Victor’s Pre-Season Predictions

AL South

Austin Auggies

Overview

The biggest excitement in Austin following a season where they won 80 games but still managed to grab a division title for the second season in a row was a bunch of arbitration signings and one contract extension. Despite last season’s first round exit, there is plenty of reason to be excited in Texas this year as the Auggies are driven by a young nucleus that will now be intact for awhile.

Rotation: B. There have been seven different guys to take the hill for the club so far, so it’s a little hard to tell who the five-man rotation will be going forward and make a concrete judgement. That being said, six of the seven have been quite solid with Eric Bell being the lone exception. The penalty for his ineffectiveness is softened by his slightly less frequent use as well, though.

Bullpen: C. Out of five guys who have exclusively come out of the ‘pen two have been ineffective, two have been very effective and one has been somewhere in the middle. The good news for them is that closer Bud Bevil is one of the effective ones, sporting a 1.08 ERA and 100% save percentage in 16 ⅔ IP.

Bats: B. Looking at the raw ratings for the starting lineup, you’re not exactly blown away. However, There are plenty of very solid players up and down the lineup and their strengths line up with what the ballpark is willing to give them. Think a lineup full of power-hitting lefties in Yankee Stadium…as a result they are 2nd in HR after 42 games and 5th in Runs Scored. Their success should be season long, and continue over the next few years as well if they don’t relocate. In the event of relocation, however, this offense could see a significant drop off.

Defenders: C. Not all the starters meet the suggested defensive ratings for the positions they’re playing, and the defensive stats reflect that but they’re not making enough mistakes to cost them this division. However, an improved defense could make this a true title contender, which is something they aren’t right now.

Help on the Way: C. They have a handful of good players at AAA, but they are all blocked by other recently promoted young guys except for Hee Pan. With only one prospect legitimately “on the way” the reason the grade is this high is because a) they don’t need the help right now and b) the players that are there are good depth even if they are not currently “on the way” to the ML.

Projected Record: 92-70 // Actual Record: 86-76

Kansas City LEAD CLEATS

Overview

Last season saw the Lead Cleats snap a streak of five seasons in a row with win totals in the 60s. They finished just six games short of the division title, finishing third in the division via a tiebreaker after accruing the same number of victories across the entirety of the season as their cross-state rivals in St. Louis. Longtime GM llcc was aggressive in Free Agency, bringing in four wily vets in hopes that their tips and tricks will put KC over the top and into the playoffs for the first time since S27.

Rotation: C. The three starters who were on the roster at the beginning of the league year have been solid, but two of those four “wily vets” were brought in to shore up the backend of the rotation and have flopped. Alex Pena (6.19 ERA in 52 ⅓ IP) and Alex Marichal (6.34 ERA in 38 ⅓ IP) bring down what would otherwise be a very good grade…Brandon Houston’s 4.03 ERA is the highest of the other three.  

Bullpen: B. Other than Sadie Burks, another FA flop, the relief corps has been excellent thus far. Four of their six arms have sub-2.00 ERAs and another has a 4.30 mark despite just a .297 OBP against. And then there’s Burks…at age 37 he’s been relegated to the bullpen after years as a starter and he has responded with an 8.56 ERA in 27 ⅓ innings.   

Bats: C. This grade is mostly a result of indifference… none of the Lead Cleat’s bats are particularly bad, but other than Benji Romero, none are exactly All Star quality either. A lineup of no particular strength or weakness receives a middling grade.  

Defenders: D. Six of the eight players who regularly take the field in Kansas City have fielding percentages of .982 or worse, and the two that don’t play left field and first base. A middling offense needs better defense than that to win games.

Help on the Way: B. Damian Cauffman and Mauricio James headline a AAA team that could likely offer the current big league squad a decent game, while a pair of highly talented pitching prospects (Johnny Flores & Rob Stern) leark at AA.  

Projected Record: 73-88 // Actual Record: 60-102

St. Louis Faux Paus

Overview

First year manager falsestep guided the Faux Paus to a second-place finish last season, but only managed to win 74 games. The major moves this offseason include a trio of promotions, highlighted by that of slugger Robert Woodson, and a contract extension for closer Ichiro Abe. This division looks to be pretty open again, so a few more W’s could result in a postseason berth…we’ll have to wait and see.

