Season 16 American League Synopsis (pre-season)


Are Dover still playoff caliber Hosers?
Can Syracuse get the pitching they need to win?
Without Marte and Meng, who will lead the Trout?
What will it take for Jacome and the T-Hawks to get some pitching?

The tightest division in baseball became much looser last season, as Ottawa separated itself from the pack. After making the post-season with 98 wins, the franchise (in a baffling move) has packed it’s bags and moved from the Canadian capital to the much smaller city of Dover, Delaware. The newly dubbed Prodigious Assault (seems that the name “the Dover Hosers” didn’t stick for some reason) will rely heavily on the bat of Pedro “Boom Boom” Chavez, who nonchalantly clubbed 44 home runs while knocking in 126 runs last season. His 41/100/.279 counterpart, Miguel Jiminez has moved on to Charlotte after one productive season with the club, and the team is hoping to fill his shoes. They’ve added an experienced veteran in free agent Steve McRae, a twelve year pro who doesn’t exactly put the ball into orbit, but has managed a career batting average of .308. There will be secondary power in spurts from Tony Vega and Vic Esposito, but in order for the offense to excel they’ll need two things:1)Former Rookie of the Year Denny Yeats needs to take a leadership role, shaking off his sophomore season in which he saw his average dip by sixty points while having less success with both base-running and run production. Yeats is realistically a 20 homer guy, not 30, but he should be able to ratchet his average up towards .300 and help his team score a few more runs. 2) Rookie catcher Chad Mulder has crushed minor league pitching to the tune of a .341 average and is behind the plate more for his bat than his defense. He possesses great plate patience and 20+ home run potential. Despite a reputation as the slowest team in the majors (only swiping 14 bases last season) if they get solid contributions from Yeats and Mulder, the “Dover” offense should be competitive if not dominating. If the team is to recapture the division title, the pitching should be their strength. Last season they boasted both the Fireman of the Year Kevin Baek and the Rookie of the Year in pitcher Alex Ortiz. Baek, who has made great progress since his rookie season had a career year in season 15, converting 50 of 53 save opportunities and fine tuning his cutter and change up to keep hitters off-balance. Ortiz finished with a 16-1 record and a 2.91 ERA in 142 innings, mostly as a reliever. It would appear that young Alex is ready to move into the rotation, and all indications are that he should dominate. The rest of the rotation looks solid with Vinny Bryant coming into the rotation from the bullpen and David “the other” Ortiz hoping to shake off his 1-10 season (13-42 over three years!!) to live up to the potential that made him a first round pick. Curve-baller Juan Guzman also won an astonishing 26 games in 200+ relief innings and will be given starting responsibilities this season. The bullpen looks solid and with Baek closing things out, the D.P.A. should not need to lead the league in hitting to challenge for another division title. This has become a competitive squad.

The Syracuse Blue Sox finished with the same record last season as they did the year before. The problem was that in season 14 it was good enough to narrowly win the division and in season 15 it left them on the outside looking in from 18 games behind.
Their problems mostly stemmed from the pitching staff, who were in the bottom third of the league in most categories and were one of five ML teams not to enjoy a complete game. On the flipside, the Syracuse hitters struck out the fewer than any other major league club, while being generally above average in most offensive categories. In his first full season with the team, Tom Borland led the offense in runs, doubles, RBI’s, home runs, stolen bases and represented the team at the mid-season classic. Designated hitter Benji Concepcion contributed career bests in homers, RBI’s and batting average, while outfielder Kevin Cambridge added career highs of 94 runs and 192 hits while not missing a game in his first season with the team. The offense should continue to come naturally to the Blue Sox, who signed former first rounder George Hoover to a cushy five-year deal.
The athletic shortstop is a natural run producer, but would like to see a rise in batting average this season. Hoover has a similar “speed meets power” skill set to veteran Ned Daly who is a long-time team leader on and off the field. Rookie Riku Nomo is a terrific contact hitter who brings speed to the top of the order. There are many tools in the Syracuse lineup to get the job done.
The key will no doubt be pitching, as the Blue Sox will need to find a way to keep runs off the board. The huge potential that burns within 6’4” Connecticut righty Joaquin Fernandez took a backwards slide last season. Fernandez made progress each of the previous three seasons and has been anticipated to break out as the team’s top starter since he came over from Detroit. Hopefully a new multi-year contract will give him the boost he needs to put last year’s 17-loss campaign behind him. Syracuse will also need better things from last season’s two free agent signings. Both Juan Seanez and Art Koskie were mediocre at best and with over 18 million in payroll going between them, fans had reason to grow frustrated. Seanez threw about 40 innings less than his career average and his ERA was over six. Koskie simply isn’t worth his contract if he can only muster seven wins in a season. If he matches that, the B-Sox would be paying him close to 2 million dollars per win!! There is talent at the top of this rotation, and they likely can’t do worse than they did last season. 24 yr-old Ralph Lambert has gracefully evolved into the team’s closer, saving 32 of 37 games last season. Lambert is the team’s only returning pitcher who posted a sub-4 ERA last season, and the more times the ball winds up in his hands, the better!

