Thursday, June 9, 2016

Season 31 AL South Preview

Jackson Mudslide
Season 30: 86-76, WIld Card, lost in Round 1 to Las Vegas

Season 30 In A Nutshell:   Gave up a few more runs (50), scored a few less (40), which added up to 9 fewer wins, but still a Wild Card trip.

Who's Out?
FA:  OF Brad O'Connor and SP Quilvio Castro

Who's In?
Promoted: P Mike Bailey, RP Jason Mitchell, RP Jesus Nieto

Season 31 Preview
The Mudslide needs some resurgent seasons from "seasoned" vets to get back into the Division hunt.  1B Yonder Rosado needs to reach back a few seasons and come up with one more .800+ OPS; same for 3B J.D. Hardy and LF Michael Palmer.  2B Lou Clancy and RF Gary Person are still in their prime years and have started well - a hopeful sign. The pitching will probably go however their Big 3 starters (Springer, Mays and Ethier) go; 2nd year man John Punto also looks promising but is probably best-suited for long/middle relief.  When the game's on the line late they go most often to Alfredo Butler - he's had a rough couple years but is certainly capable of a comeback at age 35.

Jackson needs to have a lot of things go right to compete in the South, or may be even to compete in the Wild Card.  "Old" teams usually compete better than they seems like they should on paper, so I'm going to pick Jackson for a Wild Card.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
"Breakthrough" Means:  Finding a way to beat the Desperados in the playoffs.  They've won the Division 4 straight years, and lost to Vegas in the 2nd round in 3 of those (lost to Vancouver in Round 2 the other time).  With 97 wins last year, they're knocking on the door of becoming an elite team.

To Do That They Have To:  1) Get on base better - even though they hit more HR's last year than in Sea 28, their OBP was 20 points lower - and they scored 100 fewer runs.  New LF Palmer and new co-catcher Julio will help. 

2) Find another SP and another RP (maybe on staff, maybe elsewhere) who they can count on to shut down a potent offense (easier said than done against LV, I know).  As good as their pitching was last year (3.68 ERA, 3rd), Springer (11-10, 2.27) was the only "lock-down".  

Maybe Ethier (12-8, 3.42) emerges, maybe Baek becomes a dominant closer, and maybe they swing a blockbuster deadline trade.

This Team Is Built On:  1) Power at all 9 positions - yep, they had 9 players hit 20+ HR's last year, and 7 (C Ward, 2B Clancy, DH Valenzuela, 1B Rosado, SS Ross, CF Hull, 3B Hardy) are back; 

2)  Deep pitching staff - they spread the innings around (nobody had 200 IP) - but they still need to get their 180 from Springer.

Player to Watch:  New LF Palmer.  If he gets on base at his career .360 rate, the offense will party like it's Season 28 (891 runs) again.

Free Agent Signings:
OF Michael Palmer, RP Zeus Quinn, RP Kazuhiro Jiang, C Alejandro Valenzuela, C Orlando Julio

New Orleans Big Test Icicles
Season 30:  103-59, won Division, lost to Las Vegas in Round 2

Season 30 In A Nutshell:  Rode Sam Stock's record-setting (1.67 ERA) rookie year to a big improvement in pitching and a Division title, but couldn't hold down Las Vegas in the playoffs.

Who's Out?
FA:  P Javier Beltre, P Brian Verlander, P Allen Harvey
Released:  2B/CF Davey Wise
Traded:  RP Andrew Lane, IF Raul Machi

Who's In?
Trade:  CF Miguel Frieri
P Bryan Iorg, P Brian Roberts

Season 31 Preview
Last year's offense was pretty good with 853 runs, and could be better with full seasons from Hector Cruz (deadline trade), Ismael Vidal (deadline trade) and Harry Johnson (early-season injury.  It's a pretty basic get-on-base (.348 - 2nd) and hit HR's (252 - 2nd) attack that can defeat pitching matchups with as many as 6 lefties or 7 righties in the lineup.  Johnson (23) and 2nd-year 2B Dante Kawasaki (22) can run, but steals are not a strategic weapon in the arsenal.

