Thursday, February 25, 2016

NL West Season 30 Preview

The West welcomes 2 new GM's this year - tk21775 and pfontaine - and as a result the level of competition here is going WAY up.  Should be a very action-packed division...the Scottsdale Home Run Derby, some new slick-fielding shortstops, a pair of power-hitter FA's in Salem, a couple of ROY candidates and more.  Read on for all the scoop on what will be one of our most improved divisions...

Scottsdale Cardinals
Season 29: 86-76, won Division, reached NL Play-In & lost to Dover

"Breakthrough" Means:  They've taken the West 3 straight years with 86 wins, and gone out of the playoffs in Round 1 each year.  Their breakthrough is cracking 90 wins and advancing at least to the NLCS.

To Do That They Have To:  Spruce up that pitching staff and its 4.48 ERA (12th).  With their offense (a healthy 854 runs - 3rd), they don't have to trot out Koufax & Drysdale...a moderate improvement would go a long way.  Some could certainly come from Calvin Ratliffe (Sea 25 #11), who looks like the real deal but so far has been a huge disappointment (0-11, 6.31 last year...yikes!).  Rookies Marcos Pressley (Sea 27 #12) and Louis Grim (Sea 24 #41) might offer help.

This Team Is Built On:  Chicks dig the long ball, baby.  The Cards led Hobbs in HR's last year with 272.  50 from "Mr. Breeze" Bubba Gibson (yes, he really had 176K's last year and 208 in Season 27).  41 (and a team-leading 134 RBI) from 2B Rodney Stinnett.  39 from old pro Moises Morales. 39 from young phenom CF Carlos Polonia, who combines rare power for an IF/CF type with perhaps the best batting eye in Hobbs.  He's a little short on durability, but that doesn't matter if, as Parcels used to say, "you get to the toonament". 

And rookies Armando Encarnacion (Sea 26 #17) and Lou Trammel (Sea 28 #22) will only add to the power fiesta.  The Cardinals have decided to go for their breakthrough by outscoring opponents by even bigger margins.  Might work, might not, but it's gonna be fun.

Player to Watch:  3B Dwight Herzog - he's coming off a broken leg that cost him nearly 30 games.  He's been an All-Star and Silver Slugger (CF) in each of his last 3 seasons.  With his apparent move to 3B...and the Gold Gloves that will accompany for Herzog to be a fixture on the MVP ballot for the next 7 years.

Free Agent Signings
C Rob Counsell

RP Marcos Pressley, RP Louis Grim, LF Armando Encarnacion

Salt Lake City Trappers
Season 29:  73-89

"Breakthrough" Means:  After 5 straight seasons of competitive but uninspired 70-something win seasons, a breakthrough would be .500+.

To Do That They Have To:  Do some serious work on their league-worst pitching staff (5.62 ERA...last in NL by far).  While their best pitchers are pretty good (Duffy, Maroth, Piscotty) or at least can have the occasional good season (Treanor), the rest are, well, sub-ML quality.  For example, anyone see any problems with this guy?

This Team Is Built On:  1) 2 young hitters: 3B B.J. Dunwoody, who has swatted 68 bombs in his first 2 seasons; and serious power prospect Trenidad Cruz, who only hit .321/59/165 in AA and AAA last year (and also has a very cool name).  For the moment, Cruz is waiting out the last year of 1B Hector Cortez' contract.

2)  Speed: they will steal a base on you...224 last year to be exact.  The primary thieves are CF Todd Winchester (46) and 2B Angel Cruz (43)

Player to Watch:  Cortez.  He's only 29 and a top hitter (.408 OBP, 38 HR, 134 RBI), but a free agent after this season.  If he's willing to re-sign they could trade him for a good P, promote T Cruz and better the team immensely.   If he's not willing to re-sign...well, not as exciting.  You get something for him as a half-season rental, or he plays out his contract and you take your chances on a Type A comp pick (and probably end up with a 3rd-rounder).

Salem Witch Hunters
tk21775                                  **  NEW OWNER **
Season 29:  69-93

"Breakthrough" Means:  Back in the Glory Days - Seasons 15 and 16 - this franchise won back-to-back World Series titles (under 2 separate GM's).  It's been a rough stretch since but hope is back with a new town and a new GM. tk21775 opened the wallet to bring in new talent...their breakthrough is certainly winning the division.

