Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking Out for Number One

With the season 11 draft just around the corner, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a look back on the number one draft picks for the first ten seasons of Mantle with a brief synopsis of the career to date of each pick and my grade. Dissenting opinions are welcome to comment.

Season 1: Mike Florie, 2B - selected by vachedawg, Cheyenne Fighting Bovines (now Portland Poltergeists)

Mike Florie was the first ever draft pick in Mantle world. He was given his first taste of big league action in season 2 by Portland, and spent season 3 split between AAA and the majors before being traded in season 4 to San Antonio. He's been a very durable though unspectacular major league player ever since. Since first seeing full time action with the Soggy Bottom Boys, he's been traded two more times: first to Tacoma in season 6, and then to Salem in season 11. He's made one All-Star team, in season 9 for Tacoma. In over 1200 games to date, he's a lifetime .281 hitter with 141 home runs and 610 RBI. He's also stolen 191 bases in his major league career. He's been a solid major league player, but for a number one draft pick more should have been expected from him.

Grade: B

Season 2: Al Ramirez, SP - selected by lefty32, Seattle Geoducks (now Vancouver Fighting Skeletons)

Despite a number of franchise changes, Ramirez has spent his entire career with the now Fighting Skeletons. He made it to the majors at the end of season 3, and has been there ever since as the anchor of the pitching staff. With 244 career starts under his belt, he has a lifetime record of 102-75, with an ERA of 3.81, OAV of .258 and WHIP of 1.31. He also has one 20-win season on his record (21-8 in season 9) and three All-Star appearances. He's certainly lived up to his expectations as a number one pick.

Grade: A

Season 3: Jim Aurilia, SP - selected by nova20147, Charlotte Miners (now Kansas City Monarchs)

Like Ramirez, Aurilia has spent his entire career with the franchise that drafted him. Unlike Ramirez, Aurilia has not exactly lived up to his billing as a number one draft pick. In 229 appearances (181 starts), he's only amassed a career record of 69-54 with a 4.35 ERA, .250 OAV and 1.38 WHIP. He has yet to make an All-Star appearance, but is still relatively young at age 26 and still has a number of seasons ahead of him. One could say that the jury is still out as he still has potential for a very solid and productive career.

Grade: B

Season 4: Vance Collier, SP - selected by mbooker, Jacksonville Seminoles

After a brief but impressive minor league career, Collier was promoted to the majors in season 6 to stay. He struggled a bit in his rookie season, but has been spectacular ever since. Only 26 years old, he has already compiled a record of 84-36 in 163 career starts, with a 3.52 ERA, .241 OAV and 1.23 WHIP. He's made one All-Star appearance in season 9, and has posted three consecutive 18+ win seasons for the Seminoles. His current numbers in season 11 are his best to date. The Seminoles certainly cannot be disappointed with their number one pick.

Grade: A+

Season 5: John Blake, SS - selected by brendanjod, Colorado Springs Mile High Marines

Blake made an immediate impact in his rookie season in season 6, when he crashed upon the scene with a .335 AVG, .404 OBP and .598 SLG performance in 53 games upon his promotion from AAA. He also contributed 12 home runs and 45 RBI's in that span. He's settled down some in the following 4+ seasons, but still has compiled career numbers of (.288 AVG, 128 HR, 394 RBI) in almost 700 major league games. Still only 26 years old, he's made two All-Star appearances and has a long and bright career still in front of him. He looks like a keeper.

Grade: A

Season 6: Louis Haney, RF - selected by rwright, San Antonio Soggy Bottom Boys (now Jackson Bootleggers)

Haney was rushed to the major leagues after a brief but hugely spectacular career in San Antonio's minor league system. He struggled greatly in his first 3+ seasons in the majors, including season 9 when he inexplicably appeared in only 25 games despite not being injured. One can only speculate that inactivity of that nature can only have stunted his development. Now in season 11 he seems to be coming into his own, but still only has lifetime numbers of .235 AVG, 64 home runs and 201 RBI's in 363 games. He's also stolen 90 bases in 111 lifetime attempts. Only 25 years old, the jury is still out on him as to whether he will live up to the expectations that rwight may have had when he made Haney his number one pick.

