Fargo Woodchippers (120-42, 1st place)
After winning 120 games and bringing home the World Series title it’s hard to imagine what Fargo can do to better last season’s results. How good is this team? Most team’s would love to have Pedro Guzman (34, 115, .329) as their centerpiece offensive weapon but he’s probably only the third best bat with the likes of Jose Oliva (43, 130, .293) and Quilvio Guerrero (40, 128, .291) in the arsenal.
So as not to be overshadowed by the offense, the pitching staff can boast 18 game winner Carlos Espinoza and 17 game winners Ivan Sequi & John Valdes. Of the five pitchers that had the most starts, all had ERAs under 3.69. However closer Harry Charles (46/51, 1.89) may actually be the best pitcher on the staff. Last season’s win total was astounding however having Ted Cogan for a full year and the addition of Nicky Davis’ dangerous bat, this team may surpass that total by several games.
Prediction: 125-37, 1st place
Iowa City Conquers (97-55, 2nd place)
This team has the misfortune of playing in a division with the Juggernaut that is Fargo. Rarely does a team win 97 games yet finish 23 games back. The good news is that John Byrdak (30, 100, .314), the bad news is that on a team in need of more offense one of their most productive bats, Gustavo Servet, left for free agency.
On the hill, 19 game winner Ben Allen is still around but ageless wonder Nash Hogg has taken the money and run. Some minor acquisitions were made to the pitching staff yet the question becomes is it enough to offset the loss of Hogg. Loses to both the offense and pitching staff will make it difficult to reach last season’s win total and impossible to capture a division title.
Prediction: 82-80, 3rd place
Toronto Ocelots (86-76, 3rd place)
One of the better 3rd place teams in the league last season still finished way behind the front runners of the division. A .263 team batting average explains why a team with plenty of power only scored 763 runs. Scott Bolton (39, 100, .264), Derrick Hardy (26, 100, .280), Luis Cordero (27, 90, 284) & Steve Williams (34, 92, .260) do the most damage in this lineup but could use more table-setters in front of them to help kick things up a notch.
Mitch Governale (15/17, 2.48) did a nice job in the closer role and Gil Carson (14-6, 4.41) was the team leader in wins as they helped this team to a sub 4.00 ERA. Unfortunately with little done in the off-season to improve the roster a similar record to last year is very likely.
Prediction: 85-77, 2nd place
Buffalo Soldiers (83-79, 4th place)
In a division where all the teams finish above .500, someone had to finish in last place. Unfortunately for Buffalo that honor fell to them. Benny McClellan (10, 67, .303), Tony Alou (26, 73, .296), Asdrubal Vincente (36, 87, .283) are back for another season in upstate New York. The team struck out in adding any more offensive weapons and even more importantly lost Mr All World, Andrew O’Brien (52, 137, .341) leaving more questions than answers for this teams attack this coming year.
Esteban Sanchez (15-9, 2.90) & Christopher Kelly (36/38, 3.21) are among the league’s best and James Philips (14-7, 3.32) is still contributing at 36 yrs old. The pitching staff will have to bear down even more this season with the concerns the team has about the offensive production. This team will go as far as their pitchers can carry them.
Prediction: 79-83, 4th place
Louisville Sluggers (90-72, 1st place)
Two 1st place finishes in the three years since current ownership took over this team albeit in a weak division. But 90 wins are 90 wins and any team should be proud of that. Losing Ben Garcia would normally be a major concern and send even the most faithful of fans into a tailspin. That is not the case in this instance because Andrew O’Brien is the new basher in town. He joins a solid lineup that has Bernie Malone (37, 107, .282), Cristian Iwazaki (33, 89, .256), Einar Martinez (38, 87, .235) to support him.
Mid-season call up Guillermo Gonzalez is being counted on to build on the great start to his career. Ubaldo Armas (15/17, 2.25), Cameron Lawrence (14-8, 3.79) & Zephyr Sexson (14-11, 3.84) will need to help him out and if the team wants to seriously challenge for a WS trophy, step up their game. There is no doubt this team has a potent offense, the question becomes can the pitching staff hold up their end and if not can the bats carry this team deeper into the playoffs.
Prediction: 93-69, 1st place
Florida Golden Gunners (73-89, 2nd place)
Rookie owner psap has decided to play the hand he was dealt by previous ownership. Taking a wait and see approach with his team may not be a bad way to identify the problem areas first hand. The first thing he’ll notice is that Greg Iannone (25, 66, .274) is a good player that has a hand full of other decent hitters around. However a .248 team average and only 615 runs scored won’t cut it in this league or division so more offense will need to be added if this team is to become a threat.
