AMERICAN LEAGUE SYNOPSIS
Is Ottawa for real?
Will the new-look pitching staff put the Blue Sox on top?
Are inexperience and depth problems for the retooling Trout?
Can Trenton stay in the race this season?
Back in Ottawa? Looks like the Hosers have been re-hoserfied! After determining that moving the team to Dover didn’t make much difference, the franchise has come back to rediscover its’ eastern Ontario roots. They’re coming off a year in which they lost the division to Syracuse on the last day of the regular season, but went on to win two playoff series before falling to the Clowns in the ALCS. They did take a step back, winning 10 fewer games than in the previous season and it would appear that pitching may have been the reason. In season 15, closer Kevin Baek was good for 50 of 53 save opportunities on his way to the Fireman of the Year award. Season 16 saw Baek’s ERA rise from 2.47 to 4.02 as he blew nine saves and racked up 8 losses. At 24 years old, Baek is entering his 5th season and is still one of the premier late inning talents in the league. The top pitcher on the team last season was Cy Young candidate Alex Ortiz, whose sparkling 18-4; 2.37 season was highlighted with a No Hitter! Still only 23, the sky is the limit for Ortiz to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. With dependable veterans Jon Gonzalez and Butch Bowen, and curve-baller Juan Guzman entering his prime, the Hosers should have a great staff this season. They have good talent in the bullpen, although perhaps depth could pose problems especially if anyone gets hurt. Ottawa felt strong enough on the hill that they could part with struggling righty David “I-might-be-big-but-don’t-call-me-papi” Ortiz. The towering 26 yr old former first rounder has yet to live up to his immense potential and the Hosers decided to cut their losses and sent him to Richmond for 5-time All-star catcher Eduardo Sanchez.
With Sanchez, Ottawa has netted a solid backstop in his prime who can hold his own both at the dish and behind it. His presence meant the departure of incumbent Hosers catcher Chad Mulder who takes his rising talent to Philly on the heels of a promising rookie season. While Sanchez should be an overall upgrade, Ottawa may soon regret giving Mulder away for so little. Meanwhile, despite being the slowest team in baseball (and being beaned by the fewest pitches), the Hosers should once again be in the playoff mix with a young lineup that looks to retain momentum and keep control of the A.L. North. Talented third baseman Sammy Reyes clubbed 29 homers as a rookie and at only 22 years of age he should have numerous accolades ahead of him. Fellow rookie Derrick Flaherty didn’t reach the pros until he was 25, but looks to develop into one of the premiere power hitters in the game. The youngsters will still be led by Pedro “Boom Boom” Chavez who steadily hammered out another 42 home runs last season as he continues his march towards Cooperstown. For now, “Boom Boom” will set his sights on a World Series ring.
In Syracuse there’s growing hype surrounding the direction that the young franchise is headed. After capturing the division title on the last day of the season, the Blue Sox are ready to challenge any of the top teams in the A.L. and they officially don’t need to feel like an underdog anymore! Team leader George “the cleaner” Hoover responded to his lucrative new contract by setting career highs with 114 runs, 42 home runs and 117 RBIs decimating his former bests in each category. Still only 25 years of age despite entering his sixth pro season, Hoover is the face of the franchise and a pillar of the Syracuse community. But, in Syracuse, one of the top five offenses in baseball, Hoover wasn’t even the most dangerous hitter in the lineup. That honor belonged to former MVP Tom Borland who also notched career bests with 131 runs, 45 round-trippers and 137 RBIs! They’re supported by the capable bat of catcher Benji Concepcion, who earned his first All-star nomination with another strong campaign; and rookie Sawyer McCartney who impressed fans with 24/77/.294 in three quarters of a season as a 20 yr old. An excellent athlete, Sawyer has immense potential and despite a slight weakness against lefties, he should be able to hit for both power and average, while trying to improve on the 21 bases he swiped as a rookie. Hector Mercedes is the most notable departure, as he’ll try to repeat his 30 home run season for the Tiger Sharks. Newcomer Sparky Page will try to pick up some of the slack as he tries to regain his power stroke in a seriously talented lineup.
While pundits have long criticized the Blue Sox as a one-dimensional team, this year all eyes are on pitching coach Todd Kline as he’s working with one of the most talked about groups of arms in baseball! At the top of the list has to be Ralph Lambert, who had an outstanding year, picking up 44 saves on his way to the A.L. Fireman of the Year award. To push Lambert, Syracuse has added longtime Toronto closer Tony Bautista to the bullpen mix. Bautista is third all-time on the saves list and should provide a fearsome one-two punch late in games. The Blue Sox will bring back incumbent #1 starter Joaquin Fernandez, who looks to improve on last year’s 14 wins. The rest of the rotation is a high-budget retooling and time will tell if Kline can coax the best out of them. Josh Shelby hit a big pay day and will earn 11.5 million this season, despite his 93-103 career record and 4.70 ERA. With an outstanding fastball and great control, Shelby has the potential to have a career year with such a great offense behind him. Rolando Armas will earn 7.5 million and is a three time all-star, but he’s on the decline and he’s eight years removed from his last season of 15+ victories. Tuck Meacham will earn 6 million and after nine seasons with New York, he’s only topped 11 wins once. Many eyes will be on promising rookie Joshua Zimmerman, who will get every chance to succeed despite cynics suggesting that he would be best served with another year of AAA. This will be a fun team to watch.
It’s becoming difficult to know which version of the Toronto Trout we can expect to see. The “on-again off-again” club has long been a contender and only in recent years has faced some frustration with losing some key players to free agency and retirement. They’ll have a solid campaign one year and follow it with an under.500 finish the next. According to the pattern the team is due for a rebound, as last season they shaved 14 wins off of their season 15 total. Of course the biggest news in Toronto this off-season was the signing of Dominican sensation Fernando Rosado, who signed a massive deal and exponentially brightens Toronto’s future outlook. Assuming that Rosado is still a couple of seasons from stepping up at the pro level, the Trout will first need to figure out how to fill the holes left by the departure of closer Tony Bautista and free swinging first baseman Sarma Wall. The offence in Toronto will rely heavily on outfielders Javier Lopez and Chet Neal, each of whom are young, talented and possess a high ceiling in terms of their offensive upside. They’ll be joined in a very young lineup by rookie first baseman Pedro Gonzalez, who has a chance to be an impact player on a team looking for some mid lineup punch.
The bullpen duties that have been handled for many seasons by the dependable Bautista will be passed to the relatively untested Oscar “The Arm” Pittinger. Management is hoping that “The Arm” is ready for the pressure. He’s demonstrated that he can pitch every day; he has two “go to” pitches and good control, but he’ll need to get better against lefties and his stuff isn’t exactly overpowering. How many save chances he gets is another question, as the rotation isn’t exactly intimidating after posting a 5.04 ERA last season. Juan Sosa has proven to be a dependable front-end starter, but Trevor McCarthy is inconsistent and Matt Boone is on his last legs. Prospect Dock Strong isn’t quite ready to make the jump, so the final two rotation spots should be filled by Mel Leach and Clint Walker. Leach struggled in 18 starts last season, but the team feels that he can get the job done. They’re more excited about the rookie Walker, who turned in an impressive 50-23 minor league record and could be a top of the rotation starter for the Trout. There are a few question marks here, but if the pitching comes together for the Trout they have the ability to join the pennant race by season’s end.
After three straight 4th place finishes, the Trenton Terror Hawks are starting to wonder what it will take to get back into the playoffs. There are some good prospects in the system and some solid players on the ML squad, but the T-Hawks have been coming up a few games short of a serious challenge each season. This off-season they signed former Rodeo Clown DH “Big Jim” Donatello, giving them a solid middle of the lineup veteran with a dangerous bat. He’ll join team leader Justin “The Colossus” Jacome and the two forty homer boys Felipe Vega and Eli Chavez. The supporting cast is decent, but they’ll need a rebound season from former first round pick Carl Bevil, who seems to have shaken the star potential from his resume after signing his big contract. Bevil reached career lows in several offensive categories last season and is certainly capable of more.
The rest of the lineup looks sound with Mendoza, Johnson and Marv Williamson capable of providing thunder to compliment Shuey and Bryant’s speed game. There are some decent future stars on the horizon as well, as the T-Hawks posture to challenge their A.L. North rivals.
The pitching staff in Trenton seems officially ready to declare former #1 overall pick Brendan O’Neil as their leader. “B.O.” finished 14-8 last season and was the only starter with less than ten losses. They let Ahmad Griffith walk to Sacramento and traded 16-game loser Duane Belinda to the V-Bats for prospects. The moves open the door for Dale Branson to try his hand as a starter, and 22 yr old phenom Phil Knotts to take aim at major league hitters after racking up greater than a strikeout per inning in the minors.
Time will tell with the T-Hawks rotation, as 5 former first-rounders could just as easily click as struggle to find their groove in a new situation. The bullpen remains shaky, despite closer Frankie De La Vega settling down to deliver his best pro effort last season. His setup men are fairly young and untested, and their best long reliever Chico Flores seems alone and unproven in his role. That being said, there really isn’t a huge gap between Trenton and the other teams in their division. Surprisingly, they were much better on the road than at home last season. The team is strong enough to beat anybody, inconsistent enough to lose any game, and with a little luck they could stay in the mix come season’s end. They’ll just need a couple of heroes to step forward.
Will Boston’s pitching be good enough to support their dynamic offense?
How much does Durham miss Wayne Grey?
Do the Sunbirds have enough tools to get ahead in the East?
Does more experience for the young stars put the Crunch over the top?