The departure of A.L. MVP Winston Marte to Pittsburgh will leave a gaping void in Toronto that the Trout will not easily overcome. They’ve simultaneously lost veteran Brian Meng (a first ballot Hall-of-Famer) to retirement, leaving Trout fans wanting for a new team identity. After leading the A.L. in stolen bases, maybe they’ll focus on the basepaths? Are youngsters Horacio Guerrero, Chet Neal and Willis Swift ready to take over the team? Swift hit .306 with 20 homers as a rookie and has the potential to become an All-Star. Neal is a good hitter with 30+ home run potential, but comes with a serious strikeout reputation, while Guerrero (at 24 yrs old) is entering his 4th season with the team as a terror on the bases and a true run scorer. Offensive success for the Trout will largely depend on the progress that they get from these three talented twenty-somethings. They have a dependable power source in the “Great Wall of Sarma”, as 35/110/.250 seems like a reasonable expectation. Journeyman DH Cookie Morgan and young outfielder Javier Lopez have also shown enough pop in their bats to keep Trout fans optimistic that they can recoup some of Marte’s lost offence.
If the offence gets going, the pitching should be effective enough to win games. Starters Matt Boone, Brook Perez, Juan Sosa and David Pressley each won at least 13 games. Boone has had a terrific 15-yr career, but at 37 years old there are questions as to how much he has left in the proverbial tank. Time will tell, but odds are with Boone to post twelve or more wins for Toronto this season. Sosa enjoyed a fine transition from the bullpen to the rotation, finishing with over 200 innings and a dignified 3.80 ERA on his way to a 15 win season. He’s in his prime and should be solid this season. Perez is another aging vet with an impressive resume. With eight 15-win seasons and a Cy Young award to his credit, Mr.Perez is showing signs of slowing down. Over the past three years he’s posted a 38-35 record, which isn’t cause for alarm but might not be worth the 17.6 million that he’ll receive over the next two seasons. Brook certainly isn’t throwing as hard or as late into games as he used to, but if the bullpen is solid he can certainly still do the job. David Pressley on the other hand, is entering his prime and can throw very late into games. Drawing comparisons to the like-mustached Jack Morris, Pressley will rely on 5-6 runs from his offence to win but can certainly rack up the innings. D.P. will continue to frustrate the Trout by surrendering untimely home runs, but he’s tossed 12 complete games in four seasons and could be capable of winning 18-20 games with a hot offence in front of him. The Trout’s big free agent gamble of the off-season was to bring in long time Detroit stalwart “T-Mac” Trevor McCarthy. McCarthy had posted a career record of 134-53 before blowing out his elbow at the beginning of last season. Toronto will watch closely, hoping he fully recovers from his surgery and can give them his solid career average 16-7 season.

