MLB preview: Projecting AL West

In 2018, the Houston Astros dominated the American League West by stringing together a franchise-record 103 wins.

The Oakland Athletics surprised nearly everyone with their best season in more than five years, the Seattle Mariners were in the playoff hunt while both the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers rounded out the division.

This time around, expect Houston to win the division for the third consecutive time, a very rich Mike Trout to put his money where his bat is and emerging players to lead their respective teams this season.

For an extended look at how things can shake out, here is your 2019 preview for the AL West.

 

Storyline to watch: Will A's find their leader in Chapman?

The third baseman could be his team's saving grace as it looks to build off a very good season last year. In fact, Matt Chapman could be a name in the AL MVP race if he backs up what he did in 2018.

Chapman, who is only in his third season with the Athletics, is already a staple in the team's defense but more impressively, it was his offense that turned heads.

He more than doubled his runs (100) and hits (152) from his rookie campaign in 2017 (that saw just 39 runs on 68 hits) and finished 2018 with a .278/.356/.508 slash line to lead Oakland. But, that is not all, manager Bob Melvin said: "The scary part is that there's a lot of room for growth."

It has been a while since Oakland have had back-to-back winning seasons — the last time the A's put it together was 2012-14 — but if Chapman can get going early into the season, he could be just what this team need to do it again.  

 

MVP candidate: Trout, Angels

They do not give out record-breaking deals to just anyone, right? Trout agreed to a shocking 12-year contract worth nearly $430million and he is certainly worth it.

The two-time AL MVP passed the 100-run mark for the fifth time in his career last season and if he can pull off another MVP-worthy year, he will be one of 11 players in history to have captured the award three times.

Trout previously earned AL MVP honours in 2014 and 2016. The case could have been made for Trout to win the MVP award in multiple seasons but his team simply have not won enough to justify giving him the award.

He has been one of the best players in baseball but still has yet to win a playoff game. Will this be the year for both another MVP win and a playoff-series victory?

 

Cy Young candidate: Kikuchi, Mariners

This one may be a bit out of left field, but, while Yusei Kikuchi does not have the resume to prove it just yet, a breakout season could put his name in the Cy Young conversation. He faced his first MLB hitter in the Mariners' second game in Japan and would be a good sleeper pick for the honours.

Seattle already feature rotation staples Marco Gonzales, Wade Leblanc and Mike Leake but Kikuchi is unlike anything batters have seen and could be the Mariners' best pitcher when all is said and done. He can throw in the mid- to upper-90s from the left side and has earned comparisons to the likes of three-time National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.

Kikuchi debuted with three strikeouts to his name and could see similar success to countrymen like Hideo Nomo, Masahiro Tanaka and, of course, Shohei Ohtani.

 

Prospect to watch: Adell, Angels

He is not Trout, but honestly, he could be the Angels' second-best player if they decide to call him up this season.

The 19-year-old outfielder made it all the way to Double-A last year, and if he proves he can handle the level over 50 games this season, he could see a call-up to Triple-A, or if Los Angeles are in the playoff race, he could see a more aggressive move and find his way to MLB.

Gifted with plus power, great speed and an arm which was pumping 97-mph heat off the mound in high school, Adell's tool set and arrival date are incredibly similar to Trout's and he could be the man who gives the two-time MVP something to look forward to over the course of his 12-year deal.

 

Division prediction: Astros win (again)

Houston have been red hot the past couple of seasons and there is no reason the Astros should not come away with the division again. The last time this team three-peated was 1997-99.

Despite the fact this team lost three of five pitchers from their starting rotation from a year ago, Houston return All-Star calibre players and a couple of Cy Young candidates in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. If the heart of the team's line-up is at full health to match the power of its bullpen, the Astros will be in a good position to once again run away with the title.

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