In a division that shows the potential to be better top to bottom this season, it’s worth checking in on what’s percolating with the Oakland A’s competition in the American League West.
Here’s the first entry in a periodic division update we’ll provide through the rest of the spring. The teams are listed in alphabetical order:
HOUSTON ASTROS – You know the story with these guys. The Astros are building for the future, and many believe they’ve put together the best farm system in the game. Their best big league player, catcher Jason Castro, is being brought along very carefully this spring. Houston wants to reduce the wear and tear on Castro in exhibitions with the hope that he’s in top shape for the regular season. … Another young cornerstone piece, right-hander Mark Appel, will be eased into action as well, the Houston Chronicle reports. Appel underwent an emergency appendectomy Jan. 30 and didn’t throw his first bullpen session of camp until Feb. 20.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS – Manager Mike Scioscia said he’s optimistic that left fielder Josh Hamilton will be ready for Opening Day despite a strained left calf. That remains to be seen, as Hamilton will miss a minimum of two weeks, according to Scioscia. Obviously this is a huge storyline for Los Angeles as the days tick away. The Angels have the potential to improve on last season’s 78-84 mark, but a big part of that is getting better production from their big boppers in the middle of the lineup, Hamilton and Albert Pujols …
Think Mike Trout is content to coast early in the exhibition season? The superstar outfielder hit a grand slam and drove in five runs in Friday’s Cactus League opener, a 15-3 whipping of the Chicago Cubs. Ace Jered Weaver also looked in midseason form with three shutout innings. … Left-hander C.J. Wilson, who anchors the Angels’ rotation along with Weaver, was hit in the head by a liner while pitching live batting practice earlier this week. Fortunately, Wilson was OK and said he didn’t even require stitches. He said he’ll be fine for his regularly scheduled exhibition debut Saturday. For all the recent talk about new rules aiming to prevent home plate collisions, doesn’t it seem the danger of pitchers getting struck by line drives is much more worrisome? Despite that, Wilson said there’s no way he would wear one of the protective caps that MLB has approved for pitchers. He’s not alone in that thought.
SEATTLE MARINERS – An already suspect starting rotation looks even shakier now. Top prospect Taijuan Walker is being shut down for a week with shoulder inflammation, putting his status in question for the start of the regular season. Add in the reality that No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma will probably start the season on the D.L. because of a strained tendon on the middle finger of his throwing hand, and Seattle has some significant pitching issues. The additions of veterans Scott Baker and Randy Wolf suddenly seem a lot more important. As things stand, ace Felix Hernandez is the only pitcher with a rotation spot locked down.
[RELATED: Iwakuma won't throw for three weeks]
TEXAS RANGERS – Las Vegas odds have the Rangers as the division favorite, but this club is also trying to compensate for injuries in the rotation. Lefty Derek Holland will miss the first half of the season with a left knee injury, and Matt Harrison’s status for Opening Day is in doubt because of lower back soreness. Texas will keep a sharp eye on recent signee Tommy Hanson’s spring, as he’s a very strong rotation candidate. … Nick Tepesch, another starting option, missed time in camp with back stiffness, but he seems to be on the mend. … Surely A’s fans will keep a close eye on outfielder Michael Choice, hoping he doesn’t blossom into a star in Arlington. Oakland dealt the former first round pick to Texas as part of the deal to acquire outfielder Craig Gentry. The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports that Choice will get every opportunity to win the fourth outfielder’s job.