The pitching staff did a stellar job last season with little help from the offense. Chip Canseco (14-10, 3.22) & Steve Wagner (12/15, 3.09) put up some good numbers that could have better with a stronger team. With a 14 man staff management has many options when making in game decisions. Until the attack is addressed this team will continue to be a sub .500 team yet upgrading the starting rotation shouldn’t be ignored if ownership wants to get into the playoff race.
Prediction: 71-91, 2nd place
Norfolk Blue Crabs (70-92, 3rd place)
A new owner has moved this team to Norfolk. The holes in this team’s roster have been filled with players from the farm system that will be given the chance to show that they belong in the bigs. Theo Powell (40, 105, .241) supplies the power and Bob Brown (75 SB, 89 Runs, .258) supplies the speed, now if more players would supply something to the attack this team will increase their win total and start rising in the standings.
The pitching staff was the strength of the team last season and showed it by producing a very strong 3.96 ERA. Seven of those pitchers are no longer with the club with the most damaging loses being that of closer Alex Olivares (28/31, 2.25), Les Parker (8-7, 3.04) and Bronson Bush (11-8, 3.48). It will take some time to see if the new arms are up to last season’s standards. The offense will most likely continue to struggle without any new talent added. Considering the record last season it’s not surprising that management didn't resign some of the older players from last year. However it makes it look like this will be a very long season for the Crabs and their new fans.
Prediction: 63-99, 4th place
Charleston Yellowfins (68-94, 4th place)
Since the season 18 division title the win total for this team has been going down until they found themselves in the basement. The offense revolves around the bats of Neil Hanson (40, 105, .303) and Lloyd Greer (26, 83, .260), now if only they could get a little help from their friends.
Management let closer Carlos Villano (37/45, 3.14) walk and the team had only one pitcher, Al Brown (12-10, 4.24) hit double digits in wins. With little to speak of at the plate to support a questionable pitching staff it looks like another down season in Charleston with a very good chance that they will see fewer than the 68 wins of last year.
Prediction: 65-97, 3rd place
Atlanta Black Bears (85-77, 1st place)
After two very difficult seasons the Bears added 20 wins and were able to capture the division title. The offense wasn't very strong last season so the loss of Rex Henderson’s 26 HRs & 84 RBIs will hurt. Al Guerrero (28, 89, .282) and Adam Thompson (18, 84, .291) swing powerful bats and should improve, making them a big part of this team’s future. Now if they can find 5-6 more like them they may be able to slug with the big boys in the NL.
Pitching is what won the division for this team. The team ERA was 3.62 and of the 13 pitchers that made appearances last season all but one had an ERA 4.68 or lower. Losing Miguel Rosales was a huge blow to the pitching staff and he’ll be missed. Fausto Garces (27/37, 2.68) pitched well last season yet needs to cut down on his blown saves especially if additional help isn't brought in. With an exceptionally low payroll management should have the resources to add some offense and someone to replace Rosales but signs point to them going heavy in the draft and IFA markets to build up the farm system.
Prediction: 82-80, 1st place
Austin Arf Sox (79-83, 2nd place)
HBD’s version of Jerry Jones came in two seasons ago and in a bold move named his team after himself. Since taking the controls he has yet to get his team above .500 however he does have things heading in that direction. 620 runs scored, 109 HRs, .258 Team Batting Average pretty much sums up the problems with this teams attack. George Kauffman (89 runs, 51 SB, .300) is a sparkplug at the top of the order but there is little help driving him home once on base.
On the hill three players had over ten wins but none more than eleven and the team also had three pitchers lose more than ten games. Typically a team ERA under 4.00 would have few issues but the closer by committee system in place produced 17 blown saves for a team with too little offense to compensate for any lost leads. The austerity program seems to be funneling extra cash into player development as management goes to Kmart for bargain basement FA’s to fill out the ML roster. This team will not compete for a playoff spot this season and most likely not next season either but if the draft and IFA market is used well a flood of young talent may begin showing up in three seasons.
Prediction: 76-86, 2nd place
St Louis Snappers (72-90, 3rd place)
It’s been four seasons since the Snappers last division title and since then they have been fighting to get back to .500 which so far has eluded them. This is the division for spendthrift owners waiting for something better to come along and St Louis as subscribed to this method also. Benito Macias (27, 85, .275) and Chris Bevelin (18, 63, .291) are legitimate talents. David Alberro (30, 66, .267) is only 30 and still has some life in his bat and was able to pry $5M out of the tight salary budget.
17 game loser Vic Macias had a 1.24 Whip & 3.78 ERA that may have been better with a little help from his offense and defense. Closer Ron Krause (12 blown saves, 6.84 ERA) was allowed to leave but will be hardly missed except by St Louis’ opponents. At the moment this teams shortcomings at the plate and on the mound don’t inspire confidence that there will be any improvement this season.