The Boston Red Sox finished yet another season as A.L. East champs, and despite a playoff loss to Ottawa, they still look like a championship caliber team. They’re the poster team for the “offense first” approach, as they led the majors in home runs for an astounding eighth consecutive season (and 11 of the last 13)! The top run-producing squad in baseball has been the envy of the league for so long now that many teams are keeping a nice bottle of champagne for when Boston finally stumbles from their spot entrenched among the perennial contenders. This season should represent more of the same from the beantown sluggers, as Alfonso Mercedes reached the 60-homer mark for the 7th time in his remarkable career last season and still appears to be performing at a peak level. Blake Robinson and Terry Davis could be the centerpiece of most teams’ offenses, and only with the Red Sox would such great numbers be overshadowed. The entire lineup is rock solid with Chad Valentine and Emil Franco turning the most heads with their combination of great defense and star quality bat skills. The most notable off-season departures for the Sox are Hootie Park who was send to Vancouver in exchange for pitcher Alex Darling, and Harold Gonzales who signed a lucrative five year deal with the Bearcats. Gonzales was a Type A free agent, as was pitcher Ryan Cash, but the Red Sox wound up on the wrong end of Iowa City’s three free agent signings, and will only receive a 3rd and a 4th as compensation, due to the Bearcats signing Clint Adcock as well. At least Boston will be sporting 4 supplemental picks this season!
The pitching is always a question for the Sox, and that isn’t about to change this season.
Mark Aoki and Ryan Cash are the most notable departures, while joining the pitching staff are Darling, and aging veterans like Brook Perez, Arthur Koskie, Rodney Davis and Paul Nicholson (each of whom are between 35-37 years old and hope to prove that they still have the stuff to succeed). Bruce Denny will step into Aoki’s shoes in the closer role, while Sammy Moya will try to anchor the rotation after a hot and cold rookie year. Needless to say, there are some valid concerns with both fading veterans and unproven talent. The Boston offense always provides their pitching with a greater than average cushion to begin with, but they’ll still need some stand-out performances along the way.
Ralph Perry is the only returning pitcher who notched double digit wins for the Red Sox last season, so the victories have to wind up somewhere. Assuming that they do, Boston will be in the playoff hunt once again.
The always competitive County Ramblers endured yet another narrow playoff miss in season 16, slipping out of a wildcard spot in the last week of the season. Some might point to the mid-season injury to slugging outfielder Wayne Grey, who was on pace for 40+ round-trippers when he tore his ACL. He’s the heart of the Durham lineup and it’s feasible that his absence kept them out of the playoffs last year. They’ll also be starting this season without Mr. Grey as he continues to rehab his knee until approximately the all-star break. Where the offensively-minded club will be upon his return will fall on a host of other sluggers. Vinny Morton has led the club in hits for the past four seasons and is a clutch hitter and a good power threat. Al Grey (Wayne’s half brother) took over the home run lead on the team with 43, while Sherry Grebeck and Tomas Arias have both been nominated to multiple All-Star teams and round out a nice lineup. Durham finished second only to Boston in dingers last season, but unfortunately the similarities don’t end there. The hitting was almost as good, and the pitching was almost as bad! Top starters Boomer Buck, Moose English and Kelly Bravo all return for another season at the Athletic Park where keeping the ball in the yard is a definite challenge. The back end of the rotation might be a weakness, as the rest of the staff either lacks experience or talent. There are some decent pieces in the Ramblers’ bullpen, including incumbent closer Philip Fontenot (a former Fireman of the Year) and former division rival Mark Aoki who spent nine seasons closing for the Red Sox before “benedict-arnolding” over to Durham. It would appear that Aoki will set-up Fontenot, but there are two experienced late-inning arms to fall back on if the bats can generate their share of leads. If the team struggles, one wonders if it might be the last season for legendary bench coach Grant Redding. “Grandpa Grant” is far and away the longest tenured bench coach in the majors as he enters his 14th season as the ML BC in Durham (the next longest is two tied with 8). Redding is 65 years old and has six 100+ win seasons under his belt. If there were a Hall of Fame for coaches, this lovable strategy-master with the wonderful moustache would be a first ballot entry. The Ramblers will try to put together a solid campaign for old coach Redding this year to try to send him out on top! (or possibly convince him to stick around for another season or two?)
The resurgence of the Crunch has seen the Jacksonville Sunbirds finish last in their division for the past four seasons. While attempting to “fit in” in the tough A.L. East, the Sunbirds have adopted the popular “hitting strong/pitching weak” philosophy shared by Boston and Durham. Jesus Astacio remains the team’s ace, but despite tossing an excellent 33 starts, “the Jesus” is often abandoned by the team’s bats and came out with a losing record in season 16. Expect a nice rebound from the pinpoint curve/change dynamo. Former first round pick Emil Woods didn’t get it together in his first season as a starter. Woods often nears 100mph on the radar gun, and has decent command of the strike zone, but so far in his career he flat out just hasn’t had the stuff to succeed. Still only 23 years old, the S-Birds would love for him to take the next step, mostly to show that he’s worth the five-year deal that he inked in the off-season. A definite bright spot this season is rookie closer Dana Wheeler, another former first round pick whose lively low fast ball should help clean things up. The 22 yr old is a youthful presence on a pitching staff with nine hurlers over 30 years old and could be the closer in Jacksonville for many years to come.
The offense will remain rock solid, with the quartet of Spencer, Hayes, Arroyo and Villafuerte hitting in perfect harmony. Spencer might be the best all-around hitter; Arroyo has over 2000 hits (the most in franchise history); “Benny V” is the club’s all time home run leader and at 29 years old still has massive power, while Matty Hayes can boast power almost as good as Benny’s with the potential for a batting average fifty points higher. The Jacksonville “Fab Four” welcomes rookie center fielder Vinny Scott into the fold this season. The 22 yr old brings grit and speed, and if the S-Birds are going to make a playoff push this season, they’ll need all the tools they can muster.
It seems like the Crunch have had a “team on the rise” label forever, but the tag still seems to fit. Youngsters MigMar, VictRo and Davey Schulte are all coming off strong rookie seasons, and with more experience should help make New York a yearly playoff contender. Miguel “MigMar” Martinez and Schulte both clubbed 20 home runs and will benefit from another season of every day play. Schulte, brings great speed and defense and the potential to hit for average, setting the table for the heart of the order. MigMar finished his rookie campaign with 20 taters and a .254 average – not bad for most rookies, but Martinez is faaaaaaar more talented than that! By most accounts, he should demolish those numbers and never look back on his way to an All-Star caliber career. We’ll see soon enough if he’s ready to meet the immense pressure that comes with such high expectations. The rest of the Crunch lineup is solid if unspectacular, with Don MacRae and Alex Wright coming off solid seasons, as is Miguel Beltran, though he isn’t what he used to be. Ken Bailey suffered a mysterious drop-off in his power totals, slipping from 30 to 16 home runs in approximately the same number of at bats. Expect a rebound season from Bailey, perhaps to about 25 homers with a decent average and good all-around run production. A statistical spike from both Bailey and MigMar will be a huge boost to New York this season. On a side note, the Crunch struck out fewer times than any team in the majors last year.
In recent seasons the Crunch have had the best pitching in their division, but that isn’t saying too much! Closer Victor “VictRo” Rosado piled up 43 saves as a freshman and has filthy stuff that might be the best on the team. The trick will be how to get the ball into his hands, and it likely won’t always be easy. #1 starter Moises Vega should be the team’s ace, but has regressed in wins in each of his pro seasons (17, 15, 11, 10). After dealing with some shoulder trouble and lacking sorely in run support (2.71 ERA) look for Vega to work out some of the quirks and put together a 15+ win season if he can stay healthy. The rest of the rotation will likely struggle at times, though veterans Ray Fischer and Mike Washburn are savvy enough to pitch their way through some tough lineups. The litmus test for the Crunch will be whether the youngsters are ready to carry the team to the next level. All the parts are coming together, so it’s likely just a matter of when.
6. New York*
* denotes wildcard
Can the D.D.’s make it three straight division wins?
How long until Florida’s young stars have a team around them?
More steps forward for Little Rock?
Will “Team Wilt” take a run at the Drinkers?
Two straight years in the playoffs means that the Designated Drinkers are starting to turn a few heads. Even more impressive is that last season their 92 wins was the most by an AL South team in ten seasons! Charlotte has a well-rounded squad with great power and the ability to give the top teams a run for their money. Their home/road splits demonstrated that no team in the A.L. likes to play at home for their own fans more than the D.D.’s (that way they don’t have to drive anywhere after the game).
They didn’t make a big splash in the off-season, save for bringing in the tiny journeyman Kevin Cambridge to take the roster spot of the departed all-time stolen base king Joshua Meadows. Last season’s hero was left fielder Miguel Jiminez, who swatted 47 home runs while reaching career highs in both RBIs (147) and batting average (.319). Abraham Velarde, Al Guerrero and “Mad” Max Cora all topped 30 home runs as well, to give the D.D’s multi-faceted power sources at the heart of their lineup. If there’s a concern with Charlotte’s offence, it might be depth, as the big four don’t have much support beyond first baseman Tony Wright who has 20 home run power and has twice topped ninety RBIs. Cambridge won’t hurt the team, and he’ll score some runs but he’s never shown much pop and he won’t replace Meadows’ 20 homers and 90+ steals. Catcher Nigel Valentin and shortstop Benji Costilla are in the lineup primarily for their defense, and former rookie league MVP William Shibata isn’t quite ready. There’s some swagger here, but they’ll definitely need to take it up a notch to make a playoff run.
