This is the fifth piece in a week-long series in which the staff of Rising Apple previews each of the six divisions for the 2013 MLB season…
Everyone has become so obsessed with the actions of the Dodgers – their blockbuster trade with the Red Sox in the middle of last season, a new ownership group, insane free agent spending – that the defending World Series champion Giants seem to be getting lost in the shuffle. Aside from Los Angeles and San Francisco, there are the Diamondbacks, who finished at .500 last year and should be interesting to watch. Further down the totem pole in the West are the Padres and the Rockies.
San Francisco Giants (2012 finish: 94-68, 1st place, eventual World Series champions)
- Key Losses – None of note. The Giants are returning the same starting rotation that led them to a Championship in 2012, the four most important members of their bullpen, and all eight starting position players from last season.
- Key Additions – After trading them away in a deal for Angel Pagan prior to the 2012 campaign, the Giants re-signed both center fielder Andres Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez. Both struggled last year for the Mets. Torres is expected to be the fourth outfielder for the Giants, while serving as the primary backup to Angel Pagan in center. Aside from Torres and Ramirez, the Giants re-signed two of their own free agents: Angel Pagan received a four year deal worth $40 million, while Marco Scutaro was handed a three year deal for $20 million.
- Rookie to Watch – Gary Brown, Outfielder: He isn’t expected to make the opening day roster, but Brown, 24, should be up at some point in 2013. The Giants are settled pretty much everywhere on the diamond, but Brown would likely be called up if any of their outfielders went down with an injury. If Andres Torres and/or Gregor Blanco struggle, Brown could get the call as well.
…The Giants rely heavily on their starting pitching, and in their home park, that’s a sound strategy. Aside from the top three in their rotation are Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito. Lincecum was a shell of himself for the majority of last season, but had a stretch of ten starts from July 31st to September 18th where he gave up more than three runs just once. If Lincecum is able to rediscover his old form in 2013, The Giants’ rotation will be that much more formidable.
Their offense, however, is far from a liability. They were 12th in the majors last year in runs scored, 8th in on base percentage, and 5th in batting average. They don’t have any true thumpers in their lineup, but in Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence, they have three guys with legit 20 + homer potential. Not to be ignored is first baseman Brandon Belt, who turns 25 in April. Belt has yet to reach his potential, but there’s time. Still, the Giants’ ultimate success will likely be determined by Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong. The three were magnificent last season. Cain finished with an ERA of 2.79, while both Bumgarner and Vogelsong finished with identical ERA’s of 3.37. All three also sported tremendous peripherals.
Projected 2013 finish:
If their starting pitchers stay healthy, the Giants will win the West.
Los Angeles Dodgers (2012 finish: 86-76, 2nd place)
- Key Losses – None of note. As of now, starting pitchers Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are still on the club. With the starting rotation seemingly filled but with neither of them included, one or both could be on the move.
- Key Additions – The Dodgers signed RHP Zack Greinke to an astronomical six year, $147 million dollar contract. Pitching is always costly, but it seemed a bit absurd to hand a deal like that to someone with a 3.77 career ERA and 1.24 career WHIP. Los Angeles also signed LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, who had pitched his entire career in South Korea, to a six year, $36 million dollar deal. Aside from their two pitching acquisitions, Los Angeles’ key pickups from the middle of last season (Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Hanley Ramirez), will all be starting their first full year with the club.
- Rookie to Watch – Hyun-Jin Ryu, Starting Pitcher: As noted above, the Dodgers signed Ryu, 25, to a six year deal this winter. Some observers (Keith Law) view him as a long reliever type, while most feel he can be a solid major league starter. His fastball sits around 90 MPH, but can touch 95. According to a scouting report from Baseball Prospectus, his only true plus offering is his changeup. It’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the majors.
…If each player the Dodgers recently acquired performs at the peak level they’ve reached in the past, Los Angeles could be a juggernaut. However, I simply don’t see that happening.
