Can Toronto’s young stars make up for a shaky bullpen?
Can the all-star cast in Ottawa overcome the playoff jitters?
Will young pitching in Trenton make the Hawks a team to fear?
Can Villa deliver the Blue Sox to the playoffs?

Toronto Trout
The AL North has recently developed into a “division of death” where the slightest misstep means immiseration in the cellar. The Trout, brimming with young talent, suffered through a 4th place finish last season, despite having a winning record and showing a lot of promise. But with any luck, things will change this season for our favorite lake-swimmers. Though the bullpen is a bit of a question mark, aside from Oscar Pittinger and veteran Stewart Sheldon, the starting rotation shines brightly. Juan Sosa, Jon Gonzales, and Richard Lee are a fearsome front three backed up by dependable inning-eaters Mel Leach and Clint Walker. This rotation’s strongest links are all potential all-stars; their challenge will be to pitch enough innings to make up for an otherwise unexceptional pitching corps.
The real excitement in Toronto is reserved for the team’s bats. Off-season acquisition C Eduardo Sanchez, who the Hosers let go rather than meet an average annual price tag of $7.7 million, promises to bring some serious extra pop to an already talented offense. 2B Horacio Guerrero had a career-season last time around, garnering an All-Star nomination and a Silver Slugger Award. 1B Rico Martin may strike out a lot, but when he connects, let’s just say that the ball takes a long enough trip that it has to pack an overnight bag. Willis Swift is solid, if unremarkable, at 3B. The only infield question mark is SS. Does Trent Benoit have the bat or the glove to make it as an everyday starter in the big leagues?
The Trout also potentially have the best-hitting outfield in the bigs. The cornerstone of their whole offense is, of course, future Hall-of-Famer CF Fernando Rosado. Though a bit of a liability defensively, Rosado won All-Star recognition last season to go with his Silver Slugger Award—and this writer has a feeling that an MVP awaits him in the not-too-distant future. LF is occupied by former 1B and perennial slugger Chet Neal. In RF, the Trout have unproven talent Santo Figueroa. Though he had a lackluster rookie season, Figueroa’s numbers suggest that if he can get his confidence up he has a future as a #2 hitter and reliable OBP man.
As long as the aging core of the pitching staff holds up, this team has the talent to contend for the WS this year and next. After that, there’s enough young talent that the Trout should expect to be division contenders for the foreseeable future, especially if they add young pitching. At this moment most of the stars of tomorrow have already arrived on the ML squad. There are, however, a few names to look out for. Speedy RF Maicer Serra at AAA and 2B Kevin Kida in AA hope to leg their way into the bigs before too long. Additionally, be on the lookout for Hi-A offensive threat C Felipe Estrada, most likely in platoon but perhaps as a starter.

The Ottawa Hosers
What is there to say but, “Drats! Foiled again!” After his second showing in the WS, Greeny still hasn’t walked away with the hardware. But it isn’t for lack of trying. Over the last ten seasons, he has distinguished himself in all levels of management activity and has built one of the league’s most dynamic teams. With a mixture of youthful vigor and seasoned know-how, this is a team poised to return to the WS again, and this writer’s favorite to win it all.
The Hosers’ pitching has improved considerably since the last quarter of the prior season. The team is and has been anchored around Alex Ortiz, who made his debut in season 15 and is a sure-fire HOFer if he can stay healthy. To the rotation return Juan Guzman and Alex Darling, solid moundsmen. But Ottawa is abuzz with the news of two recent acquisitions. Jesus Astacio, the 15 million-dollar man, and Dave Gibson, who arrived in a season 19 trade, fall in behind Ortiz to give the team the most dominant 1-2-3 punch in the AL. To add to that, the Hosers have locked in a reliable corps of long relievers and a fearsome closer in the person of Kevin Baek, former Fireman of the Year.
On the other side of the diamond, at only two positions has Greeny broken with his power philosophy. Former MVP Winston Marte, who came over in the trade with Dave Gibson last season, hangs his hat in RF. He may have seen his power numbers trail off over the past few seasons, but he remains one of the game’s most dominant contact hitters. Though he may have slowed over the years and may not be able to cover as much ground, CF Ivan Armas is as dynamic at the plate as is Marte but with more power, and the two may someday see each other in Cooperstown. In LF, Derrick Flaherty provides the team’s most consistent deep threat. 3B Sammy Reyes, SS Denny Yeats, and 2B Vic Esposito all swing heavy bats as well. Interestingly, the lightest-hitting infielder is Tokyo-born 1B John Suzuki, who is making his major-league debut this year. While he doesn’t boast a lot of power, he should hit for average and contribute to runs totals that way. C Sparky Page should deliver convincing “Eduardo Sanchez-lite” numbers and DH Tony Carrasco kills LH pitchers and is looking for yet another Silver Slugger award.
Though many of Greeny’s top prospects have already made their way to the majors, AAA 1B Paul Kojima, defensive C Dick Cameron, and RF Brian Ruth may see the ML in case of injury. There is likewise a chance that AA RF Clarence Smith will eventually get a shot.
Though such stars as Armas, Marte, and Astacio have limited time left, there is so much remaining talent that this team promises to dominate for seasons to come.

Trenton Terror Hawks
Just one season away from his second playoff experience, Wrecks has built a team that’s itching to get back to the postseason. If he can see his way through the Division of Death, the Terror Hawks should have a least a couple chances to make it deep into the playoffs—they’re the youngest team in the AL with some special young players.
SP Phil Knotts is part of a talented pitching rotation that gets none of the respect that it deserves. In fact, scouts say that Knotts and his compadre Brendan O’Neil have all the talent of recent Cy Young winners, and are just waiting to put up numbers that match their abilities. Chili Hyun and Chico Flores, IFA acquisitions from seasons 11 and 17, respectively, add depth to a six-man rotation whose other members do little more than eat innings. As long as Wrecks can make sure that his best starters get the ball on a regular basis, the offense should have a chance to propel the Hawks into the off-season.
The field marshall of that offensive attack promises to be rookie 1B Sean Avery. A corn-fed Midwesterner with a selective batting-eye, Avery hopes to deliver in his freshman campaign the 25 HRs and 100 RBIs that he became accustomed to producing in the minors. In the other power corner, recent call-up 3B Charlie Tolar hopes to build on a rookie season that showed flashes of glory. Of course Tolar won’t have it easy. Wrecks will be looking to put newcomer Bob Grimes into the lineup, and the hard-hitting Grimes has the glove to play either 3B or RF. Things are more steady in the middle of the infield, where “fastest man in baseball” Ronn Rooney has a lockdown on 2B and SS Fritz Branson seems to have sweet-talked management into overlooking the swiss cheese-holes in his glove. Left-hander Rafael Rincon has taken over catching duties from the departed Marvin Williamson, whose bat will be sorely missed. The outfield, too, saw another important free agency departure as RF Carl Bevil trotted off to greener pastures. Free swinging Eli Chavez has been imported to (hopefully) replace his power numbers. Miguel Johnson (one of the better-hitting CF in the game) hopes to return to his S 18 form, when he garnered the SS and AS awards at his position. In LF, Felipe Vega consistently puts up very solid power numbers with little recognition.
Wrecks has a bit of talent stashed away in the minors. AAA Japanese imports C Jin Hyun and RF Takumi Sung are itching to get a shot in the majors as is the former New Jersey standout, C Ron Grimsley. Perhaps Sung has a shot at Chavez’s spot in the ML? AA DHs Moises Amezaga and Elston Lillibridge also hope to get a chance to test their bats in the bigs. But perhaps the most excitement is reserved for future SP Hersh Garret, currently in Lo-A. Garret promises to dominate LH batters if he can fully develop his curve and breaking pitches. Is Lo-A pitching coach Alan Barrett up to the mentoring challenge?