Grade: B

Season 7: Edgardo Cortes, SP - selected by rwright, San Antonio Soggy Bottom Boys (now Jackson Bootleggers)

Another victim of rwright's mismanagement of his minor leagues, Cortes spent three seasons in the Jackson farm system and stuggled due to apparent misuse. Promoted to the majors in season 10, he's struggled even more at the big league level, posting an 8-8 record despite a 6.46 ERA, .280 OAV and 1.52 WHIP. He's only 22 years old and has plenty of time to right the ship. Whether he ever does depends on how he's used going forward. A change of scenery may be the best option for him to reach his potential.

Grade: C

Season 8: Bill Hewson, SS - selected by ardthomp, Tucson Plateau (now Colorado Ligers)

Traded by Colorado to Minnesota after only one season in the minors, including a brief but impressive stint in the majors, Hewson quickly rose through the Mighty Men's farm system and made it to the majors in season 10 at age 22. He's immediately made a nice contribution to Minnesota's offense. In 187 career games at the major league level, he's posted numbers of (.290 AVG, 49 HR, 146 RBI) with a .548 SLG. Drafted as a shortstop, he's now successfully splitting his time between 2B and 3B. He looks like he is destined to have a very production major league career in front of him.

Grade: A

Season 9: Tyrone Hamilton, SS - selected by ericsomsel, Colorado Ligers

Much like Hewson, Hamilton had a brief and very successful taste of major league action with the Ligers before being traded to Florida. In 54 career major league games in season 10, he posted numbers of (.322 AVG, 10 HR, 51 RBI) with a .395 OBP and .576 SLG. He's now spending his time in AAA for the Lockdown where he is tearing it up. It will be difficult for welsh5 to keep him in the minors if he continues to tear the cover off the ball. Overall, Hamilton looks to be a superstar in waiting.

Grade: A+

Season 10: Rob Tomlinson, C - selected by Reps, Baltimore Blast

Not signed. A wasted selection. For his efforts, Reps gets compensated with the 47th pick in the season 11 draft.

Grade: F

Season 11: ???, selected by ericsomsel, Colorado Ligers

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tec's Useless Trivia

Ten is a nice round number. In fact, that's how many completed seasons we have under our belt in Mantle. Since I'm bored today, I decided that I would calculate the cumulative standings for our 32 franchises through the first 10 seasons of Mantle. So here goes:

Detroit Bad Seeds9856350.6080
Wichita Wranglers9736470.60112
Chicago Black Sox9426780.58143
Scranton Apollos8457750.522140
Buffalo Blizzard8777430.5410
Durham Bulls7169040.442161
Atlanta Fonda Yews7129080.440165
Baltimore Blast7109100.438167
Richmond Generals8597610.5300
Charlotte Moose Hunters7528680.464107
Jackson Bootleggers7398810.456120
Jacksonville Seminoles7318890.451128
Portland Poltergeists9117090.5620
Salem Oles8727480.53839
Colorado Springs Mile High Marines7768440.479135
Colorado Ligers6499710.401262
Sioux Falls Canaries8607600.5310
Trenton Titans8597610.5301
Minnesota Mighty Men8407800.51920
Montreal Mother Canuckers7818390.48279
Washington D.C. Commuters7628580.4700
New York Metros7438770.45919
Kansas City Monarchs7328880.45230
Chicago Old Style7308900.45132
Florida Lockdown10245960.6320
Texas Long Horns8148060.502210
Louisville Beaners7668540.473258
Oklahoma City Power Failure7348860.453290
Honolulu Hula Dancers8357850.5150
Tacoma Baymen8148060.50221
Vancouver Fighting Skeletons8058150.49730
Oakland Polish Hammers7648560.47271

And if that's not enough trivia to digest at one sitting, lets also take a look at the post season history of each team in Mantle through it's first 10 seasons. The following lists number of division titles, number of wild card appearances, number of LCS victories, number of WS titles, and the number of different owners that each franchise has enjoyed:

AL NorthDivWCLCSWSOwners
Detroit Bad Seeds55111
Wichita Wranglers27111
Chicago Black Sox22111
Scranton Apollos11001
Buffalo Blizzard80001
Durham Bulls10001
Atlanta Fonda Yews01004
Baltimore Blast10001
AL SouthDivWCLCSWSOwners
Richmond Generals51111
Charlotte Moose Hunters10007
Jackson Bootleggers40111
Jacksonville Seminoles01103
Portland Poltergeists61202
Salem Oles41211
Colorado Springs Mile High Marines00001
Colorado Ligers00004
NL NorthDivWCLCSWSOwners
Sioux Falls Canaries52114
Trenton Titans33002
Minnesota Mighty Men22001
Montreal Mother Canuckers01002
Washington D.C. Commuters31007
New York Metros21003
Kansas City Monarchs40104
Chicago Old Style10003
NL SouthDivWCLCSWSOwners
Florida Lockdown82631
Texas Long Horns21003
Louisville Beaners02001
Oklahoma City Power Failure00005
Honolulu Hula Dancers41002
Tacoma Baymen30101
Vancouver Fighting Skeletons14006
Oakland Polish Hammers20102

Friday, December 19, 2008

N.L. West Division Predictions

The Oakland Polish Hammers cruised to a division title last season as they went from 4th place in Season 9 straight to 1st place (as predicted by yours truly in last season's division predictions). Tacoma took notice and got busy improving their team in the offseason. Was it enough to overtake the Polish Hammers?

Oakland Polish Hammers (NL)
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Season 10: 1st Place (90-72)
Season 11 Prediction: 1st Place

The Skinny:
While Tacoma is vastly improved, the Polish Hammers still have the best team in the N.L. West (although not showing it currently). Repeating as division champs may depend on whether they decide to keep or trade their veteran players. goodtymes31 has mentioned that his team is getting old and he's looking to get younger. Currently, several of Oakland's veteran players are sitting on the trade block wondering if they'll be wearing a different uniform in the coming weeks. Assuming the majority of the team stays together, I think Oakland wins the division again. If the team is dismantled, they'll be overtaken by Tacoma.
The offense is led by 3B Steve Burks, 2B Norm Henry and 1B/DH Keith Grahe. All three players hit 25+ home runs and drove in at least 105 runs. Burks and Grahe are both over 30 and on the trade block so, as I noted, losing these players would have a major effect on where this team finishes. The rotation also has a its horses on the trade block. 3 starters (Lefty Murphy, Marshall Wagner and Rex Frederick) and closer George Van Hekken are all fit to be dealt if the right offer comes along. With the unimpressive start (3-11) to the season, these players may be getting closer to relocating.

Season 10: 2nd Place (79-83)
Season 11 Prediction: 2nd Place

The Skinny:
The Baymen really put in a solid effort to get this thing turned around in a hurry and they didn't have to trade the farm to do it so it was a productive and successful offseason in my opinion. I've discussed these deals previously, so here's a quick recap. Tacoma was involved in 2 big trades this offseason - both with the Salem Oles. The initial trade brought in pitcher Derek Fiore, super slugger Carlos Barcelo and veteran DH Harry Hudson. As I noted, Hudson was then traded back to the Oles in a deal that brought shortstop Sammy Montanez and catcher Carlos Vargas to Tacoma. These players will certainly add some offensive punch to a sluggish lineup. Haywood Karl and Lou Combs were the RBI leaders in Season 10, but neither player hits for a high average. The new additions will certainly help the team batting average.
Normally, trading away a 3-time Cy Young winner (Harry Mateo) might sting a bit, but the Baymen received a solid starter in return (Derek Fiore) in addition to the offensive talent. With Fiore, Harry Holzemer and Bey Roberts taking the hill every 5 days, the rotation is pretty good. Combine that with the new-look lineup and I see a lot of wins for the Baymen.

