Tuesday, May 24, 2016

NL North Season 31 Preview

Chicago Orphans
Season 30: 88-74, missed playoffs on a tiebreaker with San Francisco

Season 30 In A Nutshell:  Heartbreak...finished a game back of Buffalo in the winnable North and missed the 2nd Wild Card on a tiebreak with SF. David James led the attack with .273/39/107; after coming over from Vancouver, Kurt Esposito posted a ridiculous 0.51 ERA in 35 innings.

Who's Out?
(FA): 2B Ubaldo Reyes and LF Adrian Hendrickson

Who's In?
(FA) OF Brad O'Connor, SS Steven Parnell, CF Herm Stein, 2B Raul Armas

Season 31 Preview
cretins went early and big for free agent CR-deluxe Herm Stein (4 years, $35MM), likely sending 2nd-year phenom Yoslan Goya to RF and another FA pickup, Brad O'Connor, to LF.  Along with new 2B Raul Armas, they should give the offense (aka David James) a nice lift.  Relievers Yamil Duran (if he can stay healthy - just 21 IP last year), Kurt Esposito (impressive 0.51 ERA after coming over from Vancouver last year) and Peter Sonnanstine (8 wins, 5 saves, 2.41 ERA) headline the pitching staff - they have the middle and late innings locked down.  The question mark is the rotation; Cliff Floyd (14-4, 3.69) has been steady but Corey Booker, Kaz Lee and Damaso Vazquez have all been up and down (they could also all easily have better seasons this year than last).

All-in-all this looks like a better team than last year's model - better offense, a lot more innings from their best RP's, and a decent chance for the unpredictable rotation-holders to improve.  93 wins?

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
"Breakthrough" Means: A deep run in the playoffs. After a long stint of wandering through the wilderness, cretins finally regained the top spot in the division that used to feel like his own reserved parking space.

To Do That They Have To:  Tighten up the defense.  The hitting and pitching were both in the top 5 or 6 in most important categories, and the fielding percentage was about average, but their 74 minus plays easily led the league.

This Team Is Built On:  As befits a team in Wrigley, it is hitters first and foremost.  After 3 seasons of mediocrity, 1B David James regained his MVP caliber bat.  He is supported by C Pribanic who should be a fine top of the order hitter, Adrian Hendrickson who needs to move to a corner OF spot after a wretched season at 2B and CF.  SS Allie Cepeda is another guy whose glove demands a move off of SS, but there is no one else much better.  Rookies to keep an eye on: 3B Michel Fontana and RF Dernell Yearwood.  The Johnson/Goya trade shows that the team still is not as good as it will be.  Pitching-wise, they are led by Yamil DuranShannon RiveraCliff FloydCristian RemlingerCorey Booker and Peter Sonnanstine.

Player to Watch: First baseman James to see if he can be the hitter who posted a 1.071 OPS again or regresses to the season 28 version who had a .767 OPS.  The other player to watch is Goya should he make the show.  His bat would play right now.

Trades traded ML CF Harry Johnson, ML OF Ernest Stynes, ML RP Louie Lee and MiL P Emil Ontiveros  for MiL OF Yoslan Goya and MiL SP Darwin Thornburg
traded Mil RP Wil Gray for ML RP Jayson Faulkner

Free Agent Signings
SP Damaso Vazquez, C Phillip Pribanic

Rochester EliteDucks
Season 30:  79-83

Season 30 In A Nutshell:  A down year for the recent (Seasons 27 and 28) 2-time Champs.  C Eduardo Franco had his usual  .316/36/105, while closer Roger Cook had a sterling 43 saves and 1.42 ERA in 76 innings.  Runs were down by over 150 and the pitching was off, too.

Who's Out?
FA:  OF Torey Cortez, CF Chick Simmons

Who's In?
Fa: OF Alejandro Brito, OF Tim Hewson, SP Rubby Franco

Season 31 Preview
Still some dangerous bats in this lineup - Franco, OF/1B Kelvim Song (.274/25/69 as a vR platooner), 2B Josh Garcia (.261/25/75), and 1B Pedro Ortiz (.286/23/98) - but overall their production slipped badly last year (from 862 runs in Sea 28 and 867 in Sea 29 to 714 last year).  Age creeping up or bad luck?  Maybe some of both...but there's certainly enough talent here for a big rebound.

The rotation has mostly been together for years (ace Dustin McGee arrived in Season 29 and Mark Cromer saw his first real ML action last year)...as a group, it's an up and down group.  Gutierrez, Amezaga, and Shields have posted ERA's mostly in the mid-high 3's throughout their career, and all ballooned into the 4's last year. (Blackley was well over his career mark, too).  Thing is, this wasn't age or injury, it was just bad luck.

It's tempting to say the Ducks are getting old, but I think such talk is premature.  Watch for a big comeback season.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
"Breakthrough" Means:  Retaking the division  and a good playoff run.

To Do That They Have To:  First off overtake Chicago, then hold off Buffalo.

This Team Is Built On:  Another of those great balance teams last year, generally top 3-4 in offense and pitching with a solid D, but a somewhat odd combination of 85 + plays (2nd best to the crazy good NY defense) and 40 - plays (mediocre.)  Offensively, they lost some big bats in FA: Gary PersonLewis Gilk
eyVladimir Henriquez and Wilkin Guerrero.  They still have a lot left though in Pedro OrtizJosh GarciaEduardo Franco and also Yoshinori Kyong, who has the most interesting batting ratings I've ever seen and looks to be very streaky. Newcomer Weinhardt will have a lot of slack to pick up, while SS Maeda is a defensive specialist.  There is not much help in the minors, but 2nd year man Kelvim Song should be in for a lot more playing time to show his massive home run swing (that also has massive holes.)  They do return their entire rotation led by Dustin McGee andIvan Amezaga.  Their bullpen wasn't too good last year, but they do return Parker Walkerwho was the best of the bunch and the addition of Whitehill will help.  So the pitching should be as good or slightly better, The defense looks improved, but the hitting should drop to mid pack.