Syracuse Blue Sox
Felipe Villa joins the Blue Sox!!!!! The Blue Sox are amped about the trade that brought this superstar to town, even if it meant the departure of smooth-swinging Sawyer McCartney. With Villa’s help, they will be looking to bust the 90-win plateau once and for all.
Big budgets for the better part of a decade have guaranteed a lineup full of quality free agents. This season is no different. Laramemymonk lured RPs Ed Hurst, Jolbert Saenz, and Felipe Herrera out into upstate NY this season with lucrative contracts and a promise they’d get one last shot at the title. They join SPs Ryan Cash and Josh Shelby, other big payday FAs, in search of El Dorado. But the clock is ticking; nobody’s getting any younger. Cash’s deal is up this year and Shelby’s the following year, at which point the GM will have to make some tough decisions about the tenure of these high-priced veterans in Syracuse. The leadership of Felipe Villa may make all the difference in whether these Blue dreams come true…
On the offensive side, the lineup won’t be the same after the departure of batting king McCartney. It’s not clear whether Joel Purcell or Felix Huang will step into his shoes at 1B, but whoever it is will have a tall order to fill. But support should come from the corner outfield positions. While RF Fausto Aybar delivers a combo a solid offense and defense, LF Brad Levis brings a lefty punch to the lineup. The Blue Sox have solid defense up the middle, but little offense. CF is handled by the platoon of Hydzu/Martin, while 2B is the domain of speedy Riku Nomu. The story on the left side of the infield is completely different. SS Bert Lee adds plus defense to one of the best bats at his position in the league. 3B George Hoover may not hit for a great average, but he consistently delivers top-of-the-line power numbers. Generally speaking, this is an offense that deserves to be feared, and one that can show its chops when the gloves are on, too.
Years of focus on Type-A free agents has meant that top-flight prospects are in short supply in the Syracuse organization. What you see at the ML level is mostly what you get, though 1B Justin Jacome is waiting in the wings at AAA for one last return to glory should injuries plague the Blue Sox this season. Will this band of well-remunerated veterans prove their worth this season?

Projected Finish
1. Ottawa
2. Toronto *
3. Syracuse
4. Trenton
(* denotes wild card berth)


Can Boston’s starting rotation hold the team together?
Will Vega’s pleadings in New York pay off?
Will the Ramblers exorcise the ghost of Sherry Grebeck?
Can Jacksonville’s slugging infielders carry the team?

Boston Red Sox
After season 18, an era ended. Gone were the familiar names: Terry Davis (left two seasons ago for New York), Blake Robinson (left last season for an FA contract), Miguel Beltran (left as a free agent in season 15, now retired), Ron Karnuth (left FA in season 16, back in Boston’s AAA in order to retire as Red Sox). The only remaining member of the Red Sox steroid-era team is Alfonso Mercedes, now 36 years old and in the last year of his contract. This new bunch is rangier, meaner, and leaner.
In some ways, this is still a typical Boston team, stronger at the plate than on the mound. Moya, Miller, Perry, Bradley, and Fernandez together form a budget starting rotation. All competent pitchers, there nevertheless is not one among them who demonstrates “ace” stuff on the mound. The most likely leader for the bunch is Sammy Moya, if he could just develop his sinker into a real “out” pitch. There’s more promise in the bullpen, where closer Grady Peterson dominates. He’s not alone; Miguel Neruda’s almost impossible-to-hit screwball keeps batters guessing. If the Red Sox can keep the lead going into the 7th inning, the control-oriented bullpen promises to keep things under control.
On offense, this is still “Alfonso’s team,” but he’s got a new supporting cast. Though he rarely plays more than 120 games a season, C Pablo Uribe has a powerful swing and an eye toward getting on base. Last season, LF Moe Stovall showed why he got called up 3 seasons ago, knocking 29 dingers and bringing home a Gold Glove, to boot. But how will he handle the transition from 1B? Stovall’s former job now belongs to Wilton Rosen, a season 17 trade acquisition who has so far been a disappointment, failing to repeat his breakout season 15 in Madison (22 HR, 124 RBI). The rest of the infield is a mixed bag. Wascar Alberro is a question mark at 2B, but 3B Ralph Hodges’ solid offense and plus-defense made him an easy All-Star pick last season. And at SS, a clear starter has yet to emerge. Veteran Matthew Standridge has slowed a bit and is facing competition from journeymen glove men Benny Barker and Jacob Martin. It’s anyone’s guess whose job that will be at the end of the season. The same is true at CF, where FP Jones is doing his darndest to hold off rookies Brian Henry and Josh Becker. RF, however, belongs to Robinson Dawkins alone.
Say what you will, this Red Sox team is oriented toward the future. A lot of the franchise’s promising players are currently making their mark in the minors. Flamethrower Matty Blasco in AAA is just waiting for his chance to take Grady Peterson’s job away. RPs Joe Clark and Derek Borowski aren’t far behind him in AA. AAA 1B Albie Bonilla is eager to nudge Wilton Rosen aside. The most promising prospect, if he can stay healthy, is SP Ed Carpenter, the more-skilled of the Hi-A “Ed and Eddie” duo. Let’s see if the current cast can hold down the fort until these guys rise up.

New York Crunch
An inside source tells me that publicly calm Moises Vega, ace of the Crunch staff, disappointed by the team’s 2nd place finish last year, let management have a piece of his mind over the off-season. The result? A bevy of A-list talent to round out the roster. The free agent-signing period saw veteran hurlers Ramon Li and Ray Fischer come in to back up Vega. Management found especially attractive Ramon Li’s tendency to be in the right place at the right time; he’s one knuckle shy of a fist-full of WS rings. The same is true of sweet-swinging acquisition Emil Franco. Coincidence?
The experienced starting rotation is a force to be reckoned with. The above-named are joined by master-hurler Chuck Russell, who doesn’t bounce back from starts as well as he used to, but still delivers when he hits the mound. Young Dolf Paulson has got the stuff, but is still working on the conditioning. But SyrCrunch isn’t worried about over-burdening his starters; his relief corps is stacked. Closer Victor Rosado—who some believed should have won the Fireman of the Year award last season—is among the best in the game, and the supporting cast all demonstrate great control.
If everyone plays up to his potential, this is a team that should waltz into the playoffs. LF Emil Franco is joined in the outfield by two former All-Stars: ball-crushing RF Miguel Martinez and defensive maven CF Alex Wright. Defensively, 3B Octavio Pascual and SS Davey Schulte are a bit suspect, but they bring solid offense to the table. 1B Don McRae offers acceptable, if not exciting, offense at the other corner and DH Terry Davis is trying to stick around one more season to retire with 600 HRs, a feat he will surely accomplish. 2B and C are question marks. Coach has decided to give rule 5-selection Jonny Murray a shot at the 2B job, but a lot of scouts still claim the kid doesn’t have ML-quality tools. At C, duties are shared by aging Max Cora, who doesn’t have the defensive skills he once did, but can still swing a bat and switch-hitting Humberto Ugueto (who had impressive numbers last season in Jacksonville).
Though this is one of the three oldest teams in baseball, ownership is still trying to plan for the future. Everybody’s excited about RP Artie Dillon who, after a short stint in the bigs last year, is getting a little extra seasoning in AAA before he gets another shot. Scouts are divided on SP Cameron Walsh, who’ll have a chance to win the fifth starter position next year. More exciting, perhaps, are two pitchers at Hi-A. RP David Castillo has dynamite stuff but struggles with control, while SP Jorge Gonzalez would be in the ML today if he could figure out left-handed batters. Prospects among the position players are few and far between, however, so that is sure to be an objective for the team in this year’s amateur draft.

