AMERICAN LEAGUE SYNOPSIS
Can Syracuse find a way to stay on top?
Do Marte and company have the pitching to succeed in Toronto?
Are the Hosers finally a playoff team?
Can the Terror Hawks rebound?
The Ottawa Hosers are a team that has made great strides towards competitiveness in the past couple of seasons. Management is hoping that with a few off-season acquisitions, the team can put itself over the top into the division title or at least a wildcard spot. It has been nine seasons since this franchise made the playoffs, and it looks like GM greeny9 is trying to put together a roster that can change that. The team made a blockbuster trade in the off-season that brings in all-star and world champion outfielders Miguel Jimenez and Odalis De La Vega from Montreal. They should bolster an already strong offensive attack featuring rookie of the year SS Denny Yeats, a talented athlete who should challenge for the silver slugger at shortstop yearly. Also returning is 2B Vic Esposito, a power threat from a skill position is nice. 1B Pedro “Boom Boom” Chavez should be good for 40 homeruns and 100 rbis. What fans in Ottawa are really buzzing about is the young starting pitching staff featured on this team. The staff is led by second year MLer Juan Guzman, with a good contribution from veteran Butch Bowen. Youngsters Vinny Bryant and David Ortiz should improve with age and experience. On the horizon is Alex Ortiz, a dominant force in the making. Kevin Baek is a solid option at closer, but the rest of the bullpen is somewhat suspect. This team made some moves to improve itself, and the young players have yet to hit their primes. This team should finish above .500 this season, and management hopes it’s enough for the division title or a WC spot.
The Syracuse Blue Sox surprised many (but not themselves) when they took the AL’s Northern division title last season by a hair (albeit with a sub .500 record). Once again this division looks to be up for grabs, and most likely it will again be a team that gets hot at the right time that takes the title. This team made some free agent splashes in the off-season, with the signing of World Series champ SP Juan Seanez topping the bill. They also signed 2B/OF Kevin Cambridge to a three year deal, and inked a pair of catchers to one-year deals to platoon behind the plate. Offensive leaders CF Raul Vazquez, 2B/LF Tom Borland and 3B/IF Ned Daly return, so the team should finish near the middle of the offensive pack again. The starting pitching staff should be slightly better with Seanez taking the place of Mitchell Griffin. The bullpen gets a big shot in the arm with the promotion of wunderkind closer Ralph Lambert looking to challenge for the ROY award and FOY awards into the future. This team looks like it’s capable of finishing above .500, which has been good enough to take this division in the recent past, but other teams in this division have improved as well, so it will be a tight race.
Toronto Trout management was quite active in the free agent market, netting themselves two high-priced ace pitchers in the process. The additions of both Brook Perez and Juan Sosa from New York should bolster the Trout’s pitching immensely. After re-signing four-time all-start closer Tony Bautista to a new two-year deal, the Trout surprised many by inking Sosa to a big contract. Toronto will try Sosa in the starting rotation and hope that he can make a seamless transition. He certainly has the stuff, with a great sinker-curveball combo, but he’ll need to focus on his stamina. Brook Perez is 35, but is fresh off yet another 200+ inning season with a 3.77 ERA. In 14 pro seasons, Brook has posted a sub-4 ERA nine times, has notched 12 or more wins in 12 of the last 13 seasons and has a Cy Young award on his mantle. Toronto’s 4.98 ERA ranked 28th in the majors last season, so they’ll be counting on the new arms to turn things around. Matt Boone and Shane Knoblauch are seasoned veterans out to prove that they haven’t lost their edge, with Boone likely having more gas left in the tank out of the two. David Pressley enters his prime with a 16-win season under his belt and a dizzying propensity to allowing the long ball (48 home runs allowed last season). Pressley isn’t really a fly ball pitcher, so the Trout are hoping that he can reverse the trend. The pitching will need to get better if Toronto is going to compete for a division title, and the new faces should make a difference. The hitting last season was much more effective, as the Trout posted a .282 average that tied for 3rd in the majors. Led by Winston Marte’s sickeningly well-rounded stat sheet (162 games played, 126 runs, 225 hits, 24 HRs, 115 RBIs, 42 steals and .341 avg) and Robert O’Donnell’s breakout season (career highs in runs, doubles, homers, RBI’s, stolen bases and batting average) the Toronto offense has a wide range of contributors and a good mix of power and speed. Trout fans are excited about the addition of youngsters Chet Neal and “whatchoo-talkin-bout” Willis Swift and veteran catchers Scott Meacham and Walter Wade to help manage pitching staff and hopefully contribute a little with their bats. Senior citizen Brian Meng returns for a 15th season with the club, although pundits are not quite sure why. With an entirely depleted skill-set, one would assume that his clubhouse presence is something to behold! “Just having Meng around is inspirational for teammates and fans alike!” says infielder Harry Rodriguez, “Brian does things that the rest of us can only dream about!” This is a team with some upside, but they’ll need to fight tooth and nail to grind their way to the top of the North.
The Terror Hawks came out on top of the tight A.L. North race in season 13, but weren’t as fortunate last season as being 5 games behind Syracuse left Trenton in last place in their division. In what should once again be a fairly even race, each team will need to figure out how to separate themselves from the pack. In the off-season, Trenton addressed their starting pitching depth by adding former first round pick Dwayne Marshall, who joins his fifth franchise after spending five seasons in Tampa Bay. Marshall has had his share of accolades, including three World Series championships (2 with Boston, 1 with Helena). He had great stuff in his first two seasons with the T-Balls, before injuries to both his knee and pitching elbow shook his confidence and he hasn’t quite been the same. Marshall needs to stay healthy to get back on track, but adds an experienced arm to a rotation that lacked veteran leadership. Ahmad Griffith and Desi Mendez each had mixed success in their first season’s with the team, but lacked consistency. Second year man Brendan O’Neil was probably the team’s best pitcher, but was left scratching his head as to why the bats fell dead every time he started. In his rookie season O’Neill finished a respectable 14-10, however despite a very similar stat line, he only managed a 6-14 record last season. He is almost certain to improve this year, but if the team is to come out on top, they’ll need dramatic improvement from their bullpen as well. Closer “Frankie” De La Vega finished with an awful 5-10 win-loss record and a 6.14 ERA while successfully closing out only 17 of his 32 save opportunities. What has been attributed to bad off-season conditioning, was the difference between making the playoffs and a last place finish last season. D.L.V will return as the closer this season, but expect him to be on a very short leash if he doesn’t correct his mechanics. The offense will once again rely upon the trio of Justin “The Colossus” Jacome, Felipe Vega and Carl Bevil to knock in runs. All three are capable of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs if they hit their stride. Benji Shuey will look to top 80 steals once again, but doesn’t get on base enough for a leadoff hitter and saw a dramatic drop-off in runs scored last season. New free-agent additions Manny Rolls and Joe Owen bring veteran experience to a well-balanced lineup. If anyone falters, Eswalin Mendoza and Miguel Johnson are swinging major league ready bats at AAA. There is also some decent pitching in the future should any Terror Hawks hurlers succumb to injury. There aren’t any glaring weaknesses on a solid Trenton team, but they’ll need to take it to the next level to stay in the playoff hunt.
Can Boston keep winning without Beltran?
Can the Crunch keep pace with the Sox?
Will Durham return to the post-season?
Does Jacksonville have playoff-caliber talent?
