AL West 2014: Albert Pujols, Jurickson Profar among those most likely to improve

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Four players still in the early stages of their careers and one three-time MVP winner are looking for improved seasons after poor 2013 campaigns.

The AL West is up for grabs in 2014. The reigning-champion Athletics still look like the team to beat, though the always-competitive Rangers are certainly in the hunt. However, with a little luck and a few bounce-back seasons, the Mariners and Angels could also find themselves smack dab in the middle of a divisional championship race.

Which team wins the division may come down to whoever sees the most improvement from some of their key players. Here is a look at players who may see the most improvement for each team in the division in 2014.

Angels

Albert Pujols. For many MLB players, hitting .258/.330/.437 would be a good season. For Pujols, that performance in 2013 was far and away the worst of his career. It was the first season his OPS dipped below 850 and the first year in which he did not receive a single MVP vote. He also only played in 99 games due to a chronic case of plantar fasciitis along with a knee injury. He's healthy now, though, and could be ready to help the Angels surprise the AL West. Certainly he will not be as bad as he was in 2013. This season could mark the return of perennial MVP candidate Pujols.

Astros

Brad Peacock. It's hard to choose a single player from the Astros to be their most improved. Nearly the entire team certainly has room for improvement after a 111 loss season, the worst year for an MLB team in nearly a decade. Peacock is a former top-50 prospect in the Nationals organization before being a key part of the Gio Gonzalez trade with the Athletics. He was sent from Oakland to Houston for Jed Lowrie after a dreadful season on Oakland's minor league system. In 18 major league appearances (14 starts) for Houston last year he had a 5.18 ERA. Peacock is penciled into the rotation for 2014 and has excellent stuff (he has struck out over a batter per inning in several seasons). However, his control has not been the best and he can be hittable. The talent is there for him to be better, though, and he should have plenty of playing time in what will likely be another lost season for the Astros.

Athletics

Josh Reddick. Even in the minors, Reddick never was the greatest at getting on base, with a .332 minor league OBP. He's hovered around a .300 OBP in his major league career. However, he has helped make up for that with impressive power numbers and strong defense. In 2012, his first year with the Athletics after a trade with the Red Sox, he hit 32 home runs and won a Gold Glove. Last year, a wrist injury sapped his power and kept him out a large chunk of the year, resulting in just 12 home runs and an 80 point drop in his OPS. With added weight and no more wrist-pain, Reddick may be looking at a bounce-back year in 2014.

Mariners

Mike Zunino. It only took 96 minor league games for Mike Zunino to go from 2012 draftee to Seattle Mariners starting catcher. Over his minor league career, he hit .286/.365/.571 with 24 home runs, putting him on pace for 40 long balls over a 162-game season. In his first major league experience, however, he looked a little outmatched with just a 620 OPS and five homers over 52 games. He's a polished hitter who is getting the nod at catcher for a full season with the major league squad. Now that he's had a taste of higher end pitching, he should see a big improvement in his stats in the coming years.

Rangers

Jurickson Profar. Before Mike Trout broke out as an MVP candidate at 20 years old in 2012, he hit just .220/.281/.390 over 40 games in 2011. At a similarly young age, Profar has played in 94 career games and has hit .234/.308/.336. For someone universally considered the top prospect in baseball, that's not a great line. But Trout was similarly hyped before finally receiving a full year of playing time. Now that Ian Kinsler is out of town, Profar is the Rangers full-time second baseman for better or worse. Having been acclaimed as a five-tool player, it's hard not to be optimistic about his chances for success moving forward.

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Baseball is rollin' in cash, slashin' pensions

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