Rotation: B. The Faux Paus starters are a group of solid pitchers that each have one weakness of varying degrees. Schneid, Masato & Julio all have one L/R split below 60, Jackson has both splits south of that mark and Appier is the best of the bunch with L/R splits of 65/83. Oh, did I mention they’re all 29 or younger?

Bullpen: B. The late inning boys for St. Louis are styled similarly to the rotation: one or two plus pitches and either great control or a tendency to get ground balls. Abe has earned his money thus far, converting four of his first five save opportunities and Dick Higginson will likely see a regression in success at some point, as a sub-2.00 ERA with splits and control all under 50 is virtually impossible over a full season…isn’t it?  

Bats: C. Guerrero and Holzemer are legitimate threats, but there are holes in most of the other starters…six of them have at least one of their five major ratings under 50 and two of the other three were named above. The Faux Paus need to get their offense going at a better clip than 3.74 RPG if they want to be a threat in this division.  

Defenders: C. Most of the defense is up to snuff, but the important positions are the ones that don’t quite cut it. Deion Hall is sporting a .956 FLD% at 2B while Guerrero’s performance at SS isn’t a whole lot better (.968). Kennie Parker boasts the best mark of the three defense-first positions, and even he only has a .979 FLD% in CF…finding better defensive production will help a pitching staff with identifiable weaknesses.

Help on the Way: A. There are six guys in the top two levels of the minors with a projected OVR of 75+, led by future SS stud Malachi Calhoun (.341 avg, 1.163 OPS in the minors to date). Also on the rise are Sadie Parrott (2B), Nefi Fernandez (1B), Charles Ishida (SS) and Arquimedes Reynoso (SP) and Audry Gonzalez (CF).

Projected Record: 67-95 // Actual Record: 72-90

Monterrey Tlacuaches

Overview

Cedann090165 took over for FYC original owner Natic_Empire this past offseason, and went to work stockpiling prospects as this franchise was about to enter a rebuild regardless of ownership, and yet was also lacking in terms of minor league talent. Lots of activity in the Rule 5 Draft and on the trade market for Monterrey, but it’s going to lead to a rough season in S37.

Rotation: C. Albie Alvarez (age 35) is the only starter with an OVR above 70, but three of the other four are Rule 5 picks who project well over that mark. This is a rotation that will be a quite solid one in a couple of seasons if its core stays intact, but this will be a year of growing pains for them as well as the rest of the team.

Bullpen: D. The projections for these arms look respectable, but as a unit they’re sporting a 7.57 ERA after 39 contests. Ouch. Wladimir Belliard seems to be the silver lining in what has otherwise been a season to forget for the Tlacuaches relief corps.

Bats: F. The Tlacuaches are last in the league in Runs Scored, and have just five guys on the roster with OBP’s north of .300. Morgan Snow (age 25) seems to be a perennial starter in the making and is currently leading the team in OBP at .381 to go along with a .465 SLG (.846 OPS). Ageless Torii Rivera is Snow’s only real help.  

Defenders: B. Aside from Mark Murphy’s .954 FLD% at SS, the Tlacuaches starters are all respectable defensive players. While defense wins championships in MLB, more and more evidence seems to pile up that it’s offense in FYC that will bring in the rings…although having adequate defense is also certainly a necessity.

Help on the Way: B. This grade is a little higher than it otherwise would be thanks to cedann’s efforts this offseason. Of the nine players that project to a 70+ OVR between AAA and AA, four were acquired by new ownership this year. Those players will likely only make an appearance when the calendar hits September, so their impact this season will be minimal since Monterrey will likely be well out of the race by then. However, cedann does deserve some credit for the progress that has been made.

Projected Record: 44-118 // Actual Record: 52-110

AL West

Vancouver Canadians

Overview

The Canadians are coming off a 92-win season that saw them exit in the first round, and they are looking to extend their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to four, and five out of the last six seasons. In that span, they have advanced past the LDS just once. In an attempt to make that next step, Vancouver GM and FYC veteran diesel3350 signed a pair of defensive wizards in Jeff Spencer and Einar Cervantes. So far it’s worked splendidly.  