The Boston Red Sox went to the World Series for the first time in five seasons, but fell short, losing in 5 games to a hot Montreal team. Always a favorite to return to the post-season, the Sox will need to do it without 8-time all-star Miguel Beltran. Beltran, after smacking 565 home run balls and helping to bring 4 World Series titles to Beantown, will take his act to the division rival New York Crunch. Boston has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to lose an all-world slugger to free agency and not miss a beat. The season before, Jimmie Lopez and Tom Borland left town and the Sox responded with a trip to the finals. There is still plenty of power left in a lineup that features the mighty Alfonso Mercedes. “The Great Alfonso” is a perennial home run king and leads a stellar crew of batsmen that also includes batting average champ Ron Karnuth, entering his 14th season with Boston with only two sub .350 campaigns in his career (a truly astounding feat!). Terry Davis, Chad Valentine, Hootie Park and Blake Robinson all have the power to rock the confines of Fenway Park and will try to help the Sox lead the majors in batting average for the third straight season and in home runs for a jaw dropping seventh straight season. The pitching has been another story. Despite another trip to the World Series, the Red Sox had the third worst ERA in baseball and failed to have a 12 game winner among their staff. Look for a rebound from Ramon Li, who reached a career high in losses, ERA and walks allowed and will likely revert closer to his career norms. Ryan Cash pitched very well after he came over from Syracuse in the Borland deal and could finally reach his vast potential in his fourth pro season. They’re joined by free agent acquisitions, Dweezil Stone and Robert Rowan, both savvy veterans who can help get the ball to closer Mark Aoki. There are some questions about the pitching staff, but in Fenway it’s usually the bats that win games and there are still plenty of big ones here, even with the departure of Beltran. The Red Sox should once again be a strong playoff presence as has become their habit. -bourbonmoon
The Durham County Ramblers late season playoff push fell short in season 14. A mid-season trade for Moose English from the Tiger Sharks had a positive impact on the team as English went 14-8 once joining the Ramblers, making him their winningest pitcher last year. Boomer Buck (career low in wins), Kelly Bravo (lowest win total in six seasons; career high in walks allowed) and Reginald White (career low in wins/career) all had their share of struggles in what Durham fans will call a season to forget. There is reason to believe that each of them should rebound closer to their career averages and that Durham can win a few more games this season. Free agent signing Frank Hartman will round out the rotation, donning the ninth different uniform of his career. A sinker-baller, Hartman is a workhorse who can pitch deep into games (16 career complete games), but has often struggled to find wins, and allowed a career high 266 hits last season. The bullpen will rely heavily on closer Philip Fontenot to return to his award-winning season 13 form. If the rotation struggles, the bullpen could prove to be an Achilles heel on a team that has long relied on its’ bats to win. Among those bats are former Rookie of the Year Wayne Grey, heavy hitting first bagger Vinny Morton and designated hitter Tomas Arias. Grey and Morton are constant power threats, while Arias is coming off a season in which he hit .341 and has never hit below .300 in his career. The only significant departure is third baseman Manny Rolls who takes his 23/88/.298 line to Trenton, leaving multi-tooled talents Sherry Grebeck and Sergei Kydd to pick up the slack. If the pitching can keep the Ramblers in the game, the hitting looks good enough to be in the hunt for a playoff spot by season’s end. On a side note, the long-time “Kirby Puckett-shaped” Durham slugger Jorel Kaufman earned a spot in the Hall of Fame on it’s inaugural ballot. Congratulations Jorel! -bourbonmoon
It’s always been a tough task to compete in the challenging A.L. East and for a few seasons now, Jacksonville has appeared to be on the brink of challenging for a playoff berth. The potential is there, but the Sunbirds keep struggling against their divisional rivals. While their offense displays decent power, some clutch bats and some promising young players, they’re simply average in too many offensive categories to cash in with consistency. For example, despite being among the top teams in the league in home runs, they were second to last in the A.L. last season in walks drawn and on-base percentage. A team needs to be able to set the table if those dingers are going to make a difference. The ‘Birds also strike out a little too much (with 7 hitters over 100 strikeouts maybe it’s a lot too much) and hit only .263 as a team in season 14. Things aren’t too bleak though, and there are several reasons for optimism in Jacksonville this season. Rookie of the Year runner-up “Marvelous” Marv Durham had a sick rookie season, displaying power, speed, durability and a natural feel for the game. The 22 yr old Durham is one of the best young second basemen in the game and should only get better. After a severe shoulder problem hampered “Benny V” last season, he’s healthy and looking for a rebound season. Still only 27 yrs old, Villafuerte has four 50 homer campaigns under his belt and is one of the game’s serious power threats despite last season’s 16/45/.214 aberration. Young Sam Dickerson signed a 28 million dollar four year deal in the off-season and will be trying to prove that he’s worth his paycheck. A solid season should see the 25 yr old approaching a .300 batting average with great run production capabilities. He should be a lock for 20/20. Brandon Spencer and Matty Hayes are fan favorites with great power and could each knock in 100 runs if there are enough base-runners when they manage to go deep. On the pitching front, the Sunbirds need to prove that they aren’t just a two-trick pony, with ace Jesus Astacio coming off his second 19 win season, and closer Ellis Springer remaining one of the more reliable door-slammers in the league. To compete this season they’ll need former Red Sox ace Douglas Steenstra to rebound from his worst career win-loss record, and 11.5 million man Olmedo Martin to notch at least 14-15 wins. Free agent signing Patrick Garcia should challenge Springer for save opportunities and Jacksonville could certainly use the extra bullpen depth. There are some great players in Sunbird gray, but they’ll need to find some great chemistry to challenge for the division title. The nucleus is certainly there.
The New York Crunch continue to improve each season, and to finish tied with 92 wins atop the A.L. East was more than they could have hoped for in season 14. Losing the divisional tie-breaker to Boston and their subsequent playoff series to Syracuse were not the end that the Crunch were looking for, but the pieces are certainly in place to take it a little further. With a bright future on the horizon with Dominican stars slugging outfielder Miguel “MigMar” Martinez and bullpen ace Victor “VictRo” Rosado, the Crunch have elected not to rush their young talent, instead luring long time divisional rival Miguel Beltran away from Boston. Beltran should give New York the proven power bat and clean-up hitter that they’ve been missing. With his talents (#3 all-time in home runs) at the heart of the order, pitchers will be forced to try to throw more to perennial 100 RBI man Ken Bailey as well as New York’s other offensive weapons, such as catcher Trevor Schmidt and towering first baseman Eddie Gabriel. There is more room for offensive improvement from fourth year man Don MacRae who has the potential to hit .300 with moderate power and fellow 26 yr old F.P. Jones who stole 39 bases last season and brings hustle and energy to the top of the lineup. Pitching was a strong part of last year’s return to the post season. Moises Vega, Ray Fischer and Tuck Meacham were steady through most of the season and almost always keep the Crunch in the game. Mike Washburn needs to avoid the long-ball if he’s going to achieve similar success, but he’s one season removed from a 16-win campaign and hopes to keep the ball in the yard this season. The biggest challenge for New York will be replacing Juan Sosa, the team’s closer for the past four seasons. Sosa made his first all-star appearance last season on his way to an impressive 46/50 in save opportunities and the Fireman of the Year award. He signed a lucrative 5 year deal in Toronto, leaving the Crunch a big hole in the bullpen. After five seasons in Burlington, Elrod Weston will get the first chance at the closer role, however he boasts a career ERA of 5.51 and may raise a few Bronx blood pressures with his history of blown saves. Victro may get the call sooner than expected! The Crunch’s success this season should fall on the shoulders of Beltran and the extra offense that he brings. Look for the Crunch to be in the playoff hunt. -bourbonmoon
2. Durham *
3. New York
* denotes wildcard
The Lobsters look for a repeat
Can Mad Max get the D.D’s back atop the division?