Prediction: 70-92, 3rd place
Little Rock 00’s (63-99, 4th place)
It’s been 11 seasons since a Little Rock team has finished higher than 3rd in the division and in 9 of those years they landed in the basement. As is the case with their division mates the 00’s do what they can to keep the budget low. One of the exceptions is Dan Cora (35, 105, .264) who is the offensive powerhouse of this club. However at 35 he probably won’t be around to see this club fighting for a pennant. In a surprise move the club decided to bring in 32 yr old Brian Garcia (32, 79, .278) to add another weapon to a thin attack.
Bob Downs (12-16, 3.82) & Gil Fisher (15-11, 4.02) were the best the team could trot out to the mound. Closer Jocko Farquhar took his 30 saves to Monterrey so the team will need to find a new closer and two starters with the departures of Oscar Liang & Harry Lowe, although losing them may be a case of addition by subtraction. The club started adding some younger talent from the farm system last year and has continued that trend this season. Whether that will lead to more wins is yet to be determined and may need to be supplemented with some players acquired through free agency or trades.
Prediction: 67-95, 4th place
Vancouver Vikings (97-65, 1st place)
The Vikings extended their run atop the division to a ninth consecutive year but weren't able to return to the World Series to defend their title. Gustavo Servet (27, 86, .307) was the big off-season acquisition via the free agent market, however he’s now 37 and you have to wonder how much he has left in the tank. Al Lopez (41, 101, .305), Dimitri Gil (42, 112, .297) & Willie O’Keefe (37, 100, .287) will again be the focus of the offense.
Just like the offense, the pitching staff has its own big three of Wally Thurston (21-7, 2.25), Peter Zheng (20-8, 2.73) & Louis Pena (14-9, 2.90) and you could add closer Bo Jackson (31/37, 2.89) to make it a big four. It appears that Vancouver will again be the class of the division yet several players have been brought up to fill out the roster possibly a little prematurely. The other unknown is if a team with half its roster filled by players over can hold up for a full season and can they make a deep run in the playoffs.
Prediction: 93-69, 1st place
Anaheim Scofflaws (73-89, 2nd place)
Four playoff appearances in 21 seasons with the last taking place seven years ago has got have the fans scratching their heads wondering when things will get turned around. This year Wallace Bagley was brought in to hopefully work the same magic with the Scofflaws staff that he did in Sacramento. Also Jhonny Davis (29, 104, .275) replace some of the lost production that Carl Watten (31, 82, .257) & Odalis Fernandez (10, 53, .286) supplied last season.
Landon Sweeney (18-7, 3.20) was an interesting pickup that gives Anaheim a frontline starter to head up the rotation. Joe Durban (34/42, 2.76) is a top flight closer and still the leader of this pitching staff but will welcome the opportunity to help finish off some quality starts provided by Sweeney. The three free agents brought in are all good players that will fill roles that needed a quality player. However it looks like while those holes have been filled there are still plenty of spots waiting for an upgrade so that this team can join the playoff hopefuls.
Prediction: 70-92, 3rd place
Salt Lake City Bulls & Bears (71-91, 3rd place)
The B&B’s have struggled for the last seven years as they have yet to find a way to get back over the .500 mark or return to the playoffs. Sluggers Joe Pie (26, 109, .291) & Alex Gongora (35, 94, .249) put up good numbers but can’t carry the load by themselves as it appears they’ll need to do.
The pitching staff did a pretty good job last season with Birdie Brinson (12-10, 3.06), Julian Sanchez (9-10, 3.93), Esteban Soriano (35/42, 3.95) & Julio Vallarta (13-10, 3.99) being the best of the bunch. Salt Lake has several pieces in place to build on; the problem this season will be that the supporting pieces this year won’t be capable of helping out enough to improve this team’s fate.
Prediction: 73-89, 2nd place
Sacramento Dancers (63-99, 4th place)
It’s been ten years since this team brought home a division title and that was also the last time it was able to finish over .500 so it’s been a lifetime for some of its fans since they've had anything to cheer about. Glen Rogers (22, 62, .274) has the makings of a solid run producer and has put up decent numbers his first two seasons in the bigs in a rather anemic offense.
The starting pitching was the strength of this team. Robinson Denorfia (6-13, 2.99), Chet Kuttler (9-7, 3.11), Bill Coleman (10-15, 3.88), Dion Fonville (10-18, 4.16), & Randy Morel (8-12, 4.19) all deserved better fates and more support from the offense and bullpen. Having accounted for 22 blown saves the bullpen did little to help the starters and squandered more leads than they saved. For a team that almost lost 100 games it’s surprising to find a solid rotation. Seeing the condition of the team’s bats and bullpen better explains the Dancers record. Until significant changes are made to bring in quality talent to strengthen both of those areas the Sacramento area will continue to have time for other things in the fall when playoff time rolls around.
Prediction: 65-97, 4th place