Vancouver Fighting Skeletons (NL)
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Season 10: t-3rd Place (78-84)
Season 11 Prediction: 3rd Place

The Skinny:
With new ownership in place, the former San Diego Padres moved so far north they left the country. Now situated in Vancouver and with a new nickname (the Fighting Skeletons), the team looks to build upon last season's disappointment. Maybe it was time for new ownership to step in as this franchise slipped from 95 wins to 84 to just 78 last season.
While every season brings new promise, I just don't see Vancouver finishing any better than last season. Ownership seems aware of the situation and appears content to look toward the future. Several players have been called up from AAA to fill roles and the remaining veterans simply don't have what it takes to contend. Stewart Buckley and Jeffrey Sellers will lead the offense, however, neither player will make a franchise.
The rotation still has a couple excellent pieces in 14-game winner Geraldo Feliz and 3-time all-star Al Ramirez. Hamish Kinney is also great out of the bullpen. Teams in need of a pitcher down the stretch may want to hit up Vancouver if they slip out of contention early as I suspect they might.

Honolulu Hula Dancers (NL)
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Season 10: t-3rd Place (78-84)
Season 11 Prediction: 4th Place

The Skinny:
Here's another team relocating, possibly in an effort to escape from their past. While the team had one owner previous to the new ownership (powerman), the franchise moved just about every 3 seasons as if they were on the run from the law.
This season, they have a new home in beautiful, sunny Honolulu. While the team may enjoy the weather and fresh locale, there may not be much enjoyment on the field. Last season's best pitchers came out of the bullpen to win 11 games (Macbeth Smith) and 9 games (Blaine Hunter) respectively. When your best pitchers are getting 20 wins combined out of the bullpen, you may be in for another long season. I realize Yamid Guerrero also won 11 games as a starter, finishing 11-12, but he simply doesn't have the stuff to win more than 10-11 games a season. My point is, at least Hunter and Smith had winning records.
The offense has a couple solid veterans in Miguel Vazquez and David Santayana, but there's really a lack of punch in the lineup. It comes as no surprise to me that Santayana was the only player to drive in more than 80 runs last season. Hopefully, powerman can build up the Hula Dancers farm system and return this team to respectability.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A.L. West Division Predictions

Quite frankly, the A.L. West is loaded with offensive talent and the pitching looks pretty good this season as well. So when I look back at some of the records from Season 10, I'm a little surprised to see that only Portland won more than 83 games. This season, it looks like a couple of the teams are ready to step up to the bar that was set by the Poltergeists last season.

Portland Poltergeists (AL)
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Season 10: 1st Place (94-68)
Season 11 Prediction: 1st Place

The Skinny:
I think Portland will have more competition in winning the division than they had last season, but I still see Portland at the head of the class. In fact, I'm picking Portland to represent the A.L. in the World Series. This offense will be too much for most teams to handle. It all starts with 5-time MVP, Kevin Mullins. Mullins is only 28 years old which means he's probably due for 3-4 more MVP awards before he's done. His top competition for the award could potentially come from his teammates. Lawrence Rhodes, Damaso Rojas, Felix Ellis and Charles Costello are all capable of driving in 120-130 runs a season. With guys like Greg Wolf and James Ritchie setting the table, there will be plenty of opportunities for all of players noted above to drive in runs.
The pitching staff isn't the strongest I've reviewed, but they'll only need 3 good starters come playoff time. Season 9 Cy Young winner, Domingo Pizzaro, hopes to return to form after a disappointing 13-9 season last year. Pizzaro won 43 games the previous 2 seasons so 13 wins was well below his own expectations. Unlike Pizzaro, Anthony Martin was pretty happy with last season's record as he went 12-4. Martin has a nasty sinker and if he can control it, he's difficult to hit. The biggest change to the Poltergeists pitching staff is at the closer position. With Nick Smith signing with Texas, Portland turns to Richie Carter to get the big outs at the end of the game. Carter's been a great setup guy for the Geists and he'll now get an opportunity to be THE MAN.