For two seasons now the Trenton Terror Hawks have finished fourth in the east. The team hasn’t gotten any worse since they won the division in season 13, but they haven’t improved much either and the competition around them certainly has! The team’s strength is usually a good group of well-balanced batsmen, however despite finishing in the top half of the league offensively, they still had the fourth best offense in their division. To keep pace with Toronto, Syracuse and Dover, the T-Hawks have brought in former Rodeo Clown catcher Marvin Williamson (a career .319 hitter) to augment their offence. Williamson simply murders left handed pitching and should slide nicely into the Trenton lineup to protect the power bats of Justin “the Colossus” Jacome and Felipe Vega. Fan favorite Jacome is coming off a solid 32/126/.328 campaign and is as respected and dangerous as hitters come. Cleanup hitter Vega is a free-swinging masher who smacked 56 round-trippers last season, and is entering the prime of his career. With speedy Benji Shuey at the top of the order swiping bags and scoring runs, and RF Carl Bevil and SS Jeff Bryant still looking to prove themselves as first round draft picks, the Hawks should once again have a competent group of speedy sluggers who can get the job done.
The biggest question in Jersey once again surrounds their pitching staff and whether they can stay consistent enough to win. Former top prospect Brendan O’Neil can’t seem to buy a win, as he consistently gets the worst run support of the Trenton starters. “B.O.” has the stuff to succeed and is ready to take the helm among a solid if unspectacular group of starters. Marshall, Griffith and Mendez should all reach double digit wins, and if any of them has a career season, the team’s fortunes could turn around. Rookie Duane Belinda posted a 40-16 record in the minors and looks to make his mark in the final spot in the T-Hawks rotation. The bullpen has been an adventure over the last two seasons with “Frankie” De La Vega barely hanging on to his closers job with a 4.25 ERA, but if many of Trenton’s games are being decided in the ninth inning, then they’ll probably be in good shape.

1. Syracuse
2. Dover
3. Toronto
4. Trenton

How long can the Sox stay on top?
Will the “blue chippers” carry the Crunch?
Can Durham’s pitching get the job done?
Are the Sunbirds on track to make it a four-team race?

Yes, the Red Sox made the playoffs again with one of the top offensive juggernauts in the league. Maybe it’s Fenway Park? Maybe it’s a strong organization that’s been able to keep a steady stream of talented young sluggers at the ready when their veterans decide to move on? Any way you slice it, Boston seems to lose a marquee free agent each season and still haven’t skipped a beat. This time around it’s the living legend Ron Karnuth, (as much a fixture behind the plate as the 37’ green wall is in left field) who at thirty five years of age has ventured out of Boston to sign a three year deal in South Carolina. Not to digress, but Karnuth’s Red Sox accolades are great: 5 World Series rings; 2 American League MVP awards; 13 All-Star game appearances; 12 silver slugger awards; 4 gold glove awards; not to mention numerous batting titles high-lighted by an unheard of record .414 average in season 4. At 35 years of age, Karnuth no longer has the cannon arm behind the plate or thirty home run power, but he’s still (wait for it) a career .363 hitter, and those are hard to replace! But with Blake Robinson hitting .337 and jacking 54 homers last season, and tremendous power throughout the lineup, Boston should still find a way to get it done. Behind Robinson is the intimidating triumvirate of Terry Davis, Hootie Park and “The Great Alfonso” Mercedes. Davis is as solid as they come and has been crushing opposing pitchers in Beantown for the past decade. The late blooming Park has twice flirted with 50 dingers and despite his strikeouts is a force to be reckoned with. “The Great Alfonso” certainly needs no introduction, with 639 home runs to his credit and one of the all-time best power bats in the league. A free agent at season’s end, Mercedes will swing for the fences with a big contract looming. The Sox also welcomed free agent infielder Emil Franco from Detroit. Franco, an 8 time all-star, signed a four-year deal, giving Boston a solid source of speed and power to compliment their big sluggers. Rookie catcher Pablo Uribe is a skilled hitter who will look to fill Karnuthian shoes both behind and at the plate. He leads a solid supporting cast of what should once again be one of the top few offences in baseball.
Pitching is always a secondary concern in Boston, but there are some high hopes for rookie starter Sammy Moya. He joins a rotation that also includes 36 yr old free agent French pitcher Jim Sewell, out to prove that he still has what it takes. Ryan Cash and Ralph Perry should both throw some key innings for the Sox, along with rookie relievers Damaso Guapo and Bruce Denny. Mark Aoki has the closers job for a ninth straight season and looks to improve on a 4.98 ERA if he’s to hold off 19 year old Ben Reed from taking his job a season or two earlier than expected. The pitching staff will try to “hang on” and let the team win games with their bats. Those bats should once again make a serious post-season splash!