Clayton Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, and Zack Greinke should turn in his usual above average but not great season. Greinke’s only “great” year came in 2009, when he had a 2.16 ERA, struck out 242 batters, and had a WHIP of 1.07. That year is the anomaly, though. Every other season, Greinke has given up almost as many hits as innings pitched, had an ERA between 3.47 and 4.26 (we’ll exclude his disastrous 2005 campaign), and a WHIP between 1.20 and 1.30. Ryu has to be viewed as a wild card simply because he hasn’t thrown a major league pitch. Josh Beckett could be the 2012 or 2010 version (when he sported ERA’s of 5.78 and 4.65 respectively), or he could be the 2011 sub-3 ERA version. He did improve last year after arriving in Los Angeles, but 43 innings is too small of a sample size to go by. Chad Billingsley should be solid.
On offense, the Dodgers have two established difference makers, Matt Kemp (coming off an injury shortened campaign) and Adrian Gonzalez, and an enigma in Hanley Ramirez. Aside from that, there’s not much to get excited about. Carl Crawford was an overpay when Boston signed him prior to the 2011 season, and he missed the majority of 2012 after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Crawford has been struggling to get back on the field this spring. Elsewhere on offense, the Dodgers have A.J. Ellis, Luis Cruz, Mark Ellis, and Andre Ethier, who is a glorified platoon player masquerading as an everyday player.
Projected 2013 finish:
The Dodgers will make the playoffs, getting there by way of one of the wild card spots.
Arizona Diamondbacks (2012 finish: 81-81, 3rd place)
- Key Losses – The Diamondbacks traded outfielder Justin Upton to Atlanta for Martin Prado and a package of non-impact prospects. Joe Saunders is gone from the rotation.
- Key Additions – Martin Prado was acquired in the Upton trade and was almost immediately signed to a four year, $40 million dollar extension. Arizona also signed outfielder Cody Ross to a three year, $26 million dollar deal, handed a two year, $18 million dollar deal to RHP Brandon McCarthy, and acquired relief pitcher Heath Bell from the Marlins. Bell was abysmal last year and has been trending downward for the past four seasons.
Rookie to Watch – Tyler Skaggs, Starting Pitcher: The left handed Skaggs, the top prospect in the organization, got a taste of the majors late last season and didn’t exactly blow the doors off. He had an ERA of 5.83 in six starts. Still, the sky is the limit for the 21 year old. His two best pitches at the moment are his fastball and curve, which are both viewed as plus. His upside is said to be that of a number two starter.
…Arizona replaced Joe Saunders in the starting rotation with Brandon McCarthy. Along with McCarthy, the rotation should include Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, and top prospect Tyler Skaggs (who got a taste last season). The rotation should be solid and has the potential to be very good, but lacks a true difference maker at the moment.
Their offense was good last year (8th overall as far as runs scored), and the loss of Upton should be offset by the additions of Ross and Prado. Second baseman Aaron Hill, outfielder Jason Kubel, and catcher Miguel Montero should all be solid contributors (with Hill and Montero potentially being among the elite offensively at their positions).
Closing games for Arizona will be J.J. Putz, who is coming off three tremendous seasons.
Projected 2013 finish:
It’s unlikely Arizona will challenge San Francisco or Los Angeles for tops in the division, but they have a solid all around roster that should allow them to be in the mix for a wild card spot.
San Diego Padres (2012 finish: 76-86, 4th place)
- Key Losses – None of note. The Padres are returning the same eight position players from 2012, each key member of their starting rotation, and their top five bullpen arms.
- Key Additions – San Diego signed 36 year old RHP Freddy Garcia, who is competing for the fifth slot in their starting rotation.
- Rookie to Watch – Jedd Gyorko, 2B/3B: Gyorko, 24, is the best hitting prospect in the organization. He hit .311 with 30 home runs last year between AA and AAA. A natural third baseman, the Padres are confident Gyorko can make a smooth transition to second base. Gyorko has been lighting it up this spring while adjusting to second. According to Jon Heyman, it’s likely that Gyorko will open the season as the Padres’ everyday second baseman.
…The Padres did nothing to address an offense that was 22nd in batting average, 23rd in runs scored, and 26th in slugging percentage last season. They’ll be without catcher Yasmani Grandal for the first 50 games due to his suspension for high testosterone levels.
