Saturday, February 27, 2016

AL West Season 30 Preview

Welcome to the Not-So-Wild, Wild West, where Las Vegas has dominated for a decade. They're clearly the class of this division, which leaves few questions.  The most pressing: can Vegas repeat?

Las Vegas Desperados
Season 29: 101-61, won Division, reached WS and defeated Dover:  WORLD CHAMP

"Breakthrough" Means:  Hmmm, 10 straight AL West titles, 2 World Championships in that stretch...I think they're well beyond breakthrough, although 2 straight World Series wins would be a big deal.

To Do That They Have To:  Keep doing what they're doing, which is scoring 100 more runs than any other AL team.  Better pitching wouldn't hurt, although their mid-pack 4.09 ERA was plenty good enough.  Their biggest offseason move was a $60 million commitment to SP Lew Ellis, now a year removed from a devastating shoulder injury.  Ellis had a monster year (14-8, 2.86) as recently as Season 27...if he can return to anything like that form, watch out, AL.

This Team Is Built On:  Jin-Chi Itou and his sidekicks-who-would-be-the-best-players-on-most-teams, Jumbo Sanchez and 1B Dayan Franco.  Itou just won his 7th straight MVP, Sanchez has a career OBP of .409, and Franco hit .299/39/188 as a sophomore.  Totally overshadowed: a pair of DH's (Robinzon Beltran and Fred O'Malley) who both hit over .310 and combined for 46 HR and 130 RBI (OK, O'Malley caught 122 innings and Beltran daydreamed in RF for 100).

Player to Watch: Itou, of course, en route to his 8th MVP.

Free Agent Signings
RP Brian Roberts, SP Lew Ellis, SP Ruben Mardona, RP Tony Escobar, RP Vern Stone, RP Einar Mercedes, SP Ruben Maradona

Cheyenne Huckleberries
Season 29:  81-81

"Breakthrough" Means:  speeding up the "Up" parts of their up-down cycles.  The 'Berries won 102 games in Season 25, then dropped to 88 and 77.  Then they bounced to 99 in Season 28 and lapsed back to 81 last year.  One down year followed by a 99-102 win year wouldn't be a bad pattern at all.

To Do That They Have To:  Keep taking walks and improve the pitching.  Of their 4 best pitchers last year, they re-signed Naulty and Trammel, but Martin and Rivera moved on. FA signees Carlos Guerrero (7.40 career ERA) and Paulie Stone (5.28 career ERA) will have to be better than they've been in the past to make a difference.  Could it happen?  Yes. Odds? 15%.

I wish I could say rookie Juan Marichal resembled his real-life namesake, skills-wise, but it's not the case.  Season 27's #1 pick, Polin Araujo (#28 overall) might be the best bet to help the pitching, but he may spend the year in AAA.

This Team Is Built On:  Sharp batting eyes.  They led the league with 600 walks last year, an impressive total in this era of waning offenses.  They're pretty good up and down the lineup, but DH Marcus Martin is their foremost free pass generator (92).  AAA RF Jose Tavarez might get the call this year...he could add some power to the mix.

Player to Watch:  Keep an eye on the 2 AAA prospects, Araujo and Tavarez.  If Vegas sprints out to a big early lead (a distinct possibility), Cheyenne may sell off some vets and open up playing time for them.

Free Agent Signings
SS Orlando Gil, SP Carlos Guerrero, SP Paulie Stone, CF Kareem Valdivia, RP Benj Trammel

SP Juan Marichal, SP Albert Macias

Santa Cruz Sparkies
panolo                                 **  NEW OWNER **
Season 29:  76-86

"Breakthrough" Means:  OK, since most of their trades were major leaguers for minor leaguers, I'm assuming there's some form of rebuild going here.  So I'm saying "breakthrough" for them is collecting enough minor-league talent to pose some kind of threat next year, while still winning 70 this year.

To Do That They Have To:  Keep moving minor-league pieces around...they have a lot of minor-league talent but no real stars.  They spent high picks on Greg Ward (Sea 27 #7) and Vic Guerrieri (Sea 28 #4) hoping to land the CF of the future, but both look like COF's at this point...Ward a low BA, high-walks, power hitter and Guerrieri kind of a moderate power/speed combo.  They can assemble a good team from their farm system but need to make a trade or 2 for a star, or alternately add a star via FA.  

This Team Is Built On:  We'll know in 30 games.  The power-deficient lineup was decent last year and returns mostly intact.  RF Kenny Wolf (.254/29/88) and 3B Willie Martin (.241/34/92) will go deep occasionally, but from there it's mostly dink-and-dunkers.  They traded away 2 of last year's SP's and their best reliever...they'll try to fill those gaps with Kevin HongAndrew Merrick and 
Rafael Posada.

Player to Watch:  I'm going with their AAA prospect Greg Ward.  He's their best bet to make a splash both this season and down the road.

Trades traded ML SP Don Bagley for MiL 2B Willie Ramirez and MiL OF Calvin Nixon
traded ML SP Shawn McIntyre for  MiL IF Bucky Witt and MiL OF Alexei Megias  
traded ML OF Wolf Purcell and MiL RP Aurelio Fernandez for MiL IF Vic Meulens
traded ML RP Fausto Rodriguez for MiL C Ken Jay, MiL 2B Steve Moses, and ML SP Kevin Hong

Free Agent Signings
RP Rafael Posada, SP Andrew Merrick

SS Andrew Holmes, IF Josh Gomes,

San Diego Surf Sharks
Season 29:  72-90

"Breakthrough" Means:  Getting into the wild-card chase.  They've been there a few times, most recently in the big 95-win Season 26 (bad luck that year - Vancouver and Boise both won 99 to take the wild-cards).

To Do That They Have To:  Do something to score a few more runs and help out their AL 2nd-best pitching staff (3.56 ERA).  OK, the ballpark helps the staff, but they still had a 3.88 ERA on the road (5th), and their lineup still had the league's worst road OPS. RF Joe Wilk has been a bit of a miracle (91 HRs) in his first 2 years...he absolutely MUST keep up the pace.  DH Alfredo Ozuna - their only addition to the lineup - has been a decent major-league hitter (.836 OPS) but has been in AAA the last 2 seasons.

This Team Is Built On:  Pitching, pitching, pitching.  Starters (Luther Roosevelt - 2.95 ERA in 205 IP, Bernie Gonzalez - 3.47 ERA in 228 IP), relievers (Sal Creek - 6 wins, 4 saves, 1.95 ERA, Talmadge Dillard - 3 wins, 2 saves, 3.01 ERA), you name it.  Yes, park-aided but plenty good enough to win if they can find some more runs.

Player to Watch:  Wilk, and not only because he's the only position player worth watching (utilityman Russ Dye's .714 OPS in 174 AB's was the only other one on the team over .700...yow).  His .870 OPS is his first 2 seasons is pretty wondrous in Petco.

Free Agent Signings
SP Elmer Craig, RP Lance Jay, DH Alfredo Ozuna

Divison Outlook

11th straight division title for Vegas...the only real betting is the over/under on a 20-game margin again.  Or maybe who comes in second.

Las Vegas       105-57
Santa Cruz       78-84
Cheyenne         77-85
San Diego        70-92

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