Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Season 33 NL South Preview

San Juan Padres

Season 32: 71-91

Season 32 In A Nutshell
A couple of disappointing 71-91's since the 2 straight titles (Seasons 29 & 30). The offense fizzled again with 649 runs, although the pitching was at least competitive.  Orlando Mendoza and Brandon Clarkson won the NL Gold Gloves at SS and 3B.

Season 33 Preview
The Padres have done a good job of bringing up their young talent, but there's just not enough lineup punch for them to compete. They had just 2 players post .800+ OPS's last year -- 1B Matty Campos with .811 and rookie OF Roberto Almora with .869 (just 215 AB's). Their hits leader -- LF Aaron Rodney with 176 -- departed in FA for Louisville. Their one potential hitting star -- 3B Branden Clarkson -- slumped to .247, so we expect him to be better. RF Bip Thornton had some injuries and missed a lot of games last year -- he could be much better. Almora will take over in LF and could make Padres fans forget Rodney. Campos at 1B can still hit. But they've got 4 pretty soft spots in the lineup.

The pitching has been pretty close to league-average the last 2 seasons. The low-DUR Preston Granderson has their best quality arm, but is limited to maybe 120-125 innings max. Nolan Rogers has been pretty good, and I think he could throw more innings than they've asked recently. Bautista and Duran both seem like the kind of SP's that could have the occasional decent season, although only Duran has. I like Daniel Howard as potentially their best overrall starter ... let's see if he can put it together this year.  

Among their relievers, only Donald Helling (4.52 ERA in 63 IP as a rookie) and closer Dingo Cummings have much potential. I'd like to see Season 30's first rounder, Ezequiel Escobar (#20 overall), added to this group soon (or the starters for that matter).

I hope I'm surprised at season's end but it looks like a long year in San Juan.

Austin Massachusetts
Season 32:  88-74, Won Division, lost to Salem in Round 1

Season 32 In A Nutshell
Surged into contention with a youthful roster, winning the South and taking eventual NL Champ Salem to 5 games in Round 1 of the playoffs. Helped by the move to Austin, the pitching jumped to the top half of the league -- Juan Martinez enjoyed one of his best seasons (14-6, 2.90) and Torey Izquierido won 18 and made the All-Star team. 1B Trace Clark had his third straight monster season (.270/48/136) and the offense jumped to #2 (862 runs).

Season 33 Preview

Monster Move:  Acquired Season 27 Cy Young winner Derrick Dawkins for 2 prospects.

With respect to Louisville and its big-ass free agent wallet, Austin now has the best and deepest rotation in Hobbs. Dawkins and Juan Martinez (14-6, 2.90) are legit aces; Willie Tepera (Season 26 #6 overall) and Willie Matos (Season 28 #2 overall) are near-aces; and Izquierido (S28 IFA, $12.1MM) would be no worse than a #2 or #3 for almost anyone. Should any of those falter, they can turn to Hernan Ramos or Cy Kneper. They may not need much of a bullpen, but they've assembled an excellent short-relief trio in Hong-Jin Baek, Livan Maduro and Humberto Palmeiro.

The knock on Trace Clark as he was coming up was that he couldn't hit righthanders; after OPS's against righties of 1.098, 1.075 and .956 in his first 3 seasons, I think he's dispelled that one. Clark now looks like a sure bet for 45+ HR's and 110+ BB's every year. He joins John Small (.326/25/100, 46 doubles) and P.T. Feliz (.273/23/86) in the heart of the order.

With a .982 fielding % and 26/72 on +/- plays, Austin needed to fix its defense, and did. Paco Lecuona will be a real SS playing SS, letting Dave Bush move back to his natural 3B and Small back to RF -- defensive problems solved.  

So, this was an 88-win team that added an ace, created a bullpen, and fixed its defensive woes in one offseason. One of the favorites to reach the WS.  