Top prospect Jedd Gyorko is expected to break camp as the team’s second baseman, and he should add some punch to the lineup. Third baseman Chase Headley had a breakout season in 2012, but unless Carlos Quentin can stay in the lineup consistently (he’s already nursing an injured knee), there’s no other established player in San Diego’s projected lineup who can be expected to combine with Headley and help carry the offense.
Their starting rotation, which was 17th in ERA last year, will include four of its five members from 2012. The last spot in the rotation was being fought for between journeyman Freddy Garcia and top prospect Casey Kelly. Unfortunately for Kelly and the Padres, it was reported Wednesday that he would likely need Tommy John surgery. A final decision hasn’t been made, but all signs point to Kelly going under the knife and missing roughly a year of action.
Huston Street will be closing games and the bullpen as a whole will likely be formidable. In Luke Gregerson, Dale Thayer, and Brad Brach, the Padres have a trio of very solid arms who should be able to form a sturdy bridge to Street.
Projected 2013 finish:
It’s tough to see the Padres finishing higher than fourth in this division with an offense expected to be in the lower echelon, and a rotation that should be just average or slightly below – especially now that their top pitching prospect (Casey Kelly) appears to be lost for the season.
Colorado Rockies (2012 finish: 64-98, 5th place)
- Key Losses – None of note
- Key Additions - Wilton Lopez, relief pitcher
- Rookie to Watch – Nolan Arenado, Third Baseman: Arenado will open the 2013 campaign in the minors, likely in AAA. The 22 year old hits for both power and average, and should be ready to make an impact at the major league level at some point this season.
…The Rockies appear to be pretty far from contention, due in large part to their starting pitching. The holdovers from the 2012 rotation are Jeff Francis, Drew Pomeranz, and Jhoulys Chacin. Those three had ERA’s last season of 5.98, 4.93, and 4.43 respectively. Likely joining them in the 2013 rotation are Jorge De La Rosa (who was still recovering from Tommy John surgery last year and has a 4.98 career ERA) and Juan Nicasio(5.28 ERA in 2012). Pomeranz has plenty of upside, but the other four are between mediocre and dreadful.
On the offensive side of things, the Rockies have all world shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who’s coming off an injury, Carlos Gonzalez (whose home road splits are alarming), and solid backstop Wilin Rosario. Their offensive numbers are inflated because of where they play their home games, but their offense as a whole should be about average. For the Rockies, though, it comes down to the fact that they did nothing to address their starting pitching. It’ll always be difficult to find arms who can succeed in the thin air of Colorado, but not even attempting to upgrade the rotation will likely do the Rockies in.
Their closer is the solid Rafael Betancourt, but it’s unlikely he’ll get many save opportunities.
Projected 2013 finish:
Unless something strange happens, the Rockies are a good bet to finish last in the West.
Best of the West:
Top Hitter: Matt Kemp, OF (Los Angeles) – An injury slowed Kemp last year, but he hits for average, and has legitimate 40 homer potential to go along with plus speed on the bases. He came into his own in 2011 when he finished second in MVP balloting, and should be primed for a huge year in 2013.
Top Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, LHP (Los Angeles) – If the Dodgers have one thing over the Giants, it’s the fact that they can boast the best pitcher in the division. The Giants’ top three pitchers are tremendous, but Kershaw tops all of them. Still just 24 years old, Kershaw’s numbers are off the charts. His ERA hasn’t been above 3.00 since his rookie campaign in 2009, he’s struck out over 212 hitters each of the last three seasons, and has vastly improved his control.
Best Rookie: Tyler Skaggs, LHP (Arizona) – If Skaggs can put it together this season, he could be a key in propelling Arizona to the playoffs. His six starts last year were uneven, but should be taken as more of a learning experience than anything.
Comeback Player: Drew Pomeranz, LHP (Colorado) – Pomeranz has only 115 major league innings under his belt, so it may be a bit unfair to place him in this category. Still, huge things are expected of him, and a 5.01 career ERA won’t cut it (even for someone pitching his home games in Colorado). If Pomeranz can cut down his walks, he’ll be on his way to bigger and better things.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the final installment of our division previews, as Sam Maxwell tackles the N.L. East.