1. CALIFORNIA ANGELS
MVP TO BE Rightfielder Tim Salmon looked like the best
all-around player in Arizona this spring. He's primed for an
even better year than last season, when he became the first
American League outfielder since Fred Lynn in 1979 to hit at
least .330 with 34 or more homers and a minimum of 105 RBIs.
NOT AGAIN THIS YEAR After leading the American League West most
of last season, the Angels suffered the fastest collapse of a
10 1/2-game lead in major league history--35 days--and failed to
make the playoffs. "The 1974 Red Sox were up by seven games with
about a month to play, and we lost by seven games to the
Orioles," says California coach Rick Burleson, who played on
that Boston team. "The next year we said it would never happen
again. We won the pennant. This Angels team is the same way."
THE PEN IS MIGHTY Lee Smith, the major league record holder for
career saves, who suffered a ruptured tendon in his right knee
in the off-season, should be ready for Opening Day. If he's not,
righthander Troy Percival, the game's best middle reliever in
1995, is ready to step in. "No hitter wanted any part of
Percival last year," says former California reliever John
Habyan, who is now in camp with the Colorado Rockies.
Righthander Bryan Harvey, once a top closer, is slowly
recovering from major elbow surgery. If he bounces back, the
Angels' bullpen will be even tougher.
GIANT KILLER New second baseman and leadoff man Randy Velarde
has a lifetime regular-season batting average of .500 (18 for
36) against Seattle Mariners ace Randy Johnson, who beat the
Angels three times in 1995, including in the playoff for the
division title. Last season California batted .197 against
GUITAR MAN Mark Langston, the ace of the Angels' rotation, the
division's best, relaxed in spring training by playing electric
guitar in the clubhouse. He's friends with Bruce Hornsby and
members of the band Rush, but when they asked Langston to jam
with them, he was too intimidated and declined. "When Bruce
asked me," says Langston, "my hands started sweating."
OUTLOOK This is the best team in California's 36-year history.
In the American League only the Indians have better pitching.
"The Angels are the team to beat in the division," says Mariners
manager Lou Piniella.
2. SEATTLE MARINERS
BIG UNIT AND THE SECOND UNIT With No. 2 starter Chris Bosio out
until May with a knee injury, the Mariners' rotation will
consist of Johnson, Sterling Hitchcock, Bob Wolcott, Edwin
Hurtado and Paul Menhart. Johnson has 99 career wins, while
those four other pitchers have 66 career starts. Last year
Seattle starters other than Cy Young-winner Johnson (18-2, 2.48
ERA) were 37-42 with a 5.59 ERA.
APRIL FOOLS Twenty-four of the Mariners' first 28 games are
against teams that had losing records last year.
COWBOY NORM In the off-season, southpaw closer Norm Charlton was
working on his 4,000-acre ranch south of San Antonio when he cut
the middle finger of his pitching hand on a piece of equipment.
"A veterinarian stitched it up," he said.
ALL NEW The starting left side of the Seattle infield will
feature 20-year-old shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who played well
defensively this spring, and 26-year-old third baseman Russ
Davis, who did everything well. Acquired in an off-season trade
with the Yankees, Davis has replaced Mike Blowers, who was dealt
to the Dodgers despite knocking in 96 runs in 1995.
OUTLOOK The Mariners, who were two wins away from making the
1995 World Series, turned over 40% of the team in the
off-season. No playoff spot this year.
3. TEXAS RANGERS
THE STREAK This franchise, which began in Washington, D.C., in
1961 and moved to Texas 11 years later, has never made it to the
postseason. The major leagues' only franchise that went longer
without playing its first postseason game was the St. Louis
Browns, from 1902 to '43.
BETTER THAN EVER? Rightfielder Juan Gonzalez, who was accused of
having poor work habits the last couple of years after suffering
a back injury, came to camp trim and with a much better
attitude. "He doesn't even want to sleep, he just wants to get
to the park," Rangers batting coach Rudy Jaramillo says. "He
wants to have a monster year." After spending most of last year
as a DH, he looked comfortable in rightfield during spring
training. "He wants to get back in the limelight, so people talk
about him like they talk about [Ken] Griffey and [Albert]
Belle," says Texas general manager Doug Melvin.
MURDERER'S ROW Third baseman Dean Palmer is healthy again after
tearing a left biceps tendon while swinging at a pitch last
June. "It was like a rubber band snapping, my whole body
quivered," he says. Palmer was hitting .330 with nine homers and
24 RBIs in 34 games before the injury. With Palmer, Gonzalez
(.295, 27 home runs and 82 RBIs in 90 games) and first baseman
Will Clark (.302, 16 HR, 92 RBIs) in the middle of the order,
manager Johnny Oates says, "We have three guys who'll drive in
WITT'S END The key to the Texas rotation may be veteran
righthander Bobby Witt, who was 3-4 with a 4.55 ERA after being
acquired from the Marlins last August. If Witt can get hitters
out without overthrowing, he can be a big winner. If not, Texas
has righthander Ken Hill and four question marks in the rotation.
OUTLOOK The same as every year: solid hitting and questionable
pitching. The streak continues.
4. OAKLAND A'S
THE ACE? The A's Opening Day starter will be righthander Carlos
Reyes, who has only 10 career starts and four lifetime wins--the
fewest wins by an Opening Day starter since the Colorado
Rockies' David Nied (three career wins) in 1993.
BULLPEN SAVIOR? Oakland's new closer is Jim Corsi, 34, who has
two career saves--321 fewer than Dennis Eckersley, who was
traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in February.
BIG MAC ATTACKED First baseman Mark McGwire, who last season had
the best home-run-to-at-bat ratio in history (39 dingers in 317
at bats), injured his right arch this spring and is sidelined
indefinitely. McGwire missed most of the 1994 season with an
injured left arch. A's manager Art Howe, an eternal optimist,
found the bright side: "At least he doesn't have any arches left
to hurt," he said.
CHEAP LABOR The Oakland payroll--including $3.2 million it's
paying toward the salaries of Eckersley and Danny Tartabull, who
was traded to the White Sox--is about $20 million, lowest in the
OUTLOOK In the off-season Oakland lost its manager (Tony La
Russa), leadoff man and leftfielder (Rickey Henderson), ace
(Todd Stottlemyre) and closer (Eckersley). Now McGwire is gone
for an extended period. This will be a long season in Oakland.
COLOR PHOTO: KIRK SCHLEA If Smith isn't ready to pitch by Opening Day, the hard-throwing Percival will step into the crucial closer's role for the Angels. [Troy Percival]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Catcher Terry Steinbach will be a busy man, as opposing teams run roughshod over the depleted Oakland staff. [California Angels baseball player running into Terry Steinbach]