Player to Watch:  SP Almezaga has much better stuff than his numbers showed last season.

Free Agent SigningsRP Ken Whitehill, 3B Mike Weinhardt, SS Don Maeda, SP J.R. Blackley, SP Ned Shields

Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalobuffalo
Season 30: 89-73, Won Division, lost in first round to San Francisco

Season 30 In A Nutshell:  Always find a way to keep adding young assets (Rymer Merced, Laynce Vogelsong) while still contending.  Paid off last year with a Division Championship.

Who's Out?
FA:  C Wladimir Lorenzo, 

Who's In?
Season 28 IFA Carlos Valdivia is a likely early-season callup

Season 31 Preview
Buffalo's extremely young lineup is dominated by SS/infielder types playing all over the field.  Normally lineups like that are more speedy/contact types, but with guys like Esmailyn Reynoso manning SS, Jair Costilla 2B, and Charlie Moreno CF they're built to bash (especially when Valdivia joins the Big Club).  They could be the NL's top-scoring team this year.

The not-quite-as-young pitching staff is also not quite as impressive, but plenty good.  The Gentry/Megias/Davis/Abreau/Paquette rotation is not expected to dominate - their job is to hold the other team to 3-4-5 runs while their offense bludgeons them into submission. Then the relievers Coste and Dixon come in with a 3-run lead and totally demoralize the other guys for the last 2 innings.  At least, that's the plan, and it works pretty well, pretty often.

They'll be one of NL's up-and-coming teams this year.  The big question is whether the rotation can survive in playoffs against the elite lineups.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
"Breakthrough" Means:  Getting back to winning the division.

To Do That They Have To: Hope that some of the young studs are ready to contribute now and that the younger players already on the roster are ready to step up. 

This Team Is Built On:  Youth sums it up nicely.  Credit cyben with amassing some fine talent while still being very competitive since his first season.  As low as his payroll is, he could have gone hard after some big FAs, but is instead still going with prospect acquisition while still winning.  This team is set up for some serious success for several years to come.  

Their offense is highlighted by 3B Cristobal Morales, sophomore SS Esmailyn Reynoso, 2B Charlie Moreno, 1B D.J. Randall and C John Harper.  Key potential callups are LF Carlos Valdivia and SS Jair Costilla.  The rotation headliners are Sam GentryRobinzon Mejias and Steve Davis.  Relievers Glenn Coste and Dioner Duran are the main guys in the pen.  With only Buddy Wells as immediate help on the horizon, a key FA might have been worth considering here.

Player to Watch:  SS Reynoso just scratched the surface of his capabilities last season.  While his glove would play better at 2B, his bat will be great for a MI.  Both Valdivia and Costilla in AAA will be monsters, but Costilla projects as an even worse fielder than Reynoso, and Valdivia is still just 20.

Pittsburgh Ellis D's
Season 30: 66-96

Season 30 In A Nutshell:  Got a great arm at #2 (Wladimir Mercado), plus a handful of serviceable IFA's...the rebuild moved ahead.

Who's Out?
FA: 5 older guys who didn't sign with anyone this offseason

Who's In?
FA:  C Wladimir Vizcaino, SS Yordano Mota
Promotion:  LF Didi Carrasco (30 ML AB's last year; Sea 28 IFA), SP Rich Thomas (3rd-rounder Sea 28), 

Season 31 Preview
Patience required in Pittsburgh as rigbystarr methodically rebuilds from the jbugg era.  The GM has shown remarkable ability to skirt the MWR with cheap talent found in the depths of the IFA pools.  Examples:  New LF Didi Carrasco was a $2MM bonus guy - not bad at all. Javier Alaracon got a $50K bonus - remarkable for a guy who will become a serviceable ML 3B.  We may get a look at one of their future cornerstones later this year - 1B Danys De La Vega (Sea 28 #13) has been tearing up the minors (1.025 OPS) and could certainly contribute at the ML level now.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
"Breakthrough" Means:  Get over the 70 win mark and start moving to respectability.  This was a dumpster fire of a franchise when rigby took over, and is making strides in that direction.

To Do That They Have To:  Well, there is room for improvement everywhere.  This was statistically a bottom three team in most categories.  Happily, it looks like they have made some smart moves to upgrade several positions while not breaking the bank.

This Team Is Built On:  Treading water until the kids start arriving.  Luckily the first life vest is floating close by.  Dan Keller is a AAA pitcher that may be ready to move up.  If he can crack the ML rotation, he will join Brandon HoytHoracio Moya and FA acquisition Daniels to make a pretty decent top 4, which will likely be the team's strength. Willy Hardy is the most likely bullpen player to be anointed as the closer.  RF J.O. Albuquerque and CF Torey Bournigal are probably the best holdover hittters, but look for Bournigal to be moved out of center to make room for newly acquired Alex Prieto, who was the steal of the Rule V draft.
 Player to Watch:  Prieto is going to be an intriguing player to watch.  If his health holds, his only liability is lack of power.

Free Agent Signings
3B Joe Dipoto, SP Louie Daniels, IF/CF David Chang, C Albert Benitez

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