Charlotte Steam
Season 32: 56-106

Season 32 In A Nutshell
Management swung a series of surrender trades in the preseason and endured a near-brush with the MWR with 56 wins. But they set the future up well by acquiring big-time prospects like Fautino Castillo, Jenry Zumaya, Pep Walsh and Vic Merced.

Season 33 Preview
Big Move:  Acquired CF Harry Johnson for 2 pitching prospects.

Monster Move: Acquired SP's Andre Counsell and Jack Allensworth for Season 30 #1 pick Vic Merced.

Charlotte is trying to engineer a 1-year turnaround, and I think they might pull it off. They've basically taken every prospect they rounded up through trade, draft or IFA the last couple of seasons and promoted them all to the majors ... so it's a really young, still improving team but there's a lot of talent.

The bulk of their offense will come from their outfielders -- 1B Pep Walsh and 2B Fautino Castillo. They're a little overloaded at COF with Octavio Trevino, Jenry Zumaya, Dallas Servet and Gustavo Trevino, but I think they can find AB's for them all or, even better, trade one for another pitcher. CF Harry Johnson may be the key component ... he's getting pretty long in the tooth to be talking about his "potential." But here we still are, talking about what he might do.

Lead starters Jack Allensworth and Andre Counsel have mostly good records in their previous stops; beyond that the staff is a mystery. Likely 3 and 4 starters Rubby Franco and J.B. Mayne have been wildly up-and-down their whole careers. The rest of the staff is mostly unproven rookies with some promise (Jamie Bryant, Freddie Martin and Julian Amaro) and former stars on the decline (Mark Martin, Yamil Ozuna and Sammy Eithier).

Who knows what these guys will do? My best guess is that the offense will be pretty good, and the pitching won't be terrible but will have its issues. But it could be the opposite. In any event, they're young, still improving, cheap ($43MM total payroll) and way better than last year.

Texas Choades
Season 32:  85-77

Season 32 In A Nutshell
Battled Austin all season and nearly closed the gap in the last week. Finished with 85 wins -- most in 5 years -- behind 3 All-Star pitching peformances (Quentin McGowan 15-9 3.65, Albert Chavez 2.15 ERA in 88 IP, and Matt Naulty 17 saves, 2.04) and Tarrik Stockton's career-reigniting .306 BA, 11 RBI and 82 extra basehits.

Season 33 Preview
Pretty active offseason for the Choades with Stockton jumping to Cheyenne and FA's Willie Palmeiro (1B), Hugh Moorehouse (C), John Reed (RP), Alan Hill (3B) and Don Loretta (SS) signing on.

We expect Palmeiro to play one of the COF spots (with Dave Rowe most likely the starter at the other) and replace most of Stockton's lost production. Bob Tucker, of course, is at 1B, gunning for career HR #500 sometime late this season, and John Shigetoshi lines up in CF for his 6th season in Texas. The other positions lean toward defense with Patrick Bordick at 2B (career OPS .727), Don Loretta at SS (career OPS .624), Hill at 3B (career OPS .720) and Ceaser Olivares catching (career OPS .771).

Joe Johnson (10-10, 3.98) didn't have a great year in Season 32.  If he can revert to career norms, AND Texas gets 3 more All-Star pitching performances ... they might have enough pitching to keep up with Austin. Big "if's" though: McGowan, Naulty and Chavez were all way better than their career norms last year, and it's hard to envision any of their other pitchers popping out an All-Star campaign. Maybe the ever-disappointing Jim Hinchliffe could ...he does have a couple of minor-league All-Star appearances. It's more likely that Johnson has a great year and finds himself trying to carry the staff (with Naulty's late-inning help).

Division Outlook
Austin has been building for a long time; with the big Dawkins trade it looks like they've finally committed to go for it.  I think they win the South handily.  The tougher question is whether the South can muster a 2nd playoff team.  It took 92 to make the 2nd Wild Card last year - that would be a 7-game improvement for Texas and a 36-game improvement for Charlotte.  Don't know if the Steam will hit that number, but they'll be Hobbs' most-improved team and will finish an interesting, albeit perhaps distant, second.

No comments:

Post a Comment