Durham County Ramblers
Tough times in tobacco country. After a decade delivering an average of 100 wins per season, the Ramblers have weathered a couple of lean years. Durham has always guaranteed an offensive fireworks show for its fans, but of late it has lacked a superstar to finish off close games. The most glaring problem has been trying to plug a Sherry Grebeck-sized hole in the offense ever since that star’s departure into free agency in season 18.
Grebeck’s old spot at 2B is now filled by Chad McDonald. McDonald has a solid bat, but to really replace Grebeck, he’ll have to rediscover his rookie league Silver Slugger-swagger. McDonald is complemented in the infield by sluggers Morton and Scholl at 1B and 3B and recent call-up Gary Leary at SS. Scouts hope that Leary has a swing that’s tailor-made for this free-flying ballpark; he won’t hit for average, but he’s got the muscle to turn in 30 dingers a year at a defensive position. Here in Durham, offense is the name of the game, and coach is hoping to get another stellar season out of C Benji Cedeno (.346 Avg and .970 OPS last season). Does the 36 year-old Dallas native have one more miracle in him? In the outfield, the corners are held down by the wall-pounding Grey boys, and CF belongs to the young stud Joaquin Vega. Vega’s defense may not belong in CF, but his offensive numbers will help the fans forgive his shortcomings. As Vega goes, so do the Ramblers. This is a team full of offensive-stunners who never quite seem to leg out the groundball or line drive.
Of course, the rotation is doing its best to minimize the damage. Fans in Durham are excited about David Ortiz, but their patience waiting for him to live up to his $10 million price tag is wearing thin. Highly touted by the scouts, Ortiz will still probably need to deliver a sub 5.00 ERA one of these seasons if he is to have any hope of having his contract renewed after season 22. Some are starting to whisper that young guns Louis Hill, Anthony Keats, Dann Tomlinson, and Vin Biddle are more deserving. Keats and Hill are still waiting to prove that scouting reports equal on-field success, but Tomlinson and Biddle both turned in superior, if limited, performances last season. Look for these four to compete for the fans’ love. And if closer Phillip “Come on down to Cass City” Fontenot turns in yet another stinker like he did last season, look for one of these youngsters to replace him.
And if none of them fit the bill? Well, there’s relief (pun intended!) in AAA. SPs Damian Sasaki and Cam Hurst, as well as RP Peaches “Don’t you dare call me Peaches” Gruber all display major-league potential, as does AA RP Fernando Rosario. Scouts say the movement on Rosario’s forkball needs a little work, but that he already knows how to work the plate. Among the hitting prospects, minor league coaches are very excited about Lo-A LF Connie McGuire who is quickly developing into a dangerous contact hitter. And fans are sure to love both the moniker and the potential of switch-hitting 1B Pinky Baez, now making his way through AA.

Jacksonville Sunbirds
Jacksonville’s heart is as big as its municipal area. This is a town that lives, breathes, and sleeps baseball. So it’s no surprise that the city is buzzing about all of the GM’s big acquisitions over the off-season. Bargain-minded GM larryvegas signed sluggers Marvin Williamson and Carl Bevil on very favorable terms for the organization. But all those savings got re-invested in high profile hurler Emil Pineiro, who was one of the marquee names in this season’s free agency list of SPs. Let’s hope, for the Sunbirds’ sake, that Pineiro is worth his high price tag.
C Williamson and RF Bevil promise to bring consistent offensive production to an offense long anchored by free-swingers SS Benny Villafuerte (whose contract is one of the best values in the league) and LF Matty Hayes. If Jacksonville can get run production out of the rest of the supporting cast, this should be a high-octane offense. It looks like CF duties will be shared by righty Earl Myatt and lefty Vinny Scott, who promise to be a fearsome duo in platoon. Myatt, a rookie, is a converted SS whose strong arm should garner him some extra assists from the outfield. Hopefully his plus-defense should make up for the defensive shortcomings of Scott, who displays range more typical of a LF. Aside from Villafuerte, the infield boasts a couple of new faces. The hot corner is property of recent acquisition Kordell Kraemer, who is happy to be back in the land of sunshine after spending a cold month and a half marooned in Augusta. And 1B belongs to baby-faced Bunny Webb, a rookie looking to prove his stuff. Up the middle, 2B still belongs to Villafuerte’s old double-play partner, Samuel Dickerson, still as solid defensively as he is offensively. The dish belongs to Williamson.
On the mound, recent additions Emil Pineiro and Troy Sewell are attempting to restore some respectability to a pitching staff that got plain ol’ beaten up last season, posting a league-worst 5.93 ERA. The GM is counting on young slingers Marc McLaughlin, Quentin Hargraves, and Shairon (not a typo!) Douglass to fill out the rotation. Douglass got to the show much sooner than anyone expected, mostly due to the team’s pitching meltdown early last season. Apparently, the young gun’s 4.28 ERA was enough to convince coach that he deserved to be invited back. Luckily, the Sunbirds’ solid middle relief corps of Astacio, Woods, and Guerrero are there to get the rotation out of any jams created by inexperience. And closer Dana Wheeler is aching to prove the Cy Young quality stuff every scout in the league claims that he has.
This is a young team full of recent call-ups, so a lot of the prospects drafted in the last few seasons are already here. The farm teams are chocked full of replacement players who are slowly letting go of their dreams to someday be everyday regulars in the ML, hoping instead just to spend a week or two in the bigs…

1. New York
2. Boston
3. Durham
4. Jacksonville

The Lobsters set their sights high
How far off are the D.D.’s?
Can the Nashville Bats dominate?
Is the youth movement in Florida for real?

Charlotte Designated Drinkers
Charlotte saw it's team improve their record by 5 wins last season, but by season’s end they had slipped a little bit further behind Florida and Louisville in the division race. The Designated Drinkers managed the 4th best ERA in the entire American League despite having just the 3rd best ERA in the pitching-heavy AL South. Bruce Wilson won 18 games and finally established himself as the staff ace, while veteran Al Johnson was absolutely “lights out” after establishing himself as a closer for the first time in his career; both pitchers represented Charlotte in the All-Star game.
Hitting was a weakness for the D.D.’s as the .254 team batting average might suggest. While the offense was struggling to get on base, they did see an encouraging emergence from youngster William Shibata who led the team in runs, hits, walks and batting average while clubbing 24 home runs and taking pressure off veterans Miguel Jiminez and Abraham Velarde. With quite a few offensive holes to fill, Charlotte turned to the free agent market to bring in Tony Calderon, Greg Bradley and Edgard Garces. Gold glove winning shortstop Haywood Gibson left for Sacramento, but he’s replaced by 6-time All-Star Calderon who brings speed, power, defense and will (at 8.3 million per season) make a far greater impact than the one-dimensional Gibson could. Garces and Bradley give them some true speed at the top of their order, which had been certainly lacking in the past.
As a team, the Drinkers are moving in the right direction, and have the potential to be in the hunt for the division title. There are some intriguing prospects in the system, and a competitive team at the ML level, however they remain well back of the leagues elite squads and will need to get hot at the right time to be a playoff factor.

