Tuesday, March 1, 2011

MLB Preview, Key to success: Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros

My complete preview for the MLB season is here, today I will continue my team by team analysis of the player that is the most important to watch in the upcoming season. This isn't necessarily the best player, rather someone who's season is important for the team, or their growth as a player.

Los Angeles Angels: Kendry Morales
A season ago he appeared well on his way to a second consecutive 30 home run, 100 rbi season. That was when one of the more bizzare sports moments ever happened. He hit a walk off home run against the Seattle Mariners in late May. He rounded the bases and when he got to home plate, he collapsed amidst a mob of teammates.

Morales broke his leg during the celebration, which sidelined him for the rest of the season. The Angels were already struggling at that point, but the loss of their best power hitter proved to be the nail in the coffin of their season.

With opening day a month away, there is a possibility Morales may not be ready, but Angels Manager Mike Scioscia is confident he will be ready to go. That may mean as the designated hitter, but his bat in the lineup is very important to the success of the team.

The Angels lack proven veteran hitters, and even if Morales only has one full season, the other veterans in the lineup are all well past their primes. Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells have had success at different times in their careers, but they are all over 32 years old.  Wells is coming off of a career year, but that was preceded by three years that he played very poorly. Abreu and Hunter are power speed guys who have lost a lot of both their power and speed, which takes away from their value in the middle of the lineup.

That leave Morales to be the teams big bat, something he is perfectly capable of doing. The Angels let Mark Teixiera leave for the New York Yankees in the belief that Morales would be able to be just as good. He has not disappointed, and I think the future is bright for the 27 year old.

He has really no downside as a hitter, his average is very good, he doesn't strike out much, and he has a decent eye as well. His health shouldn't be judged by last season, the injury was a freak thing that I doubt happens again. Maybe he is injury-prone, but it is too soon to make a judgement on that.

The key to Morales is whether he is able to get his timing back and be an anchor in their lineup. I expect that to happen, but it may take a month or so before he fully finds his stride again. Once he does so, expect him to become one of the premier hitters in the game, not just for power, but also his high average and on base percentages.

Others considered: Fernando Rodney: Last season he was dominant at times in the set-up role, but other times he struggled. He has the closer role as of now, but if he isn't able to keep the ball in the strike zone the Angels may be forced to replace him...Dan Haren: Which Haren will they get, the one they had last season who was dominant, or the one who started the year poorly for the Arizona Diamondbacks? He could be a second ace for the team, but there is the downside there that he is unable to pitch to his potential like the first half of 2010.

Houston Astros: J.A. Happ
Last season the Astros decided they were going to plan for the future. That involved dealing Roy Oswalt to the Philadelphia Phillies, Happ was the top player the Astros got back. He stepped in quickly for the Astros by starting 13 games with a 3.75 ERA in 72 innings.

He went back and forth between reliever and starter for the Phillies, but he appears to be locked into the starting rotation in Houston. Happ is listed as the number 3 starter behind Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, two guys who have had some consistency problems in the past, but are a solid head of the rotation.

Happ is an important player for the Astros because while he doesn't have a lot of Major League experience, he is 28 years old, which is usually around when a pitcher hits his prime. His career has been an odd one, but considering he has pitched just 289 major league innings over four years of professional baseball, he should be set to put together a full season.

That could also be a down-side to Happ. The Astros would like to get 180+ innings from him, but he doesn't have the history of being able to do that. He has always had a good ERA, low walk totals, and low strike out totals. Those things should help him achieve a high inning season, but he could very easily hit a wall in the second half of the year.

The division is wide open at this point, especially because of the injury to Adam Wainwright. While the Cincinnati Reds may be the favorite, they have question marks in their rotation. I think Happ could be the determining factor in the Astros having the best 1-2-3 in the NL Central.

Their one-two punch is pretty mediocre, especially compared to the other teams in the division. But the other number 3 starters in the Central are Bronson Arroyo, Shaun Marcum, Jake Westbrook, Carlos Zambrano, and Kevin Correia. I would put my trust in Happ before any of those five, but that's assuming he can remain healthy.

The Astros don't have the hitting to compete just yet, but Happ will help them be competitive this season and possibly into the future. He has the stuff to be a number 2 starter at some point down the road. This season he needs to build his innings tolerance and be reliable for the entirety of the season. If he can do that, and pitch to his potential, he could be a key player down the road as the Astros try to rebuild with young talent.

Others considered: Hunter Pence: I love this guy, he's going to hit about 25 home runs, steal about 15 bases, and hit about .280. Write it down and just watch him do it every year. I see him improving some this season, but a steady bat like his is very important to a young soft hitting team...Carlos Lee: El Caballo is on his last legs, last season was his first since 2004 without 100 rbi's, which is amazing. But he is a big guy and is 34 years old, he may have some left in the tank, but this year he needs to prove that.

Previous keys to their teams: Diamondbacks and OriolesRed Sox and Braves Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs  Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians  Colorado Rockies and Detroit Tigers  Florida Marlins and Kansas City Royals


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