DIVISIONAL OUTLOOK: AL West—Injury ripples

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Angels were slammed with injuries this past week, as Jered Weaver (RHP, LAA), Erick Aybar (SS, LAA) and Kevin Jepsen (RHP, LAA) all landed on the DL, with Alberto Callaspo (3B, LAA) also missing three straight games through Sunday with day-to-day calf tightness. Apart from Weaver's broken non-throwing elbow—which will shelve him until at least late May—none of the injuries are currently considered long-term. And with the possible exception of Weaver and Callaspo, none create much fantasy opportunity either, as LAA's lack of depth is now on full display.

The first crack at Weaver's rotation spot goes to talented Garrett Richards (RHP, LAA), whose ability to generate GBs and swings-and-misses has been well-chronicled here. As he showed in his first start Saturday vs. HOU, Richards has mid-90s stuff that holds up deep into games, but lack of offspeed effectiveness allow hitters to sit on his fastball. Thus, his future may lie in the pen. If the Angels make this call, their next options barring trade or free agent pickup appear to be either retread swing-man Jerome Williams or A.J. Schugel (RHP, LAA), a change-up/command pitcher with #4-5 upside currently in Triple-A. For now, the other options just aren't as attractive as Richards.

Richards' move to the rotation and Jepsen's injury—ongoing triceps tightness dating back to March—has weakened an already reeling bullpen. The Angels have responded by promoting Dane De La Rosa (RHP, LAA) and Michael Roth (LHP, LAA). Featuring deception, command and a solid change-up, Roth was impressive in his MLB debut, tossing two perfect innings while striking out four and notching the win vs. HOU on Saturday. But neither of these names are currently rosterable.

The best LAA bullpen news of the week was Ryan Madson's (RHP, LAA) several successful bullpen sessions, including a 40-pitch effort on Sunday. If he continues to progress without setback, Madson should join the Angels by early May—and remains a better than even bet to take over the closer role from Ernesto Frieri.

Aybar's fill-in is a platoon between Andrew Romine (SS, LAA) and Brendan Harris (SS/3B, LAA), neither of whose offensive skills offer fantasy value. Callaspo's replacement early on has been newly promoted Luis Jimenez (3B, LAA), who was recently covered in our minor league call-up report —and who is at least a little more interesting. Once a highly-regarded prospect and a former Futures Game participant, the 25-year-old Jimenez' progress through the high minors has stagnated, partly due to injuries but mostly due to his free-swinging ways. His raw power hasn't developed as initially expected—16 HR in 517 AB last year in the offense-friendly PCL—but a career .303/.339/.518 line (2278 AB) and 86% ct% still have our attention. 

Jimenez collected three hits and a walk this weekend while playing terrific defense. Kaleb Cowart is the LAA 3B of the future, which might come as early as mid-2014, and doesn't give Jimenez much of a window. But if he can take advantage of his immediate opportunity, and Callaspo is out longer than anticipated, Jimenez has an outside chance of sticking or at least making himself attractive to another club. He's a potential late-bloomer.

 

Oakland Athletics

Yoenis Cespedes (OF, OAK) was placed on the DL due to a strained muscle in his left hand. No structural damage has been found and Cespedes isn't expected to be out for long, but OAK was forced into an OF move by to Coco Crisp's day-to-day groin injury. Michael Taylor (OF, OAK) was recalled to take Cepedes' roster spot and could see some limited opportunity against LHPs. But in the near-term, the injuries are creating everyday playing time for Chris Young and Seth Smith in a previously-crowded OF/DH competition, as well as freeing up some DH AB for OAK's red-hot catching tandem of John Jaso and Derek Norris. The situation here remains fluid and wholly dependent on both the duration of the injuries and everyone's near-term production.

In other A's injury news, Scott Sizemore (2B, OAK) re-tore his ACL this past week, knocking him out for the season and continuing the OAK 2B carousel. For now, Sizemore's roster spot and AB vs. RHP will be inherited by light-hitting Andy Parrino (SS/2B) who should platoon with primary Eric Sogard (2B, OAK) over the near-term, at least until Adam Rosales (2B, OAK) returns later this month from a minor league rehab stint. 

Jemile Weeks (2B, OAK) has good early numbers at AAA-Sacramento—.333 BA, 4/0 SB/CS, and 6/8 BB/K over 42 AB entering Sunday—and remains in the 2B equation, particularly given his pedigree relative to the aforementioned three names. But Weeks' notable 2012 disaster, the potential of Grant Green being a late-season factor, and recent talk in OAK of moving Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS, OAK) to 2B upon his return from the DL all keep the OAK AB here almost impossible to project.