The Vodoo keep looking for some magic
The Razorbacks need a rebuilding strategy
Hardball fans in Charlotte were dismayed to learn that their perennially contending NL squad was packing up and leaving for Santa Fe, but their anguish was short-lived, as the Florida’s Designated Drinkers took up residence in the Knight’s Castle immediately thereafter. The debate immediately fired up in radio call in shows, chat boards, blogs and office water coolers all across North Carolina about if they are better off now than they were before the switch. At this point it looks like it might be a toss up, since the departing team probably has better big league talent, but is aging and doesn’t have many good prospects for the near future, while the arriving team looks to have a better near future, but might not have the same level of ML talent. The only way to settle the argument will be to see how each team performs over this season and for seasons to come. Expect a bounce-back season from “Mad” Max Cora. He should get back to his normal 30-plus home runs and 100-plus runs batted in. The offence should again be led by all star 3B Al Guerrero, and stud 2B Joshua Meadows. Abraham Velarde should be able to pick up the slack from the departure of 1B Eric Chambers. The starting pitching staff will be led by young left handers Bruce Wilson and Bryant Linden, both of whom are capable of winning 20 games under the right circumstances. Felix Forbes returns as the team’s closer, he has done a decent enough job in the ninth. It looks like this team should be one of the better fielding teams again. They should finish somewhere around .500 this season, which should put them in contention for the division lead again.
The Little Rock Razorbacks should be battling it out to stay out of the division’s basement with New Orleans. This team has finished above .500 only once in it’s history, and by the looks of things, it’s going to be at least one more season of sub .500 baseball in Little Rock. They’ll have trouble scoring runs, with 2B Daisuke Miyakazi, RF Gerald Christensen and LF Aaron Lidge leading the offensive charge. They are decent enough players, but are better suited to be supporting cast rather than leading role. 1B Fausto Posada could be the dark horse on this team. He’s capable of 20 homeruns, 100 rbis and can hit for a good batting average. The pitching staff should finish near the bottom of the statistical barrel again, as the team’s ace, Albie Bocachica has trouble hitting the broad side of a barn. Marty Stockton has some good stuff, but is particularly weak against LHB. The remainder of the roster is mainly AAAA material. The Razorbacks have a good opportunity to pick up a good prospect in the draft this season, as they pick second overall. Unfortunately, this team projects to fetch prime drafting position next season as well.-shobob
After missing the playoffs for seven straight years, the Louisville Lobsters won the division title in season fourteen. The AL South is the weakest division in the world, but solid and stable ownership has all four teams steadily improving. It might take more than just a .500 record to win this division in seasons to come. This team’s heyday was in the first few seasons of the world, winning over ninety games five times out of the first six seasons. GM cslonaker is looking to get his franchise back into a dominant position, and things seem to be trending that way. This team has made some good moves recently to build up the talent level in the system, such as the signing of international prospect DH Tony Mendez and the drafting of SP Russell Workman, who is starting the year on the DL, but has plenty of development time to recover his abilities. The ML squad features some good young talent, such as 1B Wilt Blair, who’s dominating bat skills aren’t finished developing, 22 year old SP Javier “The Arrow” Estrada, who should be racking up double digit wins for many seasons to come, and gold glove infielder Bert Lee. Star veteran players such as all-star SP Tony Silva and Silver Slugging 2B “The Heart of Hicksville” Walter Taft aren’t old by any means, and can show the youngsters how to be effective big league ballplayers. With the competition in the AL South stiffening up, Its hard to say if this young squad will repeat as division champs, but they have as good a shot at it as Charlotte.-shobob
The growing pains will continue this season for the New Orleans VoDoo. The last .500 plus season for this franchise was 13 seasons ago. GM wyatatanka has cleared the franchise of many of the bad contracts from previous ownership, and now he looks to put his own stamp on the team. There are some decent enough pieces on this team to build upon. Firstly, the team returns young stud LF Rafael Rodriguez. He should be many times a member of the 30/30 club before his career is over. RF Andrew Pride and 2B Norm Lee are some usable young players. The pitching staff doesn’t feature much depth, and the team has been let down by the contributions of Jim Sewell and Hector Mateo. It would help the team if management could find a way to get these two guys to perform at the level that is expected of them. Marv Blake has performed well as a back of the rotation guy. If the team’s starters could carry any leads into the sixth or seventh inning, free agent signee setup man Jung Lee is a quality arm that should be able to hold it down long enough to give the ball to young stud closer Matthew Langerhans, who will nail down many a save. Although it might be another painful season for New Orleans hardball fans, there is hope in sight, as the current management team has committed to build a winner out of this club. To that end, there are a few good prospects in the system, and there is some financial flexibility going forward.
3. New Orleans
4. Little Rock
Oklahoma still looking to make their mark
Can Vegas continue to dominate?
Can Helena keep pace with the top two?
Can Scottsdale start moving in the right direction?
The Helena Cowboys ended season 14 in the basement of the A.L. West, however new GM beerbellys has the team moving in the right direction. Despite a 4th place finish, the Cowboys tied for the 3rd best team batting average in baseball and have a well-rounded lineup as good as almost any in the league. Led by gritty MVP candidate Bruce Sellars, who captured his third straight Silver Slugger award and third straight All-Star appearance while turning in stellar third base defense. This season, the Cowboys will try Sellars at shortstop, hoping that he has the range to handle the switch to the middle of the infield. He certainly has a cannon for an arm, and great athleticism both at the plate and on the bases. As usual, Bruce will be protected in the lineup by the mighty swing of “El Caballo” Jose Guerrero! Guerrero has hit 40 or more dingers in eight of the last nine seasons and the Pennsylvania native should enjoy another fine campaign in which he should reach the 500 HR milestone. At 33, the diminutive Jim Fox should once again effortlessly produce 20+ round-trippers with decent run production. While his legs aren’t what they used to be on the bases or in the outfield, his strong veteran leadership and hustle provide a great mentor for the younger players. Ten years his junior, Mexican outfielder Pablo Rosario hit 28 home runs and knocked in an impressive 103 runs in his first full season with the team and should only continue to develop. The main concern with the Cowboys will once again be pitching, as they lack a true #1 ace, and questions remain regarding the reliability of the bullpen. Juan James and Josh Shelby are both former first round picks who have developed into dependable top of the rotation starters. James is coming off his first successful season as a pro, finishing with a 16-7 record including 6 complete games, but doesn’t really have the stuff to overpower hitters. Shelby has proven that he can go the distance and boasts a daunting fastball/slider combo, but has lost as many games as he has won over his six seasons. Russell Tice had a surprising rookie year with the Cowboys last season, but the league has had a second look at his sinker and things won’t be as easy for Tice in year two. There could be some serious problems with the back end of the rotation. In the bullpen, the departure of dependable Perry Campbell to Iowa City leaves a hole in the set-up department. The pressure is on former closer Jolbert Saenz to prove that he’s worth his 5.8 million dollars, and rookie Joe Delahanty who is pressed into a full time role getting the ball to closer Juan Hernandez. Hernandez is coming off a decent season, but has been streaky over the years and needs to keep his pitch count down. Saenz and Delahanty will need to be good to get Hernandez the ball, and possibly to share his closer role if his arm can’t hold up to the rigors of a full season. 22 yr old Japanese rookie Alex Nakamura will get a chance to prove himself in a long relief role. Helena can beat the best teams in the league when they’re clicking, but over the course of a long season they’ll need to find a way to consistently keep runs off the board. They’re in tough against the Rodeo Clowns and the Numa Numa.