Rotation: A. When the starter with the highest ERA in the rotation sports a 3.53 ERA, you know any struggles cannot be pinned on them. Not that Vancouver is struggling right now…but I’d still expect a pitcher with a 3.53 ERA on a team with a winning percentage north of .650 to have a winning record.

Bullpen: A. The only pitcher on the staff (starter or reliever) that has an ERA north of 4.00 is Edison Owen, who currently sits at 5.56. One guy over 4.00? That speaks for itself.    

Bats: A. They’ve got a team batting average of .285, good for second in FYC behind the freak show that is the Santa Fe offense and are scoring at a clip of 5.69 runs per game (3rd in FYC behind SFE & BOS). This offense is very likely good enough to carry the team by itself, but the results are scary when combined with that pitching staff mentioned above.

Defenders: B. Seven of their Opening Day starters have played all 42 games so far, and excluding DH Max Brito, only Ernie Musial has a fielding percentage below .984, which happens to be the FYC team average over that span. Musial brings this grade down a bit though, with a .950 FLD% as an everyday 3B. That should be better, but it’s also virtually Vancouver’s only flaw at the ML level.

Help on the Way: F. The reason I said “at the ML level” when discussing Vancouver’s flaws was because their minor league system is a mess. The AAA team is their strongest as a unit, but if you projected their winning percentage through the first 41 games over a full 162 game ML schedule, you’d end up with a 71 win team. The AA team has yet to win a game, and the others are all .220 or worse for a winning percentage (36 wins or fewer for 162 contests)   

Projected Record: 114-48 // Actual Record: 101-61

Honolulu Island Hoppers

Overview

GM ewchippee returned to FYC before this season, and immediately set to work making his mark on his new organization. His most notable moves were bringing in Type A Free Agent Angel Allen, Type B Free Agent Howard Surtain and swinging a trade for Tom Logan & Ramon Sasaki. A quarter of the way through the season, the Island Hoppers are on pace for an 11-win improvement thanks to these decisions.

Rotation: D. Four of the six guys that have started a game for Honolulu so far have ERA’s north of 5.50, getting as high as Leon Whitaker’s astronomical mark of 8.65. It’s tough to win games when your starters are giving up crooked numbers on a regular basis.

Bullpen: C. If the Island Hoppers can get to the 7th inning with a lead, there’s a pretty decent chance they’ll hold onto it with the trio of Pablo Sosa (4.35 ERA, 41 ⅓ IP), Gerald Simms (2.53 ERA, 10 ⅔ IP) and closer David Giovotella (11-for-11 SVO, 2.33 ERA) to round out the game. The trouble is getting there…after their starters dig them a hole they’ve also got to rely on three relievers who currently have ERA’s above 5.00 before they can turn to their shutdown arms.

Bats: B. Rookie Steven Wilson is looking like a stud (.331 avg, 1.003 OPS), and he’s got some decent help around him in the lineup from Saul Borbon, Reuben Bennett, Angel Allen and Esteban Mercedes but the other four guys are close to automatic outs…if they could get some decent production from one or two of them, then this could be a very solid offense.

Defenders: D. This is the area of the game where the Island Hoppers should really focus their attention. With better defense, better pitching will come along and three of their grades here will go up dramatically. Angel Allen is doing what he was signed to do defensively at 2B, but neither their CF or SS have a FLD% above .970, and even their LF is at just .975. Worst of all, though, is Tom Logan’s .938 performance at 3B.

Help on the Way: C. They have a number of guys who would be (and in some cases have been) sub-par ML players, but nobody that would either be an upgrade over what they currently have or ever will be. They’ll have to go outside the organization to get the necessary upgrades or hope that their current players develop further. It should also be said that their recent drafts have produced promising prospects, but those players are still a year or two away from their ML debuts.