 

Texas Rangers

Following his move to the DL with a lower back strain early last week, Matt Harrison (LHP, TEX) has since under gone two epidural injections, suggesting that he may not be activated when first eligible. In the meantime, his roster and rotation replacement Justin Grimm (RHP, TEX) was pretty ineffective—5 hits, 3 bb, 2 runs—over 4 IP in his first start vs. SEA. With the even more inexperienced Nick Tepesch (RHP, TEX) already attempting to hold down the #5 rotation spot in advance of Colby Lewis' projected late-May/early-June return, the Rangers are notably exposed at the back of their rotation, with no obvious alternatives in sight.

As we projected here several weeks ago, Julio Borbon (OF, TEX) was finally designated for assignment last week, and other MLB clubs are reportedly already kicking the tires. His career 86% ct%, 40/13 SB/CS and .283 BA over 685 MLB AB gives him a good shot to be with another organization by the end of the week—and worth a reserve spot for fantasy owners wishing to speculate on speed-and-contact driven production.

 

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners didn't escape the AL West injury plague, as Michael Saunders (OF, SEA) lost a battle with an OF wall and ended up on the DL with a shoulder sprain. His roster replacement Endy Chavez (OF, SEA) has had a long and occasionally productive career coming off the benchas he did in 2011, when his speed and an inflated h% fueled a .301 BA and 10 SB in 256 AB. But now at age 35 and coming off an injury-plagued 2012 (.203 BA, 3 SB, 87 Spd in 158 AB), his opportunity and production are questionable.

Nagging injuries to Franklin Gutierrez (groin) and Michael Morse (pinky finger) gave Chavez three consecutive starts through Sunday, in which he went 3-for-12 with zero counting stats. But Morse is expected back any day, and SEA still prefers Raul Ibanez as its primary left-handed OF off the bench. Another fluid playing time situation dependent on health going forward.

The Mariners were able to avoid starting the service time clock of their minor league pitchers by acquiring 35-year-old stopgap Aaron Harang (RHP, SEA) last week from COL. Harang takes over the rotation spot of Blake Beavan (RHP, SEA), who moves to the bullpen. He's a better option than Beavan, but in spite of a sub-4 2012 ERA with the Dodgers, that 4.96 xERA and three years of plunging Cmd1.5 last yearsay that Harang is a huge risk in the AL and new offense-friendly Safeco Field. And if inexperienced Brandon Maurer is unable to hang on to his rotation spot, more Mariners creativity may be necessary soon.

 

Houston Astros

As we noted in this space just prior to Opening Day, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Marwin Gonzalez (SS, HOU) steal AB from mediocre Ronnie Cedeno (SS, HOU)—which he has done recently, as suggested by comments from manager Bo Porter. Gonzalez has surprised with a double, 2 HR, 4 BB and a .333 BA over his first 24 AB, something we can't expect to continue in light of an offensive history that shows nothing but empty contact. Still, he's just 24 years old, and he's already worked himself into at least a job-share with Cedeno, suggesting that he'll continue to get opportunity going forward. The next HOU SS gem is Carlos Correa (SS, HOU), who is a long way off in Low-A ball.

Another Astro who has won more playing time recently is J.D. Martinez (DH/OF), due to a modest .275 BA (8-for-29) over his most recent eight games through Sunday. But  a combined 5-for-47 performance—and 34 strikeouts—through the same day from Rick Ankiel (OF, HOU) and Brett Wallace (1B, HOU) has had something to do with it, too. OF/DH time remains tough to project in HOU, particularly with Fernando Martinez (OF, HOU) now on a rehab stint and out of minor league options. But while JD Martinez doesn't have quite the power of his teammates and could eventually return to Triple-A Oklahoma City, he doesn't struggle with his contact as often as the other OF/DH options. And in HOU these days, whoever hits the ball will play. Stay tuned.

Not to be left out of the injury parade, HOU announced over the weekend that minor leaguer SP John Ely (RHP, HOU) would undergo Tommy John surgery and be lost for the remainder of 2013. We'd previously tabbed Ely behind Jordan Lyles as the next Astro minor leaguer likely to get a rotation shot, but owners seeking in-season pitching help should look elsewhere now.


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