Saturday, February 27, 2016

AL North Season 30 Preview

Kansas  City Jayhawks
Season 29: 108-54, won Division, reached ALDS & lost to New Orleans

"Breakthrough" Means:  Winning it all.  Anything less is just another great but underachieving season.  Unfortunately for the 'Hawks, that window is now closing rather than opening.  Still, plenty of teams have done it on the downside of the curve of opportunity, and there is still plenty of talent here.

To Do That They Have To:  Stop imploding in the playoffs.  Year after year, KC makes the playoffs as a top seed, and then gets sent home by a lower ranked opponent.

This Team Is Built On:  Starting pitching primarily,  but really on balance.  In terms of offense, the team was in the top 4 in the AL in most important categories, and basically the second best offense (Runs scored and OBP) to the hitting machine that is Las Vegas.  Led by solid power hitters DH Hugh Pierre,  OF P.T. Feliz, LF/1B Jorge Lunar and C Del Camacho  bolstered by newcomers Ramirez and Guerrero, this team should at least duplicate their 864 runs scored.

Defensively, the team led the AL with a .990 fielding percentage and was plus 44 on +/- plays, but did rank last in SB prevention.  With the trade of Rosado, outstanding fielding catcher Jackson Parris is likely to be brought up from AAA sooner rather than later.

Pitching is sort of a mixed bag.  The starting rotation is still excellent, despite the loss of FA Juan Veras.  Santos Eovaldi, Louis Wilson, Jason Haywood and Carlos Tavarez anchor the rotation with Hairston and Rodriguez competing for the 5th spot.  Relief may be a sore spot for KC though.  Closer Diaz was retained and was very good last year, but at 39 will be on a short leash.  If he falters, Hipolito Alvarado or Bud Waner would be the likely replacements.  Still the staff combined to have the best ERA and was just edged by SD for best WHIP, so this is a real strength overall.

Player to Watch: Several players could be mentioned here, but the obvious one is Eovaldi. He needs to bounce back from a mediocre season and pitch more like a four time Cy Young winner.  

traded ML C Pablo Rosado, MiL 2B/CF Matt Buddie, and MiL 1B Bruce Klingenbeck for MiL IF Miguel Ramirez

Free Agent Signings
SP Eliezer Rodriguez, SP Walt Hairston, 3B Wilkin Guerrero,  RP Edgardo Diaz

Vancouver Voodoo
Season 29:  84-78

"Breakthrough" Means:  Winning the division.  They have been bridesmaids 4 of the last 5 seasons winning the wildcard.  Oh, and A World Series ring would be a nice perk as well.

To Do That They Have To:  Just improve a little bit at most everything.  This team could almost be KC Lite, in that they are above average in almost every phase of the game, yet just behind the Jayhawks in most areas.

This Team Is Built On:  Their all around game.  Offensively, they have big bats in 2B Olmedo Lee, C Jung-Lee Wang and DH Carlos Tatis.  They could have really used a big bat at 1B, but chose to spend their FA budget on the bullpen.  Still, Doyle Evans is serviceable there.  One other thing in their favor: last year they were very unlucky in scoring runs relative to their overall offensive production.  Expect that to balance out a bit this season. 

Anchored by Vicente Prieto and Sadie Miller, the rotation is solid 1 through 5.  The bullpen, led by closer Kurt Esposito, was otherwise underwhelming, but should be bolstered greatly by the signings of Phelps and Robertson.

Defensively, they were near the top in all the important categories, and no one has aged enough to expect that to fall off much.

Player to Watch:  There were no clear players to expect big improvements from, but several key players such as Lee and Prieto still have room to improve over last year.

Free Agent Signings
RP Rob Phelps, RP Fritz Robertson

Philadelphia Erffdogs
Season 29:  69-93

"Breakthrough" Means:   A winning season.  Philadelphia has been below .500 for 5 straight seasons and that means the fans are getting restless.  Check that.  In Philly, that means they are getting violent.  

To Do That They Have To:  Hope some of the kids are ready to contribute.  This is a very young team that has a nice ceiling but right now is closer to the floor.  While some FAs were signed to plug some holes, management obviously was willing to get by with bargain priced players, so it is all about developing the kids.  

This Team Is Built On:  So far, power hitting and good defense.  There are some good bats in the lineup such as LF Lefty Simon, DH Dario Stults and 1B Scott Barnes, who fell off dramatically last season after a breakthrough year in '28.   Charles Powell is a great fielding power hitting SS who will never threaten for a batting title, but makes a great lower order hitter. Oddly, or perhaps by design, much of the Erffdoggs lineup is made up of very high stamina players, so very few lineup changes should be necessary.

Unfortunately, the pitchers allowed even more homers than the hitters could hit.  The pitching was near the bottom of the AL in most categories.  Perhaps Richmond and Roberts and a year's experience will help.  Among the holdover pitchers, SP Glenn Bako looks to be the staff ace, while Dicky Wang has the best stuff in the pen, despite pitching his way out of the closer's role last year.

Defensively, they are one of the league's better teams.  SS Powell, especially standing out as a future gold glover.

Player to Watch:  Barnes looks poised to bounce back to his better self, and Bako seems the best bet for upside among pitchers.   Also, keep an eye on C Esmerling Tabaka.  He should get promoted at some point this year and add a lot of offense.

Free Agent Signings
RF Benji Almanzar, SP Andy Richmond, RP Rick Roberts

Boise Spuds
akresser                        ***NEW OWNER***
Season 29:  67-95

"Breakthrough" Means:  Approaching .500 this year, but realistically this is the start of a rebuild.

To Do That They Have To:  Upgrade the pitching if the goal is anything other than a rebuild.  Their offense was good, coming in 6th in OPS at .757 and 7th in runs at 771.  They don't have a ton of power, C Carlos Polanco is the  returning home run leader with just 18, as they lost their top 2 home run hitters in FA.  They do however, have good team speed.  1B Corey Drew, SS Alex Duran and 2B Emmanuel Lee can all run, and several other guys such as their FA SS Ozuna are capable of 20+ steals given the playing time.  Their pitching is led by holdovers Christian Nakamura, Vin Gonzalez, James Huang and Padden.  Felipe Gonzalez and Vin Gonzalez led the bullpen last year, but Vin would be of more value starting.  (Strange fact: Boise has 3 pitchers named 'Gonzalez')  Defensively, this was an above average team in all aspects. 

This Team Is Built On:  To be brutally honest, this team is best described as being built to be competitive while they start working on the future of baseball in Boise.

Player to Watch:  Drew is a good bet to bounce back from his big drop in home runs last year, but the most interesting player is Lefty Hubbard, a DH who would make an interesting leadoff hitter

Free Agent Signings
SS Josias Ozuna, SP Lawrence Padden, SP Albert Johnson, SP Albert Gonzalez, SP Vin Castilla

Division Outlook
Kansas City again looks like the team to beat, while  Philadelphia looks like the team most likely to improve.  Vancouver seems like a team that is just treading water and Boise is more likely to regress than move forward.

Expected finish:
Kansas City 101-61
Vancouver 86-76
Philadelphia 80-82
Boise 60-102

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