The Florida GATORs were one of the most improved teams in baseball last season, finishing with 87 wins and a wildcard birth, disposing of the Red Sox before losing to the eventual AL Champion Hosers. The GATORs were led by All-Star Alex Keller who captured both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for right field after taking over the position for the first time. The versatile and athletic Keller is a consummate team player who excels at virtually every position, and is a steady run producer with 30+ power. Left fielder Rafael Rodriguez hit career highs in hits and home runs (44) and was rewarded with a lucrative new 5-year deal. The former All-Star enters his 8th season with the team as an always-dangerous presence in the lineup. Rising star Herb Wilkerson, took a bit of a step back in his first full major league season, finishing with fewer HRs and RBIs despite 145 more at bats. Despite seeing his batting average drop by 32 points, Herb earned his first All-Star nomination and is a very popular young player with a bright future. Much of the offensive burden will fall on Keller, Rodriguez and Wilkerson along with catcher Fernando Chavez and first baseman Ruben Johnson. After that, Florida has some depth issues offensively, and certainly would face challenges if injuries became a problem.
The GATORs strength has been pitching as of late, and they eagerly await the development of more promising young arms. Last season saw an encouraging rookie campaign from former first round pick Walter Zoltan, who posted a respectable 3.68 ERA at the pro level, one season removed from winning the AAA Cy Young award. The 23 year old will eventually be joined by fellow first rounders Manuel Lee and James Milone to give Florida what they hope will be the nucleus of a talented rotation. Three-time All-Star Matthew Langerhans returns to give them a proven closer as there will be little room for error in what figures to be a competitive division.

Louisville Lobsters
There likely isn’t a player more ingrained within the fabric of his franchise than the Lobsters’ Wilt Blair. The now three time AL MVP shattered his previous power numbers with 59 homers and 151 RBIs and raised his career batting average to .327 with another stellar campaign. A leader on and off the field, Blair is the heart and soul of the Louisville sporting community, owns his own restaurant and brewpub, has written and starred in three feature length action films, and is pursuing degrees in law and medicine in the off-season. The superstar is under contract for two more seasons in Louisville, so the time to take the next step is now. Blair is surrounded by some solid talent, including veterans like former Tiger All-Star Tyler Cox, and the always volatile “Heart of Hicksville” Walter Taft. Talented contact hitter Tony Mendez is coming off his second straight 200+ hit season, and his younger cousin Tomas Mendez along with young talents like prospects Hugh Chase and Iago Todd give Wilt and the Lobsters some serious hope for the present and future.
While Blair walked away with more hardware, it was really the pitching that took Louisville to its third straight division title. They boasted the second best ERA in the American League last season, and it was a true team effort. Three starters won 13 or more games, with former Blue Sock Joaquin Fernandez leading the way. Youngster Russell Workman rebounded from a 20 loss season to post a 15-12 record and Workman was a “Work Horse” notching an impressive “DougWells-esque” 246 innings pitched. With 8 year veteran Javier “the Arrow” Estrada rounding out the top three, Louisville has a very stable stable of starters. One of their concerns from last season was the inconsistent work from closer Ed Hurst. The Lobsters addressed that need very nicely by bringing over 23 year old All-Star closer Davey Rosario from Detroit. Rosario saved 40 of 43 last year with a 2.30 ERA and should give Louisville some much needed late inning euphoria.
They should be considered favorites to repeat as division champs and with steady pitching, a serious playoff run isn’t out of the question in the house that Blair built!

Nashville Catfish
After finishing at the back of the pack and losing gold glove second baseman Edgard Garces to division rival Charlotte, Nashville is looking for some silver linings. All-Star and Silver Slugger Dicky Gleason is a team leader in the prime of his career and is ready to break out! Former first overall pick Vernon Moore hit the big time with 30 home runs in his first full season and is still improving! Morris Rice is a seasoned veteran at 25 years old and came awfully close to 100 RBIs last season! First baseman Fausto Posada is a two-time All-Star and rock steady run producer! Heck, even slick fielding Tony Vega is coming off a 30-homer campaign! Add future Hall-of-Famer Pedro “Boom Boom” Chavez to the mix and it would appear that there are many silver linings around the Catfish offense. This is a young lineup that will get better this season and going forward.
The problem in Nashville might be the pitching. Top starter Ivan Gonzalez bolted for Cincinatti, and they chose to let closer Mig Alfonseca go as well. That leaves underwhelming Benny Manzanillo as the #1 starter and veteran Craig Bravo to take his first crack at closing out games. Free agents Rich Jones and Nick Hunter are hoping to pick up some of the slack until top prospect Rudy Dale is ready. There really would need to be a perfect storm for this pitching staff to achieve a high degree of success, but if the offense clicks, they just might be able to get by.

1. Louisville
2. Charlotte
3. Nashville
4. Florida

Is Oklahoma still the team to beat?
How will Vegas move on without Vasco?
Is Scottsdale ready to move on up?
Sacramento builds for the future…

Las Vegas Numa Numa
Las Vegas took a bit of a step back after winning the season 18 World Series, but for the Numa Numa, a step back was to earn a wild card spot and go down swinging in game 7 of the ALCS! This year, Vegas will need to move forward without four-time Cy Young award winner Vasco Montanez, who signed a record breaking deal in Augusta after nine brilliant seasons in the desert (including a remarkable seven 20-win seasons). His “impossible to fill” shoes will be tried on by a couple of 38 yr old veterans, journeyman Nicolas Ford and southpaw Jerry Rhodes. The top spot in the rotation will likely fall to sinker-baller Ricardo Gonzalez who has only topped the 15 win plateau once, but is a steady presence on the hill for Vegas. Former rookie of the year closer Enrique Vega will need to be at his best, as there will likely be a few more high pressure situations without Vasco around.
The Numa Numa offense should still continue to click, as most of the big names return to the lineup. The highly esteemed Carlos Cruz “Missile” knows what it takes to win, as he won back to back world series titles (with OKC in season 18 and Vegas in season 19). Cruz hit .361 last season and was a finalist for AL MVP. The 35 year old former rookie of the year has made six All-Star appearances and has two previous MVP awards. He hits in the heart of a potent lineup featuring “CC” Cervantes (a five time All-Star and consistently one of the best offensive catchers in the game); feared slugger “el Halcon” Jose Fernandez (another former ROY with great power); and rising star Calvin Martin (who hits for a good mix of power and average). The Numa Numa should be able to keep scoring runs, as they’re a well-maintained franchise with good prospects in the system and a knack for making the post season. They’re an always dangerous force in the AL West.