The always competitive County Ramblers finished in a statistical tie with the Red Sox, but the tiebreaker left them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. With multiple strong teams in the North and West, the days of two East teams easily making the playoffs appear to be over. Like Boston, Durham is an offensive juggernaut with perpetual question marks in the pitching department. That their home park is a hitter’s paradise doesn’t help, but the road wasn’t much kinder to the Ramblers hurlers. They were still in the bottom echelon in most categories. No nicknames are needed as one glances down the rotation at Buck, Moose and Bravo. Top starter Boomer Buck is a consistent workhorse entering his seventh season with the team. Buck has 13 or more wins in each of his pro seasons and should have a steadying effect on an often-suspect rotation. In Moose English’s first full season with the team he posted a very solid 14-7 record, but upon closer inspection much of his success can be attributed to timely run support. Moose will try to bring the 5.51 ERA back down to respectability. Veteran Kelly Bravo enters his 11th pro season looking to regain the form that won him 18 games in back to back seasons. Bravo has never had ERA trouble and is one of the few Durham pitchers who can keep the ball in the park with regularity. If veterans Frank Hartman and Reginald White or rookie Louis Hill can pick up the back end of the rotation, then the Ramblers should forget about free agent Darrin Patrick’s departure to Scottsdale and once again be in the hunt for a playoff spot. The bullpen can be reliable enough if the rag tag group of middle and setup men can effectively get the ball to former Fireman of the Year closer Phil Fontenot.
The offense is a well balanced machine that produced nine 20+ home run hitters last season. Leading the way was first baseman Vinny Morton with an impressive 46/145/.310 line and outfielder Wayne Grey who has 120+ RBI’s in each of his first six seasons as a pro. Second baseman Sherry Grebeck returned to the All-Star game and won a Silver Slugger award with an excellent season (32/105/.327 with 27 steals and 134 runs scored). Durham brought in fragile speedster Max Felix (in his second go around with the team) to try to fill the hole left by shortstop Abraham Brinkley’s departure to Boston. The Ramblers have a few notable prospects ready at AAA if there are any injuries or problems on the big club, notably 21 yr old CF Joaquin Vega and 22 yr old 2B Chad McDonald. If at some point either gets promoted they should bolster an already solid lineup that will likely be praying for a little bit of pitching to get them over the hump and into the post-season.

The Jacksonville Sunbirds are consistently trying to figure out a way to pull even with the teams at the top of their division. They’ve reached a plateau where they can hit with the better teams in the league, but the pitching always seems stuck in the lower tier. The team’s ace, Jesus Astacio is as reliable as they come, and pitched considerably better than even his respectable 13-8 record would indicate. Beyond “the Jesus”, the Sunbirds aren’t getting much value for their pitching dollar. Douglas Steenstra and Olmedo Martin won 10 games each, which doesn’t equate with the nearly 18 million dollars that they’ll share. Ellis Springer posted a 6-11 relief record, while relinquishing his closer job to Patrick Garcia (whose 3-12 record; 28/37 saves and 5.01ERA all caused headaches for the Jacksonville faithful). Top prospect Emil Woods continued to struggle mightily with a 7.05 ERA and has yet to turn the corner that his obvious potential suggests he should. This season, Woods should receive a decent audition in a starter’s role and the S-Birds have brought in 39 year-old 5 time all-star Randall Wilson to add some experience to the rotation. Decent production from those two would be a great bonus, but the success of this club will fall heavily on Astacio, Steenstra and Martin as well as Springer to get the pen back in order.
Offensively, the Sunbirds have a few gems that form a young and powerful nucleus in the middle of their lineup. After suffering through some serious shoulder problems in season 14, team leader “Benny V” returned to form in season 15 clubbing a team high 45 homers and making his fourth all-star appearance. Fan favorites Matty Hayes and Brandon Spencer both managed 100+ RBI’s and pose serious power threats in the heart of the Jacksonville order. Beyond the top three, the ‘Birds have great depth with Durham, Brock, Arroyo and Dickerson all capable of getting their uniforms dirty and doing the little things to scratch and claw and find a way to succeed. Catching might be a weakness, with Ignacio Estrada getting his first crack as an everyday starter. His offensive potential is moderate and his defense is average at best. He’s backed up by grizzled veteran Walter Wade, while Shawn Young and Ken Glaus are ready at AAA if Estrada has problems. The Jacksonville team might still need a few minor tweaks to compete offensively with Boston and Durham, but until the pitching gets on track it will be very tough to think about the post-season. Top pitching prospects Marc McLaughlin and Dana Wheeler provide bright spots in the not-too-distant future, although the question remains as to when that future will arrive.

