Friday, December 2, 2016

Season 33 Al West Preview

Las Vegas DesperaDOS
Season 32:  88-74, won Division, reached ALCS and lost to Huntington

Season 32 In A Nutshell
Got a little older and dropped 12 wins (to 88), but still won the Division for the 13th straight season, knocked off 116-game winner New Orleans in the second round of the playoffs, and lost in the ALCS to eventual World Champ Huntington.

Season 33 Preview
All Vegas' sluggers except 1B Dayan Franco are now over 30, so the end of the line is in sight, just not this year.  Jin-Chi Itou (.297/59/158) won his 8th MVP last year and will probably contend for 4 or 5 more.  Jumbo Sanchez has lost a touch of power the last couple seasons but is still a dangerous contact hitter with 25-HR potential.  C Jedd Davis and the Beltran/O'Malley DH combo are a bit less dangerous than year past, but still dangerous.  The DesperaDOS go with strictly defense in CF and at SS, so that takes a little bite from the lineup, but it's still a top-3 offense.

For the first time in recent memory Vegas will have a rookie who can make an impact on the staff.  They've promoted Season 28's #26 overall, Duffy Miller, and he looks like he'll be in the rotation.  Lew Ellis enters his 4th (and likely last) season as the staff ace and he has been nothing short of sensational with 56 wins.  Last year's big free agent, Dillon Mays, was also terrific in his first year with 14 wins and a 3.67 ERA in 210 innings.  From there it would be a guess as to who fills what roles although Diego Gonzalez might get a shot at starting off the strength of his long-relief showing last year (2.82 ERA).

I have no idea how this staff will do...they were 3rd in AL ERA last year with 4.06 (then had a small explosion up to 4.55 in the playoffs but still got to the ALCS thanks to the hitters).  If forced to predict I'd say they'll be moderately worse than last year.

Cheyenne Huckleberries

Season 32:  62-100

Season 32 In A Nutshell

3rd year with a distinctive rebuilding aroma (and sub-65 wins).  They look like they've landed very nice prospects in those 3 drafts with SP Jeremy Tollberg (#4 last season), IF Wayne Langerhans (#2 Season 31), and another IF, Destin Harang (#16 Season 30).  With the #3  pick this year, the 'berries look like they're getting things straightened out.

Season 33 Preview
Cheyenne wisely let a bunch of aging free agents walk this off-season.  They did splurge a bit, re-signing 1B Nicky Cooke, rolling the dice on Tarrik Stockton catching lightning again, and inking reliable lefty Sean Kennedy for the back of the bullpen.  Otherwise, they took budget FA shots at pitchers Shawn McIntyre (9-11, 5.45 for Vegas) and Giomar Aceves (3.96 ERA for KC), and defensive CF Karim Valdivia.

The offense has Cooke back, Stockton in at 2B (instead of last year's .654-OPS Zumaya), and Ernest Palmer DH'ing (.296/.392/.528 in 216 AB's last year after coming in a trade for Matt Naulty).  With luck they'll crack 700 runs and have a good shot at more wins.

Last year's best starter (Scott Atchley - 3.99 ERA in 225 innings) and best reliever (Naulty - career 3.71 ERA) are gone.  I can't get very enthusiastic about the rotation of Bellinger, Martis, Roundtree, James and Guerrero; Roundtree had a couple of good seasons in relief a few years back in the extreme pitchers' park in Burlington...other than that I don't think there's a sub-4.00 ERA season in the bunch.  McIntyre might make the rotation...I think he'd be better than the 5 above but maybe not by much.  The bullpen looks more solid with Kennedy and 2nd-year man Ehire Quintana, but they're not going to have a lot of leads to protect.

No doubt the Huckleberries are headed the right way with their farm system, but watch that MWR.

Vancouver Ravens

Season 32:  73-89

Season 32 In A Nutshell

The Ravens (as Santa Cruz) had tried to compete with Vegas in Seasons 30 and 31; last year they committed more resources to the IFA market (landing a decent 1B prospect in Yamil Cairo) and went with as many of their prospects as they could bring up.  As a result they were a little less competitive, but are better positioned to challenge the DesperaDOS monoploy.

Season 33 Preview
An interesting lineup is starting to take shape.  At its heart are 3 young power hitters - LF Greg Ward (.251/39/95), RF Vic Guerrieri (.250/30/86), and C Ken Jay (.237/30/72).  All 3 are contact-challenged and strikeout prone (although Ward takes a walk with the best of them); Vancouver will need to surround these 3 with some good contact/batting eye table-setters, who they don't have yet (the team was tops in the AL in strikeouts and next-to-last in batting average in Season 32).  SS Stew Rogers is the only one who brings defense sterling enough to offset the batting flaws (and he's a Gold Glove waiting to happen).

Vancouver's pitching progress has been hampered by injuries (2 seasons straight) to Mark Cloud.  He's only pitched 135 innings in the last 2 years and they really need him healthy.  The rest of the staff is fairly undistinguished and includes 8 lefthanders - 7 with a vR less than 70 (get ready to face a bunch of right-handed hitters).

This looks like another rebuilding year where the young sluggers will keep them fairly competitive, but that staff is going to give up some ugly blowouts.

San Diego Surf Sharks

Season 32:  69-93

Season 32 In A Nutshell
Dropped 15 wins from Season 31's 84, and it's time to re-evaluate the program in San Diego.  The pitching performance looked OK on the surface - the team ERA of 4.43 was 8th.  But the ballpark masked an utterly uncompetitive staff - 5.28 ERA in road games (15th). Coupled with an anemic offense (606 runs - last by far), that dashed Season 31's hopes quickly.

Season 33 Preview

Big Move:  acquired OF Alex Diaz and MR Esmil Ontiveros for OF Joe Wilk

Management finally decided Joe Wilk was a misfit in the monster ballpark, although the selection of an also-seemingly-miscast Alex Diaz as part of the return was curious (a younger, much more contact-oriented OF was available).  While there are a few position players with great contact (C Moe Morgan) or batting eye skills (2B Russ Dye), the focus still seems to  be on power (DH Ozuna, LF Lunar, CF Chase, RF Diaz).  Runs are going to be a struggle again.

The pitching has a much better chance to improve.  Eli Izquierdo has been pretty good, but seemingly has the talent to be better, especially in that flyball-deadening park (interestingly enough, he was only a little better at home than on the road last year).  Bernie Gonzalez also looks like he'd be better than he's showed the last couple seasons (and he has been before).  Luther Roosevelt showed last year (13-9, 2.61) what a pitcher with moderate ratings can do in San Diego if they get a little lucky (it didn't hurt that he managed a 3.32 ERA on the road).  

It'll be interesting to see how the Pads use the newly-acquired Emil Ontiveros.  Even as a soft-toss flyball pitcher in a smallish stadium, he wasn't strictly a mopup man on New Orleans' league-leading staff.  He certainly has a resilient arm...maybe the spacious outfield is just what he needs to take advantage of it.

I think we'll see a pitching rebound in San Diego...sure would like to see them pair that with a lineup full of speedy, 90 contact-and-batting-eye guys.

Division Outlook
This division will be a lot more interesting in a couple of seasons, when Vegas really does get old and the rebuilding programs start producing more ML talent.  For this year, it's Vegas again, with Vancouver 2nd

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