MLB Baseball Preview 2013: National League West
Our season preview will get your geared up for the upcoming season as we rundown each division covering the ins and outs of all 30 teams.
Out in the West, the Dodgers grabbed all the headlines with their free-spending ways, but they will have trouble steamrolling the division as the defending World Series Champs and even the Arizona Diamondbacks look to make their lives difficult all summer long. On the plus side, all three contenders should have one of baseball’s absolute worst teams to pick on in the Colorado Rockies.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Strength: Can I pick bank account? That’s probably the answer, but for their 25-man roster it is the rotation. The depth is incredible, especially once healthy, as they will run eight deep at that time with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-jin Ryu, Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, and Aaron Harang. Now, a clean bill of health will likely mean a trade but it’s always the best kind of depth to have on a team.
Weakness: For as much as they have spent on this behemoth, their infield is pretty terrible outside of Adrian Gonzalez at first base. Part of that is the Hanley Ramirez injury, but even if you slot him in at short, you are still left with Mark Ellis at second and Luis Cruz at third. Every team has a hole or two, but you wouldn’t expect such black holes on team with a payroll around $230 million dollars. I would expect one of those areas, likely third base, to be addressed with that pitching depth trade discussed earlier.
Player/Pitcher on the Rise: Usually this refers to guys on the rise who haven’t hit that star-level yet, but for some teams it is a guy returning to that level. For the Dodgers, it is pitcher Josh Beckett. I included him in my NL Bold Predictions where I suggested he would be LA’s second-best pitcher behind Kershaw. He has been someone who has been prone to the longball throughout his career, but if he can limit the damage from them and even cut down the total under 20 for the first time since 2008, then he will be a force.
Player/Pitcher on the Decline: Andre Ethier’s decaying bat against lefties puts such a burden on him to dominate righties that the margin for error keeps thinning. He’s been an elite hitter against righties for the bulk of his career, but he is essentially a platoon player and any slip up against righties really cuts into the value of their #5 hitter.
Prospect to Watch: Yasiel Puig had a ridiculous Spring Training (.517/.500/.828) with 10 extra-base hits out of his 30 total hits. In fact, he was so good that there was some speculation of him making the club out of the Cactus League. Alas, the reality is that he has a whopping 21 pro games peaking at High-A and there is just no way he is ready. He is a free-swinger who had a great run in March, but he’d have been exposed badly had he been brought to the majors. Three or four months of raking some Double-A and even Triple-A pitching might make him worth calling up, but making the decision based on Spring Training would’ve been faulty.
Prediction: 88-74, NL West Champions
Strength: Like the Dodgers, this team is loaded pitching with a deep starting five plus capable reinforcements in the minors should they ‘em. They could even get Daniel Hudson back in late-summer as he battles back from Tommy John surgery. Of their top five, only Brandon McCarthy has shown a propensity to miss time so seeing him top 150 innings would be a surprise. Prospects Tyler Skaggs and Randall Delgado are on hand in Triple-A should that scenario play out. Meanwhile Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, and Patrick Corbin give them a very strong other four.
Weakness: There isn’t a glaring weakness on this ballclub so despite how poor their offseason was (they lost long-term on the Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer trades), they are still setup to contend in the NL West this year. Of the three main components – lineup, rotation, bullpen – the ‘pen is probably the weakest, but JJ Putz has stayed healthy for three straight seasons while David Hernandez is excellent as a setup guy and Heath Bell might even rebound a bit to be a net-positive.
Player/Pitcher on the Rise: Paul Goldschmidt is a player who has plenty of ceiling left to attain and I think he starts in earnest this year. The D’Backs are now bought in fully on Goldy as well handing him a five-year, $32 million dollar extension over the weekend. As with Belt, Goldy made my NL Bold Predictions as I tabbed him for a 35-homer season, which would eclipse last year’s total by 15.
Player/Pitcher on the Decline: Jason Kubel had an excellent debut with the D’Backs last year due in part to his career-best 736 OPS against lefties while also surging against righties for the first time in three years to post an 888 OPS. I think he will slide back a little closer toward a league-average asset as opposed to the stud he was last year.
Prospect to Watch: Adam Eaton was set to break camp with the club before succumbing to an elbow injury late in Spring Training sidelining him for a few weeks. The 24-year old sparkplug does a little bit of everything while speed is his primary tool (44 SB in AA-AAA last year). Once both he and newly signed Cody Ross are back, the team will have a playing time crunch in the outfield, but Eaton stands to get a real shot at garnering the bulk of the time in centerfield.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Strength: Even if Tim Lincecum’s down season carries over to 2013, their pitching staff is still the overwhelming strength of the club. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner still give the Giants a pair of top-notch aces while Ryan Vogelsong showed that his 2011 was no fluke with a great follow up. Barry Zito isn’t someone you want on your fantasy team, but he can be an adequate fifth starter for a major league club. So it really hinges on Lincecum and he will decide whether their rotation is very good or unquestionably elite.