Oklahoma City Rodeo Clowns
The Rodeo Clowns are a tough bunch to keep out of top spot in the West. Las Vegas pushed them out in season 18, but they were right back there in season 19 finishing with 97 wins and a ML-best 3.38 team ERA. The bright spot for them was Seop Wang who went 15-9 with a 3.11 ERA en route to the AL Rookie of the Year award. Despite Wang’s success (and vast potential) it is odd to see a team with 97 wins only have one pitcher with more than 13 victories. They’re a well-balanced bunch without a well established "ace" of the rotation. Pedro Lunar might have been that star pitcher earlier in his career, but at 38 years of age, he’s a few seasons removed from his 15+ win seasons. Brian Donohue just needs to be more consistent if he’s going to be a reliable top of the rotation pitcher, and if Eric Simmons and Gerald Oliva pitch the way that they’re capable of the Clowns should once again be stingy with the runs this season. Led by Marty Koplove and Horace McInerney, the bullpen will take some pressure away and help preserve the wins that this franchise is accustomed to.
Oklahoma City can always rely on power from the likes of Gary Purcell and Luis Lee. Purcell is a former MVP with 50 HR power and gold glover Lee is a shoo-in for 30+ with steady run production. Both hitters saw significant dips in their batting averages last season and have something to prove this season. Second year man Paul Lin has become an exciting part of the offence, scoring 100 runs last season and along with veteran Malcolm Jeffries gives the Clowns two legit base-stealing threats. Fans in Oklahoma City are also very excited about 22 year old Dominican outfielder Juan Sanchez who should be ushered into the fold this season and looks to add more firepower to an already solid group. This is a well-balanced and well-run cohesive team. They’ll be competitive as usual this season.

Sacramento Sanguillens
Baby steps are in order for the Sacramento offense, which last season was the most anemic in baseball. With only 109 home runs as a team last year, the Sanguillens scored the fewest runs in the league, finishing last in several offensive categories. Nobody with 500+ at bats finished with a batting average over .265 but these are the growing pains expected by a franchise in the midst of rebuilding. Chad “the Hammer” Valentine was the only hitter with 20+ home runs and oddly, he also was hit by 20+ pitches?!? Word in opposing bullpens is that Valentine's mouth can get him under the skin of certain pitchers and that one day "he'll get one between the eyes". His competitive nature is however, one thing that keeps the Sac-to fans excited.
The rebuild is beginning at first base, where heavy hitting Antonio McLemore is getting a chance to play every day while they await top prospects like Kevin Green and Rod Scutaro in the coming seasons. In similar fashion, the pitching staff is currently held together with chewing gum and duct tape, but there are some prize arms developing in the system. While it would be hard to imagine 30-somethings like Braden Chance, Reginald White, Marv Blake or Jason Winchester making significant strides at this point in their careers, Sacramento has drafted a couple of left-handed future aces in Harry Zimmerman and Guillermo Bonifacio. There are bound to be more growing pains for this franchise as it turns around, but with the #4 pick in this year’s draft there should be another blue chip piece to help guide the Sanguillens to eventually compete for playoff glory.

Scottsdale Fighting Chokes
It’s been a tough assignment for the Fighting Chokes to figure out how to close the gap between themselves and the top two teams in their division, Las Vegas and OKC. Third place finishes are getting tiresome for a Scottsdale club that’s been moving in the right direction with gm mytitan at the helm, but the process hasn’t been a quick one.
There is room for improvement across the board, but also some very encouraging signs for a team looking to put itself in a solid position for long-term success. The nucleus of a solid young pitching staff has begun to form around 15-game winner Shooter Owens. The 26 year old had his best pro season in his fourth year in the league and has become a dependable and calming presence at the front of the rotation. Owens is bolstered by fellow first round picks Jorel Howington, Tyson Torres and Billy “Zig” Zagone. Howington, 26 is a lanky right-hander who has struggled with consistency and relies a bit too much on his low 80’s fastball. Torres, also 26, has had some bumps in the road early in his career and has bounced between the rotation and bullpen. He has a lively arsenal and looks to prove himself as a capable starter as he tries to overcome his struggles against left-handed hitters. Zagone, 23, is a rookie who impressed in a 4 start cup of coffee at the end of last season. With continued improvement, “Zigzag” could become a workhorse for this young staff as it develops its identity.
A bright spot offensively for the Chokes last season was rookie first-baseman Kyle Bragg, who clubbed 34 homers and knocked in 101 in his first season in the league. After seven seasons in the minors, Bragg did well to make an impression and stick with the team out of spring training to play in all 162 games. Catcher Dom Watson hit 24 home runs in his first season with everyday duties and was a pleasant surprise on a team in need of some offensive punch. Top slugger Walt Reid has regressed from his brilliant rookie season and seen his RBI total drop from 140 to 103 to 79. Reid’s batting average has also dropped considerably from the .300 that he hit as a rookie. The power certainly remains in Reid’s bat and he brings solid defense and excellent leadership as the club waits with anticipation for exciting youngster Bill Adams (currently at AA) to take over the team. In the interim, Scottsdale took a chance on Rule 5er Albert Albaladejo and will need some hitting help from defense-first players like Paul Coolbaugh and Tyrone Bolick if they’re to have any success this season.

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

* denotes wildcard



Montreal Maroons:
What can be said about our beloved commishes team except heres hoping his team comes down to Earth sometime so that the rest of us can have a chance? This team is stacked. And the sick thing is he has some good pieces still to come in the minors. Ofcourse no Enrique Valdes’s but some decent ones. Speaking of dominating players? Valdes has over 50HRs each full season hes had, and over 140 ribbies too. Then ofcourse there is the perennial all star Rios, whos defense is good enough to be a SS and yet his bat is as potent as any 3B out there. Then comes the vaunted starting rotation led by Lopez and Garces. These boys are scary! And theres no let up down to the 5th starter too. Then theres the “other” Lopez the closer who is as good as any, and way better then most too. This team is a force to be reckoned with, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The entire AL prays that the Maroons don’t make it to the WS because then there is a much better chance for the ring.
This reporter would be shocked if the Maroons don’t make it to the final dance, and wouldn’t be surprised if they took home the bacon too.

Philadelphia Pheremoniacs:
Congrats Philadelphia for winning it all last year. It was an exciting win for the team that is for certain! Its amazing how many WS winners have come from the NL N, what is it like 6 of the last 8 coming from that division, or something like that? Im too lazy too look, but you all know its true, the best division in Yaz is clearly the NL N. Not saying that the AL W and N are bad, but definite 2nd bananas. Anyways on to my analyses of the Pheremoniacs…
This team relies very much on base stealing and defense to win the day. They are among the very best in those qualities in the entire world. Not to say that they don’t have any good batsmen or pitchers, just that they truly excel in those departments, and surely will continue in that vein this year. Scott Mullen will likely continue his great bat and Tom Messmer will continue to grow into the staff ace spot.
As for the future, things look good in Philadelphia too with their big IFA signing in season 17 of SP Javy Moreno, he looks good enough to play this year, but looks like Max will keep him down in the minors for 4 seasons then unleash Moreno as a sure fire contender for ROY in season 21. Phi also has a rookie that was just brought up in Michael Martin who has a definite shot at ROY this year too.
The Pheremoniacs definitely seem to be in good hands with Max, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were in the playoffs this year giving everybody fits who meets up with them.

Detroit Tiger Sharks:
It appears that the Sharks are on a slight rebuild. They have made a few deals that have injected some great youth directly into the big club, and into their minors. No doubt the super team couldn’t stay super forever that’s for sure, but they definitely look to be a contender anyways. Gone are Villa, Huang and Murray, hello to McCartney, Priest and Jacquez. The future still looks bright in Detroit. Feamster has been able to hold onto some key pieces like Jackson, McGowan and Kramer so he definitely still has some pop to his offence. And with guys like Zentmeyer and Perez lobbing balls across the strike zone you can never count out the Sharks. The only thing is Montreal is clearly the big dog in the NLN, and the Pheremoniacs are the new kids on the block. Its going to be a tough road ahead for Detroit to regain the #1 spot up there, but Feamster def knows this game, I wouldn’t put it past him to put together a team that can really contend much sooner then later.
Now as for prospects in the system you aren’t going to easily find a better one then RF Ryan Miller, this guy is going to be the real deal, and maybe as early as next year. CF Durham looks to be one of the fastest human beings on the planet, he could come in as early as next year, but Id say more like 22 or 23. SR Valdes looks to be the CL of the future there, but maybe not for 2 more seasons. Looks like Detroits got some peeps to be excited about in the coming seasons.
Finally for season 20 things really can go either way for Detroit, they could contend for the WS if they have a dream season like Philadelphia did last year, or the could have a horrendous year and not even get into the playoffs if certain people have very off years, its hard to predict with a team like this.