The Las Vegas Numa Numa are used to making the playoffs. They’re used to winning games and they’re used to an elite team full of high-level talent and a strong farm team loaded with future stars. They’re also used to early playoff exits and wondering what went wrong against the other elite teams in the post-season. It’s hard to find flaws in the Vegas machine. They arguably boast the best young battery in the A.L. between pitching phenom Vasco Montanez and catcher C.C. Cervantes. Montanez is still only 24 yrs old but has three All-Star appearances and a Cy Young award under his belt. Cervantes is coming off a rookie season in which the 23 yr old Cuban hit .303 while swatting 24 home runs and doing a bang-up job behind the plate. Behind Vasco in the rotation is an aging but dependable B.J. Post and former first rounder Emil Pineiro. Post is a three-time All-star who at 36 yrs old has lost some of his zip, but still has great stuff and should give the team a good chance to win every time out. Pineiro had his struggles in his rookie year, finishing 6-12 with a 5.57 ERA, but has terrific control and a good fastball. Look for a significant improvement in his sophomore year. With Butch Bowen going to Ottawa last season, the rotation doesn’t have the depth that it used to. There are high hopes for free agent signing Davey Delgado and for Spanish-Canadian Carlos Torrealba to make the transition from bullpen to rotation. The bullpen will rely heavily on the veteran duo of Felipe Herrera and Victor Nieves. They certainly could provide Vegas with some headaches, but front end pitching strength and rock solid hitting usually means fewer stressful late-inning situations. The Numa Numa have an always dangerous lineup, led last season by the 33/99/.313 line from designated hitter Tom Bailey. Rookie Gerrit Hughes burst onto the scene in center field, hitting 27 home runs and stealing 29 bases. Infielder Nate Coolbaugh also reached the 20/20 mark in his first full season while splitting his time between second, short and third. Mark “The Kobra” Kyung put together another solid year with a .301 average, 91 runs scored and 37 steals at the top of the order. Yet to be mentioned are the team’s long-time offensive leaders Torey “Rosie” Rosario and Jose “el Halcon” Fernandez. “El Halcon” is only 27 years old and his track record speaks for itself. For most players a season with 29 homers and 98 RBIs wouldn’t be a disappointment, but Fernandez is capable of more and is a threat to post a 40/120/.300 season if he gets back on track. For the past twelve seasons “Rosie” has been the offensive juggernaut of the Vegas ball-club through thick and thin. He’s started showing signs that he might be running out of gas, but that isn’t to say that there’s nothing left. The wheels aren’t turning as quickly, and the power might not be league leading, but look for Rosario to bounce back from last season’s 19 home runs and career low .243 avg. The real issue that “Rosie” needs to address is his .204 career post-season batting average. That’s when the Numa Numa will need him to lead the way.
The Oklahoma City Rodeo Clowns are among the top ML teams in most offensive and defensive categories. Boasting the best team ERA in the American League as well as the season 14 A.L. MVP Gary Purcell, the Clowns finished as the #1 seed before losing to Boston in the ALCS. Oklahoma has made the playoffs for 7 straight seasons and there’s no reason to think that things will be different this year. MVP Purcell set personal bests in most offensive categories, including 50 homers and 142 RBIs. He’s in the prime of his career, as is team leader the Carlos Cruz “Missile”. Cruz, a two-time MVP and one of the game’s true superstars is a career .330 hitter and has knocked in over 100 runs in every season that he’s played. His long time “partner in slug” Big Jim Donatello has packed his bags for Kansas City, leaving the likes of catcher Ricardo Matos and infielder Cristian Simon to provide supporting offense. The pitching in O.C. remains top notch with a great overall improvement last season. It seems that the torch has been passed from “The Mailman” to “GO”, as long-time ace John Mailman has looked almost human over the past two seasons, while Geraldo Oliva has made the All-Star game two years running and looks like the team’s top starter. Make no mistake though, The Mailman is only 32 years old and wants to prove that he hasn’t lost his zip. The vertically challenged, but otherwise solid rotation is rounded out by Eric Simmons, Willie “The Pitcher” Acosta and 38 yr-old veteran D.T. Rollins. Simmons is 45-24 over the past three seasons; the always-competitive Rollins is a crafty knuckle-baller; and Acosta (the only Clown starter over six feet tall) posted a career-best 3.11 ERA last season. Missing is long-time closer Hunter Wilkinson, who signed a four year deal in Detroit. His departure clears the way for Victor Canseco to finally take over the full time closing duties after five years battling Wilkinson for save opportunities. Youngster Manuel Guillen will be counted on to fill Canseco’s old shoes as bullpen support. The Clowns shouldn’t have much trouble finding the playoffs for an impressive 8th straight.
The fans in Scottsdale finally have something to cheer for! After a tumultuous five seasons stuck in the basement with five ownership changes and never more than 67 victories, mytitan stepped in and did the unthinkable: a winning season!!! An 82-80 record wouldn’t be significant for most teams, but here it’s a reason to celebrate. With only two playoff appearances in franchise history, there is finally an atmosphere of optimism around the Fightin’ Chokes! Last season’s big signing, Sparky Page, had a noteworthy rookie season hitting .315 with 25 home runs after leaving Pittsburgh as a free agent before his first major league at bat. First baseman Jake Douglass also enjoyed success in his first pro season, with 115 runs scored, 44 doubles, 10 triples, 26 HRs, 104 RBIs, 24 steals and a .289 average. Rookie number three was Clyde DePaula, who also notched a 20/20 season while topping 100 runs and 100 RBIs. Page, Douglass and DePaula are the nucleus to build around, but there’s still a fair distance to go. They’ll get some offense from catcher Julio Matos, left fielder Fernando Saenz and free agent signing Darren Carillo, but they’re still a couple of big bats short of competing with the upper echelon. Nor is the offensive prospect cupboard well stocked, as the franchise hasn’t drafted a hitter in the first round since season 8. There’s also quite a bit of work to do with the pitching staff. Victor Martin enjoyed a dream season after coming over from Tampa last year. V-Mart won a glorious 20 games with a tidy 2.82 ERA and made his first All-Star appearance on the way to capturing the A.L. Cy Young award. The #2 starter is veteran righty screwballer Brad Servais, a clubhouse prankster who can usually be counted on for 12-15 wins. The rest of the rotation is iffy at best, and the bullpen is hoping that the tandem of last year’s closer Paxton Radinsky and rookie Max Gonzalez will be lights out in the late innings. Radinsky saved 36 of 40 games and finished with a spiffy 2.27 ERA, while Gonzalez has scouts talking about his live fastball and pinpoint control of the strike zone. The ‘Chokes will also test the mettle of top draft pick Jorel Howington, hoping that he’s ready to start his pro career at 21, while they wait for their other two live arms (starter Shoooooooter Owens and relief man Cesar Beltre) to earn major league roster spots. It would be a huge surprise to see Scottsdale improve on last year’s win total. It’s still going to take a well managed re-tooling of the organization to turn them into a contender, but at least they’ve become a fun team to watch!! -bourbonmoon
1. Las Vegas
2. Oklahoma City *
* denotes wildcard
NATIONAL LEAGUE SYNOPSIS
Montreal’s World Series team is mostly intact and at the top of their game!
Are Detroit’s bats good enough to compete with Montreal atop the division?
Could Madison be the best 3rd place team in baseball?
