DIVISIONAL OUTLOOK: AL West—Rangers ponder Profar, pitching

Texas Rangers

Newly-promoted uber-prospect Jurickson Profar (2B, TEX) will share playing time at 2B with Leury Garcia (IF, TEX) for as long as Iong as Ian Kinsler (intercostal strain) remains on the DL, says manager Ron Washington. And Profar's position, pedigree—see his Monday Call-Ups report—and recent 17-for-41 hot streak make him attractive even as a 20-year-old rookie. But the interesting question is what happens afterward, particularly if Profar can carry over his most recent Triple-A outburst and Rangers need his offense. The Rangers have discussed various position moves but there's just no obvious crack in the starting lineup, which makes a trade or another injury Profar's best shot at staying in Arlington.

Barring the Rangers giving Profar a crash course in CF in the middle of a contending season (highly unlikely), their most expendable player appears to be be David Murphy (OF, TEX). Entering Monday's games, Murphy owns average power, a .215 BA through May, a surprising 0/3 SB/SBA,, and once again looks like a platoon player after an outlier 2012 vs. LHP. Murphy is also in his walk year, which could make it easier for TEX to cut bait early. But Murphy has suffered from a depressed h%, and a May surge has seen him put up a .272 BA along with 3 of his 5 HR. His history of steady production vs. RHP make Murphy's marginalization or trade in favor of Profar nothing to bet on.

In addition, an already-thin Rangers rotation became thinner when Alexi Ogando landed on the 15-day DL with biceps tendinitis. An MRI showed no structural damage, offering a hopeful prognosis of rest and a quick return—but of course this can change quickly. As noted here in late April when the Rangers rotation began to look suspect, converted reliever Josh Lindblom (RHP, TEX) was impressive early as a member of the AAA-Round Rock rotation. Lindblom was rewarded with Monday's start vs. OAK.

An SP in college and earlier in his minor league career, Lindblom compiled a 3.68 ERA and an 8.9 Dom over 100 IP with LA and PHI in 2011-12—all in relief. But the combination of a 4.4 Ctl and 1.6 hr/9 in 2012 coupled with a poor spring sent him to the minors, where he was moved back to the rotation. Lindblom has sacrificed some dominance (6.9 Dom) in his 43 IP at Triple-A, but he's compensated with a 2.3 Ctl, fewer flyballs and an 0.6 hr/9. The HR improvement and a 2.08 ERA are particularly impressive in the PCL.

Following what has been reported as a minor bout with triceps tendinitis, rehabbing Colby Lewis pitched Monday, and the results were less than stellar; Lewis himself was quoted afterwards as saying he thought his velocity would be better. A decent showing by Lindblom could keep him in Arlington for at least a couple of weeks, and immediately put him in rotation competition with interesting-but-inconsistent rookies Justin Grimm (RHP, TEX) and Nick Tepesch RHP, TEX) for the #5 spot once the frontliners return. But expect most or all of these names to be mentioned in trade talks as the Rangers begin to scope out the experienced/available SP market in June.

 

Oakland Athletics

Brett Anderson's persistent ankle pain was finally diagnosed as a stress fracture in his foot, which will keep him on the DL for at least another month. Anderson's extended shelving gives a little more rope to Dan Straily (RHP, OAK), who has now allowed 19 runs in his last 19.1 IP over four starts since his recent promotion—a stretch in which he has been unable to complete six innings even once. Straily's control is becoming a serious issue, underscored by two HPBs in his last outing on May 15, and 11 BB over his last 14.2 IP covering three starts. Particularly with the A's now sputtering in May, Straily remains a likely demotion if he can't turn this around over the next start or two.

As we first noted last week, the best bet to replace Straily remains Sonny Gray (RHP, OAK), a legitimate prospect with mid-rotation upside. Gray is currently impressing in the offense-happy PCL with a 2.47 ERA, zero HR allowed, and a 3:2 GB:FB ratio over his first 44 IP—prompting a detailed WatchList write-up this past weekend. Given Anderson's ongoing physical woes, Straily's and Jarrod Parker's struggles, and the likelihood of another partial-season performance from 40-year-old Bartolo Colon (7.17 ERA over his last four starts entering Monday), Gray should get a real rotation shot at some point this season.  