Unlike Huntington's unusual pitching alignment (which runs everything around their 2 big starters), N.O.'s approach is totally relief-centric.  The idea is to get 40 pitches out of the best SP matchup, then bring on Stock, Wilkerson, Duran, Lee et al.  Better seasons from Duran (3.67 ERA) and Lee (4.80) wold go a long way toward making this deal work, although it was pretty good last season.  The solid defense is anchored by Gold Glove SS Dave Leonard.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
"Breakthrough" Means:  Last year's playoff run was a fluke - the real breakthrough is overtaking Jackson for the Division.

To Do That They Have To:  Pitch a lot better - their 4.59 ERA won't cut it.  They experimented with a relief-dominant staff last year - it worked a lot better in the playoffs - and seem set to implement it full-time this year.  

They've rebooted with Ramiro Lira on the front end, Louie Lee on the back end, and certainly expect better than a 5.46 ERA from Aurelio Duran.

This Team Is Built On:  1) Relief pitching: LeeDuranAlbert GonzalezBenny MarquezJeremi Wilkerson

2)  Getting on base - they'll rely on 1-2-3 hitters KawasakiJohnsonGreen to reach base like dead Chicago voters - early and often.

Player to Watch:  Sam Stock will get the Game 20 call-up; they'll need him to erase a couple of middle innings most nights for this deal to work.

traded ML SS Bartolo Perez for MiL 1B Nicholas Wilkins
traded ML IF/CF Bobby Michaels for ML SP Ramiro Lira
traded MiL SS Derek Cammack for ML DH Vicente Rodriguez + $4.5MM
traded MiL OF Yoslan Goya and MiL SP Darwin Thornburg for ML CF Harry Johnson, ML OF Ernest Stynes, ML RP Louie Lee and MiL P Emil Ontiveros
traded ML CF Ezequiel Neruda for MiL IF/CF Matt Hunter
traded ML SP Ramiro Lira for ML RP Wil Gray and ML SP Oswaldo Beltre

Free Agent Signings
SP Brian Verlander, SP Vasco Gonzalez

Nashville Bootleggers
Season 30:  71-91

Season 30 In A Nutshell:  Surprise down year for Season 29's 88 game-winners.  Scoring was actually up (772 to 789), but the pitching/defense exploded (724 runs allowed in Season 29 to 864 last year...56 unearned).

Who's Out?
FA:  Some FA defections by some mid-30's (age) guys...Ezdra Olivares probably the only one that mattered
Traded:  RP Jerry Ball, 2B/CF Tarrik Stockton

Who's In?
FA:  Although he hasn't started well, I think SP Jayson Haywood will prove to be one of this year's better FA signings
Trade:  3B Oswaldo Alberro
Promoted: C Torey Vazquez

Season 31 Preview
The most unpredictable team in Hobbs.  I can't tell if they're due for another down year or an up year, but everything suggests it won't be the same as last year.  If there's such a thing as a $12MM free-agent bargain, Haywood is it.  He's started miserably (4 losses and an 8.28 ERA in 5 starts) but will turn it around.  Even with Haywood's struggles, the staff is showing a huge improvement over last year - Vern Buckley has started 2-1, 2.35, Yamil Ozuna has yet to allow an earned run, and the rest of the bullpen is (so far) covering for some ragged starting pitching.  The offense has been scoring 5 runs a game and I think could get better...3B Jim Salazar (.444), 2B Dude Malloy (.329/2/9) and 1B Jamie Osborne (.323/2/13) have led the attack in the early going.

With the talent on this team, it's hard to see another down year.  I say Haywood finds his stuff soon and the Bootleggers end up battling for a Wild Card.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
"Breakthrough" Means:  After 5 straight Division Crowns (Seasons 21-25)  they retooled for only 1 year, then improved by 12 and 19 wins the next 2 seasons, getting back to the playoffs last year.  Breakthrough is nothing less than winning the Division.

To Do That They Have To:  Tighten up that defense.  107 errors was 5th-most in the AL, and their "net + 5 plays" (45/40 +/-) was way down the list.  That put pressure on a good (772 runs - 6th) offense and a pitching staff that was decent (4.15) ERA but certainly didn't need the extra baserunners.  

