Friday, December 2, 2016

Season 33 AL South Preview

Richmond High Rollers
Season 32: 72-90

Season 32 In A Nutshell

After decades of winning seasons, the franchise fully committed to rebuilding last year.  On offense, Kevin Hillenbrand (.290/38/92) performed valiantly.  Among the pitchers, Trever Springer signed off with a strong, if abbreviated, year.

Season 33 Preview
The new-look High Rollers said goodbye to a bunch of aging free agents this off-season, including Springer, J.D. Hardy and Alfredo Butler.  

The new faces include a bunch of rookies, a bunch of budget free agents (I always like those), and 1 moderate splurge on Manny Saitou for $5.8MM (although he might be called a bargain since he signed for only 1 year).

I like the offense they've assembled.  Buck Ward is a nice power-hitting catcher who will bounce back from a poor season. Hillenbrand and Rule V'er Bruce Klingenbeck will (I guess) share 1B/DH...not bad.  They get to pay Gary Person too much for one more year at 2B, but at least he'll deliver around an .800 OPS.  The Calles/Iglesias rookie/vet combo at 3B isn't great but it'll do.  Ross is both a + hitter and defender at SS.  Saitou's fine in LF and Bianchi will be a plus hitter (although a mess defensively) in CF.  Rookie Machado in RF is probably the worst link in the lineup, and he's far from terrible.

John Punto is the best arm on the staff...I don't know if he can throw more than about 150 innings but they'll be high quality.  It's hard to be terribly optimistic about the rest of the rotation, although Stu Wilson has strung together 4 straight pretty good seasons.  Watch for DITR Carson Furbush, who starts as a long reliever, to step up and win a rotation spot soon.  The rest of the pen, excepting Al Troncoso (and let's hope they can get a prospect for him sometime  this year), looks like a dumpster fire about to break out.

Clearly some rebuilding seasons in the works here, but this team will still win a fair share of games.

New Orleans Playoff Chokers
Season 32:  116-46, won Division, lost to Las Vegas in Round 2

Season 32 In A Nutshell

Dominated the regular season again behind Sam Stock's 2nd Cy Young and a 1000-run offense, but Stock and co. laid yet another playoff egg.  Certainly another disappointing year for New Orleans, but renaming the team the Playoff Chokers may have been a little extreme.  They are not even in the same choking league as say, the Kansas City Jayhawks.  Now there are some professional chokers.

Season 33 Preview
This is a dangerous team.  The offense is especially scary, and they added Danys Guerrero (.302/.367/.471) in LF to hit at the top of the order, along with RF Joe Wilk (.251/.305/.468, but those numbers were in SD, look for a big improvement this year.)  

The top holdovers from last year's squad which was either first or second in most of the major offensive categories are 1B Hector Cortez (.324/.399/.548), 2B Dante Kawasaki (.322/.400/.491), LF Tony Mullen (.288/.354/.611),  RF Nick Green (.304/.413/.516) and C Zoltan Keppinger (.278/.351/.553).

Rich Kohn and Wally Glover hold down short and third respectively and are also no slouches with the bat.  CF is covered by Miguel Frieri, who is too good to not bounce back from an off year.  Look for him to be closer to his career norm .850 OPS rather than last season's .650 OPS.   DH figures to be a rotation of Cortez, Mullen, Green and the new guys.  

If there is a weakness to this team, it is the defense which figures to be a little below average.  I expect them to better the 996 runs scored last season and become the first team in Hobbs to reach 1000 since the season 30 Huntington team, and they may well challenge the all time Hobbs record of 1148 set by the Las Vegas Desperados.

As usual, blanch goes for the unusual (and effective) in his pitching staff.  Last year, the team led every pitching category that matters....and that was super-reliever Sam Stock having an off year compared to the season before.

The hard part about reporting on this staff is sorting out the roles.  The only traditional starters are rookie Vic Merced and Rick Branson (career 3.06 ERA and 2 CYs).  Neither one will pitch more than 200 innings, but both will be excellent with that bullpen behind them.  Other than them, the rest of the starters are just expected to keep the game close for 4 innings or so and then hand it to the pen to win.  The most likely are Anthony Paulino (1.26/3.00) and Juan Veras (1.49/4.90, but way worse than career norms).

The bullpen is the key here though.  It seems like there are a hundred of them and each better than the last.  It starts with Stock (1.06/3.11, but do not expect to see numbers that high again) then Albert Gonzalez (1.23/3.46).  Oh yeah and they won 55 games between them!