Projected Record: 70-91 // Actual Record: 74-88

Anaheim Stars

Overview

Stars fans were left with the unique bittersweet feeling that comes from losing the World Series at the conclusion of S36. On the one hand, there’s the satisfaction of knowing that they were NL Champs, on the other….they were three wins away from the ultimate prize and couldn’t pull it off. Nevertheless, there is  plenty of reason for optimism in Anaheim going forward including the fact that they have twice as many players under 27 as they do players over 32 on the ML team.

Rotation: B. I was tempted to give them full credit here, but the fact is that they do have two guys who have registered 5+ starts and have not managed to keep their ERA’s under five (Ibarra, 5.25 & Kelleher 7.71). However, the rest of their staff is comprised of legitimate aces and SP2’s with a maximum ERA of 4.03, which is entirely worthy of the A…so I went with a strong B.

Bullpen: A. Shaggy Phelps is the unit’s achilles heel, having pitched eight innings of 12.28 ERA baseball thus far, but other than that they have been quite dominant. Phelps aside they have one guy with an ERA above 4.00 and 7th/8th inning setup man Vincente Vallarta leads the pack at 1.99.

Bats: A. Shortstop Hooks Collins currently sits 2nd in FYC with 20 HR, but this is a team that has traditionally played successful old-school NL baseball despite residing in the FYC’s American League. They have continued that trend this season, scoring just above the league average and relying on their strong pitching staff to carry the team. In terms of ratings, this is perhaps the most well-rounded team top to bottom that I’ve come across although there are some holes that can be exploited. 

Defenders: B. Everyone except Collins (SS) and CF Alfredo Jose have acceptable fielding percentages, and those two project to ratings that would satisfy the requirements at those positions. However, I question whether or not they’ll get there next season (they are both 26) and good defense is especially important to the style the Stars play. If I were GM of this club, I’d look to get a defensive upgrade at one of the two positions and live with the other one, but they’re winning plenty of games as it is so staying with the status quo is just fine as well.  

Help on the Way: B. They have a handful of guys who project to 70+ OVR, but it’s hard to tell exactly how many of them are actually “on the way”…much like Austin and Vancouver, they don’t necessarily need the help but having the option is always nice. Unlike those other two clubs, though, they do have some prospects that would be reasonably solid ML contributors if they needed to be.

Projected Record: 95-67 // Actual Record: 94-68

Las Vegas Titans

Overview

Last season, the Titans seemed poised to be right around .500, or maybe a little under, before losing Opening Day starter Hank Maxwell for the season in his second start. They then managed to win just 69 games last year with a rotation that featured three guys 27 or younger. The return of Maxwell and development of the other arms in the rotation was supplemented by the signing of two Type B FA’s (Deivi DeLeon & BC Rosado) to play the field. Expectations were for a noticeable improvement in the win column this season with the truly competitive seasons being a year or two away…a slow start has somewhat damped that, although a recent 4-game winning streak to get within a victory of .500 suggests that may still happen.

Rotation: B. The starting rotation as a whole has an ERA of 4.19, and the high water mark belongs to Jerry Saunders (4.76). With the exception of Christian Alexander (age 37) being on a one-year deal, this rotation looks to be stable going forward, as the other four are all between 25 and 30 and under contract for the next couple of seasons.

Bullpen: C. On the surface, a “C” for a unit that’s got a 4.58 overall ERA seems harsh. However, the Titans would likely be comfortably over .500 at this point if it weren’t for the bullpen. Joaquin Paz (3.09 ERA) and Pedro Guerrero (2.63 ERA) have proved to be reliable in the 8th and 9th respectively but getting from the starter to them with a lead has proved difficult. More middle relievers have ERA’s above 5.00 than not…when that’s true anything more than a C seems generous. Maybe we should switch to tandem starters….

Bats: C. Eddie Haynes got off to an incredible start, and is still hitting .313 after 49 games. Campos, Suzuki and DeLeon provide some pop through the middle while Cannon and De La Rosa are serviceable but nothing to write home about…and then come the 7-9 hitters with a combined one of six L/R splits above 30. When Carr is healthy/rested this is significantly better but as it stands now there are basically three automatic outs in the lineup. The Opening Day lineup gets a B, the current one earned this mark. 

