Caption: AL West teams
by Ryan Harless
Ryan Harless is a third-year undergraduate at BGSU from Hillsboro, Ohio. He is majoring in Sport Management with a Journalism Minor. Baseball and golf at all levels are his primary interests but he is also interested in combat sports, hockey, basketball, and football.
February 26, 2023
We’ve finally made it to the end of the series! Welcome to part six (of six), of my predictions for the breakout star on every Major League Baseball (MLB) team in 2023. We have finally made it all the way to the American League (AL) Western Division.
This division has been dominated recently by the Houston Astros, but last year the Seattle Mariners made a surprising run in the postseason.
Kicking off this list, however, are the Oakland Athletics. The A’s lost 102 games last season and they have nowhere to go but up.
I expect a large part of their rebuilding process is going to be Paul Blackburn. Twenty twenty-two was Blackburn’s first year entirely in the Majors, as he had spent all or parts of the last 10 years on various Minor League teams.
Over his nine seasons in the Minors, Blackburn had a 3.66 ERA in 721 innings. In his experience at the Major League level, he has struggled to keep on pace posting a 5.09 ERA over 249.1 innings.
Last season, Blackburn got his most starts in MLB since 2017 with 21 and he made the most of it, being named to his first All-Star team. He finished the season with a 4.28 ERA alongside his 89 strikeouts over 111.1 innings.
I predict that if Blackburn is able to stay healthy and make 25+ starts, he can go 12-8 with a 3.50 ERA. With Blackburn being a contact pitcher, he does have to rely on his fielders to be there for him when batters make contact so there is always uncertainty.
Finishing eight games ahead of Oakland were the Texas Rangers. This team spent around $350 million in one offseason to bring Corey Seager and Marcus Semien in to be their middle-infielders. They finished with fewer than 70 wins even with those two on the team.
The Rangers are another team looking to turn things around and I think a certain switch-hitting catcher might be a major key to their turnaround.
My choice for the 2023 breakout star of the Texas Rangers is Jonah Heim. Heim is entering his second season as the primary catcher for Texas. He played parts of the 2020 and 2021 seasons and was relatively inconsequential posting a 0 WAR (wins above replacement). But, this last season saw Heim play in 127 games, and post a 2.5 WAR.
Heim, as is the case with most catchers, is most valuable behind the plate and not in the batters box. Heim has posted an above average fielding percentage all of the last three years as well as having eight defensive runs saved above average.
I expect Heim to play in 130 games, have a caught stealing percentage above 30%, and have a 3+ WAR. With these numbers, I could easily see Heim starting behind the dish for the All-Star game this season.
This brings us to one of the oddest teams in all of MLB, the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels have had two of the top five players in all of the league (Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout) every one of the last five seasons and haven’t been .500 or better in any of them. Nor have they finished above third place in any of those years.
I think that another one of their outfielders could be one of the keys to their success this year. Jo Adell has struggled to get on his feet in his three seasons in the big leagues. But I feel that a lot of times, position players need 2-3 years of struggling in MLB to really catch hold and play to the height of their abilities.
I think this will be the case for Adell who has posted a career .289 batting average in six seasons of Minor League play. Adell played 88 games in 2022 which was 50 games more than his previous high and while he didn’t produce amazing numbers, there were flashes of greatness.
Adell has the tools to be a star both in the field and at the plate, and I think he will do just that in the 2023 season.
I expect Adell to slash .250/.300/.350 with 18 homers and somewhere around 50 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.
Finishing 2nd in the AL West last season were the Seattle Mariners. This is a team that is amped up and ready to make another postseason push and they have the talent to do so.
I think this team will make it to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and maybe even their first World Series ever.
I think the player that is going to have a true breakout season and propel them there is Luis Castillo.
Castillo has already proved himself as one of the better starting pitchers in all of MLB, but I think that this will be the year that he wins a Cy Young award.
Castillo has played six seasons in the Majors but is yet to make the leap from good to great. Part of that has not been his own doing. He started his career with the Cincinnati Reds and only had an ERA above 3.98 in one season. And outside of those two seasons, he never had an ERA over 3.40.
Those Reds teams did little to help Castillo with run support so his win-loss records look a little sketchy. But, finding his home in Seattle, I expect him to put up league-leading numbers, especially if he is able to master his changeup which is already one of the best in all of MLB.
I expect Castillo to go 15-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 180 innings to go alongside 200 strikeouts. As I mentioned above, I also anticipate him winning the AL Cy Young Award.
This brings us to the 2022 World Series champions, the Houston Astros. The Astros won the second most games in MLB last year, trailing only the Dodgers by five wins. I can only imagine that the Houston organization is taking this year as another World Series or bust year.
I think that this year, they are going to have more help from one of their quieter returning players, Chas McCormick.
McCormick has played two seasons for Houston batting around .250, but like I said before, I think a lot of hitters need a few years in the big leagues to get the swing of things. I’m sure he will bounce back just fine.
Over four Minor League seasons, McCormick slashed .278/.362/.402 which shows that he is more than capable at the plate. He is yet to show off his power numbers that he had in college (9 homers his senior year) but that should come with age.
I look for McCormick to slash .275/.360/.390 with 8-10 homers and 120 hits. He should develop into a great everyday outfielder for Houston.