After a solid couple of seasons, it’s safe to say that the New York Crunch is back in the mix in the A.L. East. This season should be an exciting one in the Big Apple, with “MigMar” and VictRo” capturing all the headlines. Fans are coming out in droves to watch the two talented Dominican youngsters take the field. Right fielder Miguel “MigMar” Martinez fast tracked through the minors, posting astronomical hitting numbers. An athletic outfielder with a great arm, Martinez has power and pure hitting skill. At 22 yrs old, he should patrol the Crunch outfield for years to come. Victor Rosado is a pitcher with pinpoint control and a dominant fastball. He’ll take over the ninth inning duties in New York and should give the whole team confidence, as New York fans are very happy to have seen the last of Elrod Weston and his 6.03 ERA.
In season 15, the offense was already on the fringe of joining the elite clubs in the A.L. Miguel Beltran’s presence had a great impact on first baseman Don MacRae, who finally broke out in his fourth pro season, setting personal bests with 100 runs, 117 RBI’s, a .300 batting average and 34 home runs (16 higher than his previous best). Beltran himself failed to reach 100 RBI’s for the first time in twelve seasons, but still had a solid year with 30 round-trippers and 93 RBI’s, while endearing himself to the Crunch fans with his tireless charity work and visits to the children’s hospital. The ever-dangerous Ken Bailey (30/95/.321) continues to shine, while developing a reputation for consistency. A patient and talented hitter, Bailey scored a few more runs than he knocked in last season, while finishing with a sparkling .406 OBP. The solid supporting cast of Pascual, Gabriel, Schmidt and Wright all topped 20 dingers and should bolster an even more formidable lineup with MigMar in town.
The pitching that took them to the playoffs in season 14 wasn’t quite the same without Juan Sosa last year. The team ERA slid from 3.99 to 4.88 and troubled closer Elrod Weston played a significant role in that. With VictRo taking over the shutdown role, and bright spot Max Gardel coming off an encouraging rookie season to bolster the middle relief corps, success should once again (as with most teams) depend on the starting rotation. Returning are Ray Fischer, Moises Vega, Tuck Meacham and Mike Washburn. Orlando Torres came over in a trade from Tacoma to fill out the rotation, and he should take a steady if unspectacular turn in the Crunch pitching mix. Tuck is a career Crunch favorite, and he’s certainly put in his service time in New York. He’ll never be great, however he’s capable of getting the job done, and he’ll need to reassert himself in his role if he’s going to convince the team to resign him as his contract expires at season’s end. It’s a familiar situation to the one Mike Washburn found himself in this off-season. Washburn quickly tested the free agent waters before inking a new two year deal with the Crunch. With only 9 wins last year, Washburn is looking to rediscover the groove that won him 16 games a few seasons back. At 36 years old, Ray Fischer still has the stuff to be the staff workhorse. He’s led the team in innings pitched in each of the past two seasons and hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. Fischer is a season removed from 17 wins and has previously posted 18 and 19 win seasons while never reaching the 20-win plateau. He’ll likely never get a better chance than this season. Moises Vega is a hard thrower who keeps the ball low and accurate. A 17 game winner as a rookie, and subsequently an all-star in season 14, Vega hasn’t quite fulfilled his promise since then, as he’s failed to improve either his win or inning totals since then. It hasn’t been for the lack of quality pitching, however, as his career ERA still sits at 3.13. Vega has the most upside of any of the Crunch starters and if he can overcome the pressure of playing in New York with a substantial new contract, he could be the difference maker on this team on the cusp.

5. Boston
6. New York*
7. Durham
8. Jacksonville

* denotes wildcard

Will Charlotte take another step forward in season 16?
Is Florida ready to play .500 ball?
As the youth movement hits Little Rock, will they find some pitching?
Will Estrada and Blair put the Lobsters into the post-season?