The pitching staff is decent, but lacks a true number one starter. Bryant Linden and Bruce Wilson are both dependable #2 grade starters, with Wilson having a bit more upside of the two. Neither is overpowering, but they should both be good for 10-15 wins if healthy. Trenidad Castro has a bit more juice, but a lot less consistency. He’s due for a rebound season and is a fairly capable “back of the rotation” arm. Both Eugene Darnell and Tike Leonard have yet to prove themselves and can’t exactly inspire confidence at this point. The bullpen is also a legitimate concern, as they lack a true #1 closer. Felix Forbes led them team with a mere 10 saves last season as they opt for a true closer-by-committee approach. Overall the team is good enough to win the division again, but still has enough kinks and wrinkles that a serious post-season showing will require a minor miracle. That being said, Jiminez and Cora quite often seem capable of miracles.
The move from New Orleans to Florida saw a slight improvement (7 more victories) last season and the team has begun to garner enthusiasm from their new fan base. One of the key reasons that the crowds come to the park is to watch crowd-pleaser, “Raffi” Rodriguez. The good-natured, stocky Dominican outfielder has clubbed exactly 33 homers in each of the past three seasons to go along with blazing speed, unparalleled hustle and the willingness to sign autographs until the wee hours of the morning. Something of a “bon vivant”, Rodriguez helps fans remember that “passion for the game” is reason enough to get behind a team that’s not quite ready for prime time. The GATORs are a team with upside though, and young Alex Keller is a player that could become a star in the league. A torn hamstring derailed the former first rounder in season 16, putting a halt on a season in which Keller was poised to demolish his rookie numbers. If he stays healthy, young Alex should be a dangerous GATOR for many seasons, teaming with “Raffi” and blue chip hitting prospect Herb Wilkinson (who should turn pro in the next season or two) to form a lethal offensive trio. For now, the ML team should get some secondary power from DH Fernando Chavez and 3B Will Mulholland, but the talent drops off steeply after that.
The pitching should struggle this season as well, but there are some promising arms down the pipeline. 24 yr old star closer Matthew Langerhans is entering his third pro season and has already appeared in two All-Star games. Langerhans has some of the best stuff in the league and should be grow to be one of the ninth innings’ finest. Aside from solid starter Hector Mateo (who likely yearns for his Vegas days) the GATORs pitchers will be battling hard for every out. The future looks more hopeful with prospects like Hamish Vining, “Zoltan”, Malcolm Rossy and Paul Kuroda vying for spots on the big club in the seasons ahead. For now it will be baby steps for Florida as they work on strengthening their franchise from the bottom up and planning for the future. The fans can breathe easier, as the ship is being righted here, but it will still take a little longer.
The Little Rock Razorbacks have finished the last four seasons in the basement in the A.L. South, which has afforded them the privilege of a top draft pick in each of the last three seasons. With gems like season 15 #2 overall pick Dicky Gleason (who hit 19 homers as a rookie last year) and the season 16 #1 overall pick of future star Vernon Moore its hard not to see a bright future for Little Rock. In fact there are several positive elements already in place on this team, as they were 7th in the majors in team batting average despite their poor record! Truth be told, with up and coming stars like Gleason and blossoming first baseman Fausto Posada leading the way, the bats in Little Rock command some respect. With great team speed, and four regulars who hit .300+ the
Razorbacks can certainly be competitive. Second year man “Cortes” had an outstanding sophomore season with a stat line of 116 runs, 47 doubles, 28 HRs, 105 RBIs, 29 steals and a .318 batting average! Certainly an eye-opening well-rounded season! Aaron Lidge contributed 106 RBIs of his own, giving Little Rock run production throughout their lineup. Without any significant departures, the offense should be a stabilizing factor as the team tries to climb the standings in the south.
The glaring problem here is pitching plain and simple. Posting the worst team ERA in the majors last season, the Razorbacks only saw three pitchers under 5.00 and had five over 7.00 (all five pitched over 50 innings and two of them even pitched over 100 innings)! While things certainly can’t get too much worse for Little Rock pitching, there don’t appear to be any saviors on the horizon either. The rotation will have a new look, with three veteran free agents Frank Hartman (Durham), Sam West (Chicago) and Norberto Diaz (Los Angeles) bringing experience and durability to a pitching staff in need. The aging trio is each capable of double-digit win totals, although all three have more career losses than wins and won’t be blowing anyone away with their stuff. Marty Stockton is likely the strongest starter on the team, but on many teams he’d be #3 or #4. With the bullet-throwing “Wildman” Tony Feng retaining his closers job, things should be a roller-coaster in Arkansas this season. While there’s still a long way to go, they’ve become an exciting team: making steady progress and fun to watch. They’ll battle hard to get out of the basement this season!
Season 16 was generally a positive one for the Lobsters. While they couldn’t keep pace with Charlotte in the divisional race, and still finished below .500, Louisville jumped from 66 to 75 wins and boasted the American League MVP in star slugger Wilt Blair. While some could argue that there were others besides Blair who would have been equally as deserving of the honor, no player was more single-handedly responsible for his teams offense than the powerful first baseman. Mr. Blair was responsible for approximately one quarter of the teams total home runs, and his .360 batting average and 147 RBIs stand out far more for the Lobsters than they would for a team like Boston. The supporting cast is a bit top heavy, with Bert Lee and “the Heart of Hicksville” Walter Taft shouldering most of the load. Lee’s quiet demeanor and stoic leadership provide a sharp contrast to Taft’s terrible temper and off the field legal trouble. Both players provide solid defense and great all-around offensive production, and if Taft can avoid his altercations with fans and blow-ups with the media they should both put up great numbers. Another interesting piece of the puzzle is DH Tony Mendez, who despite a great throwing arm has never fully grasped the concept of catching, and is therefore left without a role in the field. With surprisingly little power for a DH, Mendez nonetheless has displayed great hitting skills (a la Wade Boggs) and scored an impressive 103 runs as a rookie last season. Mostly a natural singles hitter, Mendez doesn’t need to be a genius to be knocked home by Wilt Blair!
While the Lobsters assets are great, the drop off is also significant. They have one of the weakest hitting outfields in the A.L. and the pitching staff is very much contingent on the success of a few select arms. The bullpen is likely an Achilles heel, as they don’t have an overpowering closer and Ed Hurst is the only proven commodity. The top billed hurler on the team is Javier “The Arrow” Estrada, who at 24 years of age has achieved double digit wins four times on a mediocre team and hasn’t even reached his full potential. “The Arrow” is a workhorse with great velocity who absolutely freezes left-handed hitters. His supporting cast is a motley crew of unproven hopefuls led by David Pressley, who at 27 years old is trying to get his once promising career back on track. Pressley has the potential to log 200+ innings and 15+ wins if he clicks in Louisville. The rest of the crew could be labeled as “hit or miss” and they’ll try to keep things stable until top pitching prospects like Russell Workman, Ray Sodowsky and Richie Franco are ready to ply their trade at the pro level. None of the three is too far off (perhaps next season?) so the future certainly looks brighter!
3. Little Rock
Can champion Oklahoma make it happen back-to-back?
Will a dominating Vegas team take down the Clowns?
Is Scottsdale ready to make their mark?
How long will it take to rebuild in Sacramento?
Coming off their first World Series win, the Las Vegas Numa Numa didn’t miss a beat. There was no champions “hang-over” as the defending champs tied with the division rival Oklahoma City for the top spot in the A.L. before falling to those same eventual champion Rodeo Clowns in the playoffs. The off-season marked the sad departure of long-time clutch-hitting shortstop Mark “The Kobra” Kyung who signed a 5-year deal in Burlington after nine seasons in Vegas. Kyung scored 100+ runs in seven of nine seasons with the Numa Numa, stole 30+ bases eight times and leaves a healthy career .310 batting average. Also slinking away with a World Series ring and 552 home runs under his belt is Torey “Rosie” Rosario. Rosie finally ran out of steam last season, and in coming off the bench, it proved difficult for him to find any sort of rhythm. Vegas had no choice but to decline on his option, and wait until the long-time icon enters the Hall-of-Fame conversation in a season or two. The offense will surely continue to click without “Rosie” and “The Kobra”, as they boasted 7 hitters with 20+ dingers last season (4 batters reached 100 RBIs). Still only 25 years old, C.C. Cervantes is the class of the A.L. backstops with two Silver Sluggers awards and three trips to the midsummer classic in three pro seasons.
With the poise of a veteran, C.C. is a measured hitter, capable of hitting for both power and average while asserting himself as a capable defensive catcher as well. Cervantes is a true student of the game! He’s joined by Rookie of the Year Sam Hodges, whose 117/33/101/.303 line took the league by storm and thumbs his nose at the Hosers who traded him away. “El Halcon” Jose Fernandez, Joel Purcell and one of the Tomas Bennett’s will give the Numa Numa a playoff caliber lineup that’s bound to compete for All-Star spots and a division title.
The true star of the Numa Numa remains ace pitcher Vasco Montanez. When an 18-12 record with a 3.46 ERA qualifies as an off year, it becomes apparent that the 26 year old is rewriting the record books. The former Rookie of the Year is a 5 time All-Star with two Cy Young awards on his mantle and has already reached 124 career wins (halfway to the career win mark and he’s only 26). Montanez leads a very capable rotation, with talented sophomore Ricardo Gonzalez and rising talent Emil Piniero coming off an 18 win season. With a sound bullpen, this team has no real weakness and will continue to be among the A.L’s elite teams. Watch for them in the post-season!