Season 10: 2nd Place (83-79)
Season 11 Prediction: 2nd Place

The Skinny:
Salem's not off to a great start, but I believe they'll turn it around once they get a couple more home games under their belt and once they develop better chemistry. The Oles made a blockbuster deal with Tacoma in the offseason acquiring 3-time Cy Young winner Harry Mateo and Mike Florie, a steady presence at the hot corner. One of the players they traded in that deal, Harry Hudson, has since been traded back to Salem from Tacoma in a deal that sent Sammy Montanez and Carlos Vargas to Tacoma. Hopefully Hudson hadn't sold his house yet! The Oles also managed to retain Quentin Keller this offseason by signing him to a new 1-year/$3 million deal. While his rookie campaign was solid, the Oles are expecting much more from 22-year old Mitch Ledee this season. Ledee was hitting .425 in AAA ball last year before being called up to the bigs where he batted .264 with 19 home runs in 109 games. Sal Stark and Harry Martinez are two other names worth mentioning as they both had huge numbers for Salem last season.
The acquisition of Harry Mateo gives Salem a big lift in the #1 starter slot. This allows pitchers Malcolm Reese and Jack Fleming to slide down in the rotation and gives them a better opportunity to win games. The bullpen has several good arms should the starters get pulled early. 37-year old Jorge Diaz and Dennis Marte will vie for the closer's role.

Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs Mile High Marines (AL)
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Season 10: 3rd Place (75-87)
Season 11 Prediction: 3rd Place

The Skinny:
I'm not quite sure what went wrong in Colorado Springs last season because it looks like they have a pretty good team. Maybe the best talent is simply on the Oregon teams. The MH Marines spent most of the offseason extending the contracts of their own talent including shortstop John Blake, closer Midre Bonilla right fielder Kane Banks and Alfredo Valentin to name a few. The 23-year old Valentin saw a significant dip in his batting average last year although his production wasn't too far off his previous seasons. If he can get his average back up and Howie Curtis and Marc Holmes can continue to drive in runs, I don't see any reason why this team can win 83-85 games.
Okay, maybe I see one reason: pitching. Seriously though, the pitching staff isn't too bad, but it's not quite at the level of the Oregon teams. Paulie Kolb was another one of those players who received a contract extension at the beginning of the season and it's about time he stepped up his game. Kolb's been a .500 pitcher year in and year out, but his ratings tell me he should be better. The other starters are very similar to Kolb. That's too much Kolb. I do really like the guys in the bullpen and they'll probably see there fair share of work. Tony Sojo is a future fireman of the year candidate and Ruben Ortega and Midre Bonilla (discussed above) are also very good.

Season 10: 4th Place (61-101)
Season 11 Prediction: 4th Place

The Skinny:
The Ligers continue to be a work in progress. Like some of the other teams I've discussed (the Old Style and the Commuters come to mind), they've been rebuilding a team that's struggled through changes in ownership. ericsomsel's in his 3rd year running the franchise and after back-to-back seasons of 60 and 61 wins, we have to believe there's some talent being accumulated in the minor leagues.
There are some nice pieces in the majors such as Harry Cairo and J.C. Sager, but I wouldn't be surprised to see these guys get traded for even younger talent. The Ligers did bring in a couple players, signing Stew Frazier away from Scranton and J.D. Acosta away from Kansas City. They should help garner a few wins for Colorado, but the writing is on the wall for these veterans. You're here for the beer!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

N.L. East Division Predictions

After a bit of a slow start, the Monarchs ran away with the N.L. East last year winning the division by 19 games as no other team finished above .500. Unfortunately, I think history will repeat itself for the most part. I say 'for the most part' because I think one of the other teams in the division just might finish at .500 or better.

Kansas City
Kansas City Monarchs (NL)
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Season 10: 1st Place (92-70)
Season 11 Prediction: 1st Place