Chicago starts scouting for the future…
Ouch is all you can say about Chicago’s season last year. Dropping from 60 wins in 13 to 47 in 14. We have to turn that around eh man! Chicago is starting to turn his philosophy of HBD as he has added the max amount to his college, high school and int’l scouting. That can only mean good things for his minors, and eventually to his BL club. Chicago has nowhere to go but up in virtually everyway in his team stats. Here is looking forward to better years in Chi-town! RF Willie Mateo is an excellent base stealer. Stealing 37 of em, and getting caught only 9 times. Willie Maduro had a decent year with 83 RBIs and 18 HRs and a .304 ave. Dave Brock had an ok year too with 23 HRs and 78 RBIs. SP Paul Handworth had a good year with his OAV of .243 1.50 WHIP and 4.08 ERA, too bad he only got 9 wins, but he could easily break that all important 2nd digit this year! SP Clay Nitkowski had a respectable year too with his OAV of .272 1.36 WHIP and 3.99 ERA. Chicago has some great prospects though with 1B Sean Gwynn looking to be an all star. SS Fred Modina a 21 year old future phenom. And SU dude Santiago Mercedes looks to be a serious contributor. Chicago has some work to do to become a serious contender. Those two mega teams to the East of them must scare the be-jesus out of them, and I cant say I blame them. -greeny
The only question for Detroit is if they are going to be a wild card or division winner. And that will be for the foreseeable future too. This team is as stacked as stacked can be. The only other team in the league that comes close is their division mate Montreal. Detroit has made it to the playoffs the last 10 years and 12 of 14 years in total. Recording nine 1st place finishes in their division. Can anybody match that? Nope. Surprisingly enough Detroit only had 3 players reach 100 RBIs last year! Though Huang hit 94, pretty much close enough eh? They hit a lot of homers but with no real standouts there, they had 8 players hit in the double digits there. 2 players hit over .300 (and just barely). How is it that this team destroyed the way that they did? The offense doesn’t look that daunting? Maybe it is the pitching? That is what it was! With a team ERA of 2.83! they had 3 Ps with ERAs under 2! And 4 more under 3! They didn’t have a single P with an ERA above 4.50! talk about dominating in every way! Man with this pitching I have no choice but to use so many exclamation points!!! J They had one P have a OAV of under .200 and everybody else was between that and .285. They didn’t have one average P in the whole team! Wow. Felipe Villa was dominating as to be expected with 20 wins 249 IP an OAV of .206 and WHIP of 1.02. What else can be said about this pitching besides OMG I don’t like facing these guys! The future of Detroit surely can’t be too bright can it? Well they certainly have 1 awesome SP in Ron Hitchcock, with a possible 99 control 90 velocity and a bunch of great looking pitches. SP Clayton Cooper looks good too but not dominating. RP Aaron Leskanic looks to be a pretty dominating SU guy his stamina looks to be the one thing that will hold him back. Detroit made a splash in FA this season too by picking up SU Hunter Wilkinson, this guy has the stuff! So look for Detroits already vaunted pitching staff to become even more vaunted. In closing Detroit is as tough now as it ever has been and it is going to take a super-human team to knock them off, which brings me to… -greeny
Madison had an impressive 10 game improvement over season 13, lets see if they can do it again this year. To be honest in this reporters eyes it might be a little tough to pull that off. This team is still in rebuilding mode, Max has a bit of work to do with this team before he can seriously contend for a playoff spot especially considering the two power houses in his division. Last year Madisons pitching was generally very average, though they did finish 6th in SOs. Madisons batters were very good at not getting struck out too being 3rd in the league, and middle of the pack everywhere else. Their defense was good though being 5th in the league in pct, and 3rd in assists. Madison surprise player is 1B Lewis Carillo this guy was drafted in the 8th round! And hit 33 homers and brought in 95 RBIs last season, and was the AAA MVP! LF Wilton Rosen was the AA MVP and has serious potential for 100 RBIs. CL Herb Wilhelm had an awesome year converting 40 of 42 save opps, an oav of .222 1.11 WHIP and 2.91 ERA, and he is only 27 yrs old. Madisons future is looking pretty solid with a good mix of good looking prospects starting with C Ben Rossy he looks to have an awesome bat, though with a terrible PC. 2B Orber Terrero might end up with 100 contact and should run the bases like the wind,, his defense projects to be under average though. SP Curt Beltran should end up being a quite good #2 SP. SP Slick Sheffield projects to be the same as Curt. And their best prospect as far as I can tell looks to be a CL by the name of Earl Jakubauskas he is only 19 yrs onld, but it looks like he is going to be a monster. To summarize Madison has a couple seasons of really building up their prospects and can then start looking toward competing for the playoffs. -greeny
Well Montreal really has been all over the map since Shobob took the team over back in season 7 the team had a % of .309 then .327. But then 9 saw them hit .562 and hasn’t looked back since. Never dropping below .500 and the last two seasons has seen amazing strides with a .630 then a .698. What an accent! Making the playoffs 5 of the last 6 seasons and winning the big prize twice! The insane thing is the NL N is the only division to have won the WS the last 5 years! What is in their water? Shobob pulled of a big trade with Greeny9 giving Greeny two of Montreals better bats from last year in De La Vega and Jimenez. Only because those two players weren’t needed anymore with Montreals group of amazing rookies coming up. More on that later… Detroits offense is something else those two big bats Rios and Guerrero are unstoppable hitting 59 and 43 homers, bringing in 154 and 131 RBIs. Even scoring 129 and 119 runs. You aren’t going to find a better 1-2 punch then those two. Montreal had 4 guys hitting north of .300. 1 guy having an OPS of 1.000! and 2 others over .900. Very impressive batting, whats their pitching like? Second only to Detroit with a team ERA of 3.42 despite the fact that they had only 1 P under 3 ERA. That means that Shobobs Ps were overall very good with no bad ones in the bunch. Surprisingly they didn’t have one 20 game winner, though 1 18 winner 2 17 winners and 1 16 winner is pretty awesome. Somehow their amazing CL D’Angelo Lopez who finished with 46 saves in 54 opportunities finished with 13 wins! Lopez also had an OAV of .198 a WHIP of 1.00 and ERA of 3.17. No wonder he was the fireman of the year in 14, and was in 10 as well! This guy is in the hall of fame already! Lets not forget about Montreals other fireman in Michael Stieb with his accomplishment in season 11. Oh then there is season 14s ROY Troy Sewell , what a great season 16 wins with a 3.12 ERA. Do you think they have an awesome team already? How about their future? 1B Enrique Valdez has and will have an awesome bat, he has been an MVP in the minors and has a 1.188 OPS. SP Edgard Garces looks to be a monster with amazing control splits and pitches, he looks to be a future #1 with a bang. SP Vic Lopez is ready for the BL club and is a serious threat for ROY this year too. LF Bailey Dykstra and incredible looking LF is coming up this year at the 20 game mark and he is another serious threat for ROY too (that is if he can keep his temper under control). Montreals future players look about as good as Washingtons with the only real difference being the quantity, Washington has more, but they might not quite be as good as Montreal group of future superstars. Its looking like Shobob has a dynasty to stand the test of time. –greeny
2. Detroit *
* denotes wildcard
Montreal’s World Series team is mostly intact and at the top of their game!
Are Detroit’s bats good enough to compete with Montreal atop the division?
Could Madison be the best 3rd place team in baseball?