Following them are Melvin Chang (1.45/3.06), Aurelio Duran (0.99/2.17), Benny Marquez (1.29/4.36), Fausto Rodriguez (1.25/3.33) and Jeremi Wilkerson (1.11/2.98)

Big Moves: Acquired 2-time Cy Young winner Rick Branson and lifetime .311 hitter Danys Guerrero for prospects

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

Big Move:  Acquired OF Joe Wilk for OF Alex Diaz and MR Emil Ontiveros

Nashville Legends

Season 32:  95-67, Wild Card, lost in Round 1 to Las Vegas

Season 32 In A Nutshell 

A great season in Nashville.  Only an average-ish offense with 770 runs, the pitching stepped up big-time behind Nelson Jordan (15-8, 3.00 ERA in 192 innings), Jason Haywood  (16-11, 3.12 ERA in 204 innings) and a host of terrific relief performances (for example, closer Peter Sonnanstine saved 29 of 32 and posted an ERA of 3.59 in 67 IP).  
Season 33 Preview

Pretty quiet off-season, with only OF Hanley Welsh as a semi-significant addition.  You get the idea that new owner Bighead34 is going to take his time evaluating the team before making any serious moves.  

Once again, pitching will be their calling card.  Besides Haywood and Nelson in the rotation, they also feature Benny Rosario (15-11 1.25 and 3.94), Trevor Tanner (11-8 1.42 and 4.47) and  Thomas Kingman (14-12 1.26 and 4.19).

In the pen, Sonnanstine is ably supported by Felipe Garza (1.05/3.54), Wilkin Rios (1.22/2.59), Happy Brock (1.18/2.76) and Chad Reid (1.33/3.62).

The only question is will the offense hold up its end of the bargain?  There are certainly bright spots.  C David Simmons has come into his own the last 2 years, hitting 30 homers and identical .881 OPS.  Jamie Osborn is back at 1B with his (.294/.348/.533) bat and Oswaldo Alberro plays stellar IF defense while cranking out his (.288/.347/.455)

Speaking of defense the Dennis Barber/Andrew Holmes platoon at SS should be excellent defensively while providing decent offense as well.  Most of the other spots in the lineup look very average with the possible exception of William Chang who may put up some decent numbers now that he seems to be getting his first real chance at age 29.  Also, Jered Smith is a very interesting player.  Not a prime bat, but when did you last see a 1B steal 100 bases in a season while playing GG caliber defense?

All in all, a very good team that will challenge for a wild card, but not good enough to win a tough division.

Louisville Sluggers
Season 32:  82-80

Season 32 In A Nutshell

Nice 16-win improvement (to 85) for the Sluggers.  Their 4th-ranked (882 runs - impressive) offense got boosts from Raul Villa's monster year (.324/33/128) and low-budget contributors Wellington Calles (.314/20/71), Daryl Armstrong (.276/22/58), and Nicholas Wilkins (.276/27/75)...more on those last 2 in a minute.  The pitching struggled to a 4.90 ERA...and of course, this was addressed in spectacular fashion this off-season.

Season 33 Preview

Monster Moves:  Signed all 3 of this year's top free agents - Santos Eovaldi, Lawrence Hannity, and Bucky Champion - to max contracts.

In 3 strokes of the pen, Louisville became this year's most interesting team.  Eovaldi and Hannity bring in 450 quality innings, and should the Sluggers make the playoffs, would comprise scariest duo in the postseason.  Let's hope Sluggers' management recognizes the right role for the tragically-underused (except for Season 25) Bucky Champion - the guy who comes in and just erases 2 or 3 innings in the mid-to-late game.  In the playoffs, that will most likely mean a 2-inning closer following Eovaldi and Hannity.  In the regular season, they're going to need 50-something non-Eovaldi/Hannity wins, so plan Champion's use accordingly.

This offense might score 882 again, but I'd be surprised.  I don't understand why Louisville tossed aside Armstrong (min salary, .841 career OPS) and Wilkins (min salary, .882 OPS in his one season) in preference to Aaron Rodney ($3.53MM, .782 career OPS) at 1B and Esteban Romano ($3.37MM, .684 career OPS) at vR platoon right-fielder.  It's still a pretty potent attack with Villa, Calles, 2B Julio Mercado (.268/30/111), and 3B Wilkin Guerrero (.299/12/51). Defensive CF Bruce Aven probably gets the start, but if the offense flags, look for 4-position super-utility guy Pablo Valbuena to take over.

Division Outlook:

New Orleans all the way.  Heck they may even go a little further in the playoffs.   Louisville keeps them honest and takes a wildcard, Nashville, in turn is not far behind them and  Richmond watches from afar and dreams of the future.

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