AL South Preview (season 32)
New Orleans Big Test Icicles
Season 31 in a nutshell: So what happens when you have the world's best offense, best pitching and a very good defense? That's right, you win 115 games, go the the World Series and.....lose.
Who's out? Wil Gray RP, Tomas Adames RP and Matt Hunter 2B.
Who's in? Melvin Chang RP, Zoltan Keppinger C, Virgil Torres SS and Rich Kohn SS.
Season 32: Lets start with the pitching, Blanch uses one of the more unusual theories that you will ever see. The starters are just there to get through 3 innings or so, then hand it off to the amazing bullpen, headed by Sam Stock, who is just stupid-good. Newcomer Chang will fit right in with this group, Jeremi Wilkerson and Albert Gonzalez would be considered incredibly successful if they didn't toil in the shadow of Stock.
The offense is just as good and with the addition of Keppinger's 50 homers and Kohn's all around good hitting, should be even better. Other stars held over are Superstar in Waiting Nick Green, 2B Dante Kawasaki, perenial 50 home run threat Tony Mullen, Cf Miguel Frieri and 1B Hector Cortez. These guys hit the long ball and just flat out hit.
So now, the really bad news for everyone else in the AL South: the core of this team is still very young and very cheap. While I am tempted to say they will win even more games this year, but 115 is a number that is very tough to beat. Look for them to at least approach that.
Season 31 in a nutshell: 87 wins, good for second place and a Wild Card.
Who's out? Vern Buckley SP, Yamil Ozuna RP, Kevin Hillenbrand 1B, Storm Mays CF
Who's In? Peter Sonnanstine RP, Geronimo Rosario LF, William Chang LF
Season 32: The rotation is anchored by Jason Haywood, who rebounded from a terrible start to post a pretty good season. He is joined by Nelson Jordan, Trevor Tanner, Thomas Kingman and Benny Rosario who some how manages to be a decent pitcher despite really struggling against righties. Taking a page from the New Orleans playbook, Nashville has really stocked up on relievers. Sonnanstine joins an already deep pen featuring Felipe Garza, Chad Reid, Pablo Mendez, Happy Brock and Wilkin Rios.
The offense is a collection of decent to good hitters, with no real stars. 3B Oswaldo Alberro and C David Simmons had probably the best seasons last year and are supported by RF Bert Thompson, DH Eswalin Sanchez and a couple of intriguing rookies in Rosario and Chang.
This looks like a carbon copy of last season, as Nashville and Jackson battle for second and a possible wild card. Look for Nashville to again edge out the Mudslide.
Season 31 in a nutshell: 84 wins and a third place finish,falling out of the playoffs after 5 seasons of post season play.
Who's out? Dillon Mays SP, Les Haynes RP, Michael Palmer LF, Orlando Julio C, Yonder Rosado 1B
Who's in? Al Troncoso RP, Jackie Blackwell RF and Kevin Hillenbrand 1B
Season 32: One of the AL's better offensive teams just got a little better. Newcomers Hillenbrand and Blackwell are upgrades from Rosado and Palmer. They should go well with Chick Ross SS, Gary Person RF, GG Dillon Hull at CF and Buck Ward C. LF Edward Bianchi looks poised to take over in left field.
The outlook for the pitching is murkier. Troncoso is a nice addition to the pen to go with Alfredo Butler and Hong-Jin Baek. Sammy Ethier was brought back to fill the rotation. Possibly the best SP would be young John Punto if he is able to make the step up from the bullpen. Right now he is a better option than Trever Springer, who at 39, no longer has the stamina to be more than a spot starter. Andres Santiago has been pretty successful despite control issues.
So how do they shape up for this year? They made some upgrades, but this is an aging team. I think .500 sounds about right.
Louisville Hot Brown
Season 31 in a nutshell: Last place with 69 wins. This has been one possibly the most futile team in Hobbs history, with only two playoff appearances and no division titles. Here is hoping that medeiran is the guy to finally bring this franchise some success.
Who's out? Esteban Romero RF, Yeico Ortiz RP, Jerome Donahue SP, Rich Sinclair RP, Olmedo Tapies SS
Who's in? Ajax Williams LF, William Mather SP, Esteban Romano RF, Nate Lary RP
Season 32: Look for more of the same this year. Retooling for the future looks to be the order of the day in Louisville. The FAs brought in are mostly stopgaps, although Williams looks like an intriguing platoon LF. The bright spots offensively are mostly found in the IF. Charles Forrest is still a power bat at age 36, and youth rules the rest of it. Julio Mercado and Pablo Valbuena are 2 of the better young players at 2B and 3B, while Kazuhiro Lui is a great fielder at SS. Hopefully, rookie C Paul Kent can hit enough to move star hitter Raul Villa to being primarily a DH. The pitchers will thank him.
Speaking of pitching, well....it would be kinder not to. The rotation has some decent arms with Mather joining Oswaldo Sardinhia, George Hernandez and Wily Osoria. The pen is sort of the anti-Test Icicles. Barry Tobin is the best of a bad lot.