Chicago starts scouting for the future…
Burlington again this year has a bit of a hill to climb for a good chance of success. This franchise has some quality in the BL, but not enough to make any kind of push. That being said they definitely have some good guys in the minors pushing their way up. They have made a couple very nice free agent pickups in Castro and Jones, but they have lost 12 that’s right 12 players to free agency. How many of those where good, I don’t know. But that seems like a lot of players to lose! Here are the notable players in their BL club: SU Harry Castro had an awesome year in 14 with a .233 ave 1.15 whip 3.21 ERA and 103 IP. LR Rich Jones also awesome previous season with a .200 ave 0.97 whip and 1.85 ERA. LR Jimmie Shannon’s rookie season was great with a .233 ave 1.21 whip and 2.50 ERA. LR Dann Kelly another very nice season with .274 ave, 1.26 whip and a 3.51 ERA. And 2B Stan Jones with his great 48 SB and only 6 CS. Some very nice Ps in the bigs though maybe too many LRs, hopefully some of them can put up SP innings. As for prospects this is where Burlington has some promise, they have several guys that look to be making the big club in time. I cant say if any of them are quite good enough to make a real contribution this year, so Burlington is really still a season or two away from making any real strides in this department. I can say that they have some great coaches! Their ML HC has a 97 rating, PC with a 87 and fielding with 79. This team has some work to do to catch up to the other three clubs, but with their solid minor league prospects it might not take too long for them to contend for a spot in the playoffs. --greeny
Pittsburgh after having the division the last two years have a bit of a battle this year for sure. Washington will absolutely give them a real run. I have to feel a bit for Pittsburgh they were battling with Tampa Bay for quite some time to win the division, and right when TB is on a bit of a possible lull Washington is now ready to stick it to them. No rest for Shelley! You have to go all the way back to season 8 that they weren’t 1st or 2nd, so nobody is going to call Shelley inconsistent that’s for sure. Pittsburgh is very well rounded with mostly quality players in every position, and very nice SPs to throw in too. If there is any weakness on this team it might be with their RPs. In their coaching ranks if they have any holes it is certainly with their rookie fielding instructor. Unsurprisingly Pittsburgh was in the top 5 in batting average, RBIs, 2bs, 3bs and OBP last year. Very impressive offensive prowess for sure! Their team pitching wasn’t quite as good although they were the 3rd best in SOs. Pretty much in the middle for everything else. 1B Rob Ledee had 114 RBIs and a .337 ave very nice year, we need to keep that up. 2B Al Guzman might have a nice future if you can believe his minor league exploits having won the MVP in AAA and was an all star and silver slugger every year! 3B Cal Brumfield has a .300 career has 2 all stars and consistently hits over 100 RBIs. LF Harold Gonzalez is already a 3 time all star despite only being 27 yrs old. CF Glen Montgomery the last 4 seasons has driven in 109 to 141 RBIs and has taken home 4 silver sluggers. SP Pedro Lunar had a career year last year at 32 yrs old with a OAV of .220, 1.05 whip, 2.24 ERA and 15 wins. SP Rolando Armas has been to the all star game 3 times. In terms of future stars the cupboard is a little on the light side, I don’t really see any of any great import. That being said this team is built for today, and they really have a solid chance of going all the way and with no real needs. Some tinkering here and there will likely be all is needed to make a big splash this season. –greeny
Tampa Bay is in the process of a 4 year slide in winning percentage not so much because they have gotten worse but because Pittsburgh and Washington have gotten better. And ofcourse their biggest players are mostly getting older. It seems as though all of their best players are all in their 30s some closer to 40 then 30, not a good sign! This team still has the ability to go all the way, albeit with some good luck, and some great free agent signings. Id have to say this team is really at the point where they have to go all the way for one final stab at winning it all (which they never have) or having a major fire sale and rebuild. Either way is very possible, but in this reporters opinion they really cant stand pat. Ric Nic is coming off a (for him) bad season only batting in 86 runners compared to 13 where he belted in 155! This guy is as good as it gets (possibly still too) he has a .347 career ave, a 1.171 ops, 10 all stars, 8 MVPs, 9 Silver sluggers and the ROY! LF Barney Webster still has it with his amazing power last season was down with 94 RBIs but 151 2 seasons before, he still has it I think though. TB still has a potent pitching staff with Ishii still putting up good numbers along with his career 4 all star appearances Cy Young year, consistent 18 to 22 wins a year .245 ave 1.23 whip and 3.74 ERA. SP Jerry Rhodes had an awesome year winning the Cy Young with 20 wins, .239 ave, 1.18 whip and 2.30 ERA. SU Derrek Borowski had a great year after an off one, he got 23 saves along with a .250 ave, 1.24 whip and a paltry 2.09 ERA. The future doesn’t appear to have a whole lot of good showing up apart from SS Jerome Leskanic with an AS and 2 SS’s, bringing in 124 RBIs one year. Then there is CL Freddie Anderson his stats have been very mediocre despite having very decent ratings. In this reporters opinion TB has to do something sooner then later. -greeny
Nobody is going to be saying that Washington fans are long suffering anymore, it looks to me like they have one of the most exciting lineups in the NL, and have an exciting group of prospects in the minors that will keep the BL club well stocked for many years to come. True last year you could say that they had under-performed according to their talent level and compared to their division mates(finishing last in their division) But this year I would be surprised if they finished less then 2nd place, and wouldn’t be surprised if they finished first. Steeplechasr has done a wonderful job of turning this franchise around, they have the goods to be in the hunt for the foreseeable future. C Lonnie Tobin has an awesome bat with ok defense. 1B Sandy Hale is a monster batting in 96 to 121 RBIs the last 3 years and with a AS to show for it. 2B Vicente Perez might break out having had 2 AS appearances in the minors to go with his .303 ave in the bigs. RF Tomas Bennett had an off year with only 79 RBIs but the year before brought in 117, so he is capable, along with 30 HRs this kid is good. Washington also has some standout pitchers including DJ Gragg’s career .243 ave 1.29 whip and 3.23 ERA, one problem with Gragg is he seems to get injured too often. LR Rick Gaillard had a great year posting a .237 ave 1.23 whip and 3.15 ERA, can he do it again? And CL Angel Tarasco brings his 2 all star appearances to the table along with 33 and 36 save seasons. This team has pitching and batting. As for their future Washington is as strong as any team in Yastrzemski. RF Swann 20 yrs old was a RL AS, and sports a career .360 ave. SP Cord Epstein looks to be a super duper #1 SP and is 22 yrs old, he could be ready for the BL very soon. SP FP Webster looks like an above average #2 man in the rotation and he is 21 yrs old. Yet another SP in Cookie Mesa who might be one of the best #3 SPs in the league is 22 yrs old. 3 very strong SPs looking to break into the big club any day now. LR Peter Hayes looks very promising and is 24. CL Wilfredo Torcato an amazing looking stopper that might be a couple seasons away, but look out Tarasco, your days are numbered! 2 SU guys in Frank Williams and Elroy Bowles at 23 and 21 both look to be quality ML studs. And finally LR Esmailyn Lopez looks to be a solid contributor too. See what I mean? This team is set for many years to come (at least on the pitching front). If this team doesn’t make a big run this year, surely next year. -greeny
3. Tampa Bay
Another year of change and toil in Charleston.
Can the Bear Cats make it back to the playoffs this seasons?
The core returns for the World Police.
Sanchez needs to be a leader on and off the field for Penguin glory.