Chicago Crushers:
Chicago is a rebuilding franchise. They have some pretty good pieces coming up in the minors and a few good pieces upstairs. But this is definitely a team that needs to really concentrate on putting together as many top prospects as possible and getting 1 or 2 more top draft picks and build for a playoff run in 2 or 3 seasons. Not that its going to be an easy thing to do what with the teams sitting on top of him. Cleanshave has his work cut out for him for sure.
As for the prospects Harvey (Harley) Davidson is a serious top notch future all star 3rd baseman. Hes got the D and hes got the O. If only Davey Sanchez could add a little bit more stamina he could be a great SP, as it stands he could be a great CL, which aint so bad.
Chicago improved to nearly 70 wins last season, it seems Cleanshaves team is on the way up, and he has a few good prospects to look forward too. However he has some work to do. The scouting staff just isn’t up to snuff. Some heavier investment there and really hitting the IFA market is the way to go in my opinion.

1. Montreal
2. Philadelphia*
3. Detroit
4. Chicago


Washington DC Swamp Cats:
This team has seen a steady rise up the Yas world rankings where now they are considered amongst the cream of the crop. Definitely amongst the #1B teams in the world. What with 5 straight #1 finishes in the NLE this much is clear this team is raring to win it all. 2 of the last 4 years the Cats have made it to the NLCS, and it looks like they are on track to do it again this year with the quality of ML players this team possesses. Speaking of ML players with guys like S17 MVP Sandy Hale, Wallace’s and Tobin’s insane bat, or Swanns uncanny ability to get on base. Then theres the ace of the staff Cord Epstein who should and could be a CY candidate every year. This ML team is stacked. Last years 1st rd 23rd overall pick didn’t sign, which is somewhat unfortunate for Steeple as he has significantly downgraded his scouting staff. Though maybe will be lucky and see a good 24th overall man. He did have 3 yes 3 1st round picks in S18, so in a couple years he should be stronger with those guys coming up. Though to be honest none of those guys are a Sandy Hale, but def good enough to help out.
Overall this team is pretty young with nearly all their best players under 30, so expect the Cats to be lunging for a WS title sometime in the next few years, heck maybe even this year.

Cincinnati Red Army:
3rd year owner Commyrat has proven to be a crafty trader in his few years in HBD. His grip on the important things to look out for in terms of evaluating talent appears to be as good as most and better then many. I can honestly say that I learnt the game as fast as this young man. However the fact that he is a Commy means that we need to burn him at the stake. Looks like we will need to find a new owner for Cincy.
As for the big club the Rat has a bit of work to do to turn it into a real contender. The good thing is he has a good mix of youth and experience on the big club. No big names upstairs apart from maybe Rob Ledee and Boots Cash, but these 2 can help most good teams, and they aren’t too old, so they might see the huge influx of young talent breaking into the big club surely next year and for the foreseeable future.
As for prospects I think this might be the most stacked team in the entire world, after 5 1st rd picks in S17 hes had 3 1sts in the next 3 seasons (including this one). Talk about a derth of talent in the minors huh? The only question is will the Rat be able to turn some of the lesser talents into bigger ones? This franchise is absolutely on the way up and the top tier teams had better watch out for the Red stockings, oops I mean the Red Army…
Finally I can see big things happening with this club in 2 or 3 seasons. I think they could definitely be amongst the top tier teams, for now they are definitely a rebuilding team.

Augusta Capitals:
The biggest signing in the history of Yaz is unquestionably the stealing of Vasco from Las Vegas. This all by itself would be huge news for any team, but the Girl has been busy. I think she’s had the phone permanently attached to her ear discussing trades with Commyrat (and pulling the trigger on numerous). Augusta is Vascolly different from the T-Bay team that she took over only 2 seasons ago. T-Bay was an aging team under the tutelage of GYDK not to say he didn’t do a good job, he did, but the Girl has breathed some wickedly new life into this team.
The big club has the top talent with the #1 SP in the world in Vasco, after him the talent is slightly less impressive, though she’s got a start of a good team. And its pretty young too with most of her better talent south of 30. And some just barely out of diapers like Eaton the rookie 2B that she traded for with the Rat.
As for prospects the team is rife with them. Maybe not any major studs in the bunch, but quite a few good pieces.
Bottom line when you have Vasco good things can happen for you. You don’t need to have a super star lineup to be a contender with this guy. All you need to do is make the playoffs and he can start every other game for you. And anything can happen in the playoffs. Some people might shake their head at “the contract” but we shall see if in the coming 5 seasons if it works out, until all 5 are done we cant say if this was a bad contract or not.

Baltimore Barons:
The Barons were amongst the leagues leaders in SBs and SOs last year, and all things point to another good year in those departments. Unfortunately they were also among the league worst in FPct, so they are going to need to improve on their defense if they have any hope in reaching the next level.
Baltimore has some guys with ultimate speed but for some reason they aren’t lighting up the base paths as much as you’d think. I don’t know why that is, probably an off year eh? With major star John Mailman as the staff ace (even if he is getting a bit long in the tooth) and former 15 game winner Atkins the starting pitching aint bad. Burke as a future super star closer, and former 40 saveman Tarasco the short relief is in good hands for sure.
As for prospects you wont find many that are better looking then Mel Darr, and as a 2nd SP prospect Maicer Calles isn’t too shabby either! The Barons are going to be very very happy with these guys in a year or 2 when they get the call. There doesn’t seem to be any real standout batsmen in the minors though so Betty has some work to do to fill up that little hole.
The team has a bit of work to do to be the best in their division especially with Washington sitting up top. But ihatebetty has some good pieces both in the bigs and in the minors so expect some good things from this team sooner then later.

5. Washington
6. Augusta
7. Cincinatti
8. Baltimore

Do Street and Lopez still have enough in the tank?
Will the free fall in El Paso continue?
Can Mexico City’s pitching meet their demands?
The future looks good in Monterrey, but is now too soon?

