Sophomores: The AL West

Over the next few days, we’re looking at sophomore players in the Major Leagues. Today’s post is looking at the American League West division, which was home to quite a few interesting rookie names in 2008. Yesterday, we looked at the American League East and on Tuesday it was the AL Central.

Seattle Mariners

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Catcher Jeff Clement was in line to be the next big offensive-minded catcher in baseball. He was also an early possibility for the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2008, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Hall of Fame… Clement struggled with the bat, the organization made a stupid contract commitment to a veteran player at his position, and the club seemingly lost all confidence in him. Despite hitting well throughout his brief minor career and producing a .335/.455/.676 line in 48 triple-A games in 2008, the Mariners soured on Clement after he hit just .227/.295/.360 in his first taste of the Majors (66 games). In 2009, he’s started just 16 games at catcher at triple-A and 38 at designated hitter, because of a lingering knee problem and the organization’s obvious belief that his future is not behind the dish. Overall, Clement’s hitting .280/.352/.466 with seven homers. The left-handed hitter is batting just .219 versus southpaws (compared to .304 against right-handers).

The emphasis on outfield defense in Seattle has relegated Wladimir Balentien to the bench despite the fact he hit seven home runs in 71 games last season – oh, and he also hit just .202/.250/.342. Despite his obvious struggles with the bat and making contact (29.8 K% in the Majors), the organization has kept Balentien in the Majors for the entire 2009 season and he’s hitting just .218/.273/.336 with one home runs in 110 at-bats. The 24-year-old is out of options so the club is stuck between a rock and a hard place, but it’s not doing Balentien’s career any favors.

After a few abbreviated attempts at beginning his MLB career, Mark Lowe finally enjoyed a full season in the Majors in 2008 with modest results. He posted a 5.37 ERA (4.42 FIP) and allowed 78 hits in 63.2 innings of work. In 2009, he’s continued to show some improvements with a 3.90 ERA (3.92 FIP) and 32 hits allowed in 30 innings of work. His walk rate has improved from 4.81 to 3.90 BB/9 but his strikeout rate has also plummeted from 7.77 to 6.00 K/9.

Oakland Athletics

Outfielder Ryan Sweeney appeared in 115 games for the A’s in 2008 but he had a pretty hollow season with a line of .286/.350/.383. He didn’t show much power with just five home runs and he didn’t use his speed by stealing nine bases. Things are not getting much better for the 24-year-old in 2009 with a line of .246/.313/.319. Sweeney also has just two homers and four stolen bases. He won’t be playing full-time much longer with numbers like that.

Daric Barton was another disappointing rookie in 2008 from an organization that has a reputation (deservedly so or not) for producing productive Major League players. The catcher-turned-first-baseman had a minor league line of .299/.411/.455 and had always hit for average, although there were questions about the 23 year old’s power potential. In his rookie season in the Majors in ’08, Barton hit for neither power nor average with a line of .226/.327/.348 in 446 at-bats. The struggles may have affected him mentally as he’s hitting just .245/.365/.385 with three homers in 200 at-bats in 2009.

Sean Gallagher, 23, was obtained last season from the Cubs in the Rich Harden trade. Between the two clubs, he posted a 5.15 ERA (4.48 FIP) with 118 hits allowed in 115.1 innings of work. He also posted rates of 4.53 BB/9 and 8.04 K/9. He’s bounced between the Majors and the minors in 2009 with an 8.16 ERA in six MLB games and a 1.75 ERA in five triple-A starts. His batting-average-allowed has jumped from .266 to .342 over the past year.

Relievers Brad Ziegler and Joey Devine were godsends for the Oakland bullpen in 2008 but 2009 has been a different story, especially for Devine. The former Braves prospect finally harnessed his pitches – a 2.96 BB/9 in 2008 compared to more than one walk allowed per inning in his previous three big-league attempts – and posted an ERA of just 0.59 (1.97 FIP). He also allowed just 23 hits in 45.2 innings of work. Unfortunately, Devine blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this season. Ziegler rose from obscurity to save 11 games in 2008 for Oakland, while also posting a 1.06 ERA in 59.2 innings. This season the groundball pitcher has been good but not great, in part due to a BABIP jump from .246 to .351. Left-handers are also hitting .367 against him.