 

Seattle Mariners

Justin Smoak (1B, SEA) finally came alive, going 6-for-15 with his second HR over his last four games entering Monday. But even with his BA at a season-high .254, the switch-hitting Smoak remains virtually helpless vs. LHP, against whom just six hits (one xBH) over 40 AB. Kendrys Morales (1B/DH)—.275/.373/.490 with 3 HR in 51 AB vs. LHP—took over at 1B for both SEA starts vs. lefties last week, a configuration that could could firm up in light of Franklin Gutierrez' imminent DL return. A terrific 16% bb% is keeping him afloat, but Smoak will have to continue his uptick and produce more power soon to keep what now appears to be mostly a platoon role.

Resurgent Raul Ibanez (OF/DH, SEA) was one recipient of Morales' vacated DH AB, and in fact started six straight games, something he hadn't done since early April. Following a dreadful April slump (.158 BA, 2 HR in 57 AB) that left him on the bench most nights, the 41-year-old Ibanez suddenly caught fire over the past week with 8 hits that included 5 HR, raising his BA to .226. Ibanez' h% remains depressed, but the small sample power output (186 PX) says he's still useful. He should see plenty of AB vs. RHP over the next few months, at least until the Mariners want to take a look at younger players nearer the end of the season.

 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Joe Blanton (RHP, LAA) extended his MLB lead in hits allowed Saturday with 4.1 IP of 11 hit / 4 run ball vs. CHW— an effort that kept him winless and left his ERA at 6.62 for the season. A plus for Blanton is that it was the third consecutive game in which he has struck out 6 or more hitters, giving him 19 Ks in his last 15.2 IP. But the fact that Blanton has an 8+ ERA over this period and been unable to finish 5 innings in two of these starts is the bottom line. Essentially it's Blanton being Blanton again; he's getting plenty of Ks but has been far too hittable. And in spite of their two-year contractual commitment to him,  the Angels aren't likely to put up with it much longer without giving Blanton a timeout, particularly as the pitching staff gets healthier. 

The logical replacements for Blanton are Garrett Richards (RHP, LAA) and Jerome Williams (RHP, LAA), who currently occupies Weaver's rotation spot. While producing a nice bottom-line effort in both long-relief and as an SP (3.05 ERA) thus far, Williams isn't viewed as a long-term starting solution—and his 4.35 xERA and marginal Dom suggest why. The talented Richards had shown flashes prior to being moved to the pen as a bridge to closer Frieri, but has been terrible in his inconsistent relief appearances (7 runs, 3/4 K/BB over 7 IP). Tough to predict which direction scuffling LAA might take in the short-term, but with Sean Burnett and Kevin Jepsen expected back this week, and both Ryan Madson and Jered Weaver expected back in early June, Blanton's rope is growing shorter.

 

Houston Astros 

Unlike the previous three weeks, it was a relatively calm seven days roster-and-lineup-wise in HOU. Manager Bo Porter formerly announced that Robbie Grossman (OF, HOU),  Jimmy Paredes and J.D. Martinez would be his starting OF on most nights—and he's mostly kept his word without getting much inspiration to date. Grossman continues to look anemic at the top of the order, with a 13% bb% not close to compensating for a .200/.219 BA/xBA combo and a 56 PX. Paredes has been just 5-for-34 since his call-up, with just two BB and a 62% ct% speaking to his issues.

In spite of a .234 BA, Martinez hints at the most promise, thanks to a .255 xBA and a 153 PX over 77 AB. But it's a low bar in HOU, and Martinez' issues are seen in a 4% bb% and 73% ct%. Reserve Brandon Barnes (OF, HOU) has a 10% bb%, a 114 PX, and the best BA (.317) of all the HOU OFs. But he's been aided by a 45% h%, and at age 27, his journeyman status hurts his PT status on a team dedicated to rebuilding. Still, expect the starting OF merry-go-round to begin changing again, likely when Justin Maxwell returns from the DL near the end of the month.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.