First Vegas, now Oklahoma City finally bring home the hardware and punctuate that the A.L. West has become the class of the American League. The Rodeo Clowns can breathe a sigh of relief, as they shake their post-season frustrations that saw them finish several seasons as one of the elite teams in baseball before collapsing in the playoffs to supposed underdogs. The Clowns are still among the top hitting teams in baseball as they look to defend their title. The Carlos Cruz “Missile” remains the offensive general in Oklahoma City, as he once again hit 30 home runs, reached 100 RBIs and led the team with a .311 batting average. Cruz is only 32, so he still plays at close to his peak level, however he missed more games than he’s used to last season, which resulted in fewer hits, runs and steals than we normally see from him. He could be losing a step, or just taking a little extra rest to stay fresh for the duration of the season. Cruz struck out a career low 41 times last season and if he can stay healthy look for him to punch in with the familiar All-Star caliber season that we’re used to. Not to be overshadowed, Gary Purcell and Luis Lee accounted for as much or more of the offense in O. City. Season 14 MVP Purcell clubbed a career best 52/155/.298 and actually topped all the numbers from his MVP season. The towering first baseman has hit 40 homers or more in four of his six seasons, and while his batting average can fluctuate from year to year his power is money in the bank. Luis Lee exploded for 46 home runs of his own in his sophomore season and is showing why the Clowns gave him the near 20 million dollar signing bonus back in season 10. Lee, a special hitting talent and a very capable infielder was an All-Star for the first time last season and it figures to be the first of many for the young Venezuelan.
It was also another memorable year for “The Mailman” John Mailman. After it appeared that perhaps his best years were behind him, Mailman turned in one of his finest seasons yet, setting personal bests with 255 innings pitched and 7 complete games en route to his 7th twenty win season and 3rd Cy Young Award. Despite all the accolades, the World Series ring was the most important to John, who posted a 5-0 playoff record to take his team to the promised land. His right-hand man (and #2 starter) Geraldo Oliva struggled with tendonitis last season and looks to regain his own 20 win form. Reliable veteran Eric Simmons and promising 2nd year man Brian Donahue should give them Clowns a very solid rotation that hopes to repeat as the top-ranked pitching team in the A.L. The task of repeating as champs will be a long and daunting journey, but this team has the tools to pull it off. We should see them playing important games come season’s end.
The franchise that’s finished at the bottom of the A.L. West for the past three seasons and the worst team in the majors last year has had trouble finding a stable home. They hope that a fresh start in Sacramento will help their fortunes as will the #1 overall pick in the upcoming amateur draft. The new owner of the freshly dubbed Big Tomatoes inherits some dubious distinctions as the team surrendered the most walks in the majors, had the fewest save opportunities, the second worst team ERA and the third worst team fielding percentage. The offense has been a relatively consistent bright spot for many years, and although they’ve tailed off a bit, there are still enough live bats to remain competitive. Despite not having a .300 hitter, anyone with 100 runs or RBIs and being 7 strikeouts away from having 8 hitters with 100 or more whiffs, there is still some talent and depth in the Sac-to lineup. The loss of Bruce Sellars to Atlanta last season certainly hurt, and the deal faced some real criticism, but the veteran bats of Jose Guerrero, Sam Baxter and Kerry Perez are still solid and can help the team win games. In their mid thirties, the trio is best suited as the supporting cast for some other top talent, and the Big Tomatoes are hoping that fleet-footed center fielder Edgard Garces, slugging 3B Roger Clapp and rising talents like left fielder Pablo Rosario (who has already shown three 20 homer seasons) will give them a well-balanced lineup that can hurt opposing pitchers in a variety of ways.
On the bump they have Juan James, who at 26 years old needs to find some consistency in order to shake his “underachiever” image. James is still trying to get back on track after his shoulder trouble from a couple seasons back. He throws a good low splitter and can pitch workhorse innings if he keeps his composure and spreads out his mistakes. Behind James is a rag-tag supporting cast of veteran free agent signing Ahmad Griffith, journeymen Chris Rose, floundering Russell Tice and the light tossing “Powder Puff” Pineda rounding out the rotation. There’s really no chance that things will come together for all four of them, though the aging Griffith has a decent track record and Tice put together 14 wins as a rookie. The Big Tomatoes bullpen is actually pretty good, and some youngsters like Joe Delahanty could be on the verge of something great, but the question remains as to how many games will still be close after six or seven innings. There are some pieces for the future in Sacramento, but with so many needs to be addressed, the high point of this season will certainly be landing a blue chip top draft pick. The franchise needs a consistent hand to guide them forward.
The Scottsdale Fighting Chokes were the epitome of average last season, a refreshing change from the franchise’s old habit of languishing in the cellar of the league. The Chokes had their share of chokes, but also lots of great wins. There were plenty of negatives, but also many positives to draw on. The Chokes hitters had the most strikeouts in the American League. The Chokes pitchers recorded the fewest strikeouts in the American League. The Chokes led the majors in doubles. The Chokes finished 22 games behind Oklahoma and Vegas. The Chokes were only 8 games out of a playoff spot.
Scottsdale is slowly getting their act together and have become about a .500 team finishing 82-80 in season 15 and 80-82 last season.
Unlike many American League teams, Scottsdale doesn’t look like an offensive juggernaut with a knitting team for a pitching staff. Here the organization has some promising young pitchers and the strength of the hitting talent might raise some concern.
They’ll rely on the bats of Darren Carillo and Jake Douglass, both of whom have proven to be valuable assets at the plate. Perhaps it’s the hitter-friendly Davis Ballpark that makes Carillo and Douglass look very good despite not having a pure hitters pedigree. Others like Clyde DePaula, Fernando Saenz and R.J. Borbon have also hit well in Scottsdale despite possessing lesser that ideal tools at the plate. The Fighting Chokes have high hopes for similar success from youngsters Walt Reid and Joaquin Armas who both should become solid regulars in a balanced lineup.
The Davis Ballpark factor might hold back certain pitchers in Scottsdale, despite having a good young group of arms. The off-season trade of Sparky Page to Syracuse for Juan Seanez gives the Chokes a proven #1 starter. Seanez was a two time All-Star with Montreal and is still only 31 years old. He’ll be followed in the rotation by two 23 year old second-year talents in Jorel Howington and Shooooooooter Owens, both of whom showed great progress as rookies and look to turn a few heads in year two. Former Durham pitcher Darrin Patrick signed a rich three-year deal to help strengthen what could be an underrated staff. The bullpen looks rock solid as well, with former Rodeo Clown Victor Canseco holding down the fort. 38 year old Lonny Mercado left Vancouver to be Canseco’s set up man, and with the trio of youngsters Chris Christensen, Cesar Beltre and Max Gonzalez all gaining in the experience department, it looks like the Chokes have things figured out. They’re a dark horse to surprise people this season and could sneak into the playoff hunt if some other teams falter. The franchise is becoming more competitive from season to season.
1. Las Vegas
2. Oklahoma City *
* denotes wildcard
NATIONAL LEAGUE SYNOPSIS
Can Chicago’s offence compensate for their depleted staff?
Will the highest money per player team in the NL guarantee Detroit success?
Is there any sign of weakness in Montreal?
How long before Philadelphia’s a player in the North?
After 3 consecutive seasons of 100+ loss baseball, Chicago narrowly avoided a 4-peat last season by posting a 68-94 record. Long gone are the glory days of yesteryear which saw the Crushers throw the likes of Kelly Brave, Matt Boone and Mike Taylor out for innings on end. Unable to sign dependable starter Sam West in the off-season, this year looks bleak again. Under performers like Chuck Thomas and Clay Nitkowski along with newcomers Zoltan Monahan and Bill Young, get most of the innings from the stretch but poolies shouldn’t expect great results. The saving grace of the rotation over the past few seasons has been Gerald Mills and, heading into a contract year, he better hope that continues. The problems don’t end with the starters in Chicago. Closer Yuniesky Saez, claimed off waivers from Las Vegas a season ago, will be given the opportunity to finish whatever might resemble a save in the windy city, and though Chicago has much depth to boast in the pen, a sure fire reliever has yet to emerge. Veteran Aramis Pena may be an option for Chicago on either the end. The former 17 game winner has logged more innings than just about anybody on staff and is disarming against right-handed hitters. Catching this motley crew continues to be Santos Estalella who, at age 36, is aging quite well. Gone are his 30 homerun seasons though Esalella, who stands alone atop the all-time Chicago leader board in almost all offensive categories, is quite capable of getting on base. Alfredo Baerga returns to Third Base this year, though at 33 his best years are also behind him. Joining Baerga in the middle of the line-up will be ex-Toronto First Basemen Sarma Wall. Wall has more than enough power for the clean-up spot though his average rarely sneaks above .250. Second Basemen F.P. Jones was the Crushers big signing this off season. At 7 million per season, Jones brings a solid glove and good speed to Chicago on an everyday basis. The star of the line-up will be former 3rd overall pick, Fred Medina. Medina turned some heads during his minimal at bats as a rookie last season. Look for the sophomore to improve on last season’s totals on his way to earning favour with the Chicago faithful. Speaking of draft picks, that is where the strength of this team most certainly is. 1st overall pick Julio Pascual will likely be stationed at AAA again this season, though don’t be surprised if he makes the jump to the majors at some point. Last season’s 3rd overall pick, Willie Jacquez, is already 22 and has yet to play a game of professional baseball. He will start the season in rookie ball but should move quickly through the ranks to avoid minor league toil.
