An Influx of Youth

**ORIGINAL POSTED DATE 8/03/12**

If you have looked at the American League West or the American League Wildcard Standings in the past week, you may have noticed that not only are the Texas Rangers in first place, but the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels are not far behind. And to top it off, both Oakland and Los Angeles are leading the Wildcard race for the AL.  
We all thought, or most of us thought, that the AL West would be a two horse race between the Rangers and Angels. Not many expected Oakland to be second in the division at this point in the season, and let alone only 4 ½ games back of Texas. Both the Rangers and the Angels have big power hitters, decent starting pitching and both have really good defenses….most of the time. Texas is 5th in the AL in Fielding Percentage, while Los Angeles is 7th.

What we didn’t know is that the Athletics would be 10th in the league in fielding, and 1st in Team ERA. Oakland doesn’t have the power that Texas and Los Angeles does, but they have pitching and timely hitting, especially home runs. It seemed during Oakland’s winning streak, that they hit a home rune when they needed it, and walked off about every night. This obviously is the perception and not the reality, but they had timely hits on a consistent basis during that run as well as terrific pitching on most nights. So why is the American League West such a close race? Other than the obvious, which is power, pitching, defense, etc., is the amount of youth these teams have, and they are not afraid to use these kids.

The Texas Rangers have a loaded farm system. A farm system that most other MLB teams would love to have. From top to bottom there are really good prospects, some are raw and some are polished enough to see Arlington in the very near future, or yesterday for that matter. They also have players that are already here in Elvis Andrus (23), Mike Olt (23 years old), Derek Holland (25), Michael Kirkman (25), Robbie Ross (23), Yu Darvish (25) and Tanner Scheppers (25). Also Martin Perez (21) and Justin Grimm (23) have made spot starts and have impressed for their age and experience level, and Jurickson Profar (19) waiting in the wings. The mix of veteran leadership and youngsters makes for a solid foundation in Arlington, and if you are a Rangers’ fan, there is a lot to look forward to in the very near future, as most of you know.

The Los Angeles Angels as we all know have 2 great young players in Mike Trout (20) who is leading the world in everything right now and Mark Trumbo (26). Nobody needs a scouting report on these guys, as we all know too well what they can do.  They also have Peter Bourjos (25) a speedster, who hit .293 in five years in the Minors with only 14 errors in the field. In 2011, Bourjos played in 147 games for LA, hit a solid .271, with 11 triples and 12 homeruns. He had a bWAR of 4.8, stole 22 bases, but struck out 124 times for a rate of 22.5% which is very high for a guy who is not a power hitter. This year with Trout on the scene, Bourjos has had a down year and could be a nice trade piece for the Angels in the near future. On the farm the Angels traded away highly thought of prospect SS Jean Segura in the Greinke deal, and their farm is somewhat bare except for two very young players in 3B Kaleb Cowart and 1B CJ Cron, who both have power potential.

The Oakland Athletics active roster is loaded with young players such as Ryan Cook (25), Sean Doolittle (25), AJ Griffin (24), Tommy Milone (25), Jordan Norberto (25), Jarrod Parker (23), Dan Straily* (23), Chris Carter (25), Jemile Weeks (25), and Josh Reddick (25), and Yoenis Cespedes (26). The A’s have aging players in other spots on their roster, but they are in no way “old” as a team, as they have six total players age 30 or older. This is a team Billy Beane built by trading away Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzales to stock his major League roster and farm system with a bunch of talent from around the league. The Oakland farm is stocked with high ceiling guys, who could see O.co Stadium in a few years, such as Sonny Gray a RHP with an impressive fastball and a solid curve, and Michael Choice, a Grand Prairie native, who is a high strike out by high power guy.
* A note on Dan Straily: He leads all of professional baseball with 175 strike outs in 138 1/3 innings in the minors.

The Seattle Mariners are having a rough year. By rough I mean they are at or near the bottom in the American League in almost every statistical category offensively. However, the Mariners are near the top or in the middle of the pack in the AL in pitching categories, statistically speaking. They can pitch, but they are a struggling offensive team right now. The good news for the Seattle club is that most of their pitchers are young and talented kids like Blake Beavan (23), Carter Capps (22), Lucas Luetge (25), Steven Pryor (23), and let’s not forget King Felix is only (26). As far as position players, they have a few young guys, who may or may not work out in the end for them. Kyle Seager (24), Dustin Ackley (24), Michael Saunders (25) and Jesus Montero (22) have all had their struggles this year. The good news for Seattle is their farm system which is loaded with pitchers who project out as #1 or #2 starters. Three of their top arms are Taijuan Walker who has #1 type stuff, and LHP’s Danny Hultzen and James Paxton both project as #2 starters. As far as position players Seattle has a few solid minor leaguers that can possibly make the jump. The Mariners are in a good spot because they have a few pieces they could use in a trade to help bolster the Major League Roster.

The Houston Astros begin play in the American League West in 2013. Lets be honest, their Major League roster is abysmal as they are 35-71, 29 ½ games out of first place and 25 ½ games out of the National League Wildcard race. The Houston roster is bare, save for Jose Altuve (22) who has been the lone bright spot offensively for the Astros. Jed Lowrie leads the team in home runs with 14, but is only hitting .253 with 36 RBI’s. JD Martinez leads Houston with 53 RBI’s, however he has more strike outs than hits (83-82). The Astros are going to struggle for a few years and their front office knows it, however, they are making changes and bringing in young talent with some midseason trades in 2011 and 2012. On the farm, Houston has some talented players in the likes of Jonathan Singleton a big left handed bat who should hit for average and is a high OBP guy. Also on this list is Jarred Cosart who is a hard throwing right hander with electric stuff, but can’t seem to shake the injury bug. If Cosart can remain healthy, he’ll most likely be in Houston for 2013. And finally the Astros have George Springer, who is a high average, high power kid, who is in High-A  Lancaster in the California League. If the Astros develop the right guys, and pull off the right deals, they could be much better in 2014 and beyond.

As you can see the AL West is loaded with young talent both at the Major League level, but there are some plus-tool guys in each teams farm system. The AL East has gotten a lot of pub over the years, some deserved, but not so deserved. What we forget is that teams like Tampa Bay, Boston and the Yankees did a great job of developing young players over the years, which is exactly what the teams in the AL West are doing now. If the young players I mentioned earlier work out for each team, then in 2014, 2015 and many years beyond that, we may truly call the American League West…..”The Wild Wild West.” 

Patrick Despain is the Editor for ShutDownInning.com. He can be reached at Patrick.Despain@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @ShutDownInning
Patrick Despain
Patrick is a member of the IBWAA and creator of Shutdown Inning. He was raised him Arlington, Texas and grew up watching games on HSE and listening to Eric Nadel and Mark Holtz on the radio. He is a long time Rangers fan and never achieved his dream of being a bat boy. He know lives in Georgia with dreams of a Texas return.

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