The American League West can put forth a very substantial argument for being the toughest Division in baseball.  No one expected the Oakland Athletics to come out of nowhere and win the crown in the final week of the season of 2012 and by doing so, they have helped make this Division one of the more unpredictable ones in baseball.  The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels are the cream of the crop based off talent and have potential to be top teams in the Majors along with this upstart Oakland team looking to defend their title.

1 - Los Angeles Angels (95-67)

Projected Lineup:

LF - Mike Trout

SS - Erick Aybar

1B - Albert Pujols

RF - Josh Hamilton

DH - Mark Trumbo

2B - Howie Kendrick

3B - Alberto Callaspo

C - Chris Iannetta

CF - Peter Bourjos

Projected Bench:

C - Chris Snyder

IF - Andrew Romine

OF - Kole Calhoun

OF - Vernon Wells

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Jered Weaver

2 - C.J. Wilson

3 - Joe Blanton

4 - Jason Vargas

5 - Tommy Hanson

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Ernesto Frieri

SU - Sean Burnett

SU - Kevin Jepsen

MR - Scott Downs

MR - Garrett Richards

MR - David Carpenter

LR - Jerome Williams

Along with the Detroit Tigers, the Los Angeles Angels were the poster-boys for disappointment for much of the season in 2012.  While Detroit was able to right the ship, the Angels ended up missing the playoffs despite having the most explosive offseason additions in 2011 with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson joining the squad.  Not to mention a rookie phenom in Mike Trout taking the world by storm.  I still don't quite understand how this team played so badly, but I'm ready to call it a fluke and put all my chips on them again.

I 100% believe in Trout and think he again will compete for the MVP while Pujols will not have another atrocious start to his season like he did in 2012.  Mark Trumbo struggled in the second half of the season as he wore down, but still remains as one of the top power hitters in the game at just 27-years old. 

This team will live or die by their pitching as with the addition of Josh Hamilton, their lineup is stacked.  Jered Weaver is a Cy Young candidate and C.J. Wilson was phenomenal for much of the season last year - despite an extended rough patch.  It all depends on how newcomers Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton do.  Hanson has top of the rotation stuff and Vargas has been one of the more underrated pitchers in the American League the past two years.  The rotation was supposed to be stellar in 2012 and it wasn't.  We have the same situation here in 2013. 

Ryan Madson is coming off Tommy John surgery and will likely start the season on the disabled list.  This leaves the closing job to Ernesto Frieri who was top notch in 2012 closing games out for the Angels while fellow set-up man Sean Burnett was one of the better left-handed arms coming out of the bullpen. 

A full season of Mike Trout sparking the offense for guys like Pujols, Hamilton and Trumbo equals World Series contention in my book.

2 - Texas Rangers (89-73)

Projected Starting Lineup:

2B - Ian Kinsler

SS - Elvis Andrus

DH - Lance Berkman

3B - Adrian Beltre

RF - Nelson Cruz

LF - David Murphy

C - A.J. Pierzynski

1B - Mitch Moreland

CF - Leonys Martin

Projected Bench:

C - Geovany Soto

IF/OF - Jeff Baker

IF/OF - Leury Garcia

OF - Craig Gentry

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Matt Harrison

2 - Yu Darvish

3 - Derek Holland

4 - Alexi Ogando

5 - Nicholas Tepesch

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Joe Nathan

SU - Jason Frasor

SU - Josh Lindblom

MR - Robbie Ross

MR - Tanner Scheppers

MR - Michael Kirkman

LR - Derek Lowe

For a few years now, the Texas Rangers have been the elite team in the American League.  They may not have a World Series ring to show for it, but back-to-back AL Pennants is something.  This is going to be a different year for Texas.  They lost their Division lead to the Oakland Athletics on the final day of the season in 2012 and were ousted in the Wild Card game of the playoffs.  Josh Hamilton bolted for the Division rival and Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis are still both recovering from surgeries. 

Yu Darvish has a chance to insert himself into Cy Young consideration and Robert Ross could emerge as one of the better bullpen arms on the team setting up the wily veteran Joe Nathan.  I'm sure plenty of fans will be clamoring to see the top prospect in all of baseball Jurickson Profar back in the bigs, but they may have to be patient.  The Rangers have stated that they have no plans to move Ian Kinsler away from 2B and that means Profar will likely start the season in Triple-A.  When he does get called up, he has all the tools to be in the thick of things for Rookie of the Year. 

Meanwhile, if the Rangers want to make the playoffs in the super competitive American League (I count eight teams that have a legitimate shot at postseason play) guys like Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler will need to step up and be more consistent.  Adrian Beltre is the anchor of the offense now with Hamilton gone but there's still a glaring hole in the lineup.  A.J. Pierzynski provides some pop at the catching position, but hurts the defense at the same time. 

Texas is no longer elite and will have to fight for a playoff spot this year.

3 - Oakland Athletics (84-78)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Coco Crisp

3B - Jed Lowrie

LF - Yoenis Cespedes

1B - Brandon Moss

RF - Josh Reddick

DH - Seth Smith

C - John Jaso

2B - Scott Sizemore

SS - Hiroyuki Nakajima

Projected Bench:

C - Derek Norris

1B - Daric Barton

3B - Josh Donaldson

OF - Chris Young

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Brett Anderson

2 - Jarrod Parker

3 - Tom Milone

4 - A.J. Griffin

5 - Daniel Straily

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Ryan Cook

SU - Sean Doolittle

SU - Pat Neshek

MR - Jordan Norberto

MR - Evan Scribner

MR - Jerry Blevins

LR - Chris Resop

The A's were the talk of the baseball world in 2012 after they completed an improbable run to come back and win the American League West on the last day of the season.  Their fanatic fans became sensations across the Nation as this group of players came together and knocked off the Rangers. 

