The American League West finds itself stocked with stars, from Michael Trout to Jose Altuve to Robinson Cano to Adrian Beltre and beyond.Everyone is aware of the aces and the sluggers, but every team has other players fans don't know much about. Here's a look at five key contributors in
The American League West finds itself stocked with stars, from Michael Trout to Jose Altuve to Robinson Cano to Adrian Beltre and beyond.
Everyone is aware of the aces and the sluggers, but every team has other players fans don't know much about. Here's a look at five key contributors in the AL West who aren't big names, but are stepping up early this season under the radar in their respective roles.
AngelsSS Andrelton Simmons
Why you should know about him: Along with supplying Gold Glove-level defense at shortstop, Simmons has continued to develop into a more complete hitter. After Wednesday, he was batting .339 with an .896 OPS and more walks (12) than strikeouts (nine) over 34 games this season. Simmons' success is partly due to improved plate discipline: He's chasing only 20.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, and his walk rate is up to 8.5 percent, both of which are the best marks of his career.
Why you don't: Simmons is far from an unknown talent, but he often cedes the spotlight to Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Jose Pujols in Anaheim.
What they're saying: "We played a series in Atlanta a couple years ago when he was there, and you saw the natural flow he had at shortstop. He's special. And at the plate, just statistically looking at him, you knew there was a guy there that was going to be a plus offensive player at that position. He's worked very hard. I don't think you get a feel for just how hard he works in the cage every day. He takes a lot of pride in what he can do in the batter's box." -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia
AstrosC Max Stassi
Why you should know about him: Stassi is finally getting his first extended look in the big leagues at 27 years old after spending only small parts of the previous five seasons with the big league club. His defensive prowess behind the plate and emerging bat have allowed him to become the regular backup to veteran Brian McCann.
Why you don't: Stassi has always had the defensive ability, and there was promise with his bat, but it wasn't until he passed through waivers -- 29 other teams didn't want to claim him -- that he realized he needed to drastically improve his game. The front office and player development staff saw flashes of potential from Stassi, who addressed some things receiving-wise, and offensively he's turned his weaknesses into strengths.
What they're saying: "He's taking a lot of things seriously behind the plate. Handling this type of starting rotation has been good for him because it's really brought focus to how he handles pitches, how he calls pitches, put some emphasis on the defensive side of things. We spent so much time talking about offense and the different changes he's made. His contribution has been good. He's on a regular routine of playing about every three days or so and has adapted well and shown some spurts of offensive production. As a soft platoon/backup catcher, you want to contribute on offense a little bit, you want to catch a winner, you want to gain the trust of the pitching staff. He's done all that." -- Astros manager AJ Hinch
Athletics C Jonathan Lucroy
Why you should know about him: Nobody works harder than Lucroy behind the scenes. The veteran catcher does his homework daily, bettering not only himself but also his pitching staff. He's been a calming, influential force behind the plate after signing with the A's in March, helping a young starting staff find its way. Lucroy is routinely credited by his pitchers for his superb game calling; lefty Sean Manaea lauded his catcher's efforts after they teamed up for a no-hitter against the Red Sox last month.
Why you don't: Lucroy rarely draws attention outside of the clubhouse, instead letting his work do the talking. Not only has he starred on defense, but he's kept pace at the plate, too, quietly delivering consistent results from the lower half of the lineup.
What they're saying: "He's played in both leagues. He takes pride in being a true catcher that's in there for the pitcher, and the pitchers appreciate that. And I think they rely on him a little more as far as the pitch-calling goes." -- A's manager Bob Melvin
Mariners LHP James Pazos
Why you should know about him: The 27-year-old lefty reliever has thrown 10 1/3 straight scoreless innings dating back to April 10, giving up just four hits while striking out 10 without a walk in that span. Pazos' 1.46 ERA leads all Mariners relievers. And with veteran southpaw Marc Rzepczynski struggling, Pazos has begun inheriting more of the crucial late-inning, high-leverage situations when manager Scott Servais goes to his bullpen for a left-hander.
Why you don't: Seattle's strong start has drawn plenty of attention to its offensive stars, and the pitching focus has largely been on the emerging James Paxton and veteran Felix Hernandez, along with flame-throwing closer Edwin Diaz. Pazos had a solid rookie season last year with a 3.86 ERA in 59 outings after being acquired from the Yankees, but he gave up five hits -- including a homer -- and two runs in his first two outings this season and was struggling with his control until turning things around and establishing himself in what figures to be a growing role as the season progresses.
What they're saying: "Coming out of the end of Spring Training, he wasn't throwing the ball very well, and he'd admit that. He got back to just doing what Pazos does. We have a lot of confidence in him right now, and he's got a lot of confidence in himself. He keeps telling me how hungry he is every day -- and that's two-fold, because Paz and I have a running joke at the dessert line after the games, and the flip side is I know what he means. He's hungry, and he wants the ball." -- Servais
Rangers RHP Jose Leclerc
Why you should know about him: Leclerc has a live arm, with a fastball that averages 94 mph and a changeup that has an overall swing-and-miss rate of 56 percent. That's the highest of any pitch that has been thrown at least 25 times on the Rangers' staff. He has a 2.19 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP through his first 11 outings and 12 1/3 innings. Texas is growing increasingly confident in using Leclerc in high-leverage, late-inning situations.
Why you don't: Leclerc was on the Rangers' Opening Day roster, but he has been sent down and called back up twice since then. He is one of the few Texas relievers with options, which is the main reason why he keeps getting sent down. But if Leclerc continues to pitch effectively and overcome past command and control issues, he could become a permanent and integral member of the bullpen.
What they're saying: "We know Leclerc has electric stuff, swing-and-miss stuff. We have seen this from him before. It's all about being able to do it consistently over a period of time. That's what we're looking for from him." -- Rangers manager Jeff Banister
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB