DIVISIONAL OUTLOOK: AL West—SEA begins makeover

Seattle Mariners

The best-case pre-season scenario for SEA was that Jesus Montero (C/DH, SEA) would hit and develop enough defensively to where he could buy some development time for catcher-of-the-future Mike Zunino (C, SEA). Montero's dismal performance both offensively—3 HR, 64 PX, .208/.228 BA/xBA over 101 AB —and defensively finally dashed those hopes this past week, as Montero was demoted to AAA-Tacoma, where per SEA GM Jack Zduriencik, "he'll be playing a lot of 1B," while Zunino continues to develop at the C spot.

Montero can earn a recall just by re-tapping into some of his immense power potential, since SEA appears to have finally given up on him as a catching option. With Zunino also scuffling—.232 BA, 66% ct% over 138 AB—Jesus Sucre (C, SEA) has been promoted to share the Mariner C duties with Kelly Shoppach. Sucre was hitting a career-high .302 in the hitter-friendly PCL at the time of his promotion, but his history shows zero power and little to recommend offensively. An extensive skills profile on Sucre can be found in Call-Ups.

The change at catcher looks to be the first of several moves over the next few weeks for the Mariners, who snapped an eight-game losing streak this past weekend. The SEA offense  was next-to-last in AL runs scored through Sunday, while none the #3-5 rotation occupants have sub-six ERAs. Early Monday, there were reports that red-hot Nick Franklin's (SS/2B, SEA) call-up was imminent, perhaps just ahead of the Super Two arbitration date.

Franklin was having his way with PCL pitching at a .324/.440/.472 clip that included an impressive 30/20 BB/K and 7/0 SB/CS over 142 AB. SEA's struggles and Franklin's pedigree say he will be up to play, though where isn't yet a foregone conclusion.  Franklin has logged innings at both SS and 2B at Triple-A this season, and SEA has gotten little from either spot. Most observers have Franklin pegged longer-term at 2B, where incumbent Dustin Ackley (2B, SEA) currently has a .205/.262/.250 line over 156 AB. Ackley's pedestrian BPIs—7% bb%, 32 PX, .223 xBA—suggest that he is also in danger of a demotion.

The rotation replacements aren't as immediately obvious, thanks primarily to minor league injuries. Top prospect Danny Hultzen (LHP, SEA) is just beginning to throw again following almost a month off due to a strained rotator cuff. Erasmo Ramirez (RHP, SEA) makes his season debut in Double-A on Tuesday after a triceps problem ended his spring training hopes of breaking camp with the big club.

James Paxton's (LHP, SEA) 9.8 Dom speaks to his stuff, but he remains inconsistent, as his 5.01 ERA and 3.9 Ctl at AAA-Tacoma suggests. Names like Hector Noesi (RHP, SEA) and Jeremy Bonderman (RHP, SEA) could provide a bridge and buy some time for the above names, but they just aren't that interesting skills-wise either in the near-term or over the long haul. Still, the imminent tear-down in SEA will keep us looking for opportunities.

 

Houston Astros

Amidst a dreadful season and all the early roster /lineup shuffling, HOU is beginning to see some glimmers of hope, starting at catcher. A healthy Jason Castro (C, HOU) has built on the power he showed at the end of 2012, his 6 HR and 150 PX entering Sunday putting him on pace for a fine season. Castro's historical double-digit walk rate isn't quite there yet, but it's climbing at 8% thus far in May. Backup Carlos Corporan is chipping with a .309/.356/.527 line and 3 HR in just 55 AB, at least partially supported by a .286 xBA and a 145 PX. This performance has increased Corporan's playing time, and manager Bo Porter has given Castro some rest at DH while getting both bats into the lineup. Barring injury or trade to shore up other roster deficiencies, neither catcher looks to be out of a job any time soon.

JD Martinez's (OF/DH, HOU) season began with a demotion to Triple-A, followed by a DL stint (knee injury) just a couple of weeks after getting the MLB recall. But in between and particularly in May, Martinez has flashed some impressive power, including a 164 PX, 5 HR and 14 xBH over his first 99 AB through Sunday. The small sample tempers our excitement, particularly since MLB BPIs have never been particularly impressive—and even his current power-fueled .284 xBA is undermined somewhat by a 5% bb%, 0.22 Eye and a 76% ct%.

But keep in mind that Martinez is still in growth mode at age 25. His rushed 2011 MLB debut came on the heels of a partial-season Double-A breakthrough—.338/.414/.546 in .317 AB—before he'd seen any Triple-A time. Whether his 2013 start is the beginning of a real MLB step up remains to be seen, but Martinez is at least doing enough now to hold down regular playing time and our interest.