I know we talk about it every year, but the accomplishment keeps getting better with age; Detroit has now notched eleven straight 100+ win seasons! With ‘the incident’ now seven seasons in the past, the Tiger Sharks have carved out a new identity for themselves. Their team ERA of 3.40 was tops in the majors last season. In terms of last years pitching results, credit veterans Jesus Perez, Felipe Villa and Dick Zentmeyer as well as the emergence of rookie Bart Murray. This year, rookie Clayton Cooper looks to add to the fantastic pitching tradition enjoyed in Michigan. In an interesting twist, “Razor” Ricardo Tavarez slide nicely into the bullpen posting a 2.88 ERA in the long reliever role. Though at 40 Tavarez’s Cy Young days seem far behind him, he will still play an important role for Detroit during those late innings. Former Fireman of the Year Hunter Wilkinson was used primarily as a setup man over the past two seasons, but this year it looks like he will return to the familiar role of closer. Former 1st overall pick Scot McGowan looks ready to take the ML plunge this season. His emergence made it possible for the Tiger Sharks to walk away from FA Second Baseman Russell Rivera, saving much money in the process. 4 time All-Star Tony Calderon, entering his 5th major league season, remains a staple at Shortstop. Though his bat doesn’t always impress, his speed and glove make him a force to be reckoned with. A spring training injury to Third Baseman Sam “Jules” Jackson will see him sidelined until after the All-Star break. Watch for Julio Renteria to take over his duties until the All-Star is ready to return. An impressive outfield, augmented by one of the best leadoff hitters in the NL Joey Kramer, rounds out the fierce some Detroit roster. Of course the problem with boasting such an impressive team is certainly financial. Detroit will pay 12 players at least 5 million dollars this season on their way to paying a 100 million dollar total player payroll salary. Furthermore, they already have 65 million tied up in only 9 players for next season. At 3.6 million per player, Detroit has the highest average salary of any team in the NL. Still, it is hard to argue with how the Tiger Sharks are sending their money and as long as they keep winning no body will say anything.
Does it make you old to say “I remember when Montreal was a joke of a team.” Probably. Over the past 8 seasons, the Maroons (formerly the Habs) have missed the post season only once and have won the World Series twice. Over the past 4 seasons, they have posted a 424-224 record for an astounding winning percentage of .675 and second only to their divisional rivals in Detroit. Canadian hero and reigning NL MVP Fernando Rios has been the crucial reason those teams have succeeded. After 5 seasons in Montreal Rios has smacked 252 homeruns, averaging just over 50 per season. Though Rios was certainly deserving of the MVP honour, some of his stiffest competition may have come from his teammate First Basemen Enrique Valdes. Valdes, winner of the MVP and Rookie of the Year back in season 15, hit 54 homeruns and knocked in 147 runs too boot. Still Rios and Valdes only make up a portion of this potent offence. Outfielders Bailey Dykstra, Joe Rollins and Steve Guerrero are all All-Stars and all have the potential to go deep. Second Baseman was a late re-sign for the Maroons. He can only improve on his disappointing numbers from a year ago, but even if he doesn’t his glove will keep him on your scorecard every day. Watch for second-year catcher Michael ‘Cheech’ Phelps to further improve on his totals from last season. While his pitch calling leaves much to be desired, he has the potential to be one of the more impressive contact hitters on the club. Despite the powerful approach to offence in Montreal, pitching may be the strength of this club. Last seasons NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young finalist Edgard Garces shone in 198.2 innings pitched posting an 18-4 record and an incredible ERA of 2.36. The most amazing thing about the soft-throwing Cuban is that he posted those numbers at the age of 21. That being said, class of the Maroons staff is Garces’ fellow country-man Vic Lopez. Incredibly, Lopez posted better numbers than Garces last season and is more capable of going deeper into games. If there is a drawback to his game its that he has a tendency to give up the long ball at inopportune times. D’Angelo ‘Cedar Teeth’ Lopez will close out games again this year. After 5 impressive seasons with the club, Lopez is finally demanding big money. He scored a 7.7 million dollar deal in arbitration this year making him one of the highest paid closers. Montreal will have to shell out big money and a long-term deal for this gem in the near future. Definitely all systems go this year.
Philadelphia has the unfortunate geographical disadvantage of being in the toughest division in the National League. The franchise’s successes from their Madison days have resulted in tough times for the Pheremoniacs who have yet to make the playoffs since departing Wisconsin. The Pheremoniacs bullpen took a hit in the off season as 4 prominent relievers who pitched strong innings filed for free agency. A few off-season signings, waiver claims and a trade that saw 7 million dollar man Sheldon Stewart come to town should give the pen enough stability. Ace Tony Silva will reprise his role as number one on a fairly strong starting rotation. The starting rotation is far from flashy, but is definitely capable of getting the job done in Philadelphia. For example, Shane Fleming, who may slide into the number two spot behind Silva, has always had issues with his control but was good enough last season to post a 3.53 ERA on his way to notching 12 wins. 37 year old FA acquisition Willie Acosta moves into town following a difficult season at Fenway Park. He seems primed for one last hurrah to close out his career. The Standridges, Matthew and Marc, make up the left side of the infield as well as the heart of Philadelphia’s line-up but may get bumped down if the inexperienced duo of 1B Brett Meyers and 2B Oscar Kennedy can make an impact early on. Joshua Meadows also joins the fold this year via free agency. Though Meadows has lost a bit of the game changing impact he once had on the base paths (1032 career stolen bases and first all time), his is still a dynamic and smart baseball player who will likely see a lot of time at the top of the order. His transition from Second Base to Left Field will most likely improve his durability and another 500+ at bats and 50 stolen bases are not out of the question for him. AAA prospect, closer Earl Jakubauskas, may make the jump to the majors this season should the closing role become vacant due to performance. At 21 years of age, Jakubauskas has succeeded everywhere he has played and may move up the ranks quickly. AA prospect starting pitcher Tom Messmer is anticipated in Philadelphia. The 21 year old is able to throw all of his pitches across for strikes and keep the ball in yard. If his durability can improve, Messmer will be an All-Star someday. Aside from them, prospects aren’t plentiful in Philadelphia as many of their youngsters are already here.
2. Detroit *
* denotes wildcard
Is Tampa Bay’s old-man approach getting old?
Can high draft picks get results in Burlington?
Will Washington draw upon their post-season successes from a year ago?
Will off-season changes turn the tide in Pittsburgh?
Without a winning record in 11 seasons, Burlington needs to start turning some of those high draft picks into ML success. Benny Diaz, Henry Ulrich, Jimmie Shannon, Trenidad Sanchez, Jarrod Anderson, Shawn Pittinger, Reagan Buchholz, Rich Jones, Clay Wise, Toby Nation, and Dann Kelly are all former 1st round picks on the ML roster but most haven’t been able to develop the their full potential. Perhaps 2nd overall Stu Burke and 4th overall Skeeter Young can contribute on the big league team this year, but for the time being the Barons’ minor league affiliates will be their home. Of this mix of talent, the Second Baseman Trenidad Sanchez seems most capable of taking his game to the next level. Sanchez hit .314 with 20 HR’s in his rookie season narrowly missing both the All-Star and Rookie of the Year vote. Also, rookie Benny Diaz is a 5 tool player who hopes to slide into the heart of the order. The Barons did turn some heads in the offseason by inking 6 time All-Star Shortstop Mark Kyung to a 5 year contract. Kyung will bring leadership and a winning attitude to this home grown team. Burlington also stole Willie Lee away from divisional rival Tampa Bay in the off season. Lee brings with him speed and a solid glove out in Center Field. Burlington also signed starting pitcher Francis Mota to a very modest .9 million dollar contract. If Mota can gain some sort of semblance of control and begin throwing his impressive fastball for strikes more consistently, he may be a bargain. That being said, he currently does have a career walk to strikeout ratio of nearly 1:1. Currently, Burlington does have the most pitcher friendly park in the majors though their team ERA must drop significantly from it 4.35 mark from a year ago in order to take advantage of that fact; compare Burlington’s team home ERA of 3.93 to their road ERA of 4.80 (2nd lowest in the NL). Pitching coach Brutus Valdes is entering his 6th season with the club and will need better results to guarantee his job after this year. Times are tough in Burlington and may continue to be unless Burlington can start converting some of those high draft picks ( 5th overall this season) into ML stars. Expect another rocky road on the path to success.
In an effort to shake up an underperforming team that missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season (finishing below .500 for the first time in 8 seasons), Pittsburgh parted ways with Free Agents Rolando Armas (Syracuse), Jolbert Saenz (Richmond), Wilson Lee (Richmond), Mitchell Griffin (New York), Karl Frank (Las Vegas), Bennie Pedersen (Durham) and Mike Sadler (unsigned). The moves were done to inject fresh life into the Grindermen who consistently field a solid team but have been under performing at the plate and from the mound. The FA signings of infielders Stan Jones and Andres Alonso are most certain capable hitters, but don’t strike fear into opposing pitchers. Long time World Police pitcher Richard Lee also signed a good money deal and will attempt to transition to a starting rotation that is backed by hard luck hurler Dave Gibson. Gibson has managed to post sub 4.00 ERA’s over the past 3 seasons, yet has not been able to break the 12 win plateau in any of them. After making the All-Star team in his rookie season, Gibson has been hard pressed to find the love from either his teammates or the voting fans. Pedro Lunar has been nothing short of lights out since joining Pittsburgh a few seasons back, though he has never been a starter who could pitch deep into games and this has been tiring out the Grindermen’s bullpen over the past few seasons. Chris Wheeler has the potential to top 250 innings if he can gain his managers trust and shave something off of his unimpressive 5.03 career ERA. The former 5th overall selection needs to start producing now to improve Pittsburgh’s chances. The offence on the team is spearheaded by the likes of Glenn Montgomery and Winston Marte who combine speed, average and power to provide a fearsome duo. Tony Servet and Roc Ledee provide great support, though both have seen a great decline in their offensive numbers over the past 2 seasons. Both are former All-Stars and have the potential to reach the mid season classic again, but another slow start will have the fans turning on these high priced sluggers very quickly. At 36 years old, former first overall pick Cal Brumfield has slowed down significantly and will likely be a platoon or pinch hitting specialist for the remainder of his career. The emergence of rookie backstop Rickey Relaford has made sweet hitting Aramis Villafuerte expendable and rumours have it that Pittsburgh is actively looking for a new home for him. In short, the Grindermen need to get off to a good start to have any hope of catching a wildcard spot this season.