Baseball returned to Charleston this season with the move of the Little Mac Sluggers from St. Louis to South Carolina. The Southerners eagerly await the arrival of their first overall selection from season 13, 3B Scot McGowan, whose defensive prowess will probably see him shift over to SS at some point. Still, McGowan is probably a few years away and will likely start the year in High A ball this year or be used as trade bait for some more immediate help. Charleston is on the long road back to respectability after finishing with 100 losses in 4 of the past 6 seasons. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the franchise hasn’t drafted particularly well despite their high picks. A bright spot on the team this season will be the debut of, 5th overall pick from season 12, rookie SP Todd Kennedy. Young Kennedy will be the ace of a spotty staff which will include returnees Caesar Maduro and Eugene Witasick, FA grab Rafael Belliard and off season trade acquisition Miguel Cruz. Bullpen duties will be handed out to a young group who will be lead by closer and elder statesmen Fred Malloy, who at 30 years of age will be the eldest pitcher on the team. Handling this young staff will be 24-year-old C Jude Edwards, though look for Mark Hunter to get some starts should the rookie, Edwards, tire. Defensively, the infield will be lead by the phenomenal defensive abilities of SS Haywood Gibson who holds notoriety for turning the most double plays of any Alaskan born player in league history. Defensively, 2B Gabe Blackwell nearly equals the ability of Gibson, though both leave much to be desired at the dish. At first, and likely Charleston’s cleanup hitter, will be Jose Sanchez who knocked out 26 HR’s a year ago in just 446 AB’s. Fresh faces will fill the outfield this season for the Southerners. FA acquisitions Houston Tatum and Ruben Mercedes will join waiver claims Victor Ontiveros and Joe Craddock. A year of change and a year of growth will benefit the club, so long as some sort of semblance of stability comes to the franchise. -troutis
Iowa City had its fair share of first last season. In addition to posting their first .500 season since season 6, the Bearcats won appeared in their first post-season last year by winning their first division title. Though they were eliminated in the first round by the sweeping power of Detroit, they managed to take the series to max and nearly pulled off the most unlikely playoff upset seen in years. The biggest off-season acquisition was the $43 million, 4-year contract awarded to reliever Perry Campbell who will slide into the closing role this season. Campbell has the potential to be an All-Star this year and in seasons to come, provided he stays healthy and happy. Jon Gonzales returns to anchor a solid rotation. JonGon’s miniscule 2.77 era last season justified his $13 million dollar contract, but he needs to continue making the perfect pitch for Iowa to remain tops. 3 time All-Star Ivan Armas will bring his fantastic blend of power, contact and defense back to Iowa. Though his .356 average from two years ago may not be attainable again this season, Armas is the real deal and is definitely a top tier second basemen. At 30 years old, RF Butch ‘one foot out the door’ Adams is playing in his 13th season with the club despite his numerous additions to the trading block. He took over the franchise lead in career HR’s last season and looks to impress this season as he heads into a contract year. After being drafted 4th overall by the Iowa franchise way back in season 2, Larry Franklin owns his share of almost every individual record in franchise history. Significant drops in power and average, following a herniated disk in his neck in season 12, will likely see Franklin depart after his contract is up at the end of this year. Still, his leadership and loyalty in the clubhouse will make him sorely missed. 10th overall selection from a year ago, Otis ‘don’t call me Otis’ Davis looks to be the real deal and will likely take over Franklin’s role in the near future. Rookie SS Storm Patterson is considered to be a favourite for the ROY award this year though his range and glove may prove a liability to the Bearcats defense. At 3B, Andres Alonso needs to show he was such a highly touted IFA back in season 7. Though he is a whiz in the field, time is running out for him to jump to the ranks of star. -troutis
Following division titles in season’s 11 and 12, Kansas City played bridesmaid to the recently relocated Charlotte franchise in season 13 and finished one game back of Iowa City last season. Still, General Manager casanelly refused to blow up the World Police. The veteran core of Brad Street and Orlando Vega will continue to mind the middle of the infield boasting a combination of power, contact and leadership. Joining them in the infield will be a couple of off-season free agent grabs in veteran 3B Jose ‘the Terrible’ Torrealba and the power hitting ex-Rodeo Clown 1B Jim Donatello who, at 31, will likely get the chance to start everyday for the first time in his career. Donatello has the potential to reach the 40 HR mark, though the deep fences in KC may limit him to the 30-35 range. Veteran Steven Smith and rookie Darwin Rigney will likely provide rest to the infield and make spot starts throughout the season. The outfield will be comprised of Juan Aguilera, Javier Pena and rookie Edgardo Seguignol. What these 3 lack in power they will make up for contact, on-base-percentage and sheer nastiness. They are the type of guys who will spit on your mother! Behind the plate watch for Scott Parker to get the nod versus right-handers and Neil Campbell versus lefties. They may be two of the best pitch-calling catchers in the NL. On the mound, and returning in their entirety, will be Karim James, Randy Bradford, Gabe Miller, Louie Bautista and Neifi Valdes. This may be the strength of the KC roster this year as the World Police look to improve upon their 3.95 team ERA from a year ago. Though it is unlikely that any of the starters, other than Karim James, will be able to pitch over 200 innings, the ball will be handed over to a competent bullpen anchored by sophomore phenom Walter Milton. Milton will, without doubt, get his fair share of opportunities to close out some tight, low scoring games in Kansas this year. -troutis
Following 11 seasons and 9 playoff appearances, the Charlotte Spinners packed their bags and headed to the Holy Faith of Santa Fe. After years of moderate success, the Penguins find themselves stuck in the predicament of having a solid team to field – though not good enough to advance come playoff time in the tough NL – and without too much on the prospect front. ROY candidate 1B Juan Rodriguez and 25 year old C Eduardo Sanchez will likely be the core of this team for years to come. Complemented up the middle by the very capable SS Rickey O’Brien and CF Jimmie Lopez, Santa Fe may need some career years from vets like RF Joe Reid and 2B Chance Pennington to create enough runs to stay competitive in the NL South. O’Brien hasn’t delivered since getting the big money a couple years back, though his durability is tops among shortstops. Last season late acquisition of LF Napoleon Hughes could help out as well provided he improves upon his rookie totals from a year ago. The starting rotation looks strong enough with the return of veterans Chuck Russell, Nicholas Ford and Mac Lee. Willie Astacio looks to take his game to the next level this season to provide a strong fourth for the team. The weak link in the rotation will be Alex Valdes who will likely pitch more innings than he should. Setting up games this year will be the Davis’, lefty Ricky and righty Lonnie, who hope to hold leads for veteran Jayson Levine to close out. 35-year-old Levine hasn’t held the role of closer since season 8. WIS Field in Santa Fe is most definitely a hitter’s park, so the hurlers will certainly be in tough this season compared to the neutral field of Charlotte’s Knights Castle. -troutis
1. Iowa City
2. Kansas City*
3. Santa Fe
* denotes wildcard
Will 13 years of bad luck continue for the Alpini?
Can Ivan ‘the Terrible’ carry a decent staff into post-season contention?
Who will drive in runs in Tacoma?
Can the V-Bats reach 100 and challenge the big 2 for NL dominance?