Texas Rangers

Chris Davis burst upon the scene last season as young player with immense power. He hit .285/.331/.549 with 17 homers and 23 doubles in 295 at-bats while playing mostly third base. Davis, 23, also posted a strikeout rate of 29.8 K%. Fast-forward one season and the left-handed batter is now playing first base and hitting just .204/.261/.422 with 12 home runs in 206 at-bats. His strikeout rate has jumped to a disturbing 45.6 K%. Davis has also lost 6% off his line-drive rate, which is down to 19.6%, and his BABIP has gone from .353 to .300.

Brandon Boggs, 26, was called upon to fill a part-time role in 2008. The outfielder hit just .226/.333/.399 but he appeared in 101 games. His strikeout rate was a dismal 32.9 K%. He did, though, show some power potential with an ISO of .173. Boggs has spent the majority of 2009 in triple-A where his power has all but dried up as he has an ISO rate of just .086. He’s also hitting just .278/.405/.364 in 162 at-bats. Another part-time player, infielder German Duran hit .231/.275/.350 with three home runs in 143 at-bats in the Majors in 2008. This season, he’s battled injuries and is hitting just .149/.185/.207 in 87 triple-A at-bats.

David Murphy’s rookie season was not as noisy as Davis’, but Murphy has had a much more consistent career to this point. The 27-year-old outfielder posted a line of .275/.321/.465 with 15 homers in 415 at-bats in 2008. He also posted a walk rate of 7.0% and a strikeout rate of 16.9 K%. In 2009, Murphy’s power has dropped and he’s hitting .259/.344/.393 with three homers in 135 at-bats (including .167 vs southpaws). He’s seen his walk rate increase to 11.8 BB%, while his strikeout rate has also risen to 24.4 K%, which is not good considering his drop in power production (ISO from .190 to .133).

A former Braves prospect, 23-year-old Matt Harrison had a rough introduction to the big leagues in his rookie season in 2008. He posted a 5.49 ERA (5.18 FIP) and allowed 100 hits in 83.2 innings of work. Harrison’s walk rate was 3.33 BB/9 but he struck out just 4.52 K/9. In 2009, the southpaw has posted a 5.43 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 54.2 innings and he’s allowed 68 hits. His walk rate is down to 2.63 BB/9 and his strikeout rate is just 4.77 K/9. Opponents also has a healthy 23.3 LD% against Harrison.

Los Angeles Angels

Infielders Sean Rodriguez and Brandon Wood are both loaded with potential but they have had difficulties breaking into everyday roles in the Majors. Rodriguez, 24, has good pop for a middle infielder (.300+ ISO in parts of two triple-A seasons), but he projects as a big league utility player due to his contact issues (33.2 K% in 205 triple-A at-bats in 2009). Wood, on the other hand, has massive power potential for an infielder but he too has contact issues (26.8 K% in 2008). With 69 home runs during parts of three seasons in triple-A, Wood, 24, needs to opportunity to finally show once and for all if he has what it takes to play everyday in the Majors. He hit just .200/.224/.327 in 55 MLB games in 2008.

Jose Arredondo had a very successful year in 2008 giving hope that he would one day fill the closer’s role that Francisco Rodriguez departed from after last season. In 2008, Arredondo went 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA while allowing just 42 hits in 61 innings of work. He posted rates of 3.25 BB/9 and 8.11 K/9. The right-hander, though, did not make in through the month of June in 2009 before being demoted to the minors after posting a 5.55 ERA and allowing 28 hits in 24.1 innings of work.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


3 Responses to “Sophomores: The AL West”

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  1. Chris Davis says:

    Just wanted to point out that Chris Davis is a left-handed batter.

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  2. Phil Aasen says:

    Jsut a note, Balentien hit only 7 home runs in 71 games at the major league level last year, he hit 18 home runs in 62 games at Triple-A.

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  3. LD says:

    I was wondering to myself how I missed that he hit 18 hr in 71 games last year. 7 is more like it.

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