Despite a sub .500 record, the Designated Drinkers took home the division title in season 15. They even managed to dispose of the mighty Rodeo Clowns in a tight five game playoff series. Once again, the big ticket is catcher “Mad” Max Cora, who displayed great poise silencing his doubters after his sub-par campaign in season 14. In season 15, Charlotte saw Cora regain his awesome power stroke to the tune of 47 dingers and 113 RBI’s. The offense also relied on the newly dubbed “Wright Brothers”, Tony and Rob, who each hit 20+ homers, with steady run production and decent batting average. The always steady Joshua Meadows may be losing a step, but he only needs 30 steals to catch the legendary Chris Jordan for the all-time stolen base crown! Meadows has yet to take a trip to the disabled list in his illustrious career and will almost certainly overtake Jordan part way through season 16.
After tossing 200+ innings in three straight seasons, it’s time to finally take the “bust” label off of Bryant Linden. Linden has emerged as the steadiest of the D.D.’s pitchers although he’s yet to top 13 wins in a season and succeeds more by guts and guile than by overpowering hitters with his average fastball. The wildcard in Charlotte’s deck is Bruce Wilson, who enters his third pro season with good poise and the ability to keep runs off the board. Wilson led the team last season with a sparkling 1.13 WHIP and may eventually be the go-to guy on a team that will lean on second year man Eugene Darnell and long-time V-Bats vet Edge Ramsey to hold the fort until youngsters like Malachi Wilson, Tike Leonard and Angel Gonzalez are ready to ply their trade at the pro level. The D.D.’s are a competitive squad who will be looking to take the division for the second straight season. In the A.L. South it is certainly a possibility!

The New Orleans VoDoo have moved to Florida and taken a fun “capital” twist by naming the team after the University of Florida Gators, only GATORs. Florida is another team who posted some decent offensive numbers in season 15, but finished with the worst team ERA in the majors. Marino Villa finished with a team-high10 wins, but his 7.11 ERA indicates that he probably had some good run support as he struggled with his mechanics through a forgettable season. Former 18 game winner Hector Mateo led the team in innings pitched, but gave up a career high 43 home runs en route to a 5-16 record.
The brightest spot (by far) was the team’s young reliever Matthew Langerhans, who in his first season as closer earned an all-star nomination on his way to a 1.63 ERA and saves in 34 of the team’s 64 wins. At 23 years old, Langerhans has an un-hittable curveball and should give the team rock solid relief when they’re playing with a lead.
Season 15 saw the emergence of designated hitter Fernando Chavez as a 30 home run hitter, and he should be a solid power source going forward. Outfielder Raffi Rodriguez is coming off his second consecutive 33 HR campaign and has been rewarded with a nice four-year contract. Youngster Alex Keller was called up part way through the season and clubbed 20 homers in a successful rookie audition. These three should lead the offense as the team plans for the future. Highly touted Herb Wilkerson will swing his hot bat at AA this season while pitching sensation ZOLTAN will ply his trade at HiA. These two top prospects (among others) give Florida legitimate hope for the future. The entire A.L. South is heading in the right direction, and this club has been doing the right things to turn their fortunes around. We’re sure to be talking about them a couple of seasons from now.

The Little Rock Razorbacks woes continued in season 15, as they managed only 49 wins, scraping the bottom of the ML barrel. With the second worst team ERA in baseball, Little Rock surrendered more walks than anyone in the majors. They failed to have a pitcher record 10 wins, and Tim Brantley and Harry Spivey floundered in the closers role to the tune of 23 of 36 save chances converted! Let’s do the Razorbacks a favor and leave the past behind. There are many bright lights on the horizon, including the arrival of promising closer Tony Feng, who features a 96 mph slider that should strike him out more than a batter per inning! While the rest of the pitching staff is fairly pedestrian to be sure, Little Rock’s offensive future is growing brighter by the minute! Last season’s blue-chip first round pick Dicky Gleason saw a glimpse of major league pitching and .343 with a .919 OPS in 67 at bats!! Gleason joins former first rounders York Uribe and Morris Rice to give the team a formidable base of talent to build around. Consider that the Razorbacks hold this season’s first overall draft pick and fans in Arkansas are starting to get excited about the future of this lineup. It might take another couple of seasons, but this team will likely never be this bad again! Things are looking up!