No one has predicted stardom for defense-first Matt Dominguez (3B, HOU) recently, but he's holding his own with 7 HR and a .253/.265 BA/xBA combo through 166 AB. The 103 PX following up a 100 PX from 2012 says that Dominguez still has just average power, and his 0.21 Eye suggests that his BA has little upside. He appears to be taking advantage of Minute Maid Park, which inflates HR to RHB by 7% and is where Dominguez has hit six of his HR. In fact, Dominguez is currently showing huge home/away splits, marked by a .317/.349/.585 mark in HOU and total anemia on the road. Still, if he maintains his current offensive pace, Dominguez' glove, age, cost and HOU's lack of high-minors 3B help project to keep him in AB for the next few seasons.

 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

After missing a week in April and most of May due to a couple of long and somewhat mysterious stints on the bereavement list, Tommy Hanson (RHP, LAA) is expected to return this week for a start against the Dodgers. If it happens, the Angels will be able to avoid trotting out another non-rosterable pitcher—see Barry Enright, Michael Roth, Billy Bucker—for the #5 slot after using 10 SPs already before June. But in spite of a 3.86 ERA in his first 28 IP, Hanson hasn't shown skills much better than any of these names (4.84 xERA, 1.9 Cmd, 1.9 hr/9 and declining fastball). His rotation spot doesn't look particularly secure over the long haul.

Better news for LAA is that Jered Weaver (RHP, LAA) is also expected to pitch against LA this week. Weaver has been out since his second start of the season after a fracture in his non-pitching elbow. Despite declining Dom and fastball velocity, Weaver's Cmd and change-up keep him a near-ace until further notice—and his return likely pushes Jerome Williams (RHP, LAA) back to the bullpen. Williams has pitched more than credibly as a starter (60/20 PQS-DOM%/DIS%), and will likely be on call should Hanson or struggling Joe Blanton need a time out.

The bullpen's deployment should continue to be monitored, particularly with Ryan Madson's (RHP, LAA) rehab indefinitely on hold due to recurring elbow soreness. Following a terrific start to May, Ernesto Frieri (RHP, LAA) has resumed his Jekyll-and-Hyde high-wire routine. Over his most recent four outings through Sunday, Frieri coughed up 5 BB, a HR and 4 earned runs in 4.1 IP, while managing to pick up 3 saves. But the Angels had three-run leads in all of these contests, and Frieri's shaky performances allowed both Robert Coello (RHP, LAA) and Garrett Richards (RHP, LAA) to get their first saves of the season. Frieri remains the primary closer, but manager Mike Scioscia has shown little hesitation to pull him when things get tight. We expect this to continue as the season progresses.

 

Texas Rangers

With only two pre-season starters currently active, the TEX rotation watch continues. Josh Lindblom (RHP, TEX) wasn't particularly impressive in his 4.2 IP debut vs. OAK this past week, and was promptly returned to Triple-A. Fellow call-up Ross Wolf (RHP, TEX) did better, limiting the A's to one run in 5 IP, but the club announced afterward that he'll pitch out of the pen over the near-term. Barring more injuries, neither pitcher appears to have a future in the Rangers rotation.

The club also announced that Martin Perez (LHP, TEX) would be recalled to start Monday. Perez is still rounding into shape after an early-season comebacker broke his wrist. But Perez' most recent Triple-A start—7 IP, 0 runs, 7/0 K/BB—suggests that he's ready for another MLB shot. Still, with Alexi Ogando (RHP, TEX) on track for an early June return and both Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch holding up reasonably well in the #4 and #5 spots, Perez would have to leave a serious impression and get some help to turn this opportunity into anything more than a one-and-done.

The rotation wild card is Colby Lewis (RHP, TEX), who is rehabbing in Triple-A but not impressing anyone. Lewis has given up 6 ER in 6 IP along with 4 walks and 4 strikeouts in his first two starts. His velocity reportedly topped out at 87 mph, suggesting he needs more time. How TEX will handle Lewis if he doesn't show improvement over his couple of starts is anyone's guess. 

 

Oakland Athletics

The battle for future 2B AB remains the biggest question mark among OAK position players. With current primary incumbents Adam Rosales (SS/2B, OAK) and Eric Sogard (2B, OAK) neither having an BA or xBA above .260, it's not difficult to see a change coming before the All-Star break. The two primary candidates remaining include Jemile Weeks (2B, OAK) who owns a .275/.403/.374 line in Triple-A. Weeks is getting on base and owned a 33/33 BB/K entering Sunday. He's also upped his running game with a 9 SB in 10 attempts. What he hasn't done is drive the ball with any authority—also a primary factor in his dismal .221 BA (441 AB) at OAK in 2012. It's likely the reason he's been in Sacramento through late May.

The other candidate is rookie Grant Green (2B, OAK) whose .285/.353/.425 line in Triple-A suggests that he doesn't control the strike zone quite as well as Weeks, but that he hits the ball with a tad more authority. Which of these two gets the first call may depend on defense, an area in which both can improve. With respect to Green, the Super Two date may be a factor as well, since has yet to see an MLB AB. Given the offensive inflation associated with the PCL, their current numbers suggest that neither Weeks nor Green is a sure bet to generate significant MLB production in 2013.


Click here to subscribe

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