With an average player age of 30 years old, Tampa Bay is the oldest team in the National League. The heart of this once potent offence is still lead by Barney Webster and Rick Nicholson, but at 33 and 35 years respectively, they are both starting to show signs of slowing down. Rick Nick’s 91 RBIs last season marked only the 2nd time in the players illustrious 14 year career that he failed to reach the 100 mark. He also failed to hit the 30 HR mark for the first time ever. Though the first ballot Hall of Famer is on the downside of his career, he is still a threat at the plate and will likely be the first player to top the 2000 career RBI mark early next season. At 27 years of age, Kordell Kramer is far from over the hill, but injuries have slowed him down significantly. Kramer was placed on the 60 day Dl early last season with a herniated disc in his neck. He tweaked it again during Spring Training and may miss the first month of the season. This will open the door for former first round draft pick Jerome Leskanic to get some time at Shortstop. FA grab Harry Romero joined the club in the offseason and will definitely play a larger role in the Terrific Balls line-up than he ever did in Boston. On the mound William Ishii, Ben Black, Pedro Guerrero and Jerry Rhodes are all over 33; though Ishii, at 39, shows no signs of slowing down. He posted a tremendous 3.42 ERA last season and still the ace of the staff. In the pen, Boots Cash looks to cash in on a superb year as a set up man last year. Boots posted an ERA of 2.00 in 96 appearances (a franchise record) and a whopping 152.2 IP. He will likely be handed the ball in all closing situations for Tampa this season. Though they were likely better than their 80-82 record of a year ago would have you believe, time is running out in Tampa. With limited prospects on the rise and an 87.8 million dollar salary hit this season, Tampa needs to win now. Another strong pitching performance from the veterans and solid hitting from guys who have shown they are more than capable will surely see the Balls in the race come playoff time.
In an impressive post season feat from a year ago, Washington D.C. managed to knock out 98-64 Montreal in the first round and 102-60 Detroit in the second round before succumbing to Richmond in the 7 game NLCS final. Not bad for a team that snuck into the playoffs with an 82-80 record. The Swamp Cats proved to be quite inactive in the off-season with the biggest move turning out to be the non-resigning of veteran outfielder and former 46 HR man Tomas Bennett. Instead, the Swamp Cats elected to continue the youth movement. As a result, Washington can now boast the youngest average age (25.6 years) and the lowest average salary (1.1 million) of any team in baseball. Leading the charge will be First Baseman Sandy ‘Hitman’ Hale and his astounding 197 career homeruns all hit before his 26th birthday. Not bad for a guy who has also managed to squeeze in shoulder surgery in his short time in the majors. Hale has managed to drive in runs and hit for a solid average making him a definite Triple Crown threat. He’s also the only guy on the team earning over 5 million this season. At 25 years of age, Lonnie Tobin is entering his 5th Major League season and is coming off his first trip to the All-Star game. Tobin posses a good eye and a knack for hitting the ball out of the park. Look for him to Improve on last season’s career numbers. Guillermo Nieves, Vicente Perez and Kevin Yoshii add depth to an impressive line up and are all under 25 years old. Still, the most exciting player to emerge this season may be 22 year old Joey Swann. The former 2nd overall pick (taken behind fellow rookie Scot McGowan) joined the club for the impressive playoff run last season but will likely start this season at AAA. Look for Swann to join the club early in the year and earn enough at bats to garner consideration for Rookie of the Year. Still, Washington’s greatest asset may prove to be on the mound with a young trio of highly drafted studs leading the way. D.J. Gragg (26 years, 3rd overall), Cord Epstein (24 years, 2nd overall) and F.P. Webster (23 years, 9th overall) can throw strikes, pitch innings and get outs. Sure these talented players will be commanding high paydays in the not so distant future but for now Washington has the perfect mix of youth, talent and low salaries to make them competitive for years to come, and with the second highest scouting budget in the majors the prospect watch is far from over.
2. Tampa Bay
Which Iowa team will take to the field this season?
Will keeping Brad Street prove worthy in Atlanta?
Is Richmond for real?
Will stability ever come to El Paso?
After appearances in 4 of the last 6 playoffs, followed by quick exits, Atlanta is looking to hang around with the big boys a bit longer this year. The World Police’s biggest move this off season was the resigning of 5 time All-Star Brad Street to a massive 4 year 40.5 million dollar (plus bonuses) contract that will see the former Rookie of the Year and perennial Silver Slugger be the cornerstone of the offence for the foreseeable future. Though Street’s payday was higher than any GM would’ve liked to pay, his bat in the cleanup spot is irreplaceable. Also joining the World Police is FA acquisition Grady Peterson, fresh off a World Series win in Oklahoma City. Peterson will be the primary setup man before the Police can hand the ball off to Walter ‘Don’t Stand so Close to Me’ Milton. Milton, a finalist for the Fireman of the Year last season, has posted 107 saves and a tidy ERA of just under 3 in his first 3 seasons in the bigs. At First Base, Lloyd Harper looks to build upon a fairly successful rookie campaign. Harper is a well rounded hitter with a great eye and has definite All-Star potential. Bruce Sellers, who came over in a trade early last season, is a good number 2 hitter behind the always speedy Edgardo Seguignol. Orlando Vega rounds out a very strong infield, but lacks the range to play an effective Shortstop. Street, Sellers and Vega will be making a combined 27.9 million dollars this season and with both Sellers and Vega’s contract up at the end of the year, they have a lot to prove to the Atlanta faithful. Waiting in the wings is AAA prospect Hector Mintz who is a defensive wiz at short and a not to bad hitter to boot. He will most likely make some of those high priced infielders expendable at season’s end. Atlanta has always had a knack for finding good starting pitching in the draft and internationally. Gabe Miller, Karim James and Randy Bradford are fine examples of that, though the Police are salivating at the chance of seeing prospect Domingo Johnson pitch in the majors sometime soon. Though he very well may be ML ready, Atlanta is taking their time with the 21 year old and he will likely spend this season in AAA. Look for Johnson to be called up if Atlanta finds itself in the playoff mix towards the end of the year.
Having relocated 9 times over the past 12 seasons (a sure sign of an indifferent league) the…ummm…errr…franchise has settled in El Paso where they hope to grow some deep, deep roots. To their credit, the Blancos made some good decisions in the off-season opting to do very little instead of much. They allowed some role players and minor leaguers to walk away rather than ink them and didn’t chase any high priced talent. Management in El Paso has recognized that for this team to do well, now is not the time to spend extravagantly. The Bancos have 62 million committed to players this season, but only 26 million the following year as some bad contracts come off the books. Expect more money to be placed into the scouting, signing and training budgets than have been in the past for this club. Also of note this off-season was the trade with Vancouver that saw 27 year old Logan Harper join the mix. Harper and Todd Kennedy, 26, finally give the franchise a sold 1-2 punch on the mound, something they have lacked previously. After spending last season in the bullpen, Ramon Li will likely join the rotation this season to give the Blancos 3 dependable options and if rookie Doug Campbell can keep throwing that nasty screwball for strikes, the Blancos will be looking even better. New faces FA Frank McCorley and Herm Lamb (another part of the Vancouver deal) will provide ample support for the rotation late in innings until the ball can be handed over to Tim Xavier. If El Paso has a chance at succeeding this season it will be solely due to their pitching. Corner infielders Richard Brea and Javier Pena have some punch in their bat and are the two best options for the club, though after them the talent drops off quickly. The lack luster offence that had trouble scoring runs last season and that trends is expected to continue this year. 28 year-old rookie Jed Hawkins will likely be the everyday starter in Right Field, but we’re not quite sure what to expect out of him this season. His long road to the majors has made him hungry, though there is a definite ceiling to his capabilities. Starting in Center Field this year will be the “Alaskan Assassin” Haywood Gibson who can throw a ball further than he can hit one. Tony Baez, acquired in an off-season deal with Boston, will provide stellar defense making him both a fan and pitcher favourite. This year will be one of growth for El Paso, but anything is possible. Allow this team to stay put and they could be a team on the rise.