Defenders: C. If performance of the defensive unit were to be judged on FLD% alone, this unit would earn a D and possibly even an F (but probably not). However, the vast majority of guys are playing positions that they meet every single requirement for in terms of ratings and those that aren’t didn’t miss that distinction by much. On top of that, advanced defensive metrics such as MikeT23’s PPPS calculations are kinder to their performance than FLD% is by a long shot. That being said, errors have proved to be quite costly in a few of our losses and cutting down on those is high on the to-do list.  

Help on the Way: B. Second baseman Wilt Coghlan and SS Ron Miller figure prominently in the plans for the near future at the ML level for the Titans, while there are a handful of others who could provide good depth at roster-expansion for a potential playoff push or fill in capably at the ML level should the need arise do to an injury.

Projected Record: 75-87 // Actual Record: 73-89

NL South 

Tampa Bay Bad Romance

The fans in Tampa Bay are going ga-ga after a season in which the team finished third in its own division but went on an incredible post-season run to capture the world title.  While the team lacks an explosive 100-win roster on paper, its young pitching and its three-headed offensive monster should put the team in the playoffs again.

Rotation: B.  Tampa Bay boasts an admirable front four in a rotation who are all younger than 27.  While each would comfortably fit in anywhere from a no. 2 to no. 4 SP on playoff-caliber rotations, none of them is the stopper that is often key to playoff success.  Weldon Garland comes the closest – the flamethrower notched a 1.17 WHIP in 196 innings last season and looks to repeat that success in his second full season.  

Bullpen:  A.  The doorslammers in the bullpen is the real strength of this club.  If your team trails Tampa Bay after the 6th inning, you may as well rest your guys – because a comeback is not happening.  Damaso Martinez, Tony Barry and Richard Hara form the backbone of one of the best, if not the best, bullpen in this world.  The rich only got richer in the offseason as Tampa Bay signed Gary Newman, another arm capable of providing 100 innings of lights out relief.

Bats: B.  Catcher Virgil Tatis (in his first full season), RF Marc Payne, and LF Samuel Pecina form a stout nucleus of bats in the middle of the Bad Romance order that would give any opposing staff a vertigo schtick.  And if 1B Ted Kirwan can get on base at a rate anywhere near the incredible .450 OBP pace that he set last season, the team should be near the top of the team offensive leaderboards by the end of the season. 

Defenders: A.  Centerfielder Ted Brentz and SS Yasiel Flores lead a stout defensive corps that have strong arms all over the field.  A defensive lineup can also feature a unique case study in Mike May, a catcher with sufficient range to legitimately patrol leftfield, and more than enough acumen to call a game behind the plate.

Help on the Way: B. Ben Sample and Derrick Magee will bring legitimate everyday help in the batting order and at 3B and LF by call-up day, if zeustis decides to go in that direction.  But the thinness of pitching farmhands means that this team can ill-afford a significant injury to its rotation.

Projected Record: 94-68 // Actual Record: 99-63

Santa Fe Bombers

After finishing with at least 98 losses for 9 of 10 seasons (from seasons 21-30) and at least 105 losses for 6 of 7 seasons (from seasons 24-30), the Bombers finally stockpiled enough elite prospects to go on a run of 4 straight 120-win seasons in seasons 33 to 36 (including last season).   The Bombers failed to capitalize last season on their prolonged ineptitude, however, when they lost in the NLCS.  Thanks to their once in a generation offense, look for nothing less than 100 wins again this season and a secure seat in the playoffs.

Rotation: B. This rotation is only three deep, but who cares when it’s three absolute hammers that are built for the playoffs.  In Erubiel Castillo, Tony Komatsu and Albert Sierra, Santa Fe has three true number ones on its staff.  While I have no idea who will pitch on the 4th and 5th days, it almost doesn’t matter.  With its offense, you can literally throw any waiver wire pickup out there and he can post 12 wins in a season.

Bullpen: B.  Veteran closer Yeico Almeida (he of the 360 career saves) joins the Bombers to anchor bullpen that leans heavily on Tomas James and B.C. Diaz, two guys with closer stuff who can easily post sub 3.00 ERAs in a neutral park.  The pickings are slim beyond those guys, but again with that offense, it really doesn’t matter.

