Pujols makes Angels class of West at first base

First base in the American League West is a position filled with questions, even in Los Angeles with Albert Pujols.

Pujols has been slow to recover from right knee surgery this spring but should be ready to go once the season starts.

Even a slow Pujols is a good one though in the West, where he’s still the cream of the first base crop as every other team has huge question marks at first. Here are the division rankings and breakdowns for first base.

1. Los Angeles
– A .285 average to go along with 30 home runs and 105 RBI would be an amazing season by first base standards for a lot of teams. Of course, the Angels didn’t invest 10 years and $240 million on Albert Pujols for him to have an average season, which is what those numbers would be by his normally lofty standards. Pujols struggled mightily last April (.217, 0 home runs, 4 RBIs) so that hampered his overall numbers. Pujols should be better in his second year providing he can stay healthy. His contract isn’t the story for the Angels anymore. He has protection in the lineup because of the signing of Josh Hamilton and he doesn’t have to be the spotlight player with the addition of Hamilton and the emergence of Mike Trout. Instead of being the man, he is a man in the potent Los Angeles lineup. That’s not a good thought for opposing pitchers. But his 30 homers were a career low and his RBI total was the third lowest of his career. The Angels have to hope that 2012 was an offseason and not a trend.

Team production in 2012: .288 average, 36 home runs, 113 RBI, .778 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .285 average, 40 home runs, 110 RBI, .850 OPS

2. Texas – Giving the Rangers the No. 2 spot here isn’t so much a ringing endorsement as it a sign of how bleak the division is at first. The Rangers toyed with the idea of putting Ian Kinsler at first before settling on Mitch Moreland again. Moreland doesn’t see this as a make-or-break season but it is. He has to be able to hit left-handed pitching and he spent the offseason working out against left-handers.  Moreland had just 51 plate appearances against lefties in 2012 when the Rangers used Michael Young and Mike Napoli at first base. Young and Napoli are no longer with the club, putting the onus on Moreland to respond to an everyday role. He hit just .239 against lefties last year. If Moreland can’t hit left-handers, the Rangers don’t have a lot of options behind him. They could use Lance Berkman at first but he’s coming off a pair of knee surgeries and is expected to be the designated hitter. Mike Olt could also be an option but he’s not a first baseman by trade and is unproven at the big-league level.

Team production in 2012: .251 average, 20 home runs, 70 RBI, .701 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .260 average, 25 home runs, 80 RBI, .750 OPS

3. Seattle – Remember when the Rangers thought more of Justin Smoak than they did of both Mitch Moreland and Chris Davis? The meter is running on Smoak with the Mariners as Seattle looked to upgrade the position in the offseason before settling on Smoak again. Smoak hit a career high 19 home runs in 2012 but was also sent to the minors for a stint as is batting average plummeted to .217. He’s never hit higher than .234 in the majors and his on-base percentage in 2012 dropped to .290. The Mariners picked up a pair of players in the offseason who could help in a pinch. Kendrys Morales could play some first base but the Mariners would rather use him as designated hitter to take some of the impact off his surgically repaired ankle. Mike Morse played more than 80 games at first for Washington two seasons ago but the Mariners prefer him in left.

Team production in 2012: .228 average, 22 home runs, 64 RBI, .669 OPS
Expected production in 2012: .240 average, 25 home runs, 75 RBI, .700 OPS

4. Oakland – Bran don Moss was one of the feel-good stories for an Oakland team in 2012 that had plenty of them. The journeyman finally got a chance to play on a daily basis and fit perfectly in with Oakland’s swing for the fences mentality In 84 games, Moss smacked 21 home runs and had 52 RBIs. Over a full season that would make him one of the top first basemen in the league offensively. The problem is that Moss hasn’t proven he’s an everyday player on a consistent basis. He’s spent parts of the seasons in the majors since 2007 but hasn’t been able to stick. Oakland will give him that chance this season in part because there’s not a lot behind him. Daric Barton handled the job in 2010 but hasn’t hit better than .212 in the majors since that year.

Team production in 2012: .240 average, 31 home runs, 80 RBI, .801 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .240 average, 25 home runs, 75 RBI, .700 OPS

5. Houston – The Astros used eight players at first base last year, with no one getting more than the 254 at-bats of Carlos Lee. Brett Wallace was supposed to be the man at first base, but he spent part of the season in the minors. Houston signed Carlos Pena to fill the spot this year. Pena doesn’t hit for average, as he hasn’t hit better than .227 in the last four years. But he’s been able to offset that by ranking in the top 10 in the American League in walks in each of the last six years. Pena will also see some time at designated hitter, which will allow Brett Wallace some time at first. Wallace spent part of last season at Triple A but nine homers and 24 RBIs in 229 at-bats with the Astros last year.

Team production in 2012:
.258 average, 20 home runs, 68 RBI, .726 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .230 average, 25 home runs, 70 RBI, .700 OPS