When you look at the roster, individual players aren't overly impressive.  Yoenis Cespedes was the best rookie not named Mike Trout in baseball last year and everyone else on this team proved that great chemistry and putting forth your best effort day in and day out can still go a long way in baseball. 

The rotation is extremely young and will only get better.  All five guys are in their early-to-mid 20s and have the potential to be above average players.  Grant Balfour flourished down the stretch in the closer role while Ryan Cook put together an impressive season himself.  Balfour will start the season on the DL and Cook will once again have to man the closer's role for the time being.  Sean Doolittle is another guy with "closer stuff" and a stable bullpen with a deep rotation can go a long way in baseball. 

They no longer can sneak up on teams this year, it's the typical case of the hunters becoming the hunted.  I believe Oakland is better suited as the underdog and after a year where they took everybody by storm, a step back is inevitable.

4 - Seattle Mariners (73-89)

Projected Starting Lineup:

RF - Michael Saunders

3B - Kyle Seager

DH - Kendrys Morales

LF - Michael Morse

1B - Justin Smoak

C - Jesus Montero

2B - Dustin Ackley

CF - Franklin Gutierrez

SS - Brendan Ryan

Projected Bench:

C - Kelly Shoppach

IF - Robert Andino

OF - Jason Bay

OF - Raul Ibanez

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Felix Hernadez

2 - Joe Saunders

3 - Hisashi Iwakuma

4 - Blake Beavan

5 - Brandon Maurer

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Tom Wilhelmsen

SU - Carter Capps

SU - Charles Furbush

MR - Stephen Pryor

MR - Oliver Perez

MR - Lucas Luetge

LR - Kameron Loe

With the Seattle Mariners, it all starts with Felix Hernandez.  The highest paid player in baseball is a Cy Young award waiting to happen - even on a bad team like he proved a few years ago.  He's a guy who puts up astounding numbers with amazing stuff and if he were on a halfway decent team, he'd have multiple 20+ win seasons by now. 

The Mariners had an atrocious lineup a year ago ranking towards the bottom of most offensive categories.  They addressed the issue by adding both Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales here for 2013 which should add a little more pop.  It won't be enough to make them contenders, but with the addition of the Houston Astros to the Division, they'll certainly crawl out of the cellar. 

It's still a rebuilding team with nice young players looking to improve.  Dustin Ackley has the makings of a premiere 2B in baseball while Jesus Montero could wind up being one of the better hitting designated hitters if/when he gets moved back there.  The reason I believe he won't be catching for long is because prospect Mike Zunino is biding his time, waiting to get his chance.  He's one of the top hitting prospects in baseball and could see his MLB debut if he manages to force the hand of the Marinrs by tearing it up in the minors. 

Combined with Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan, Tom Wilhelmsen, Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor all getting experience along with prospects like Zunino and Dan Hultzen knocking on the door, I expect Seattle to show vast improvement in 2013 as they look forward to 2014 and beyond.

5 - Houston Astros (49-113)

Projected Starting Lineup:

2B - Jose Altuve

1B - Brett Wallace

DH - Carlos Pena

LF - Chris Carter

RF - Fernando Martinez

CF - Justin Maxwell

C - Jason Castro

SS - Ronny Cedeno

3B - Matt Dominguez

Projected Bench:

C - Carlos Corporan

IF - Marwin Gonzalez

OF - Rick Ankiel

OF - Brandon Barnes

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Bud Norris

2 - Lucas Harrell

3 - Phil Humber

4 - Erik Bedard

5 - Brad Peacock

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Jose Veras

SU - Wesley Wright

SU - Hector Ambriz

MR - Xavier Cedeno

MR - Rhiner Cruz

MR - Josh Fields

LR - Chia-Jen Lo

This time has a chance to be really, really bad - like, historically bad.  The Astros were the worst team in baseball last year and were in the "easier" National League and "easy" Central.  Now, they're in the tough American League West and could be facing a 110 loss season if things go really south. 

They're not even trying to compete with this roster as they try and wait for prospects like Delino Deshields, Jr., Carlos Correa, newly acquired Brad Peacock (who may have solidified the fifth starter spot with his performance in Spring Training this year) and Jonathan Singleton (suspended for the first 50 games due to a drug violation) to develop. 

The rotation is far from stable with guys like Phil Humber and Erik Bedard manning spots, so look for Peacock to get plenty of chances, as well as recently optioned Jordan Lyles to eventually get a shot.  Wouldn't be surprised of Jarred Cosart made his debut in 2013 as Houston looks to see what he has to offer.

Chris Carter was brought in from Oakland and will be thrust into the cleanup spot in the lineup as the once former heralded prospect will try to finally show he has the ability to stick it out in the show.  Absolutely nobody in the bullpen impresses me and that could mean quite a few late game blowups for this very bad team. 

This isn't a rebuilding team that is a few years away from competing - no, the Astros probably won't sniff any semblance of playoff hopes for another decade.


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