After 12 years at the heart of the World Police lineup, 7 time All-Star Brad Street is the undisputed king of Atlanta. A leader in virtually every World Police record book, the 33 year old Street is showing no signs of slowing down. 104 wins last season was an all time team record, though success in Atlanta must be measured by playoff success and a NL championship loss to Philadelphia in 5 games means Atlanta still has a ways to go. SS Hector Mintz will be entering his 3rd full season. Mintz is a defensive wizard at short, but hasn’t hit over a .250 in his first 2 seasons. He has potential to be a slightly better hitter for average, but he has probably peaked with his 9 home runs from his rookie year. Expect rookie Orlando Jose to break with the team and slowly develop into the teams everyday 3B. Former first round pick Lloyd Harper has become a staple at 1B over the past 4 seasons by averaging 30 hr and 100 rbi during that span. He’ll be looking for a big money deal after this season, so expect Harper to come out bats-a-swinging right outta the gate. The outfield is manned by the exceptional CF Jimmie Lopez, entering his 2nd season in Atlanta, rookie All-Star LF Flip Holt, and RF Omar Gomez who hits righties as well as anyone in the league. 29 year old Orlando Perez returns behind the plate to catch a staff that posted a NL 2nd best 3.53 ERA from a season ago.
Anchoring the staff is veteran starter Karim James, who broke with the team only a year after Brad Street 11 seasons ago. James has posted consistent numbers seeing his ERA only pop above 4 3 times in those 11 seasons, and never above 4.14. 24 year old stud starter Domingo Johnson appears to be next in line to inherit the ace title from James. Johnson posted 2.72 and 2.98 ERA’s in his first two full seasons with Atlanta, while watching his win totals and strikeouts increase too. Veterans Randy Bradford, Louie Bautista, and Gabe Miller return to the fold to round out the rotation, each having posted a career ERA under 4. After having been nominated to the All-Star team in all 4 of the last 4 years, Walter Milton has solidified himself as one of the premier closers in the league and looks to continue to prove worthy of his 7.25 million dollar deal.
Of the starting 8 in the World Police lineup, only Street and Lopez are over 30. They are crucial pieces, but the foundation in Atlanta is in place to have a successful team for seasons to come.

After making the playoffs by winning the division in their first year in El Paso, the Blancos have seen their win totals drop from 87 to 82 to 68 and unfortunately, it may drop more before it picks back up again. Quiet on FA market, El Paso did cause waves in the off-season by dealing fan favourite and former 5th overall pick Todd Kennedy to Augusta for hard-hitting leftfielder Tuck Stuart. At only 25 years-old, Stuart is the veteran of 4 full ML seasons, and though there have been flashes of greatness stemming from his swing, he has yet to put together the kind of year he is capable of. The reason Kennedy became expendable no doubt has something to do with the development of B.C. Ortega and Michael ‘Big Man’ Little who may be one of the best pitchers not yet in the majors. Scouts have said Little may have one of the best sliders the baseball world has ever seen should he be able to reach his potential. Little may still be two seasons away from seeing any big league action as the Blancos would be well advised not to rush his progress, seeing as they have very little to play for these days. Logan Harper has been lights out on the mound for El Paso since coming over in a trade from Vancouver, but the rest of the rotation leaves much to be desired. Shane Fleming, Doug Campbell, Glendon Walls and Carlos Molina will likely struggle getting key outs. For all their weaknesses on the mound, the Blancos bullpen doesn’t look that bad. Jordan Yeats, Herm Lamb and Craig Riggs will be counted on heavily in late innings, though the pen still lacks a definitive closer. Look for Brian Bush to take over that role if the by-committee route doesn’t work. Though Bush is more designed for a long relief role, El Paso won’t want to be squandering leads. Bush is a prime piece that may be moved closer to the trade deadline in exchange for some youth.
There are still some good pieces in the lineup for El Paso. James Ward has been a 20 hr man in the past, Bruce Sellers and Cristian Simon are both ex All-Stars and Richard Brea is another 5th overall pick who can provide middle of the order production. Unfortunately, all of these pieces are over 30 and won’t be around when El Paso is prepared to compete.

Last season, Mexico City’s first in that city, saw the Jalapenos hit .275 for 2nd in the NL. Led largely by the bat Otis Davis who was returning from an acl tear that saw him miss all but 42 games the season before last, Davis rebounded with a .320 avg and 30 hr. Davis is fast turning into the one of the best hitting 1B in the majors and is supported in a strong hitting lineup by career .300 hitter Harold Gonzales from the leadoff spot and the powerful Tony Servet from the cleanup spot. Former 3rd overall pick 3B Storm Patterson has made himself at home in the heart of the Jalapenos lineup. Patterson is up for a new contract after this season and needs to show management that they can win with him at third and while earning the big bucks.
Mexico City has a good, if unproven, starting staff. Pedro Rojas is a former All-Star and hasn’t had an ERA over 3.70 in 5 years. Rojas was locked up in the off season to a 3 year deal at the incredibly friendly price of 5.8 million per season. Ross Lawson came into the league with as much hype and potential as anyone in recent memory, but after 5 seasons, the Jalapenos are still trying to see what they have in Lawson. Lawson lost his starting job last season making 22 appearances out of the pen. Mexico City’s options may be a bit more limited this season as a couple of unprovens, rookie Pascual Soriano and 31 year old rookie Matty Solano look to steal as many starts as possible. Trevor ‘Wild Thing’ Sullivan has a propensity to walk batters, but also has great velocity good for powering past even some of the NL’s strongest batters. Perry Campbell will continue to close out games for Mexico City.
The teams future on the mound looks pretty strong. Bill Myers, 4th overall pick from 2 years ago, is already at AAA and dominating, while last season’s 10th overall pick Spike Parris will start the season in AA. Neither prospect will be seen in the ML this season unless Mexico City is somehow challenging for the division near the end of the year.

While Ricky O’Brien has been the cornerstone of the Massacre’s lineup for years, Monterrey would most definitely be interested in moving him for the right pieces. Monterrey has the 3rd lowest payroll in the majors and has most of their assets still in the minors. O’Brien, 33, still has a lot to contribute but in all likelihood won’t be around when this team starts competing. 1B Juan Rodriguez is a complete player who looks to move into 3rd place in the all time franchise rank of home runs at only 27 years of age. Rodriguez along with LF Pablo Rosario are a couple of pieces that the Massacre will look to be building around. RF Danny Rudolph surprised the league last season by belting 38 hr, knocking in 116 rbi and hitting .294. Monterrey will need another stellar season from Rudolph if they hope to compete against the big boys in the NL south. Regardless of what happens this season, the future in Monterrey is bursting with young talent. Smooth hitting catching prospect Marino Armas will be spending a couple more seasons in the minors before challenging reliable vet Clay Wise for the starting job behind the plate. SS prospects Sven Loaiza and Bill Tabaka are also a ways away from competing for ML spots but should be formidable MLers at some point. Power hitting CF Zeke Rain was last seasons 4th overall pick and assuming the injury prone defensive wiz can stay healthy, should be in the majors before too long. Starting at AAA this season, RF Harry Elster may be the most ready stud prospect in the organization and could get a call up at some point this season.
Also starting in AAA this season, starting pitcher Felipe Guillen combines a lethal fastball with a nasty slider and will be manning the mound for years to come. In the interm, a ragtag group of guys including Jose Trevino, Chris Adams, Alex Valdes, Sun Song and rule 5 pick Bobby Ray Ducey will be trying to hold down the fort for the Massacre. The foursome only have about 1500 innings between them, so the learning curve could be a bit painful this season and next. The bullpen will be relied upon heavily and there are still some question marks there. Benny Castilla looks to be the lead runner for the closing job out of spring training.

1. Atlanta
2. Mexico City
3. Monterrey
4. El Paso

Will Helena’s sluggers and emerging pitchers be enough to propel them to first?
Is Los Angeles heading in the right direction?
Will the learning curves in San Francisco result in enough wins?
Can Vancouver’s bats cover all weaknesses?

