Monday, February 2, 2009

Preseason Questions - AL South and AL West

AL South

Nashville Hillbillies
Can Nashville avenge last years ALCS loss?
What can be said that hasn’t already been said of Nashville for years and years? The team had won two championships in a row and was one game away from the chance to try to make it three. Nashville is much the same team as last year but they’re definitely hoping for a number of key players to be better. And frankly they’re going to have to be to represent the A.L. in the World Series. The talent is there and if Nashville’s key players have better years then Toronto could definitely feel the wrath of the Hillbillies.

Who needs to be better for Nashville?
Two players come to mind in my opinion, SP Bernard Blue and SS Jermaine Good need to be better. First off Blue hasn’t pitched well he has been by far Nashville’s worst pitcher. It is amazing because on most teams he would be a potential ace. Even if he is better the odds of him pitching in the playoffs are quite slim he’d be pushed to the pen. Good had a very productive regular season hitting 47 Homeruns, where he needs to improve is in the playoffs. Let’s face facts you can build the greatest team ever but if they don’t perform when it matters most then you’re not going to win. Nashville gave up Omar Gonzales for Good, Hart clearly wanted a power hitting franchise shortstop and he got one, but he needs to become a playoff performer.

Charleston Riverdogs
Could they win the AL South this year?
Three straight second place finishes for the Riverdogs has Charleston fans begging for that division title. Unfortunately it will likely be a fourth straight year with a second place finish. Make no mistake Charleston is a very good baseball team but on paper nobody can compete with Nashville’s pitching rotation. Charleston can compete with Nashville, after all it was only a six game difference last year between the two. If Charleston is going to beat Nashville this year in the division a lot of things will have to go there way but hey you never know, that’s why we play the game.

Will this be the year for Charleston to win a playoff series?
Yes. Assuming Toronto and Nashville are the number one and two seeds Charleston could get a variety of teams in the playoffs. Throw statistics out the window, this will be the year that Charleston will win a playoff series. Look for Charleston to try to make a move near the deadline to maybe just add a small piece to the already impressive roster and I think Charleston will win at least one playoff series this year.

Austin Black Socks
With a rebuild being planned wow competitive will they be?
Austin is still a very good baseball team. Last year Noccolo decided that his current roster couldn’t compete with both Nashville and Charleston so he put a flyer on his roster and sold off talent. Whether or not Austin decides to completely blow it up or just maybe a mini rebuild and try to add enough talent to finally knock off the big boys Austin will likely finish third again but will finish well out of playoff contention.

How will Jeff Waters and Rip Owens fare?
Early in the offseason Austin traded they’re leading hitter last year 3B Casey Morris to Florida for SP Jeff Waters and DH Rip Owens. Both are nice pieces but aren’t the impact player that Morris is. Waters is on the verge of being a very good pitcher in the league. Bounced around already for a pitcher at the age of 27, the question with him comes down to can he start? Florida thought so and in a full year of being a starter went 8-7 with a ERA of 3.55. Moving the 33 year old Morris makes sense especially because they got back two decent players for him, both productive and both young. Austin is hoping big things for Waters at the very worst he’s a good asset to move.

Little Rock Patriots
Will they finish last in the division?
The answer is unequivocally Yes! No ifs ands or buts. They don’t have the talent to compete with Austin for third place. Another fourth place finish is in the cards for the Patriots. Five straight fourth place finishes for the Patriots franchise and soon it will be six. However with the last place finishes comes the draft positions and the Patriots do have talent on the way but it won’t matter this year.

Will Morgan Harris live up to the Patriots expectations?
Harris was the third overall pick in season fours draft. A prototypical lead off man with excellent speed, the Patriots have huge expectation for him. But they are just and fair. A third overall pick needs to be a special player and you better believe Harris has that potential. In 225 at bats he hit 360 with 19 stolen bases with an OBP of 426. If Harris can replicate that over a full year he can compete with Blue for Rookie of the year. Hopefully the turnaround in Little Rock starts now and it starts with Morgan Harris.

