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2021 MLB Players to Watch: AL West

(Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The “mild” west seems to be the narrative for this division heading into the 2021 season, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut favourite in this division, with most teams expected to undergo regression following the events of the offseason. Regardless, each team has an interesting player that deserves to be followed closely, and here’s who they are.

Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker

The Astros outfielder of the future was great in 2020, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he follows up a strong debut full season.

Kyle Tucker hit for an impressive .837 OPS and showed he could rake. His 9 home runs show a lot to be desired going forward in terms of power and it’s extra valuable when you consider he also stole 8 bases in the shortened season.

If Tucker can continue to make progressions to his game, it’s very realistic to see him surpass the 20/20 mark this season and potentially be a stud replacement for George Springer going forward. If he can also steadily improve his abilities in the outfield, he can be very dangerous.

Los Angeles Angels: Shohei Ohtani

The multi-talented wonder is entering his fourth season with the Angels, and a lot of eyes should be laid on Shohei Ohtani this year, especially because it seems Los Angeles is finally going to use him for what he is, a two-way star.

At the plate, he has shown signs of brilliance in his first two seasons. He took off in his rookie year with a .925 OPS and a 149 WRC+ and followed up with a similarly impressive sophomore campaign. Though the numbers looked a bit concerning in 2020, they need to be taken with a grain of salt considering the amount of unexpected regression seen across the league last year.

On the mound, Ohtani had a great rookie year, sporting a 3.31 ERA, 3.53 xFIP, and struck out nearly 11 batters per nine. Although he’s pitched twice since his rookie year, these stats show that not only can he rake, but he has the potential to simultaneously be the team’s ace.

If he can stay healthy this season, the league could quietly be looking at one of the most impactful players on the planet in every regard.

Oakland Athletics: Mark Canha

Mark Canha might be the most underrated player across the entire league, and it’s crazy how little anyone hears about this man. Canha has been in the majors since debuting with Oakland in 2015, and has steadily, and quietly, improved dramatically over that span.

Canha had his best season in 2019, where he had a .913 OPS thanks to his well-balanced ability to hit the ball hard and get on base. His OPS dipped below .800 in 2020, but his ability to get on base hardly dropped whatsoever, as he’s dramatically increased his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate over the years. If he can pick up the power again and get extra-base hits more frequently, there’s a chance he could sneakily be Oakland’s best hitter.

Defensively, his improvement has been gradual each year, but it very much exists. He went from being a below-average defender to an above-average one in the span of a few seasons. Canha’s game is the epitome of all around, and if he can continue to get better, dare I say we might have a dark horse breakout MVP candidate in the Bay Area.

Seattle Mariners: Kyle Lewis

The 2020 AL Rookie of the Year is set to be a mainstay in Seattle’s upcoming super-outfield for years to come, and if they’re going to end their two-decade long postseason drought any time soon, he’s going to be a key reason.

Like any rookie, Kyle Lewis wasn’t perfect. He struck out quite a bit and has some improvement to do in the outfield (although he was quite decent defensively for a rookie). But looking past that, since those are typical rookie characteristics, he was great in 2020. He walked in 14% of his plate appearances, had an OPS north of .800, had a WRC+ of 126, and piled on 11 home runs in a shortened campaign.

If he can clean up his issue with strikeouts over the course of the 2021 season, we could be witnessing one of the better outfielders in the league already, and Seattle fans must be overjoyed to see him play alongside Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez over the next several years.

Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo

While Texas has very little going for them this year (like, they look really bad), there is one consistent shining spot on this team in Joey Gallo and his power bat.

For a while, Gallo was seen as a two outcome hitter, in that he either strikes out or hits the ball into the upper deck. In 2019, though, he completely revamped his game in the 70 games he played in, and even had a whopping OBP of .389 (which is incredible in itself, let alone for his typical standards). This is an anomaly to this point, but it’s interesting to see what he was starting to do before his injury.

Despite the dramatic dip he experienced in 2020, his previous season shows that there might be something left for him to show. Whether or not he proves his 2019 campaign was a fluke is yet to be determined, but regardless his power isn’t going anywhere, and it’s always a treat to admire his towering bombs. Besides, who else are you going to want to see on this team anyway?


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