The Louisville Lobsters are yet another team who is hungry to field a winning club, but still has a ways to go to achieve their goals. The difference between the Lobsters and most of the other teams with fewer than 70 wins is that Louisville finished near the top of the league in most offensive categories. While not quite at “offensive juggernaut” status, the Lobsters are led by one of the brightest young hitters in the game in Wilt Blair. Blair has increased his home run and RBI output in each of his first four seasons in the league and is still improving. A tidy 44/133/.312 line is what he’ll be looking to improve on this season and he’ll anchor a good young lineup looking to battle their way to the top of a weak division. Blair is supported in the lineup by Walter “The Heart of Hicksville” Taft and shortstop Bert Lee. The volatile Taft has scored 361 runs over the past three seasons and if he doesn’t pull any “Milton Bradley moves” gives the Lobsters an exciting mix of speed and power. Lee is a former first rounder who is a stable defender with some untapped offensive potential. He should develop into a .300 hitter with the ability to knock in or score100+ runs per season. The team has more hitting on the horizon with DH Tony Mendez and RF Santo Figueroa set to join the team over the next season or two. The offense will need to dominate, however, as the pitching has been abysmal to say the least. Another team without a 10 game winner, staff ace Javier “The Arrow” Estrada only started 16 games last season leaving the rest of the rotation in the lurch. “The Arrow” won 16 games the previous season and should be an anchor for the Lobsters if he stays healthy and even scratches the surface of his enormous potential. Louisville will likely be patient with prospects Paul Koh and Russell Workman, and in the mean time would like to see some success from former Vampire Bat Tarrik Grimsley who suffered from some tendonitis after joining the Lobsters last season. The pitching staff is likely a few seasons from overall respectability, however, in the A.L. South it might still be within their reach to pull in a division title!

1. Louisville
2. Charlotte
3. Florida
4. Little Rock

Oklahoma is due; can they shake the playoff jinx?
Can powerhouse Vegas repeat as World Series champs?
Can Salt Lake City find a way to keep runs off the board?
How long until Scottsdale starts thinking post-season?

After a disappointing 4th place finish, the Helena Cowboys have moved to Salt Lake City, hoping that a change of scenery will do them good. Despite tying for the league lead with 4 shutouts, the Cowboys pitching was among the league’s worst last season, as no pitcher with 20+ innings pitched had an ERA below 4.13. Juan James is now 25, and with a 16 win season under his belt is now entering his 5th year as a pro. James endured some shoulder problems last season, but he seems recovered and is a hard thrower who should be able to dominate once he finds his groove. Look for a rebound season from starter Josh Shelby who has nasty stuff and can throw late into games. Closer Juan Hernandez should continue to be a stabilizing force late in games if the team can get him enough opportunities to close the door. At some point Japanese youngster Alex Nakamura should get another call to the majors after a disastrous debut last season. Nakamura is tough on lefties and could help out in the pen if needed.
The offense will need to get going without the bat of veteran Eli Izquierdo who signed a four-year deal in Richmond after spending 10 seasons with the team. Izquierdo lead the team with 99 RBI’s last season and brought his batting average back up to .294 after a troubling campaign the year before. Sometimes being in a contract year will do wonders for a player’s swing! S.L.C. did choose to re-sign “El Caballo” Jose Guerrero to an extension, hoping that the slugger can continue his legacy with the Cowboys. Guerrero has over 500 home runs in his 13 seasons with the team and at 32 years old appears to be on a path to Cooperstown (while emphatically denying any allegations of performance enhancing substances in his past). Rookie third baseman Roger Clapp demonstrated his excellent power potential in AAA last season with 52 long balls and a .304 average. Clapp could make an immediate impact, and although he’s not expected to hit .300 as a pro he is a legit home run threat that the Cowboys desperately need. Rosario, Fox, Redding, Baxter and Perez give SLC a well-balanced attack that can hurt teams in several ways. They’ll have their share of exciting offensive battles, but it seems inevitable that they can’t score as much as the pitching will yield. A team on the rise, they’re a few significant pieces short of contention.

