With spring training around the corner, we’re taking a look at a couple of young players for each team that I think will have a larger impact in 2016. We started with the American League East on Tuesday, moved to the AL Central yesterday and will continue to move through division by division. Today we look at AL West…
Carlos Correa, SS – What Correa was able to accomplish as a 20-year old in 99 games last season was simply amazing. The Rookie of the Year hit .279 with 22 doubles, 22 home runs, 68 RBI, 14 steals, and a .857 OPS in that time frame. It will be interesting to see how the league adjusts to Correa (78 k’s in 432 PA) and vice versa, how Correa adjusts to the league. My monies on a full season of Correa with a prediction of Carlos cracking the top 10 for MVP voting in 2016.
Lance McCullers, RHP – Was considering first baseman A.J. Reed for this spot, however like Correa, a full season for McCullers will produce more of an impact. Between Minute Maid Park and McCullers history, I’d expect his ERA to creep back up from a very solid 3.22, however that same history dictates that there won’t be a drop off in his K rate (9.2 in Houston), and if he can lower his walks slightly, than the 1.186 WHIP is very reasonable as well. I think McCullers went unnoticed for a lot of the season, due to the hype around Correa and the Cy Young season from Dallas Keuchel
Los Angeles Angels
Andrew Heaney, LHP – There were definitely some doubters out there after Heaney’s debut at age 23 for Miami, where he was 0-3 with 5.83 ERA and was absolutely rocked in 3 of his 4 starts. A change of scenery in a trade for Dan Haren and the opportunity to work a few things out in the minors before being called up on June 24th last season, allowed for Andrew to quiet down some of doubters. Heaney went on to throw 105.2 innings, making 18 starts, and going 6-4 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.202 WHIP. The major change was a drop in hits per 9 (9.8 to 8.4) and a big drop in HR per 9 from 1.8 to 0.8. To get better, Heaney will have to work on getting righties out more often as they had a .723 OPS off of him and of his 28 walks, 24 were vs. righties, even though it righties were only a third more of the plate appearances. Conversely, the strike out rate is amazing as he struck out lefties 24% of the time vs. righties 15% of the time.
C.J. Cron, 1B – Mike Trout is to easy here, so let’s go with Cron who bounced back nicely last season after being sent to Triple-A in late May last season with a .204 average and a home run to go with 23 k’s in 102 PA’s. Once C.J. was called back up June 6th, he hit .282 with 15 homers, and a .822 OPS for the rest of the season. This year, you’d hope for a breakout power season for Cron at the age of 26 for his size (6’4”), along with the confidence of going in to Spring Training as the main DH. The nice thing about Cron so far, is that his splits are pretty even (.260 vs RHP, .259 vs. LHP), so no need to platoon his bat and he can spell Albert at first when needed.
Sean Manaea, LHP – Oakland is a tough choice as it’s a typical A’s team with veterans on the roster who could conceivably lose their position to a prospect, but most likely not. With that, I’m only going with Manaea as Franklin Barreto seems to inexperience and I can’t bank on Kendal Graveman. Manaea could theoretically make to Oakland this season if injuries occur to the rotation, as he is entering his age 24 season and pitched in Double-A in 2015. Sean will most likely start out in Triple-A, but could impact the pitching staff at some point in 2016. If he does make it to the bigs, expect strong strike out numbers (10.8 per 9 in minors), but also some control issues (3.7 per 9), leading to a higher WHIP (1.270) than expected when looking at his 7.8 hits allowed per 9.
Taijuan Walker, RHP – Walker had an up and down 2015 after eight solid outings in 2014 (2-3, 2.61 ERA), as he finished last season at 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA, and 1.196 WHIP in 169.2 innings. Positive takeaways from 2015 was Walker’s ability to cut his walk rate from 4.3 to 2.1 per 9, which allowed that WHIP to stay under 1.20, and there were some very solid outings where he allowed 2 or fewer runs in 12 starts and 3 or fewer in 19 of those 29 starts. The problem that arises is a spike in hits per 9 which rose to 8.6 from 7.3 and HR per 9 that jumped from .5 to 1.3 per 9 which lead to big innings that hurt Walker in the long run. In those 10 starts not mentioned about (3 runs or fewer), Walker allowed 5 or more runs 6 times, including games where he was tagged for 7 and 9 earned runs early on. I think as Walker develops, with his walk ratio remaining low, we will see that ERA and those big innings/games come down considerably to a pitcher whose ERA will be in the mid-to-high 3’s and a WHIP that stays under that 1.20 line.
There’s no other player on Seattle’s roster or in their Minor League system that I think makes a major impact in 2016.
Joey Gallo, OF/3B – Blocked currently by Adrian Beltre at 3B, Josh Hamilton in LF, and Prince Fielder at DH, Gallo probably starts in the minors, however my bet is on Hamilton getting injured at some point and Gallo being in the Majors once again. Joey offers light tower power, but is a windmill with the bat. A great example is his 2015 season with Texas, Gallo hits 6 homers in 36 games, but bats .204 with 57 k’s in 123 PA (46% K percentage). Luckily, Gallo will be just 22 this season and has plenty of time to figure it out, starting with lefties who he hit just .135 off of in limited time with Texas, and struck out a whopping 23 of 39 plate appearances against them.
Rougned Odor, 2B – I would have love to say Jurickson Profar here, but who knows what he can do after a couple seasons lost to injury. Looking at Odor, the second baseman is heading in to his age 22 season with 2 seasons of 400+ plate appearances already. Odor showed improvement in power last season adding 7 more homers (16), 7 more doubles (21), and a couple more triples (9) while hitting 2 points higher at .261. Strike out and walk rates slightly improved, but again was the extra base hits that jumped up to 41% (vs. 30%) and line drives increased to 23% of the time vs. 19% in 2014. Odor isn’t affected by righty/lefty match-ups and performs considerably better on the road offensively, which is slightly shocking. All signs point to continued improvement in 2016.
Thanks for reading, we’ll be back later next week with the National Leauge