Helena has captured the NL West title in each of the past 4 seasons, but have yet to win a playoff round. Dominican born SP Carlos Lopez looks to move his way into elite status among NL starters. Lopez is a strikeout pitcher who doesn’t allow a lot of base runners. He’ll be joined by young lefty Quentin Cloud, sly Sal Rossy and converted closer Jimmy Parker at the top of the rotation. After setting the mark for all time saves, the 36 year old Parker moved out of the pen to post a 3.21 ERA in his first season as a starter. Parker wont be going deep into games, but definitely knows a thing or 2 about getting batters out in high stress situations. Bobby Courtney was once one of the most highly touted young starters in the bigs. At 33 and after years of inconsistency and a bum elbow, the Phantom Der Nacht are looking to see how much the big lefty has in the tent. Augmenting the staff is the versatile Tim Brantley who can spot start or come out in long relief if needed. All this to get to a strong bullpen made up of former All-Stars Hunter Wilkinson and Eric Klassen and captained by closer Willy Ginter who hopes to lower his 5.51 ERA from a year ago.
As it stands now, the team belongs to 3B Juan Mantalban, one of the most highly thought of IFAs in history. Mantalban is a tremendous power hitter, who can spray the ball across all fields and provide solid defense at the hot corner. The speedy rookie Patrick Cox will get the start in the outfield along with solid vets Pedro Maduro and Tomas Bennett who add tremendous depth to a very strong lineup. Raul Cruz is expected to be slotted somewhere near the top of the lineup in Helena and may b an early favourite in the NL for rookie of the year. These pieces will set the table for 60 hr man Armando Soto who may be one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
Everything has been coming together perfectly for Helena. They have a great mix of young and old as well as pitching and hitting. Another division title is very likely, but success in Helena will be measured by playoff success and its about time these guys learned how to win when it counts.

Los Angeles is a team in search of an identity. After losing star pitcher Ivan Gonzales to free agency a couple seasons ago, they also said goodbye to 2B Josh Moore who packed his bags for Montreal this past off season. Decent, but not exceptional pitching and hitting has been the hallmark of this club season after season. After 18 seasons in LA, the Dead Bunnies have advanced to the playoffs only 3 times and have yet to win a round. The team lacks a star player though 3B Donovan Barr, LF Max Johnson and 2B Tomas Bennett provide a lot of offensive spark. Still, in this pitchers park, LA needs a lot from its core hitting group and the extended cast. FA Jeff Bryant will be replacing Josh Moore at second base after signing a 4 year contract for just over 20 million. Defensively, Marvin Walker in center field and Jose Lopez at short stop do great work with the glove, but are going to be hard pressed to accomplish much with the bat, though the pitchers like seeing them in the lineup.
Mark Koehlert has put up near identical numbers over the past 4 seasons and has been incredibly reliable over his 8 year tenure with the club. Still Koehlert is a FA after this season and you have to wonder if the lack of run support he’s received over his career will make him test his loyalty in LA. Jose Ferrer moved into the starting rotation last season and posted a club high 17 wins. Ferrer along with 37 year old Mike Taylor, who was sidelined for a large chunk of last season with elbow tendonitis, hope to give LA stability along with FA signing Yamil Matos. Matos, the ex-Tiger Shark brings over 2 World Series rings and a winning attitude that can only help. In 5 ML seasons, Ebenezer Caruso has been to the All-Star game 4 times and won fireman of the year twice. He also signed 5 year deal worth 41.5 million dollars, the highest pay out for any reliever, ever. Its hard to think that Caruso isn’t worth every penny too. He will undoubtably be challenging Parker’s all time saves record at some point in his career.
LA has some pieces in place, but still have a lot of growing to do. They have the 5th highest player payroll in the majors, but not the 5th best team. For the team to succeed, they must count on career years from fringe players and stud seasons from the rest.

After narrowly avoiding a 100 loss season last year, San Francisco looks poised to finally take the next step in development. Off season free agent acquisitions Mark Aoki and Sal Grissom give the Streets something they haven’t had for years, a solid bullpen. Aoki is a top notch reliever who will be given the closing job, a role he hasn’t held since his World Series days with Boston. Grissom, another World Series winner with Montreal, will be used primarily in the setup role. San Francisco boasts a strong rotation full of kids who are on the verge of great things. Leading this pack of starters all under the age of 26 is Juan Ciriaco, a top five pick who looks to build on his rookie year last season that saw him get his feet wet with 12 starts. Julio Martis, another sophomore, can easily slide into the number 2 spot in the rotation if he’s able to get his changeup across the plate for strikes. Jay Heredia, Napoleon Gilkey, and Rudy Brand also all sophomores, provide depth to an impressive rotation that is going to require a steady presence from behind the plate.
Handling the catching duties will be a platoon of catchers Octavio Uribe and D.T. Briggs who will be counted on for their defense and pitch calling more than their offensive skills. The cornerstone of the Streets offense rests on the young shoulders of 1B Juan Valenzuela. The 21 year old Valenzuela fits well into the long term plans of the Streets and they are counting on him having a smooth transition into the bigs. The Del’s, Chen and Guerrero, man the middle of the infield with a strong mix of offense and defense. Guerrero posted strong numbers last year, 22 hr and a .276 average,, earning him the silver slugger, but must repeat if not improve on those numbers for San Francisco to compete in the West. Sophomore Edgard ‘Beer Me’ Cerveza will fit in nicely in left field. He hits right handers fantastically and has 20-20 potential along with the hope of a decent average. CF Donte Hamill came over in a trade with Boston early last season and rewarded his new team with a .299 avg and 65 stolen bases. He’s a fantastic option at the 1 or 2 spots in the order.
San Francisco is well on their way to leaving their awful history, which has seen them post only one winning season (82-80) in their last 15 years. The team is young and one should expect growing pains, but they are on the verge of competing with the perennial NL west favourites Helena and Vancouver.

After a run of 11 playoff appearances in 12 years, the Vampire Bats have fallen short over the past 4 seasons twice posting sub .500 records. Relatively quiet in the off-season, Vancouver opted to resign Dan Stanley at a hometown discount of 2.8 this season. For his part, Stanly has registered no less than 23 hrs in each of his 12 ML seasons. 5 time gold glover Matty Medrano saw his season cut short last year due to forearm nerve irritation but has assured management and fans alike that he is 100% ready for this year. Slugging 3B Arthur Davis looks to improve on his 28 hrs of a year ago and is a tremendous option in the 6 or 7 spot in the lineup, while C Erick Redman and 1B Everett Robertson have been nothing short of consistent in their short tenure in the majors. Still the most exciting piece in the Vancouver lineup will be the rise of RF Max Palacios. Palacios has a bucket full of potential and is on the short list to capture rookie of the year honours.
On the mound Bruce ‘The Bandit’ Schoendienst will get the ball for his 13 consecutive opening day start. At 35, Schoendienst hasn’t slowed much though still has yet to capture a season reminiscent of his 28 win rookie year. The 6 time All-Star will be joined on the mound by Duane Belinda, Ralf Rocker and Carmen Hinske who are all full of potential, but have yet to put together the star years that their clubs are demanding. Luis Reynoso will move from the bullpen to the starting rotation, but look for Frank Lunsford to start should Reynoso falter. After proving worthy of the closing role last season, Dusty Hogan looks to build upon his 33 saves and 1.89 ERA from a season ago. Vancouver does have a strong pen that shouldn’t cost them too many games this season.
If there is an identifiable weakness in Vancouver it is team defense. Though they are not the worst in the NL in this regard, they may be the worst of all the real competitors in the NL. Still, if their pitching holds up and the bats do what they are capable of, Vancouver will be in the mix right up to the end of the season.

1. Helena
2. San Fransisco*
3. Vancouver
4. Los Angeles

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