The Skinny:
While Kansas City's offense doesn't really excite me (with the exception of Erick Hatcher), it's serviceable. And frankly, that's all it really needs to be in this division because (1) the other offenses in the division aren't any better and (2) the pitching staff here is pretty good. After winning 92 games a season ago, the Monarchs didn't make many changes. Really the only significant free agent signing was center fielder Tomas Blasco who left Syracuse/Washington DC and will replace J.D. Acosta who left for Colorado. While Blasco will be patrolling center field, 23-year old Patsy Owens is in right field. Owens had a stellar rookie campaign last season batting .313 with 113 RBI and 82 runs scored. Owens should provide some protection in the lineup for last year's National League Most Valuable Player, Erick Hatcher. Hatcher's the real gem of the offense as he hit 59 HR's, racked up 171 RBI, scored 135 runs and batted .363. Note to the other Monarch hitters - if you get on base, E. Hatch will drive you in.
The rotation has some lively young arms including Pablo Pena (29 wins over the last 2 seasons) and Jim Aurilia (12+ wins in 4 straight seasons), but Carmine Holmes (32-18 record from season 9 to present) is still the ace of the staff in my book. With these guys in the rotation, look for Kansas City at the top of the standings in Season 11.

Season 10: 3rd Place (70-92)
Season 11 Prediction: 2nd Place

The Skinny:
The Metros did a lot of wheeling in dealing in the offseason, but their big play was signing 38-year old Horace Gulan. Gulan doesn't have the stamina to start anymore, but he should be a great addition to the bullpen. Gulan's career record is 143-67 with a 3.78 ERA which tells you all you really need to know - the guy can pitch. Dennys Franco is back for his 3rd season in the rotation and he's just 22-years old. While Franco didn't have the best of seasons last year, I expect big things in the future. His splits are incredible and he's got pretty good offspeed stuff. He should up his win total from a season ago. Another pitcher to keep an eye on is Victor Rizzuto. Rizzuto (currently on the DL) has pitched pretty well in New York and his ability to keep the ball on the ground is a big reason for that. Closing the door for these guys is the steady Yogi Coleman. Coleman hasn't had as many chances as he would like, but when called up, he gets the job done. Wait a minute...with guys named "Rizzuto" and "Yogi", shouldn't this team be playing at Yankee Stadium?
While the Celtics have a Big 3 in Boston, the Metros offense has a big 3 as well. Steven Bonds, Philip Ray and Russ Feller make up the Metros Big 3. Last season, all 3 players hit 40+ home runs, drove in 100+ runs and scored 85+ runs. While those numbers are spectacular, the team batting average was just .262 and the on-base percentage was a woeful .327. If the Metros can improve those numbers, this team will finish better than .500 this season.

Season 10: 4th Place (66-96)
Season 11 Prediction: 3rd Plac

The Skinny:
Chicago's finished in the cellar in back-to-back seasons, but I think they have a chance to move up a spot! However, I really don't see them winning many more games than they did last season. It's a widely known fact that the Old Style are in rebuild mode. That hasn't changed. They're not trying to contend at the major league level right now. They've never even had a winning record in their history (80-82 in Season 4 won the division for them).
Having said that, I'm not even going to focus on the major league team. Let's talk about the future. The Old Style are grooming some pretty talented players and it starts with Jose Morlan. The 21-year old short stop is currently hitting ,375 in AA ball. Napoleon Conti, a teammate of Morlan's, is struggling a bit right now, but he's also going to be on a major league squad in the near future. The Old Style also have international free agent signee, Ricardo Garces, in AA where he's batting .324 with a 1.074 OPS. The more I look at this AA team, it's very clear to me that they would beat the Major League team! The rotation includes Chico Rodriguez who has yet to lose a game in his minor league career. If I dig deeper and head down to High A ball, Chicago has even more talent there (see Ugueth Cortez or Mitchell Perry). So while the big league team will struggle, there's help on the way in Chicago so grab a deep dish and relax!

Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. Commuters (NL)
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Season 10: (73-89)
Season 11 Prediction: 4th Place

The Skinny:
There's so many names and so much activity on the Commuters' transaction list, it resembles the Declaration of Independence. However, based on all that activity, it looks like the team wanted a clean break upon its departure from Syracuse. The Swingers swung and missed.
With new ownership, the team now resides in Washington DC. And with some of the more talented players being traded away, there's hope that mengel2 may stick around for awhile and tried to rebuild this franchise that's had 5 owners in its last 5 seasons.
The District traded away a trio of major leaguers including J.P. McEnroe, Sammy Piedra and Cyrus Stanley, but they received some nice prospects in return. Rafael Gil is currently hitting .314 in AAA; Phil Cohen is batting .333 in AAA; and Vasco James awaits a chance to pitch in AA ball.
The big league club will probably be led by 3B Darryl Boone and 1B Tony Borders, however neither has been anything more than a role player in the past. The best arms of the pitching staff are starter Walt Restovich and former Blizzard reliever Hideo Gonzales. Like the Old Style, the Commuters ownership will probably spend more time watching his minor league players grow than watching his major league team struggle.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A.L. East Division Predictions