Thing is, I'm not sure how they'd do it.  3B Jim Salazar had 20 errors, but also contributed 19 HR's (and only had 2 bad plays).  2B Dude Malloy had 16 errors, but that was by far the most he's ever committed in a pro season.  1B Jamie Osborne (.305/32/98) and LF Eswalin Sanches (.288/33/103) each had 7 bad plays, but that seems a small price to pay for the offense they generate.  

They might have to live with the defense they have.

This Team Is Built On:  A little of everything except walks (16th in AL) and defense.  

They hit the long ball (Sanches 33, Osborne 32, Hillenbrand hit 42 total for 2 teams), they run a little (SS Paniagua 32 SB's, 2B Malloy 23  SB's), they have a dominant #1 SP (Nelson Jordan - 19-9, 3.22) and a shutdown closer (Wilkin Rios - 30-of-31 in save opportunities).

Player to Watch:  LF Kevin Hillenbrand OPS'd 1.032 in 43 games after coming over in a trade from Cheyenne; if he can keep it up he'll make the MVP Ballot.

Free Agent Signings
RP John Reed

Louisville Hot Brown
Season 30:  82-80

Season 30 In A Nutshell: Stayed very competitive while starting a rebuild.  Young SP Andre Counsel and OF Charles Forrest led the way.

Who's Out?
FA:  OF Terry Sears, RP Tony Escobar, SP Bryan Iorg
Released:  P Herm Kapler
Traded:  C Rickey Long, OF Alex Diaz

Who's In?
OF Esteban Romano, SS Olmedo Tapies, 1B Damaso Sierra, 3B Jo-Jo Harding

Promoted:  C Jeff Travieso, 1B Santiago Cortes, 2B Takashi Jang, OF Vinny Howard
Season 31 Preview
Looks like the Hot Brown have committed fully to the youth movement.  They shipped out 2 of last year's top 3 hitters (OF Terry Sears and C Rickey Long) and seem to be going for the "All-or-Nothing" Strategy (low-contact, big power guys like 1B's Cortes and Sierra, 3B Harding, and DH Armstrong).  4 of their 5 SP's are 25 or under, and lefties Counsel and Willy Osoria look like they'll be long-term keepers...26-yo Anthony Paulino will be a bullpen stopper.

There's enough talent here to give Louisville fans hope for now, but the focus is a little down the road.  Outside shot at a Wild Card.

Last Year's Preview:______________________________________________________________
"Breakthrough" Means:  With 5 straight seasons with 60-something wins and 3 division-mates at 88+ last year, the TIGERS are in danger of being irrelevant. They need to jump up into the 80-something win range and challenge somebody for 2nd or 3rd.

To Do That They Have To:  Figure out how to upgrade a bunch of positions at once without breaking the bank.  Don't know if they managed a bunch this year, but they're accelerating. 

3B Charles Forrest (.265/32/79) is nice offensive improvement over Matt Brown (.248/22/68); he won't win a Gold Glove but won't be the defensive disaster Brown was (38 errors and bad plays in 123 games started).  

Season 27's first-rounder, SP Andre Counsel, got his feet wet last year and should improve.  Ratings-wise, he looks a lot like last year's breakout rookie, Wily Osoria (7-6, 2.92 in 132 P) - let's hope his stats start to look like Wily's.  

FA Barry Tobin may actually complete the formation of a late-inning trio (with Paulino - 3 wins, 5 saves, 2.98 and Sinclair - 5 wins, 28 saves, 3.62) that can win some games for them.

This Team Is Built On:  Hard to say...they really haven't forged a personality yet.  If Osoria  can continue his success and Counsel can start hitting his potential, maybe they'll be the "Attack Of The Killer Lefties" (just checking to see if anyone here is old enough to get the reference to "Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes").

Player to Watch:  Counsel's the most interesting player, but the key guy may be Brian Iorg.  He's been throwing 200 innings (pretty effectively) every year on bad teams, but has good enough stuff to pop out a very good year.

Free Agent Signings
RP Barry Tobin, 3B Charles Forest, SP Elmer O'Brien

SP Andre Counsel (Sea 27 #4)

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