We’ve already covered the American League East, National League East and American League Central in our tour around the league identifying players whose fantasy arrows are pointed up for 2014. Now it’s time to examine the AL West.
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Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers
Profar spent the first six weeks of last season in the minors before coming up for good in mid-May. The Rangers used him at shortstop, second base, third base, designated hitter and even some in the outfield as they made every effort to get the top prospect into the lineup. However, Profar’s production left something to be desired, as he failed to hit higher than .227 in any full month. While it’s disappointing that things never came together for him, please don’t forget that Profar won’t turn 21 until February and entered last season as the top prospect in the game. You never know when the light will come on for a guy with his ability, and he’s got an everyday job now so we won’t bet against him.
George Springer, OF, Astros
As if Springer’s first full professional season wasn’t impressive enough, it turned out that he had even more in store for 2013. Between Double- and Triple-A, the former first-round pick batted a robust .303/.411/.600 while nearly becoming the first minor leaguer since Grant Desme in 2009 to go 40/40 with his 37 home runs and 45 steals. Yes, he’s struck out 319 times in 271 career pro games, so his average probably isn’t going to be there initially. He also might have to wait at least until his arbitration is delayed before receiving a call-up following the Astros’ addition of Dexter Fowler. But there’s little doubt that Springer promises to be an annual 20/20 or possibly even 30/30 threat.
Scott Kazmir, SP, A’s
Little was made of the Indians’ signing of Kazmir to a minor league deal last December, but he turned out to be one of the best stories of the 2013 season. After posting a 5.34 ERA in independent ball in 2012, Kazmir put up a 4.04 mark and 162/47 K/BB ratio across 158 frames for the Tribe this past campaign. The 29-year-old left-hander was particularly dynamite down the stretch, holding a 3.00 ERA and nifty 55/7 K/BB ratio over 39 innings. The A’s certainly bought into the career renaissance, handing out a two-year, $22 million deal to Kazmir earlier this month. Kazmir in 2013 showed his best velocity since 2005 and will now be throwing in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the game. We’re buying into the resurgence, as well.
Martin Perez, SP, Rangers
Perez got his first extended taste of the majors in 2013, and he certainly held his own with a 3.62 ERA. Sure, the 1.34 WHIP wasn’t anything to write home about, nor were the 84 strikeouts in 124 1/3 innings. But keep in mind that Perez won’t turn 23 until just after Opening Day and was consistently ranked as one of the top pitching prospects during his days on the farm. A lefty that can touch the mid-90s and has capable secondary offerings should have no trouble raising his strikeout rate. Perez will probably get picked later than he should in 2014 drafts.
Sonny Gray, SP, A’s
Gray disappointed in his first full professional season in 2012, but he made up for it in a big way last season. The former first-round pick rode a 3.42 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 118 1/3 innings at Triple-A to a promotion and wound up being an integral part of Oakland’s rotation down the stretch. Gray put up a 2.67 ERA while whiffing a batter per frame for the A’s during the regular season before firing eight scoreless frames in the first of two postseason outings. The 24-year-old enters the 2014 campaign with a rotation spot in hand and, like Kazmir, will benefit from pitching half his games at spacious O.co Coliseum.
Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners
Walker has consistently been among the youngest players in every league he’s been in, and, with the exception of some inconsistencies at Double-A in 2012, has performed at every level. The 21-year-old horse put up a 2.93 ERA and 160/57 K/BB ratio over 141 1/3 frames at Triple-A last year before an impressive audition in Seattle, where he posted a 3.00 mark over three starts. Barring something unforeseen, Walker is expected to crack the Mariners’ Opening Day rotation. He won’t turn 22 until late in the season, so some inconsistency should be expected. But there’s a reason he’s long been considered one of the best pitching prospects in the game.
Leonys Martin, OF, Rangers
If you took a late-round flier on Martin last spring, chances are you ended up cutting him by mid-May after he batted .257 with two homers and zero steals over his first 32 games. That would have been a mistake, as the Cuban defector hit six homers and stole 36 bases the rest of the way. Only Jacoby Ellsbury, Eric Young Jr. and Rajai Davis pilfered more bags over that stretch. Martin has struggled against lefties, so he might require a platoon partner next season. However, even if he sits some against southpaws, 40 stolen bases and double-digit homers wouldn’t be an unrealistic goal.
Kole Calhoun, OF, Angels
Calhoun has consistently mashed in the minors, batting a blistering .354/.431/.617 with 12 homers and 10 steals over 59 games last year to force a call-up. Pegged as the Halos’ Opening Day right fielder, Calhoun might have 20 homers in his bat, and double-digit steals are a possibility, as well.
Jason Castro, C, Astros
The former first-round pick finished tied for sixth among catchers with 18 home runs last season and also came in sixth with his .276 batting average. As long as he can stay healthy, he’s a fine option as your top fantasy catcher.
James Paxton, SP, Mariners
Paxton was up-and-down in the minors but always flashed plus stuff, and that stuff was certainly on display in a late-season audition that saw him post a 1.50 ERA and 21/7 K/BB ratio over 24 frames. The punchouts should be there from the get-go.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Astros
Singleton batted only .230/.351/.401 with 11 homers over 90 games in his suspension-shortened 2013 season, but there’s no doubting this guy’s upside. He should be the Astros’ first baseman by the All-Star break.
Hector Santiago, SP, Angels
Santiago has posted a 3.30 ERA with 148 strikeouts over 150 innings as a starter over the last two seasons. He’ll move from the bandbox at U.S. Cellular to the cavernous Angel Stadium in 2014, further enhancing his fantasy appeal.