It’s unlikely that 13 years of futility will end this season in Cheyenne. 13 years of playoff less baseball and only 1 plus .500 season over the past 10 years has resulted in stagnation for the Alpini. The upside is the arrival of former first round picks SS Del Guerrero and 3B Omar Fernandez. Both rookies provide a good glove, decent speed and the potential for a good average and will be given every chance to succeed this season. Joining them on the infield will be the recently traded 2B Hector Moya, who had trouble breaking into the everyday lineup in Las Vegas. Moya brings a suitable amount of power to second base, but his glove is a bit of a liability. Veteran 1B Tom Sellers moves in from the outfield this season. Sellers is entering his 7th season as an Alpini and is the undisputed leader both on and off the field. Catching duties will be split between the capable Jolbert Cruz and Keith Bunch. After posting 7 consecutive seasons of 30 plus HR’s and 100 plus RBI, LF Chuck Westbrook tailed off in his first year in Cheyenne last season hitting only 22 while knocking in a mere 66. He can only improve those numbers and his pitiful .226 average. If he can’t, rookie Al Martinez will be given the opportunity to grab some of his at bats. CF Tris Lefebvre also saw his numbers decline last season, though hopes remain high for this former 1st round draft pick after the big money deal he signed in the off season. The speedy Brit, Todd ‘Da Daft’ Douglas, will likely regain his role as the starter in right field. The rotation offers a set of problems in Cheyenne as no undisputed number 1 starter has emerged. Julio Galarraga has shown flashes of brilliance over his tenure with Cheyenne, but has been too streaky and inconsistent to label as a number 1. Achilles Houston has been capable since his conversion from a reliever to starter, but is better suited as a number 3 or 4 guy than anything else. Robb Christenson provided may have been the best of the 3 while pitching in Washington last season before his season ending shoulder injury. The FA acquisition looks to regain his form, though don’t expect many innings from him. Barney Stevenson and Alex Satou are decent hurlers but, at 35 years of age, are stopgap solutions more than anything else. Kennie Broome is likely to crack the starting rotation this year providing youthful energy to an aging rotation. Anthony Epstein regains his role as closer this year following his first All-Star appearance. At 28 years, he is one of the youngest relievers in Cheyenne. The staff, as a whole, looks to be a sore spot in Cheyenne this season - especially considering their division rivals have appeared to build from the mound out. Another tough season in Cheyenne looks eminent unless they get career years from their flock of vets and smashing starts from their rookies. -troutis
After a division title in season 12, Los Angeles fell to 4th place the following 2 seasons, dropping 89 and 92 games respectively. The Dead Bunnies batted a miserable .247 as a team last season, scoring a major league low 610 runs in the tough confines of Dodger Stadium. Leading the charge on offence this season will be 2B Josh Moore and 3B/LF Parker Leiter and 1B Ed Towers. Though all touted as potential stars, all three have had a tough start to their respective careers. Moore’s power, though good for 20 plus HR’s in every one of his 5 seasons, has seen numbers decline from his career high of 39 in season 11. His average has also dropped, finding him hitting below .250 over his past 2 seasons. Following 26 HR’s and a .290 average in season 12, Leiter has struggled to keep his starting job over the past 2 years. First round draft pick Towers has had a difficult time breaking into the lineup as well, getting only 264 and 293 at bats in each of his first 2 seasons. Towers will benefit from consistent playing time and a higher spot in the lineup. The fantastic defensively minded SS Jose Lopez will round out the infield after missing most of his rookie campaign following shoulder surgery. Expect a decent average, but no power from the Cuban born Lopez. Rookie CF Yoo-Nah Martin will join RF Glen Ennis and LF Santiago Alomar in a mediocre outfield. Veteran utility man Ron Fox will get most of his starts at 3B providing a capable bat and leadership to a team full of inexperience. Ivan ‘the Terrible’ Gonzales will be the undisputed ace of the staff again this season. Gonzales, the most tough luck starter in the bigs, will bring his miniscule career era of 3.15 into this season looking to surpass his career high 13 win season. Joining ‘the Terrible’ in the starting rotation will be Mark Koehlert and Mike Taylor who are adequately capable of keeping the Bunnies in games. The 4 and 5 spots will go to Adam Latham and Norberto Diaz who, despite showing flashes of promise earlier in their career, are relegated to back-end starters at this point. Look for Warren Peterson or Kenny Wirth to sneak in should either Latham or Diaz falter. 22-year-old Rookie Ebenezer Caruso will be handed the ball in all closing situations. LA has been eagerly waiting his arrival, and now that the time has come, watch for great things for years to come from this power pitcher. Paulie Sheffield, Dale Ramsay and Larry ‘the Bird’ Robinson close out an excellent pen. Despite a certain amount of strength from the mound, expect another tough year in California. -troutis
After finishing 2nd in 4 of the past 5 seasons and missing the playoffs in 13 straight seasons, Tacoma hopes to take the next step in their development this season. Lead by the best pitching staff outside of Detroit and Montreal from last year, the Phantom der Nacht employ a staff that is built to win now. Former closer Eric Klassen will get the ball on opening day and look to build on his stellar era of 2.44 from last season. He has appeared to have mentally made the unlikely switch from closer to starter, but physical limitations wont see him pitch 200 innings this year. Look for innings to come from Bobby Courtney this season. Courtney’s stellar rookie campaign from season 11 was surpassed last season and everyone in Tacoma is expecting the development of the former 1st round pick to continue into this season. Veteran Donaldo Trinidad continues to turn heads in his 11th season. Trinidad is a perfect number 3 pitcher, offering innings, strikeouts and a respectable opponents batting average. Orlando Torres and former rule 5 grab Nipsey Warden will occupy the 4 and 5 starts providing an adequate mix of power and finesse. The volatile Bono Mathewson will be given the opportunity to close out games in Tacoma. Look for Willy Ginter to step in should he prove to be too much of a risk in that role. First round selection 3B Ralf Goodwin provides the best defense of any third basemen in the NL and, at 24 years of age, will be coming into his own as a hitter. His 98 RBI from a year ago weren’t an aberration. Joining him on the infield will be 3 time World Series champ SS Pasqual Beltre who brings a capable glove and decent bat to the lineup. Highly touted IFA, 2B Alfredo Lee, saw his numbers drop from 31 HR’s 2 seasons ago to 13 last year. He’ll need to regain his swing to improve the ML low 112 team HR’s posted by Tacoma a year ago. 1B Buck Weems offers consistency offering 21 and 23 HR’s and .263 and .262 average over the past 2 seasons respectively. Lenny Bennett, Bud Hunter, Julio Gomez and Delino Gomez offer a speedy and defensive outfield for Tacoma, while C Mark Yamamato brings a capable, but not spectacular bat to the lineup. Tacoma will need stellar seasons from every spot in their lineup if they wish to catch Vancouver this season. -troutis
The best ‘other’ team in the NL (Montreal and Detroit exempt) is located in Vancouver and will likely to be so for some time to come. 97 wins and an appearance in the League Championship Series would be fantastic for any other team, but fans of the Vampire Bats are demanding they to take their game to the next level and prospects look good to do so this season. After signing a massive deal last off-season, Bruce ‘the Bandit’ Schoendienst looks to prove he is deserving of the 12.5 million he’ll be earning this year. The Bandit has proven to be a workhorse, logging 230 or more innings pitched in 7 of his first 8 years in the league. Joining The Bandit in the rotation will be a couple of solid front end starters in Logan Harper and Ralf Rocker, both of who the V-Bats were able to wrestle away from other clubs in fantastic deals over the past few seasons. Alex Darling will be expected to continue his fantastic young career that has seen him post a sub 4.00 era in each of his first 3 seasons. Though not a power pitcher, Darling is fast gaining the reputation crafty hurler who can get the job done. The number 5 starter will be Edge “Achtung’ Ramsay who, at age 35, has crafted out for himself a reputation as a dependable and consistent, if not unlikely, starter. If this is the year Ramsay steps back, expect either Tarrik Grimsley or Frank ‘the Laser’ Lunsford to grab the spot. While starting pitching is definitely the strength of this club, Vancouver’s bullpen wont be squandering too many leads. Led by the 397 career saves of Jimmy Parker, the V-Bats boast a colourful bunch of relievers who are known as much for their shut down abilities as they are for their rock n’ roll lifestyles away from the field. Schenectady New York’s Erick Redman looks to improve on a fantastic rookie year behind the plate. Though Redman is strong behind the plate, he also possesses a strong bat which is a huge asset at his position. 1B Dan Stanly and 3B Bart Stewart will provide the power from the corner infield positions, but it is the emergence of the young 2B Matty Medrano that Vancouver looks most forward to. Medrano fantastic defensive abilities have been rewarded with back-to-back gold gloves and his speed has resulted in 50 plus sb’s in his first 3 seasons. Look for a platoon of a couple of defensive minded guys in Dave Williams and Steve Restovich at shortstop. In the outfield, power-hitting veteran RF Francis Yearwood will be joined by CF Bruce Lamb and rookie LF Del Cavo. The power hitters in Vancouver are now all over 30, so the Bats will be needing to make the most of their at bats this season. -troutis
3. Los Angeles