AL West

Vancouver Primetimers
Can they rebound from a second place finish last year and reclaim the division title?
I believe the answer to be maybe, a gutsy prognosticator I know. I think they will bounce back from a fairly underachieving year a season ago. They have the hitting talent but the pitching is a major question mark. Vancouver’s offense will have to carry them but I think they can, they have done it before and they are going to have to do it again to compete against a very balanced division.

Do they have enough pitching?
No. I think they have enough pitching to compete with Vegas to decide the division winner but they do not have enough talent to do anything in the playoffs. Granted certain pitchers should bounce back to have a better year but they’ll have to vastly improve. Larry Charles is the perfect example last year he finished with an ERA of 6.25. If guys like Charles and Bip Shields can be better look for Vancouver to sneak in as the division winner in the West.

Las Vegas Aces
Can they win the division?
As previously stated I believe Vancouver or Las Vegas will emerge as the winner in the West division. Las Vegas will look to defend their division title and they likely will. Though Vancouver is a better hitting team Las Vegas made a key move in the offseason that will definitely help them. Adding Vic Molina from the FivT’s gives them an excellent pitcher. Granted he never pitched to his potential in Toronto if he can become comfortable in Las Vegas he can become a 15-20 game winner.

Will Molina finally reach his potential?
Molina isn’t an ace but does have the potential to be a very good pitcher. A legit number two starter in the league if Molina can find his control and put it all together it will definitely give Las Vegas the added talent they need to defend the A.L. West. At only 24 the FivT’s gave up on him and decided to part ways with him. Molina still has all the potential in the world and if he can put it together Las Vegas will be really tough to play. Look for Molina to have a very impressive year.

Santa Cruz Slugs
Is another third place finish where the Slugs will slide into?
The Slugs are coming off a massively disappointing year. Two seasons ago they finished second 91-71 but last year they disappointed with a record of 70-92 and the team fired it’s G.M. One of the reasons that the West is so hard to call is because there isn’t a clear powerhouse and there is a good balance. It is possible that Santa Cruz could surprise and find the success they had two seasons ago but with both Las Vegas and Vancouver improving it is very hard to see Santa Cruz making a run at any other position than third. Burt Key the rookie should help and adding Rey Handworth for absolutely nothing will help but it won’t be enough in my opinion to do any better than third.

Will Burt Key be the answer to Santa Cruz’s problems?
This youngster is a breath of fresh air in Santa Cruz. He has only had two years in the minors after being drafted in the first round in season five. He’s already off to a great start and could likely be a rookie of the year candidate if things go well. He hit over 350 in both years he was in the minors and the only concern about him would be the jump from High A to the Majors. If Key can adjust to the pitching at the major league level he will earn his spot, but a trip back to AAA might be in order if he can’t produce. Key will be the key in Santa Cruz for years to come.

Anaheim Baja Racers
Can they improve on their record of 63-99 from a season ago?
Yes, Anaheim could be a couple of games better. Some things need to fall their way but it is possible. Unfortunately for all the Baja Racer fanatics out there a fourth place finish is almost a guarantee in the West. They just don’t have the talent to compete with Vancouver, Vegas and even Santa Cruz. They are clearly rebuilding and with a new competent GM Anaheim won’t lose talent like Good, Gonzalez and Shea. In a very balanced division the Racers could be competing for the division within two years.

Will Dude Doyle be a Baja Racer by the end of the year?
Dude Doyle the power hitting second basemen has never lived up to his skill. He had a contract year in Florida two seasons ago and earned a big money extension, however since then he has been less than great to say the least. Doyle is coming off one of his worst seasons as a pro. He is Anaheim’s best overall player but not by much. With three years remaining on his contract at 7 million per Anaheim would likely to move him. He would definitely be a good deadline pick up as he can hit the ball hard. If Doyle can produce his value should go up. I don’t see Doyle getting moved because of the three years remaining at 7 million but if a team is desperate enough you never know.