The American League West turned into the battle of Texas in 2015, as the Rangers and Astros reigned supreme over their divisional foes. Before these rivals settle their competition on the field in '16, we can get a head start on assessing them by comparing the fantasy value of their
The American League West turned into the battle of Texas in 2015, as the Rangers and Astros reigned supreme over their divisional foes. Before these rivals settle their competition on the field in '16, we can get a head start on assessing them by comparing the fantasy value of their key players for the upcoming campaign.
Catcher: Catcher is not an offensive focal point for either team, as both Robinson Chirinos and Jason Castro are options only in 15-team two-catcher leagues. Both backstops profile as low-average hitters who can post a double-digit homer total, leaving this position in a tie.
First base: Coming off a career year (.278 average, 23 homers, 85 RBIs), Mitch Moreland gives Texas a sizable edge over Houston's unsettled first-base situation. The Astros will give a long look to all-or-nothing slugger Jon Singleton, but he may be just a placeholder until prized prospect A.J. Reed arrives during the season.
Second base: A five-category asset who leads his position in fantasy value, Jose Altuve easily wins this battle against ascending youngster Rougned Odor. The 22-year-old Odor can take major strides in 2016, but he is unlikely to get close to Altuve for the foreseeable future.
Shortstop: It took just 99 games in 2015 for Carlos Correa to prove that he is the class of the shortstop position. Expected to be a first-round pick in virtually all '16 drafts, the 21-year-old will rank far ahead of Elvis Andrus. Andrus can give fantasy owners 25 steals, but he does not make a major impact in other areas.
Third base:Adrian Beltre has fallen short of the 20-homer mark in two consecutive seasons, but he can still compile 80 runs and 80 RBIs to go with a high batting mark. Beltre holds a decided advantage over Luis Valbuena, who hit 25 homers last season but struggles to collect base knocks (lifetime .228 average).
Left field: A lifetime .245 hitter, Colby Rasmus found a way to help mixed-league teams last season by ripping a career-best 25 homers. The native Georgian's power numbers are good enough to earn him an edge over Josh Hamilton, whose frequent injury issues could force Texas to regularly dip into its reserve players.
Center field: Plucked from the Astros in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft, Delino DeShields became a difference-making spark plug for the Rangers in his rookie campaign. But DeShields cannot yet match the fantasy resume of Carlos Gomez, who accumulated 47 homers and 74 steals in '13-14 before dealing with injuries during '15.
Right field: While dealing with multiple injuries, George Springer has teased and tantalized fantasy owners during his initial two big league seasons. Likely on the verge of his first 20-20 campaign, Springer gives the Astros an edge over Shin-Soo Choo and the Rangers. Choo was outstanding in the second half of 2015 (.343 average), but his stolen-base decline has dropped him out of the early rounds of mixed-league drafts.
Designated hitter:Prince Fielder bounced back from an injury-plagued 2014 season to have an excellent first half in '15. The slugger tailed off after the All-Star break, but his ability to hit for both power and average places the lifetime .287 hitter ahead of Evan Gattis. The Houston DH has plenty of power, but he is more of a mid-round option due to his contact woes (career .250 average).
No. 1 starter: The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, Dallas Keuchel uses his ground-ball tendencies and improved strikeout rate to win this battle over Cole Hamels. Entering his first full season in the Junior Circuit, Hamels profiles as a low-end No. 2 starter in mixed formats.
No. 2 starter: Capable of being a mixed-league ace once he returns from Tommy John surgery in May, Yu Darvish picks up a point for the Rangers in this spot. The Astros and mixed-league owners will likely get excellent production from Lance McCullers, but he is not yet ready to reach Darvish's level of fantasy value.
No. 3 starter: Though Collin McHugh is unlikely to match his 19 wins from a season ago, his ability to log innings and post solid ratios keeps him ahead of southpaw Derek Holland. Having tossed only 95 2/3 innings over the past two seasons, Holland is a major question mark heading into 2016.
No. 4 starter: Assuming that he secures a spot in Houston's Opening Day rotation, Mike Fiers should use his strong strikeout rate to be a useful mixed-league starter. He holds a decided edge over workhorse Colby Lewis, whose value is limited to AL-only formats due to his lifetime 4.81 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.
No. 5 starter: Looking to prove his 2015 was an aberration, Doug Fister should earn a roster spot in deep mixed formats on the strength of his lifetime 3.42 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Even coming off a down year, Fister wins this position battle over Martin Perez (career 4.22 ERA, 1.40 WHIP).
Closer: In his first full season as a ninth-inning man, Ken Giles should use his notable strikeout skills to approach the top tier of fantasy closers. Shawn Tolleson ought to follow up his impressive 2015 with another solid campaign as the Rangers' stopper, but the nod here goes to Giles and his dominant skill set.
Setup Men: Both clubs have loaded relief corps, leaving this position a tie. While no setup man on either club warrants mixed-league attention, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp, Keone Kela, Tom Wilhelmsen and Sam Dyson all belong on AL-only rosters.
Final verdict: Based on the strength of two first-round-caliber players (Altuve and Correa) and a 10-4 edge in the position-by-position breakdown, the Astros appear to be the AL West favorites in this edition of Tale of the Fantasy Tape.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.