF and Josh Hamilton in RF seemed to be a given—until comments from Mike Scioscia last week made it sound like Bourjos's starting job wasn't a lock. "Peter is definitely in the mix to earn playing time; he gives us an incredible defensive look in the outfield," said Scioscia. "But there are a lot of lineups, depending on who the designated hitter is and if things change, where Trout is in center. We have some guys who are fighting for playing time."

No real news here, just a mix of spring noise, motivation, and common sense. In short, barring an injury or an oh-for-March, Bourjos remains the favorite to begin Opening Day in CF. His superb defense is unquestioned, but Bourjos will need to show more offense he did last April, when a .167 BA in April allowed Mike Trout to take his CF job. Pitch selection and health are the keys for the 25-year-old Bourjos, who parlayed his plus speed and average pop into a .271 BA / 12 HR / 22 SB 2011 despite just a 75% ct%.

Bourjos's offensive success or lack thereof will be the key playing time determinant for ex-starter Vernon Wells (OF, LAA), who currently projects as the first OF off the bench. Wells has hit 36 HR over 748 AB with LAA in 2011-12; the problem is that he's also batted .221 during this period. As his current BA projection hints, he is overdue for some some luck/improvement on a 23% h%. As a plus defender in LF, a fast-starting Wells could conceivably chip away at some of Bourjos' AB, and find more opportunity in the Angels' efforts to preserve Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. But his recent play warns not to count on this.

A back story here is Trout's reported unhappiness with being moved out of CF. Given a serious lack of organizational depth at every other position, the Angels would love nothing better than to rebuild the 25-year-old Bourjos's offensive value and overall attractiveness. And notwithstanding the Scioscia comments aimed at motivating both players, a 34-year-old Wells isn't likely to receive equal consideration or benefit of the doubt. Barring a serious crash-and-burn, Bourjos remains a decent bet to pick up 400+ AB.

Rounding out LAA's projected Opening Day OF roster is Kole Calhoun (OF, LAA), whose biggest asset is being a LHB versatile enough to play all three OF spots in a pinch. Calhoun is the classic no-outstanding-skill player who can do a little bit of everything on both side of the ballwhich stamps him as a utility player off the bench. His ideal playing time scenario is 2-3 starts a week vs. tough RHPs, which appears possible only in the event of extended struggles from Bourjos and Wells.


Seattle Mariners

Mariners OFs had launched 12 HR through the thin Arizona air by Sunday, which isn't making it any easier to sort out the Opening Day roster or forecast playing time. Currently only recently-acquired Mike Morse (OF, SEA) in LF and Michael Saunders (OF, SEA) somewhere are projected to see more than 400 AB, with the other names being speculative at best.

One of the big SEA questions is whether Franklin Gutierrez (OF, SEA)3 HR already this springcan stay healthy and hit enough to justify playing his world-class CF glove as protection against diminished Safeco Field dimensions. The 30-year-old Gutierrez's last rosterable season was in in 2010, when 568 AB allowed him to swipe 25 bases. But a .245/.228 BA/xBA and 12 HR during the same year and his injury woes since suggest little offensive value.

Saunders doesn't have the defensive range of Gutierrez in CF, but this may not be as big an issue in a smaller OF. Saunders manned CF for 113 games last year, putting up a .247 BA / 19 HR / 21 SB season with superior road splits that left us wondering what he might do in a friendlier home venue. And if Gutierrez fizzles, Saunders' move back to CF could free AB for the likes of Jason Bay (OF, SEA), who hasn't been healthy for the past three seasons. Bay's skills appear to be on the decline, but he's popped two HR this spring and swears he's rediscovered his swing. 

A better bet might be a younger/healthier Eric Thames (OF, SEA), whose career 130+ PX (633 AB) points to legitimate left-handed power. Raul Ibanez (OF/DH, SEA) has been at least temporarily cut off from DH AB by Kendrys Morales, pending Justin Smoak's final 1B shot as a Mariner. But while the 40-year-old Ibanez' 19 HR vs. RHPs (323 AB) say he can also provide good platoon pop, Thames' youth may give him an edge for meaningful PT on a rebuilding team.