Bats: A.  There’s not much to say here except it’s the best offense in many generations.  There are no holes 1 through 7 in the lineup and even the shortstop Yoshinori Katou, the team’s worst hitter, packs a punch.

Defenders: C.  The team’s defensive prowess is nothing to write home about, but more than adequate considering the sticks that are attached to each of the gloves in the field.  

Help on the Way: F.  This team has no legitimate prospects in the upper minors.

Projected Record: 110-52 // Actual Record: 111-51

Little Rock Travelers

The fans must be feeling a bit snakebitten in Little Rock – five straight 100 win seasons have not materialized into even a single World Series appearance.  Undeterred, the Travelers have the piece to notch their sixth straight 100 win season – but whether they can go over the hump remains to be seen.

Rotation: A. Mike1184 has the best rotation in the league from 1 through 5, with Maximo Allen, Ricardo Benitez and Horace Key leading the way.  Little Rock will be one of the few teams in the world capable of playing a 162 game schedule and not have start being taken by someone who would not be comfortable being a no. 2 starter on a playoff contending team.  Given the number of guys who can stretch innings, the Travelers can even use tandem starters if necessary to shorten games.

Bullpen: B.  Cesar James is an outstanding closer – but getting to James might be an issue.  Nevertheless, Little Rock can convert several starters to relief to get the job done, so that the team won’t need to turn too often to Charley McCormick, who is getting long in the tooth but certainly one of the most durable relievers in FYC history.

Bats: B.  The lineup here isn’t the embarrassment of riches that Sante Fe has, but slugging LF Ross Parker and on base machine 1B Dan Forbes can certain bring the boys to the yard.  But the player to watch may be second year 3B Oswaldo Estrada, who looks to follow up his ROY season with an even better second year.

Defenders: A.  Although Phil Bailey is the only true SS on this squad (and Mack Denham the only true CF), this team is loaded with guys who can be plus defenders all over the field.  This should give Mike tremendous flexibility and ability to rest guys throughout the season to bring a fresh team into September.

Help on the Way: D.  Former 1st round pick Timothy Davenport is lurking at AAA, but he wouldn’t be anything more than a long reliever on a team with this many quality starting pitcher.  Beyond Davenport, the upper minors is shallow.  Although Damon Crosby can fill in for a pinch at RF or C – he’s  not a long term solution at either spot.

Projected Record: 98-64 // Actual Record: 97-65

Huntington Tigers

Playing in the best division in baseball has its drawbacks – as the Tigers can attest.  So kersh decided this season that enough was enough, and brought his wallet to the winter meetings (along with another city move).  But, it remains doubtful that the offseason expenditures would be enough to put his squad over the hump in an incredibly tough division.  

Rotation: B. More than $85 million went out the window to Ramiro Aceves in free agency, with the hope that Aceves can anchor the rotation.  His past three seasons in a pitchers’ paradise suggest that he might be up to the task, but it’s certainly no slam dunk.  The cast around Aceves is solid, but not without question marks.  Can Bingo Hart finally live up to the promise of the 6th overall pick?  Can Rene Patel harness his control to be more than just the darling of the sub-continent?  Can Victor Navarre hang on for one more strong season?

Bullpen: B.  Albert Baez can lock in down in late game situations, and he will be joined this season by former division foe Yusmeiro Mesa, who notched a 3.06 ERA in 85 innings for Santa Fe last season.  Beyond Baez and Mesa, the bullpen will be lined with unproven arms and starting pitchers who lost battles for the last 2 spots in the rotation. 

Bats: C.  Catcher Geoffrey Morris will bring the thunder to the middle of the lineup – but who will join him?  SS Milton Meadows and 1B Tim Garcia are candidates, but compared with its division mates, Huntington will be playing catchup in terms of offense.

Defenders: C.  The team lacks a natural shortstop or CF, leaving kersh a bit handicapped defensively. Geoffrey Morris is adequate behind the plate, but given his offensive production, this team could probably benefit from acquiring a more defensive-minded backup catcher than Pete Taylor.