To Do That They Have To:  Improve where they could, and they did on defense, offense and pitching.  They replaced the comical SS Juan Belliard (77 errors and bad plays) with a pair of competent defenders (Perez and Tejera).  That knocks out a chunk of last year's 83 unearned runs given up.  They added big lumber with Brewington and Person.  And they promoted a couple of promising SP's in Posada and Finley (Finley actually got 21 IP last year but is still a rookie).

This Team Is Built On:  1) Killer righty hitting - in addition to Brewington and Person, the attack features LF Ike Allen (.283/33/119), 1B Miguel Matos (.272/39/101), C Saul Pinzon (.267/26/73) and CF Arthur Bryant (.241/17/72).  3B Tito Cooper (.238/28/88) is the only lefty among the everyday position players.

2) A volume approach to the 4th and 5th starter roles.  Posada, Finley and Happy Blue are probably the 1-3 starters.  Rather than fill out the rest of the staff with 2 starters, a LR or 2 and 4-5 short relievers, tk21775 just went with 8 more SP's (and 1 SR - Ryan Durham). So they're figuring out of 8 guys they're sure to get a couple of hot seasons, and those 2 will complete the rotation.

Player to Watch:  
Posada.  He's not going to be able to give them 220 innings, but he has ace-quality stuff.  If he can go out every 5th game and hold the other guys to 2 runs over 6 innings, they'll have the stabilizing force they've long needed.  **  ROY watch **

Trades traded MiL 1B Nicholas Wilkins for ML SS Bartolo Perez
traded ML 1B Magglio Flores for MiL IF/CF Donald Moore

Free Agent Signings
2B Gary Person, CF/2B Jamey Brewington, SP Jerry Wilhelmsen, SS Pedro Tejera, SP Hugh Roosevelt, SP Trevor Bailey, RP Fausto Fernandez, SP Shooter Ward, SP Bobby Kennedy

SP Yean Carlos Posada (Sea 26 #3), Derrek Finley (Sea 27 #9)

San Francisco Fog
pfontaine                              **  NEW OWNER **
Season 29:  62-100

"Breakthrough" Means:  I think the basic idea here is "compete while rebuilding".

To Do That They Have To:  Fix shortstop: check.  They looked around and found Ismael Mendez in their own system...he'll stop the 55-errors-and-bad-plays neck wound.  Round up some hitters: in progress.  Rookie 1B Harvey Tracy will be an instant ROY contender, and new COF's Kohn and Purcell will be upgrades.  Totally overhaul the pitching staff: in progress.  They made a big investment in 
Chili Baker , spent almost all their FA $$ on pitching, and made a nice trade for Mariano Mendez.

This Team Is Built On:  With as much turnover as they've had, there's just no theme or personality yet.  The one thing you know for sure is they're going to get a lot of production from 1B for the next decade.

Player to Watch:  
Harvey Tracy.  He's not the biggest power hitter among 1B's, but he's going to light up the batting average and OBP leaderboards.  He won't need to take many days off, so I could see 200 hits and .400+ OBP every year.

Trades traded MiL IF Vic Meulens for ML OF Wolf Purcell and MiL RP Aurelio Fernandez
traded MiL IF Cecil White for ML SP Mariano Mendez

Free Agent Signings
SP Laynce Nash, SP Randy Krause, SP Cole Broome, SP Chili Baker, 3B Esteban Nieves, RP Curt Backe

3B Mike Monroe (Sea 25 #26), 1B Harvey Tracy (Sea 25 #2), SS Ismael Mendez (Sea 21 IFA, Sea 25 RuleV), CF Ronnie Wickman (Sea 25 #35), CF Matt Beck (Sea 26 #44), OF Keith Kohn (Sea 26 #27)

Division Outlook
Scottsdale would certainly be the popular pick.  They might hit 300 bombs, and you'd think that would win them 85 if their pitching was the worst in the league (which it won't be).  Salem and San Francisco are going to gain on them...they both made too many improvements (especially at the critical SS position) not to.  I'm going to pick a little upset here...Witch Hunters by a couple of games.

Salem           86-76
Scottsdale    84-78
San Fran       80-82
Salt Lake      65-95

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