Casper Wells (OF, SEA) may be on the outside, though good defense at all three OF positions and an .838 career OPS vs. LHP will give him an MLB bench job and perhaps the light end of a platoon somewhere. But apart from Morse and perhaps Saunders, most of these names are best viewed as less than full-time options. Barring an unexpected comeback by Bay or a development step up from Thames, any value found in this group will be determined by health, the Smoak situation, and short-lived hot streaks.


Texas Rangers

TEX rotation update:  Alexi Ogando's (RHP, TEX) struggles had already sounded an alarm this past week. Projected as TEX's #4, Ogando struggled with the fastball and slider he used primarily as a reliever, and has put in little work on the change-up he'll need as a starter. In his first 3.1 IP, he walked four with one strikeout and allowed 10 base-runners. Recall that Ogando finished 2012 allowing nine runs over his final 11.2 IP.

Then late Sunday, Martin Perez (LHP, TEX), the favorite to win the Rangers' #5 spot, suffered a fractured forearm that will keep him out of action for two months. And with prospect Justin Grimm (RHP, TEX) suddenly looking like he may be out of Opening Day consideration after only two outings—4.1 IP, 9 ER, 3 BB—the bottom of the TEX rotation is a developing issue.

Word is that the Rangers are in touch with free agent Kyle Lohse, though the loss of a draft pick upon his signing remains an obstacle. Regardless, keep an eye on Ogando's next outings, and an ear open for potential SP possibilitiesalong with the current rotation contenders mentioned in this space last week.


Houston Astros

HOU OF update:  In a piece here last week, we noted the possibility of defense-challenged Chris Carter (DH/1B/OF) seeing AB in LF, which in turn could in turn squeeze incumbent J.D. Martinez (OF, HOU) out of playing time and even his projected starting job. Another shoe dropped this past weekend, as the Astros played Martinez in RF for two games in an effort to gauge his skills there. Martinez at least looks comfortable offensively, as he picked up three hits including his first spring HR in an effort to remain relevant.

In fact, Martinez' 6-for-17 spring is pacing his teammates in the HOU corner OF competitionincluding Carter, Fernando Martinez and Jimmy Paredes. His performance along with 1B/potential-3B Brett Wallace's 7-for-16 start are reminders that that Astros playing time in the OF, DH and corner infield spots remain fluid, with plenty of interchangeable pieces. Small samples and the sub-par defense attached to most of these names say that we're better off observing rather than churning their likely positions and or making big PT% changes, at least for now. In short, with the exception of Jose Altuve at 2B and Jason Castro at C, the Astros spring training appears to be one massive starting job audition that may not get much clearer over the near-term.


Oakland Athletics

Following a miserable 2012 in which he posted a .221 BA/.242 xBA  in 444 AB, Jemile Weeks (2B, OAK) had to hit out of the chute to be a factor in the OAK 2B battle. And hit he has early on, with a 6-for-11 mark through Sunday's exhibition games. The window  may have opened a crack further for Weeks when Scott Sizemore (2B/3B, OAK) was removed from Sunday's game after being hit in the left hand by an errant pitch, with initial x-ray results revealing a deep bruise.

Weeks still faces stiff competition, as all of the A's lesser 2nd base candidates—including Adam Rosales (2B/3B, OAK), Andy Parrino (SS/2B, OAK) and rookie Grant Green (2B, OAK) were also hitting over .300 through Sunday. In addition, the two favorites for most of the AB—Sizemore and Jed Lowrie (2B/SS, OAK)—aren't falling off a cliff. In short, the 2B competition should carry through March and likely into the regular season—and while Weeks hasn't eliminated himself via his bat, he won't going to win AB via his sub-par glove, either, particularly in the face of a competitive hoard. Barring sustained power/LD/h% rebounds back to 2011 levels that now look like outliers, Weeks remains extremely unlikely to see 400 AB again.


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