Help on the Way: C.  Given the holes in the lineup, former no. 4 overall selection Frank Jacobs cannot arrive fast enough in Huntington.  The switch hitting RF will give a boost to the lumber whenever he arrives, but there’s not much beyond Jacobs.  Yan Guillen at AA would make sense as the backup C eventually, but he may simply not hit well enough to justify a ML roster spot.

Projected Record: 78-84 // Actual Record: 77-85

NL West 

Boise Spuds

A change of scenery from Colorado Springs to Boise is looking to change the trajectory in the short-term for this consistently mediocre franchise.  It has made 3 playoff appearances in the past 20 seasons, and that numerator is unlikely to increase this season.

Rotation: D.  Veteran Al Sanchez anchors a rotation of fringe starters and guys that are better suited for long relief or AAA ball. Max McPherson enters his second season as the probably No. 2 starter.  Although McPherson has one of the best slurves in the game, command issues will likely put his ceiling as a backend rotation guy on a decent team.

Bullpen:  C.  Kevin Montgomery set a personal best with 37 saves last season, but his inability to miss bats continue to present a concern in high-leverage situations.  This team lacks that light-out arm to quench fires late in games, but is fairly deep with dependable righties in Omar Miranda and Todd Reynolds and southpaw Clete Montgomery.  

Bats: C.  Switch hitting catcher Fred Speaker headlines the lineup as a consistent .950 OPSer  – but he stands fairly alone in the Spuds’ lineup..  Blossoming centerfielder Dick Mullen can be a piece to build around – but, as far as this season, there’s not much around him.  Losing Derrin Francis in the Rule 5 draft did not help in this department.

Defenders: D.  There are three above average defenders on the ML roster, leaving question marks all over the field as far as who will provide depth at the premium defensive positions.  Esteban Cruz and Abraham Wilson can both provide laudable play at short, but they are best paired as a platoon.  Hooks Reed might play passable 3B, but this won’t be a team that’s well represented at the Gold Glove ceremony. 

Help on the Way: D. Not much on the near horizon: Brent McCullers may be able to step in on opening day as a No. 3 or 4 starter on this team, but the Spuds will likely start him at AAA for additional seasoning.  Clem Monroe will add another late-inning option to the bullpen after the call-up day.  Heathcliff Park is an interesting option for RF duties.  

Projected Record: 68-94 // Actual Record: 56-106

Salem Orangutans

The defending division champions return with its roster mostly intact, and added a couple of sticks in the offseason.  A relatively injury free season, with some heaping help from the farm,  should leave these primates in contention for another division crown.

Rotation: B. Second year starter Allen Gates looks to build on his impressive rookie campaign, when he posted a 2.69 ERA in nearly a full season’s of work.   He headlines a rotation of righties who all belong on major league starting rotations – and that may be enough to get it done in this down division.  Fernando Amaro’s return to the rotation will be the project to watch.

Bullpen: D.  Salem is looking for a new closer this season and it should look no further than Roscoe Benson.  The 25 year-old has a nasty fastball-curveball repertoire and provided 60 innings of solid relief last season.  There’s no reason to believe that success won’t translate in save situations.  Beyond Benson and veteran Richard Riske, it is unclear who will round out the bullpen.

Bats: C.  Trade acquisition 1B Emilio Flores will add some pop to a team that desperately needs some.  But it’s unclear how skipper train will get both Flores and Rule 5 pick Derrin Francis in the lineup consistently without compromising his defense.  Table-setting RF/C Louis Ladendorf will be on base regularly to be driven in; and Jo-jo Hernandez will continue to provide continuity in the middle of the order while being teased by his teammates for being on the Bachelorette.   Lineup depth will be a big question mark, however.  

Defenders: B.  Second year defensive wiz Davey Lind will challenge for the gold glove year in and year out; and he anchors a defense that may be compromised if Ladendorf or Flores get too many looks in the outfield.  In late game situations, however, the combination of Lind and defensive sub Chip Griffith will be hard to beat.

