Thursday, May 26, 2016

Season 31 AL West Preview

Las Vegas Desperados
Season 30:  96-66, won Division, reached WS and defeated Dover  

Season 30 In A Nutshell: Not quite as dominant, as Itou "only" OPS'd .996 and didn't win the AL MVP (after winning 7 straight).  But they caught fire in the playoffs and rolled to their 2nd straight World Championship.  Lew Ellis was the key addition - 19-6, 3.39 ERA in 218 innings.

Who's Out?
FA:  RP Brian Roberts, RP Vern Stone, 3B Fausto Rivera, RP
Trade:  RP Alex Almanzar

Who's In?
FA: SS Michael Keisler, P Alejandro Sosa, SP Shawn McIntyre
Trade: 3B Ruben Mantalban
Promotion:  SP Glenallen Thomson

Season 31 Preview
Itou the best hitter in Hobbs. Jumbo Sanchez might be #2.  How scary is it that Vegas won the WS last year when both had the worst seasons of their careers?  The Davis/Martinez C platoon and the O'Malley/Beltran DH platoon are both capable of 40 homers, while 2B Pujols and 3B Mantalban will be the on-base/table-setters.  900-950 runs easy.

Mariano Delgado, Ellis and Ruben Maradona form the front 3 of the rotation.  Yes, they're getting a little gray, but they were lights-out in the post-season.  They'll audition a few guys for the #4 and 5 spots, with the rest getting all the long and middle relief work. Right now, Sean Kennedy is the only proven short reliever on the roster (another guy who was money in the post-season).  They won't lead the league in team ERA, but with their lineup they won't have to.  The big question here is whether the 38-yo Delgado and the 40-yo Maradona can hold up for another full season and duplicate last year's playoff heroics.  They'll win the Division handily.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
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 30:  58-104

Season 30 In A Nutshell: It just fell apart, somewhat by design, as the players of the Seasons 20-28 winners got old and/or left in free agency. Nicky Cooke's 159-game, .322/23/93 was a bright spot in a long Summer.

Who's Out?
FA: none- they re-signed their 3 FA's
Rule V:  oops...6 losses, including the first 5 picks

Who's In?
FA: just the 3 re-signees

Season 31 Preview
Those Rule V losses included a #28, a #24, a #29, a DITR, and IFA's who signed for bonuses of $18.1MM and $9.1MM.  "Smalls, you're killin' me here."  Not a star in the bunch, but major-leaguers all.  And better than what they have in the majors.

It was already going to be another rebuilding year, but perhaps one that started things looking up.  They'll be hard-pressed to beat the MWR, although good years from Cooke, DH Marcus Martin, Matt Naulty, Benj Trammel and a few others could get them over.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
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
Season 30:  80-82

Season 30 In A Nutshell:  The Sparkies led early, and put up a surprisingly good fight through midseason before coming back to earth.  Felipe Lee was the pitching standout, going 13-11 with a 3.81 ERA in 215 innings, while Sea 27's #7 overall, OF Greg Ward, showed he was ready for primetime with a .265/20/47 line in 309 AB's.

Who's Out?
FA:  OF Tom Burnett, P Greg Jacquez, OF Gary Dailey
Trade: IF Dave Bush

Who's In?
Trade:  RP Rob Phelps
FA:  RP Micah Clevinger, RP Curt Backe, RP Hector Aquino

Season 31 Preview
Like last year, the Sparkies should be competitive, but not contending, while they rebuild. And some of the rebuilding blocks have started arriving: SP Mark Cloud (Sea 26 #5) posted a decent 6-10, 4.18 ERA in his rookie season; and LF Greg Ward (Sea 27 #7) popped 20 HR's in 300 AB's in his first ML action.  Vic Guerrieri (Sea 28 #4) could help this year, but might be better off with another year at AAA.  And there are more prospects in the pipeline.

Some year, Vegas will get old and fall apart (not this year).  When they do, Santa Cruz is the team best-positioned (at least right now) to take over in the AL West.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
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 for
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 30:  62-100

Season 30 In A Nutshell:  Another team facing a rebuild after a steady decline from their Season 26 peak (95 wins).  RF Joe Wilk continued his amazing power display with 42 homers (30 on the road); 29-yo DH Afredo Ozuna (out of the Majors for the previous 2 seasons) might have been even more amazing, leading the team with 18 home dingers (and 40 overall).

Who's Out?
FA:  OF Tex  Guerrero, CF Luis Hernandez
Released:  2B Oscar Wilkerson

Who's In?
FA:  OF Jorge Lunar, CF Hanley Chase

Season 31 Preview
The Sharks set a new (at least recently, maybe all-time) low for offensive futility last season, hitting .225 as a team and scoring 541 runs.  So, they had some lineup-rebuilding to do this offseason, and they get a decent grade.  Jorge Lunar may prove to be one of this year's best FA signings - he provides a complimentary lefty power bat to Wilk.  Young C Moe Morgan adds a bit more lefty pop, and new CF Hanley Chase could add 15-20 HR's (just don't expect much in the on-base department).

When you look at San Diego's pitching, you have to look at their away stats to get a decent picture - 4.18 ERA last year, 6th in the league (3.78 at home).  Not bad, so their decision to re-sign most of their FA pitchers looks good.  It's a decidedly non-glamorous group - Bernie Gonzalez (11-16, 2.93), Eli Izquierdo (11-14, 3.56), Alex Harrelson (6-18, 3.67) et al - but if they scored some more runs behind these guys those W-L records could get a lot better.

Nobody's going to threaten Vegas in the West this year, but I think this team will be the most improved in the division.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
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

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