Sunday, November 27, 2016

Season 33 AL North Preview

Kansas  City Jayhawks
Season 32: 87-75; Wild Card; lost to Philadelphia in Round 1

Season 32 In A Nutshell

The Jayhawks saw a 14-game improvement in the first year of their rebuild as the offense pounded 32 more homeruns than in S31, and a prolific bullpen turned in a stellar effort in support of a makeshift starting rotation. The pen came within 100 innings of matching the 771 logged by the five starters, and the relief corps’ 3.53 ERA was nearly a full run less. That effort was the primary reason the Jayhawks were able to reduce their staff ERA from 4.88 in S31 to 4.08, which ranked ninth overall in the league.   

Season 33 Preview

Starting pitching could be the Jayhawks’ Achilles heel this year. Kansas returns just two starters – aging veteran Tomas Estrada (141 IP, 4.52) and staff ace Khalil McKenry (188, 3.74). The most likely rotation addition is 24-year-old Pascual Cordero, who started 28 games in S31 in AAA and was a spot starter last season. Long relievers Ernest Carey and free agency pickup Trever Springer, at 40, are rotation candidates as both are former starters.

The uncertainty surrounding the starting rotation once again puts a heavy burden on the bullpen. The four best performers of last season return – Carey (130, 2.28), Myron Perez (99, 3.26), Hipolito Alvarado (96, 2.92), and Andrew Lane (35, 2.60). Free agency pickups Alex Gabriel (101, 4.71 for Montreal) and Lou Donald (93, 4.55 for Salem), and young Quinn Bishop (61, 2.95 in AAA) are solid additions.

The Jayhawks season could hinge entirely on their offense. Last season’s improved lineup lost just one starter – 3B Wilkin Guerrero. He’ll be replaced by Beamer Summers, who hit .298 with 13 HRs in AAA.

But the real stars are veterans Julio Villafuerte and Hugh Pierre. They combined for 79 of the Jayhawks 189 homeruns last year. Outfielders Fernando Bonilla (.286) and Matt Buddie (.297) are the table setters for the power hitters, which also include 1B Gary Torres and 2B Miguel Ramirez, both with 16, and C Jackson Parris with 14.

The first year of dakar’s rebuild was certainly a success, but the Jayhawks could be hard pressed to better the 87-win season of a year ago without a more stable pitching rotation.

Burlington Bodacious
Season 32: 71-91

Season 32 In A Nutshell

The former Vancouver Voodoo made some progress in the second year of a rebuild, improving their overall win total by 10 games. Free agent additions Carlos Tavarez (7-11, 4.67) and Rob Morton bolstered the starting rotation, and the offense benefitted from the additions of free agents Storm Mays (.264, 19 HRs), Peter Brumbaugh (.247, 16) and Quinton Schneider (.248, 5). The most noticeable improvement was speed on the bases. Mays and Schneider combined for 68 SB between them, which was more than the entire team had in S31.

Season 33 Preview

The rebuilding of the franchise becomes a wholesale makeover under downboy, who moved the team to Burlington. Gone are seven of the team’s starters in the field, including all of last year’s free agent signees. The only holdovers are 2B Birdie Green (.254, 18 HRs) and rising star DH Alcides Santana (.291, 19).

Instead of dipping into the free agent market for help, the Bodacious turned to the Rule 5 draft to pick up four position players and a reliever, several of whom could be pressed into duty. The best of the group are 24-year-old catcher Dick Decker and 23-year-old LF Buzz Bunning.

Bodacious fans will need a scorecard to figure out who is playing in the field. All eight positions are up for grabs, including 2B where Green has been a staple. But the bat of Stan Magadan (.299, 30 HR in AAA) could power him into the lineup.  

Reserves Hideki Uchida (270, 9 HR in 293 AB), SS Enrique Lugo (.234, 3 in 209 AB), and 1B Peter Wall (.271, 5 in 133 AB) have some experience, and perhaps have inside shots at starting spots. SS George Sinclair (.276, 8 HR in AAA), like Lugo, is a defensive specialist who could be pressed into duty.

The starting rotation will feature 22-year-old ace Aroldis Urbina (209 IP, 5.17), veteran Johnny Montgomery (193, 5.31) and Tavarez returns for the second year of his four-year deal. Ruben Martinez (186, 3.04 in AAA) got a late-season taste of the bigs last season and was impressive enough in his three starts to nail down a rotation spot.

The bullpen will bank heavily on the experience of 36-year-old ace Alvin Timlin (71, 2.92), Dillon Donatello (58, 2.17), Henderson Farrell (49, 5.84) and free agent pickup Pete Allen (49, 6.84) in the early season as AAA promotions Alex Daniels, Gustavo Mercedes and Trey Reid learn the ropes.

The breadth of inexperience that will mark the lineup and rotation could be too much of a stumbling block for the Bodacious to overcome this season, and will likely negate the hard earned 10-win improvement of S32.