Help on the Way: B.  Wilton Philips is one of several bullpen options that can supplement the thin corp at the ML level and help the team “hold on” to leads late.  Sticky Woodson has one of the best names in the game and can also hold down an everyday job in LF.   But perhaps the prizes of this season’s class are: (1) Richard Levrault, a SP that can develop into a no. 2 starter in due course, perhaps as early as this season; and (2) rangey CF Huston Kile, whose improving defense may land him as a fixture in center in Salem for years to come.

Projected Record: 88-76 // Actual Record: 66-96

Tucson Seals

Rising phenoms at AAA give the Tucson fans much hope for optimism after a 99-loss season.  But the many question marks on the mound will likely preclude the Seals organization from making its first appearance in the playoffs in 10 seasons.

Rotation: D. Skipper mikemiele can turn to an assortment of rubber-armed hurlers on his squad but, unfortunately, the quality just isn’t there.  Rick Wolf leads a lefty-leaning rotation and hopes to bounce back from his 5.11 ERA campaign from a season ago.  Sinkerballer Trance Edmonds missed bats regularly in the minors, but it’s still an open question as to whether he can do it at the ML level.

Bullpen: F.  There is one natural reliever on the roster and unfortunately, he (Vicente Mercedes) is not very good, having posted a 7.01 ERA last season.  While mikemiele can certain use starters in the bullpen – the crop from which he can pick from is not exactly a bumper one.

Bats: C.  Second sacker Boone Oliver is a treat to watch at the plate and will headline most lineups.  But beyond Oliver, this lineup is mediocre.  John Gordon and Cristobal Oliver will run into balls on occasion, but the lineup lacks a natural RBI guy who will drive in Oliver and Wesley Bailey, both of whom will get on base early and often.

Defenders: B. Justin Darr is as good as they come at SS, having won the last three gold gloves in the NL at short.  Rule V pick Sherman McDill can patrol CF on opening day.  The only prominent negative is the lack of a defensive stalwart behind the plate.  Otherwise, this team is well positioned to provide its pitching all the help it needs.

Help on the Way: A.  Tim Crain and Robin Dickson would be no. 1 and no. 2 starters on the ML opening day rotation – if they were on the major league roster.  I suspect both players will be elevated come call-up day.  Franmil Sosa and Howard Shaffer are both capable of locking down everyday spots in LF and 3B, respectively.  In summary, this is a team that will get much better when the calendar hits May.

Projected Record: 81-81 // Actual Record: 76-86

Seattle Chains

A squad that won it all just six seasons ago, Seattle slid down the standings last season and that trend may continue this season.  The starting rotation needs to stay healthy if this squad wants to contend deep into September.

Rotation: C. Juan Soto, David Lopez and Addison Shuey headline a front 3 rotation that will elevate most teams into contention – but the depth beyond those three is shallow.  Duke Starling can rise to the occasion, but his better days are behind him.

Bullpen: B.  If this team gets a lead late, coming back will be a tall task. Youngster Solly Mullens spent most of last season protecting leads but may be slotted into the closer’s role this season.  But he will get competition from Geovany Dominguez, who comes over from Burlington in a bargain FA signing after notching 71 saves in the last two seasons.  Groucho Barrett and Addison Fitzgerald round out what should be a very stout bullpen.  Unfortunately, there may not be too many leads to protect, because…

Bats: D.  This offense simply lacks exclamation points.  Sure, LF Santos Aguilar and 1B Mikey Freeman will drive in their share of runs, but the lineup just isn’t quite equipped to put crooked numbers on the board on a regular basis.  The Chains’ best on base guys are on the wrong side of 34, meaning this is a team that will struggle to score.

Defenders: B.  Felipe Garces is still among the best in tracking them down in center and Geraldo Terrealba is one of the best two-way SSs in the game.  That combination, along with Bill Simpkins behind the plate, gives Seattle one of the best up the middle defenses in the game.  

Help on the Way: C.  Artie Clinton and Alan Hermida can both give the lineup a much-needed boost around call up day – just don’t expect anyone else to make much of an impact in Seattle.   A former 1st round pick, Clinton has a cannon for an arm, though he may not be available later in the season as he intends to hit the campaign trail for his aunt – #HesWithHer

Projected Record: 79-83 // Actual Record: 88-74

 

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