Weakness: The lineup is better than it was during their first World Series run especially since having All-World Catcher Buster Posey means any lineup can only be so bad, but it’s still the team weakness as his supporting cast is bit lacking outside of Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, and Brandon Belt. They need repeats out of Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.
Player/Pitcher on the Rise: Speaking of Belt, his inclusion as a positive piece of the supporting cast might be a bit surprising when you consider he hit just seven home runs as a first baseman, but his .275/.360/.421 line was strong and he made up for the lack of homers with six triples and 27 doubles. The team believes – and I agree – that he can take a step forward. Some foresee a power surge, but I think he will pile up the hits, regardless of type.
Player/Pitcher on the Decline: Marco Scutaro some played well below average ball for 95 games in the most hitter-friendly environment in baseball (Coors Field) only to join the Giants – and their pitcher-friendly stadium – and absolutely takeoff. He hit .362 in 268 plate appearances and carried it into the playoffs hitting .328 along with a 14-for028 showing in the NLCS. I think he will be fine, just not elite.
Prospect to Watch: Gary Brown built his prospect status with a huge 2011 season in the Cal League – known for inflating offense – only to fall back last year bringing his prospect status with him. He still has a major league future, possibly as early as mid-2013, but the future isn’t as bright as some assumed after his big 2011.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Strength: While this team lacks star power anywhere, they have depth everywhere. Of course, if the backups were that good, they would be starting. It all adds up to a host of solid, if unspectacular players. Every team preaches on how their April 1st 25-man roster won’t mirror their October 1st one, but no team may personify better than San Diego who should have several starters get a shot in their rotation as they look for the ideal quintet.
Weakness: In fact, the Opening Day rotation is definitely their biggest weakness which is why they have an eye toward the youthful reinforcements who should be ready at various points this late-spring and summer. If they can get anything of note out of guys like Eric Stults and Jason Marquis, then they hope to trade them for something as they don’t have a ton of use for 34 and 33 year old starting pitchers.
Player/Pitcher on the Rise: Yonder Alonso was the co-centerpiece in the Mat Latos deal, along with catcher Yasmani Grandal, and with Grandal out 50 games due to a PED suspension, it is time for Alonso to take a step forward and be the offensive force he was projected to be in the minors.
Player/Pitcher on the Decline: Though just 29 and still capable of missing plenty of bats, Edinson Volquez just can’t be trusted outside the most spacious ballparks in the league. To wit, he had a 2.95 ERA at home last year while posting a terrible 5.60 ERA on the road.
Prospect to Watch: Robbie Erlin is a lefty arm in the minors who can come up be an impact guy for them in the rotation. He is a control artist whose flyball lean won’t hurt nearly as much in the spacious Petco Park meanwhile his command of some solid, though not overpowering stuff allows him to miss his fair share of bats, too.
Strength: Hey, at least they have some star power. As long as Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy all year, the team should be fun at the dish. Dexter Fowler and Wilin Rosario aren’t at the level of the other two, but they are a pair of emerging bats who help make the team dangerous on any given night. Unfortunately, this team still has a devastating split in their OPS home and away and the pitching is just… well…
Weakness: …it’s awful. There are some potential bright spots, but on the whole it is a significant negative. The backend of their bullpen isn’t too bad with Wilton Lopez, Matt Belisle, and Rex Brothers leading into closer Rafael Betancourt. With another big year, Betancourt should be a prime candidate as the 38-year old won’t be a part of Colorado’s next good team.
Player/Pitcher on the Rise: Fowler had a breakthrough last year with a career-best 863 OPS, but there is another level here if he can get better on the road. His stark 984/720 OPS home and road split made the growth a bit artificial and Coors-inflated, but this kid has star-level talent.
Player/Pitcher on the Decline: He only threw 54 innings, but Jon Garland managed just a 4.33 ERA with the Dodgers last year and now he will throw half of his games in the offensively-charged Coors Field. This could will get ugly. And fast.
Prospect to Watch: Their best prospects are far away, but Nolan Arenado is someone they thought might contribute last year despite the fact that he was just entering Double-A. After a modest year there, he is poised to hit Triple-A and eventually make the big leagues this summer. No one is blocking him at third base so the door is open for him to walk through.