World series champs Las Vegas Numa Numa are poised to repeat as division champs, as well as take another good run in the playoffs. With a team stocked full of stars in their prime, and with new talent still being added, this team should be a force to reckon with for many seasons. This offense scored more runs than any other last season, featuring six players who hit twenty four or more HRs, and ten players who hit fourteen or more. C Carlos Cervantes leads the charge, and he has an excellent supporting cast in DH Tom Bailey, CF Gerrit Hughes, SS Mark Kyung, LFs Jose Fernandez and Torey Rosario, IF Nate Coolbaugh, RF Sam Hodges and 2B Tomas Bennett. What a deep lineup! The pitching staff was good enough to win a championship last year, led by Cy Young winner Vasco “Monster” Montanez. The addition of super rookie Ricardo Gonzales is an absolutely scary prospect for the rest of the AL. This pitching staff now has two aces. The next two starters, Emil Pineiro and Brooks Jefferson are no slouches either, and help L.V. challenge for the world’s best SP staff. Edgard Guerrero collected sixteen wins from the bullpen last season, and remains the inning eater of the relief staff. All star closer Felipe Herrera is back as well. This is a team that is capable of defending their championship, and will be on top of their game for a few seasons to come.

If there is a team in this world that is “due” to win a championship, the Oklahoma City Rodeo Clowns are that team. They had the third best team ERA in the world last season, and they’ll rely on a talented and deep starting staff to repeat the performance. The team also finished third in team FP and tied for fourth for BA so it’s a good thing that they return most of last season’s lineup intact. It looks like D.T. Rollins will be riding off into the sunset after nine seasons with the club, most notably season 12, when he sported a record of 22-0. World series champion free agent Bobby Joe Post takes Rollins’ place in this deep pitching staff. They will need a way to make up for the loss of closer Victor Canseco through free agency. Manuel Guillen looks to fill the role after two seasons of limited, but effective play. John “The Mailman” Mailman, Eric Simmons and Geraldo Oliva round out what might be the deepest top four starters on any team. The offense is led once again by LF “The Carlos Cruz missile”. He is surely headed for the hall of fame if he can avoid a catastrophic injury before long. Cruz’s supporting cast is impressive as well, including slugger Gary Purcell, and contact hitters SS Cristian Simon and 2B Kirby Martin. The team can count on solid contributions from RF Norm Hutton, SS Luis Lee, and the C platoon of Ricardo Matos and Max Padilla. The outlook for this team is once again good. They are going to have some intense competition for the division title, but a wild card spot should be available for whoever misses out on that. Due to the strength of their pitching staff and offence, anything short of 100 wins and playoff success would be a disappointment for this franchise.

The winds of change are blowing in Scottsdale. Long-suffering fans are hoping that the Fightin’ Chokes have made the right moves to take this team into contention. Newfound stability in ownership has a good effect on this franchise’s ability to field a competitive team, and the results should start showing up in the win/loss column soon enough. The big money signings of former fireman of the year Victor Canseco and SP Darrin Patrick add some skill and depth to a starting staff and bullpen in need of good arms. The ‘Chokes pitching staff stuck out fewer batters than any other team in the majors last season and that emphasizes where the team needs to improve. Better numbers can be expected out of SP Jorel Howington, since he now has a full year of ML duty under his belt. Brad Servais, Victor Martin and Harry Tavares were among the more reliable arms on the squad, finishing 1,2,3 on the team in both innings pitched and wins. After two years in the minors, first round pick Shooter Owens looks to make his major league debut and the expectations are pretty high for the 22 yr old to take a place at the top of the rotation.
The Scottsdale bats have been a streaky bunch of late, capable of breaking out in one game and falling silent the next. Second in the majors in doubles, the lineup boasted three 30 home run hitters (Borbon, Douglass and Saenz) and some good quickness as well (4 with 20 steals). They’re hoping for rookie catcher Joaquin Armas to make an impact this season. He joins a very deep lineup, but one that lacks star power. The ‘Chokes are a team on the rise, but they’ll be in over their heads against Vegas and O.C. in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Give Scottsdale another season or two as things are slowly coming together.

1. Las Vegas
2. Oklahoma City *
3. Helena
4. Scottsdale

* denotes wildcard

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