Following a trip to the World Series 2 seasons ago, Iowa bottomed out last year dropping 96. While the Bearcats pitching was strong enough to keep them in games, their bats went limp mid-season. The offseason was a busy one for Iowa, kicked off by the 51.5 million dollar signing off oft injured Harold Gonzales. Gonzales was a trade deadline acquisition by the Bearcats 2 seasons ago and hit .317 before suffering a season ending injury that sent the Free Agent packing for Boston. Last season Gonzales, battling injuries, batted .320 with 22 HR in limited time at the plate. This set him up for his tremendous Iowa City payday. If he can stay healthy, and that is a big if, he will be a tremendous addition to the top of the Bearcats lineup. Days after the monumental Gonzales signing, Iowa again shelled out giving big bucks to FA starter Ryan Cash – also from Boston. Cash’s 5 year 62 million dollar deal will undeniably put pressure on the 29 year old pitcher who has only shown glimpses of promise up to this point. 4 time All-Star Ivan Armas will earn 12.5 million this season and closer Perry Campbell has signed on for 11.5 million meaning that Iowa has committed 47.3 million to just 4 players. For the record, that is almost 10 million more than Washington’s entire team. Iowa City franchise record holder Larry Franklin returns for his 13th major league system with the franchise and will be commanding a modest .8 million this year. His leadership role has never been in question, though this season he will also have to mediate between the high priced egos in the dugout. Iowa was also busy on the trade front bringing in Jacksonville slugger Kris Brock to patrol Center Field in the pitcher friendly confines of Principal Park. Still, the most anticipated new face this year for Iowa will undoubtedly be rookie First Basemen Otis Davis. Pundits agree that Davis is the odds on favourite to capture this seasons Rookie of the Year. Davis’ combination of power and contact means he will likely transition into the clean-up role in a much improved lineup. Sophomore Tsubasa Chang has the bat and will get the opportunity to show that he is worthy of being an everyday starter, though the hole in his glove means he will likely never be a good option at Shortstop. If Chang does start at Short, that will relegate the 5 million dollar man Pasqual Beltre, to the position of bench warmer. On the mound, 23 year old Ross Lawson may prove to be the ace of the rotation. His control and ability to keep the ball in the yard will remind everyone why he was taken 12th overall in season 13. Don’t expect great things from this high priced group of talent, but don’t expect a repeat of last year’s disaster in the Midwest.
After a trip to the World Series last season, Richmond’s Eric Klassen put it best. “There’s no let down. Getting that far and not winning has only made us hungrier. We expect to be right back there again this year.” Klassen should know about hunger. He made it to the Series back in season 12 with Durham only to lose the 7th game to a hungrier Montreal club. This year, pieces are in place to make another impressive run. Joining Klassen on the mound will be the returning Chuck Russell, Nicholas Ford and Raphael Belliard. Russell has been The River City Rebel’s best starter since coming over from Toronto in a trade a few seasons back, posting an ERA under 4.00 in every year since the deal. While at 33, Belliard has appeared to breathe new life into himself posting his best numbers over the past 2 seasons. New arrival David Ortiz moves from Ottawa to Richmond in a deal that saw All-Star catcher Eduardo Sanchez go the other way. Should any of those guys falter, look for Willie Astacio, Felipe Colome or Eduardo Alvarez move in for a spot start. The pen should belong to the ancient one Jayson Levine, though rookie Daniel Hall and FA Jolbert Saenz could push him Levine’s arm weaken. The departure of Sanchez to Ottawa opened the door for young Curt Monroe to prove he can be the everyday starter behind the plate. Monroe has a great relationship with the pitchers, though he most certainly cannot replace Sanchez’s presence at the plate. To make up for the lost offence, Richmond will rely on veterans Rickey O’Brien, Jimmie Lopez and Eli Izquierdo to have career years. The three sluggers will combine for a whopping 29 million dollar payout this season and they all need to continue posting All-Star numbers to receive the approval of team management. First Baseman Juan Rodriguez followed a successful rookie campaign in season 15 with an equally impressive sophomore year last season. Rodriquez has the perfect mix of power and contact and a good eye to boot. If he can sandwich himself between some of the clubs veterans in the lineup, you can expect even better numbers this season than in his previous two. Last year’s success is a direct result of strong hitting (top average of any NL team), good pitching (a sub 4.00 team ERA) and a dependable team defence (the third best + to – plays ratio in the NL). Without too much leaving this off season, Sanchez aside, expect another strong showing from Richmond.
3. El Paso
Is now the time to win in Los Angeles?
Can Helena translate be successful in their new home?
Will Vancouver return to the playoffs?
How long will the rebuild take in San Francisco?
After a storybook season which saw a group of waiver wire pickups, Rule 5 guys and youth turn the perennial NL West bridesmaids into the toast of the Majors; Tacoma has picked up and headed east to the less pitcher friendly park in Helena. Aside from the Sacramento bound Donaldo Trinidad (and his miniscule 3.23, 3.39 and 3.43 ERA’s over the past 3 seasons), the team looks very similar to the one the Phantom der Nacht’s fielded last season. However don’t expect the same 99 win total from a year ago. Though Tacoma’s ML low .244 BA and 89 HR will improve in their new confines, it probably won’t be a drastic enough improvement to support the team. Still here are the speed and defence that catapulted Tacoma into the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons. The 558 steals posted last season, shattered the previous ML franchise record of 364 set by New Britain back in season 7. Sammy Hines, Josias Castro and Angel Henriquez all posted over 100 individual stolen bases and were all grabbed off the waiver wire. Greg Bradley, another waiver claim, posted 79 SB, won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards in RF, appeared in his first All-Star Game and garnered some consideration for NL MVP. Not bad for a guy with 143 at bats prior to last season. Most likely to improve in Helena will be Pedro Maduro and his pitiful .224 BA. Falling out of favour with the team’s manager last season was Ralph Goodwin who saw his average of 600 AB per season drop to 192 in an injury free season. Goodwin is a sure thing on the field and at the dish and most definitely will find his way back into the lineup on a consistent basis. Most excitingly, last season’s highly coveted IFA Juan Mantalban will probably be called up at some point this year. If this happens, he will surely inject the offence with his 5-tool game. On the mound, pitching phenom Carlos Lopez looks to build on his impressive 3.20 ERA posted in his rookie season. 27 year old Sal Rossy posted big numbers on the mound despite only starting 20 games last season. Their successes made it possible for Helena to turn their back on Trinidad this season. Bobby Courtney and Ron Atkins close out what is an impressive rotation no matter what park they are pitching in. The pen is full of a bunch of guys who have had a second life blown into them. They will be lead by the impressive Willy Ginter who’s 42 SV and 1.41 ERA saw him fall just short of capturing his first ever Fireman of the Year Award.
The future is fast approaching in Los Angeles and the Dead Bunnies are looking to build on a strong finish to last year’s 85 win total. Pitching has always, and will continue to be, the strength of this club. Mike Taylor and Warren Peterson are both, however, 34 years old and Mark Koehlert and Ivan Gonzales can hardly be considered young anymore. For a team without much on the way in terms of Starting Pitcher prospects, LA needs success to come sooner rather than later. With an incredible career ERA of 3.38 and a miserable record just barely over .500, Gonzales can definitely be labelled the most hard luck starter in Baseball. His contract is up after this season and he could very well be looking to try his luck elsewhere if the Bunnies bats can’t get him into the playoffs. Ebenezer ‘The Scrooge’ Caruso wowed on lookers and befuddled batters on his way to posting 54 Saves and a neat and tidy 2.11 ERA last season. Expect nothing less this year.Cementing himself in Leftfield as the face of the franchise for years to come is 11th overall pick from season 12, Freddie Small. His weak showing at the plate is more indicative of the contours of Dodger Stadium than any offensive weakness he may possess. Joining Small in the Outfield this year will be the 5 time Gold Glove winner and 4 time All-Star, FA acquisition Napoleon Watson. There will be a battle for the starting job in Right Field with the early favourite being another FA acquisition in Monte Shields. Though the torch will be passed from Josh Moore to Small this season, Moore continues to play a vital role in a pretty limp line-up. Moore’s consistently good for 20-30 HRs, though LA is hoping for better contact numbers from the highly paid veteran. Early Rookie of the Year candidate, Donovan Barr, could put up decent numbers this year, especially if he continues to hit 5th or 6th in the line-up. Barr will bring strong defence, a solid bat and youthful energy to Third Base this season. Look for 20 plus HRs and 100 plus strikeouts from First Basemen Ed Towers this season. LA loves his presence in the line-up, but would be ecstatic if he could improve on his career .261 BA. What Cuban exile Jose Lopez lacks at the plate he makes up for with his glove. Don’t expect anyone to challenge him for his spot at short. Expect a .250 BA, 0 HRs and a whole lot of flair in the field this season from Lopez.
After 12 seasons in Cheyenne, 1 plus .500 season and 0 post season appearances, the Alpini have picked up and headed to San Francisco where the long ball is hard to find. The Streets will likely platoon the incredibly defensive minded duo of Eduardo Aquino and Les Reid at Shortstop. Though neither have much of a hitting game, their range, gloves and arms will make them a favourite of the pitching staff. Second Base looks to belong to B.C. Morgan and his 3 year 16 million dollar contract. Word is that management in San Fran is looking to deal the underachieving Morgan, and if that happens look for Quinn Key or rookie Gary Tannehill to man the bag. Del Guerrero anchors the infield at Third providing solid defence and good contact numbers. The Streets will be looking for the former 6th overall pick to provide some more leadership both on and off the field as the team is undoubtedly his. Rule 5 pickup Willie Megias will provide great defence at First Base and provide the club with a bit of pop in a line-up that saw them hit only 153 dingers a year ago. At 22 years old, Tuck Stuart is coming off a fantastic rookie year that saw him notch 19 HRs and hit .297. Tris Lefebvre, Al Matrinez and Ed Benitez round out a decent Outfield, but look for speedy Omar Fernandez to steal most of the at bats in California. Veteran Keith Bunch will set up behind the plate while San Francisco waits for the young Octavio Uribe to prove he’s Major League ready. Starting pitching may prove to be a weakness for the club this season. Though the team lacks a definite Number 1/2 starter, Kennie Broome, Achilles Houston, Hugh Thurman, Julio Galarraga and Julius Shelley give them some depth to work with. Last season a closer was a hard thing to come by in Cheyenne. Anthony Epstein was handed the ball most often, but his 0-9 record and embarrassing 7.79 ERA won’t earn him favour in the dugout. There is even talk of hard throwing starter Thurman being given the ball in closing situations. He posted decent numbers in that role during Spring Training, but he may be more useful to the club pitching more innings on a day to day basis.
