The Wild Wild West! The AL West this year is full of intrigue. The Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners return looking to repeat and build on their respective playoff successes. The Angles have the two best players in all of baseball and cannot afford to miss the playoffs again. The Rangers spent big money for the second year in a row, but are they ready to make a playoff run? Finally, while the other four teams are trying to make the playoffs, the A’s might be the worst team in the league. Still, they feature some young talent that could show promise this season.
Prediction: Yordan Alvarez wins the AL Triple Crown
Yordan Alvarez is the best hitter in baseball, for my money. Not to take anything away from players like Aaron Judge and Mike Trout, but Alvarez just looks different. Last year Alvarez posted an insane .306/.406/.613 slash line. He also finished fourth, third, and fifth in batting average, home runs, and RBIs, respectively.
Bear with me a minute while I try to put into perspective just how good of a hitter Yordan Alvarez is. In 2022, he finished second in barrel rate and average exit velocity, right behind Aaron Judge in both. His .329 expected batting average was the highest in baseball. Finally, his hard-hit rate of 59.8% was only behind that of Aaron Judge.
Last year, Judge put up the best season that we have seen from a position player since the steroid era came to an end. As a result, he led baseball in nearly every offensive category, but Alvarez was right behind him. The expected stats show that Alvarez is as capable as anyone of capturing the Triple Crown.
With an uncanny feel for contact combined with generational power, leading the AL in batting average is well within his reach. The RBIs should come with hitting third for one of baseball’s best offenses. There might not be a player who makes hitting look easier than Yordan Alvarez. After Aaron Judge finished just shy of the Triple Crown last year, I think Alvarez gets the job done this year.
Los Angeles Angels
Prediction: Logan O’Hoppe wins the AL Rookie of the Year
The American League is filled with rookies looking to impress this year. Gunnar Henderson, Anthony Volpe, Masataka Yoshida, and others round out this talented rookie class. Logan O’Hoppe falls somewhat far down the board when it comes to favorites to win this award, but he should not be overlooked.
In Double-A last year, O’Hoppe slashed .283/.416/.544 with 26 home runs. With a 15.7% walk rate and a 16.6% strikeout rate, O’Hoppe displayed excellent plate discipline last season. Even if those numbers worsen while he adjusts to the big leagues, he will be a solid hitter. With a great approach at the plate, O’Hoppe could prove to be a tougher out than expected this year.
O’Hoppe is also a catcher, which is a very important position defensively, and that could help with his WAR numbers if he plays solid defense. He received decent fielding grades as a prospect, and hopefully, that can translate to the big leagues. The Angels rotation has struggled in recent years; if O’Hoppe can help them improve, that will help with his case.
O’Hoppe doesn’t need to be spectacular at the plate to win this award. If he can be a good hitter and play just solid defense, he will make a great case.
Prediction: Esteury Ruiz steals 70 bases
Esteury Ruiz is speed! This man could easily end the year as the fastest player in baseball. Ruiz played just 17 games in the majors last season and was able to put up great speed numbers. With a sprint speed of 29.8 feet per second, he was the 13th fastest player in baseball. That is just as fast as Pirates’ phenom Oneil Cruz. Some notable names that Ruiz was faster than last season include Michael Harris II, Julio Rodríguez, and Mike Trout.
However, when it comes to stealing bases, speed isn’t the full story. Being fast doesn’t automatically make you a great base stealer. Well, let me tell you that Ruiz is a certified base thief. In 2022, Ruiz swiped 85 bags in 114 minor league games while only getting caught 14 times. This kid loves to run. He also had an OBP of .447 in the minors last year, which means he should have plenty of opportunities this year.
The last player to steal 70 bases in a season was Jacoby Ellsbury in 2009. Since then, stolen bases have slowly started to dwindle, with last year’s leader Jon Berti only stealing 41 bags. With the new pitch clock, disengagement rules, and larger bases, we could see an uptick in steals. Those factors, along with the fact that Ruiz does not seem scared to run, could lead to our first 70-steal player in 13 years.
Prediction: Julio Rodríguez joins the 30/30 club
While it is not as elusive as the 40/40 club, only 43 players have managed to steal 30 bags and hit 30 home runs in a season. Most recently, it was Cedric Mullins of the Baltimore Orioles in 2019. It has become more common with 28 such seasons since 2000, and I think Julio Rodríguez is going to be the next addition to the club.
As a rookie last year, Rodríguez managed to hit 28 home runs and swipe 25 bags, so he has come close to 30/30 already. He ranked in the 99th and 98th percentile for max exit velocity and sprint speed, respectively, in 2022. He also finished fourth in bolts last season with 75, meaning he hit a sprint speed of 30 ft/s 75 times last season. Rodríguez has an extra gear where he can really turn it on.
At 22 years old, Rodríguez is one of the fastest players in baseball as well as one of the most powerful hitters. If I had to place money on someone to join the 40/40 club during their career, he is one of two players I would bet on. While 40/40 is a lot to ask in a player’s second season, the 30/30 club is certainly within reach for Rodríguez.
Prediction: Jack Leiter or Kumar Rocker will make his MLB debut
Now, I am not saying that either of them is going to come up and be pivotal in a playoff push for the Rangers. What I am saying is that one of them will impress enough this year in the minors to come up and debut during September.
Leiter was the best pitcher in college baseball during his last season at Vanderbilt. After dicing up the SEC with relative ease, Leiter was assigned to Double-A following the 2021 draft and struggled.
Despite a 5.54 ERA, he still managed over 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. However, he will need to get the command under control. He walked over five hitters per nine innings last year, which did him no favors. Leiter is too talented not to bounce back in Double-A this year. If he looks good, expect him to get the call in September.
The Rangers appeared to have learned from their aggressive promotion of Leiter, as Kumar Rocker is set to begin his journey in High-A Hickory this year. Expect Kumar to settle in and climb the minors quickly. If you are unfamiliar with Rocker or don’t believe just how good he is, go watch the highlights of his 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in a 2019 Super Regional. It was one of the most dominant pitching performances I have seen at any level. Rocker is incredibly talented, and I expect him to dominate the low levels of the minors.
One of these incredibly talented arms is going to impress enough to get a cameo in September to prepare them to be part of the rotation come 2024.