Philadelphia Erffdogswholck
Season 32: 95-67; Won Division; lost in Second Round to Huntington        

Season 32 In A Nutshell

The Erffdogs scrapped out a second straight division title in S32, led by an improved starting rotation and a stingy bullpen. Three of Philadelphia’s starters trimmed their ERAs significantly from the prior year, led by Doug Holt, whose ERA dropped nearly a full point (from 4.58 in S31 to 3.65). Both Glenn Bako (4.30 compared to 5.11) and Alex Quixote (3.49 compared to 4.28) saw their ERAs improve dramatically as well. Those performances, combined with a bullpen with a collective ERA of about 3.75 and an offense that virtually matched the division-winning output of S31, were enough to add 11 games to the Erffdogs overall record – good enough to catapult Philadelphia past division arch rival Kansas City for the second season in a row.

Season 33 Preview

Three offseason moves and a promotion should shore up both the offense and the pitching as the Erffdogs attempt to defend their division title.

Philadelphia countered the loss of 3B Alan Hill to free agency by trading for Lou Clancy (.255, 15 HR), and then bolstered their lineup with the addition of free agent SS Tom Padden (.258, 14). Both will complement an offense that ranked eighth overall in S32 with a .281 batting average. Leading that offensive charge were 1B Yamil Ibanez (.319, 31), LF Lefty Simon (.317, 20), CF Gene Cummings (.279, 22) and DH Dario Stults (.287, 46) – all of them less than 28 years old.

The Erffdogs will turn over the No. 5 rotation spot to 22-year-old Cesar Benavente (170 IP, 3.24), and long reliever Norberto Lecuona (82, 3.64 for Texas) is a nice replacement for Brian Wang, who was lost to free agency.

Aging veteran Rick Roberts (89, 3.54) returns to anchor the bullpen. He’ll get plenty of help from youngsters Che-Hsuan Woo (71, 3.15), Yordano Valdes (64, 1.97), and Dorian Tatum (23, 1.19), and the team is counting on improvement from 25-year-old setup man Yonder Samuel (44, 7.11) in his sophomore season.

Montreal Shamrocks
Season 32:  64-98

Season 32 In A Nutshell

The dead-last finish in the division was little consolation for the Shamrocks, but by almost all measures the season was a huge improvement. The Shamrocks were 15 games better in the win column last year, thanks to an aggressive effort to add some punch to the offense with free agent additions Trace Federowicz (.270, 24 HRs), Terrell Young (.265, 22), Terry Sears (.278, 23) and Del Camacho (.255, 16). It worked as Montreal improved its overall team batting average, scored 59 more runs, collected 63 more hits, 44 more walks, and stole 14 more bases.

Season 33 Preview

The transition continues for jmercer’s team. A late season 32 trade shipped starting catcher Camacho to Huntington for SP Aramis Romo. Starters SS Alex Duran and 3B Chi-Chi Figureoa were involved in preseason trades. And S32 starting RF Al Ethier has left via free agency.

That leaves four openings in an offense that will be anchored by Federowicz, Young, Sears, 1B Victor Ramirez (.279, 22) and DH Roosevelt Vettleson (.264, 12).

Reserves Carlos Polanco, 31, catcher; RF Fautino Mercedes, 3B Josh Gates, and light-hitting SS Yorvit Polanco are the best bets to fill those positions.

The starting rotation has three S32 returnees – ace Vin Gonzalez (197 IP, 4.56), Kevin Richards (184, 5.68) and trade addition Romo (112, 5.54). Four starters were lost to free agency, forcing jmercer to turn to the waiver wire to try to plug the remaining three openings. Former Louisville starter Juan Marichal (146, 5.23) will fill one of those spots, and former Salem AAA prospect J.R. George will be given a shot as well.

Last season’s glaring weakness for the Shamrocks was the bullpen. Seven of the eight relievers who logged more than 40 IP in S32 had ERAs higher than 5.00, and three gave up earned runs at a clip besting 7.00. Six of those eight are gone, but at the time of this report only one of those open slots looked to be filled – former Charlotte setup Pinky Leiber (101, 5.52) was claimed off waivers.

With a MLB roster numbering only 20 players at the half-way point of spring training, jmercer has some work to do to shore up the weaknesses of his team. The offense could sputter some early as Polanco, Mercedes, Gates and Ortiz settle into full-time roles. But the real worries for the Shamrocks will be the lack of pitching depth both in the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Division Outlook

The division is Philadelphia’s to lose. The Erffdogs have the best offense and the most balanced pitching in the division. Kansas City will, as always, be an outside threat, but the Jayhawks just don’t appear to have stable enough starting pitching to overtake Philadelphia. The sweeping changes in Burlington and Montreal make it very unlikely either team will contend this season. Their season medallion will come from the battle to stay out of the cellar.

- editor21

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