Following a 97 win campaign and a trip to the National League finals, Vancouver posted 2 disappointing season totals of 81 and 78 wins respectively. Though 81 wins was good enough to sneak the Vampire Bats into the playoffs, the 78 wins from a year ago landed them in 3rd place in the increasingly competitive NL West. So where did it all go wrong for Vancouver last season? Their .254 team BA was the second lowest in team history and aside from the breakout performance of young All-Star Catcher Erik Redman, the dish didn’t treat the Bats too well. Vancouver hopes to overcome their offensive deficiencies this seasons through the signing of 3 time All-Star and World Series champ Russell Rivera who knows how to win. Rivera left Detroit after 6 and a half seasons in the Motor City for the payday and the challenge that will surely be the Bats this season. Complimenting Rivera will be the powerful bats of Dan Stanley, Bart Stewart and youngsters Del Calvo and Arthur Davis. Also joining Vancouver this season via a trade with the Red Sox is Hootie Park who will look to duplicate his 49 HR performance from 2 seasons ago. The power is all fine and good, but Vancouver needs more guys on base. That job will be left up to leadoff hitter and Gold Glove Second Baseman Matty Medrano. The speedster will start the season off on the DL, but expect him to be patrolling Vancouver’s infield for many years to come. Departing Vancouver in the Park deal was Alex Darling who will be replaced by the young and capable arms of Carmen Hinske and Ralph ‘The Rocket’ Rocker. Workhorse and 6 time All-Star, Bruce Schoendienst will undoubtedly get the ball on opening day and as many other times this year as the manager can get him to the mound. Rookie Norman McMillan and reliever turned starter Frank ‘The Laser’ Lunsford look to close out the rotation in Vancouver. You can expect growing pains from McMillan and not a whole lot of innings out of Lunsford, but still, this is one of the better rotations in the Majors. Closer Jimmy Parker surpassed Del Garces career Major League record 433 saves. He’ll have to get his puffy 5.30 ERA from a year ago to shrink for Vancouver to have absolute faith in the absolute saves leader. Expect the pitching to remain solid and the Bats bats to improve.
2. Vancouver *
3. Los Angeles
4. San Francisco
* denotes wildcard
American League Predictions
1. Wilt Blair (louisville)
2. Miguel Martinez (new york)
3. Luis Lee (oklahoma city)
4. Alfonso Mercedes (boston)
5. Tom Borland (syracuse)
Runners up: Fausto Posada (little rock), Terry Davis (boston), Miguel Jiminez (charlotte), Blake Robinson (boston)
Borland puts up great numbers, but he’s too well rounded to stand out against the extreme power and run production of the other candidates. Mercedes should have another standout year, but the Boston hitters often cancel each other out. There could be two Red Sox on this list, but they’ll steal each others votes as well as RBIs. Luis Lee and MigMar are both tremendous hitters on the rise and large leaps in production seem likely, but they might fall short of what Wilt Blair is capable of in Louisville, where he’s a likely candidate to repeat. Wilt Blair is truly valuable to his team.
Cy Young Award
1. Vasco Montanez (las vegas)
2. John Mailman (oklahoma city)
3. Moises Vega (new york)
4. Brendan O’Neil (trenton)
5. Alex Ortiz (ottawa)
runners up: Joaquin Fernandez (syracuse), Juan Sosa (toronto), Javier Estrada (louisville), Jesus Astacio (jacksonville) (yes, all the runners-up needed to have “j” names)
Ortiz, O’Neil and Vega are all good pitchers on the cusp of becoming great pitchers. There are many pitchers around the A.L. with great talent who have the potential to break out this season. That being said, none of them have the experience or pure stuff to rise into the stratosphere of Vasco and Mailman. Mailman is older and he won last season, so Vasco could easily be the man this season.
Rookie of the Year
1. Pedro Gonzalez (toronto)
2. Phil Knotts (trenton)
3. Clint Walker (toronto)
4. Vinny Scott (jacksonville)
5. Joshua Zimmerman (syracuse)
runners up: Enrique Vega (las vegas), Andres Picasso (louisville), Moe Stovall (boston), Glenn Faulk (durham)
Zimmerman looks great but I think his P1 is just not there yet. The same can be said for Knotts, though the rest of the package is a little more impressive. Scott has grit, speed and might hit for decent average but he fields a tough position that he’ll likely struggle with initially and he doesn’t wow me enough at the plate. Walker is a gamer, but I think he’ll have his ups and downs in his rookie year. Pedro Gonzalez is mature, has a great eye and is a well-rounded hitter so he gets the pre-season ROY nod.
Fireman of the Year
1. Victor Rosado (new york)
2. Matthew Langerhans (florida)
3. Victor Canseco (scottsdale)
4. Ralph Lambert (syracuse)
5. Matty Koplove (oklahoma city)
runners up: Kevin Baek (Ottawa), Philip Fontenot (durham), Oscar Pittinger (toronto), Enrique Vega (las vegas), Dana Wheeler (jacksonville)
This is a really wide-open field and many closers could easily take a run at it. It’s Koplove’s first crack at closing, but he has great stuff and he pitches for a team that should give him lots of chances so I think he’ll rack up the saves. Lambert is last year’s winner and while I think he should have another fine season, his weakness against righties could cost him the award. The “Victors” Rosado and Canseco are both ridiculously good, but I think Scottsdale will be a harder place to find save opportunities. The same goes for Florida, though I’ll go out on a limb and say that if Langerhans gets enough work he could be the best of them. However, Rosado is going to be lights out and he pitches for a team that will win enough games to let him flourish. He could have won it last year if he brought his ERA down, and I’m thinking that a year of experience did him a world of good.
National League Predictions
1. Sandy Hale (washington)
2. Fernando Rios (montreal)
3. Enrique Valdes (montreal)
4. Winston Marte (pittsburgh)
5. Ivan Armas (iowa)
runners up: Brad Street (atlanta), Joey Kramer (detroit), Jimmie Lopez (richmond), Steve Guerrero (monteal)
The M.V.P. trophy could easily return to Montreal with a handful of players in the mix, though we wonder if their evenly distributed offence has the potential to cancel each other out come M.V.P. voting time. Hale puts up phenomenal numbers and is far moer ‘valuable’ to his team’s offence than any of Rios, Valdes or Guerrero. Marte won the award in the AL and was a finalist for the NL version a year ago. If Armas can have anybody getting on base ahead of him, he is capable of putting up M.V.P. type numbers. Some veterans are still sticking around this board and have the potential to make an impact.
1. Felipe Villa (detroit)
2. Vic Lopez (montreal)
3. Edgard Garces (montreal)
4. Carlos Lopez (helena)
5. Dick Zentmeyer (detorit)
runners up: Cord Epstein (washington), Bruce Schoendienst (vancouver), Jesus Perez (detroit), William Ishii (tampa bay)
The NL Cy Young will most certainly end up in the north this season. Detroit and Montreal are consistently sending two of the best pitching rotations to the mound day in and day out. The early favourite, by a nose, is Villa. Through 4 full ML seasons, Villa has yet to post an ERA over 2.57. Though Montreal will get more run support than Detroit, it’s hard to turn your back on the 2 time winner. Carlos Lopez can surprise if Helena continues its winning ways from a year ago. Look for a lot of wins, innings and strikeouts from the 22 year old. Epstein enters the mix this season as Washington seems poised to provide a lot more run support for the starter this season. A few wily vets (Shoendienst and Ishii) are still in the mix.
Rookie of the Year
1. Scot McGowan (detroit)
2. Juan Mantalban (helena)
3. Otis Davis (iowa)
4. Benny Diaz (burlingon)
5. Donovan Barr (los angeles)
runners up: Joey Swann (washington), Clayton Cooper (detroit), Willie Person (vancouver), Doug Campbell (el paso), Jed Hawkins (el paso)
The long awaited debut of 1st overall pick McGowan will be capturing headlines across the baseball world this season. Expect great things from the rookie, especially if he can find a nice spot somewhere atop the batting order. McGowan could get bumped if Mantalban, the most highly sought after IFA, makes a debut this season as most expect he will. They are in a class by themselves, but Davis, Diaz, Barr and Person’s bats make the second tier of rookies a force as well. Swann could easily jump into the mix should he be called up at some point this season. Don’t expect much from NL rookie pitchers this season. Cooper will get wins in Detroit, but none of his pitches look to impressive outside of his cut fastball. Campbell has the potential to throw innings and keep opponents averages down, but his control may be an issue.
Fireman of the Year
1. Ebenezer Caruso (los angeles)
2. Hunter Wilkinson (detroit)
3. Boots Cash (tampa bay)
4. D’Angelo Lopez (montreal)
5. Perry Campbell (iowa)
runners up: Walter Milton (atlanta), Jimmy Parker (vancouver), Willy Ginter (helena), Tim Xavier (el paso)
It’s a pick ‘em how you want for fireman. The head of the class, in no particular order, goes to Caruso, Cash, Lopez, Campbell and Wilkinson. The winner will most likely depend on who gets the most save opportunities. For that reason, Campbell is ranked 5 where on any other team he could’ve been as high as 2 or 3. Expect great things from the young Boots this season, while Wilkinson and Lopez will get their fair share of chances this season too. A nod goes to Caruso who will steal and save almost every opportunity this season. Also in the mix will be Milton, Xavier and Parker if he can lower his ERA. Ginter posted great numbers last season, but we’ll have to wait and see if he and Helena are for real.