Over the last 2 seasons, the Blizzard and Nutcases/Fonda Yews have become very familiar with one another. In both seasons, the Blizzard edged out the Fonda Yews to win the division, but only by a mere 4 games combined. On the other hand the Bulls and Blast have struggled to win games with both teams losing 100 games last season. One season later, where do these teams stand? Can Baltimore and Durham close the gap?

Season 10: 1st Place (93-69)
Season 11 Prediction: 1st Place

The Skinny:
Change is abundant for the Blizzard. The most notable change is their move from the cold, wintry air of Burlington to the ummm....cold, wintry air of Buffalo. Then again, Dunn Tire Park is much more hitter-friendly than Mustain Stadium ever was. However, while most of the Blizzard headed southwest to Buffalo, several players failed to make the trip and headed elsewhere including two-fifths of the starting rotation. Replacing Paul Ishii and Angel Cruz in the starting rotation are former Salem starter Walter Lewis and Willie Jacobs whom the Blizzard acquired last season when he was released by Baltimore. The bullpen also features some new, yet familiar faces as Mack Greer and Louie Reyes return to the big leagues after spending time in AAA ball waiting for Hideo Gonzales (signed by Washington) and Ronnie Brooks (signed by Trenton) to move on.
While the core of the Blizzard offense returns, they've added former Tacoma 2B Andy Battle who won the starting job over Pascual Seneca and veteran 3B/OF Edwin Simon who will split time with Jay Carmona.
If the Blizzard hope to win the division for the 7th straight season, the new starters must step up and help 2-time Cy Young winner Vitas Henley and the offense must take advantage of the friendlier confines in Buffalo.

Season 10: 2nd Place (90-72)
Season 11 Prediction: 2nd Place

The Skinny:
Atlanta made very few moves in the offseason, however, the major league roster boasts only 1 player over the age of 28 so that's understandable! That's also pretty remarkable. The one player over the age of 28 was 36-year old free agent signing Raul Martin. Martin joins a pretty good rotation led by 15-game winner Nash Phillips and Damaso Lopez. Lopez struggled a bit last season, but he's a much better pitcher than he showed and he hopes to prove it this season. The Fonda Yews also feature one of the best, if not the best, closers in the game in Peter Pong. Pong was 40-42 in save opportunities last season and hasn't blown more than 5 saves in any of his last 3 seasons.
Atlanta's offense has a lot of young talent and if all these kids are hitting at the same time, the Fonda Yews will be tough to beat. It appears as if 22-year old Sean Mailman will finally get a full season to show he belongs, but he'll get plenty of offensive help from the likes of Tony Mendoza, Pedro Gonzales, Tom King and others. This could definitely be the season where Atlanta overtakes the Blizzard, but until they actually do, I'm sticking with Buffalo to win it again.

Season 10: T-3rd Place (62-100)
Season 11 Prediction: 3rd Place

The Skinny:
I think both the Bulls and the Blast will win more games than they did last season, however, I still believe the Bulls have the upper hand. The Bulls made several moves, of every kind, in the offseason, but the most important thing is Lawrence Brown is still around. Brown just swatted home run number 300 and he and rookie Omar Siqueiros will probably hit close to 100 between the two of them. Throw in all-time home run king Bart Kirby and I think I'm getting whiplash just talking about them. The offense will also look to another rookie, Yorrick Benard. Benard is a great table setter and should steal a lot of bases if the other guys aren't moving him around the bases via the long ball.
The big free agent signing for Durham this offseason was getting starting pitcher Milt Leiter. While Leiter is not a top of the rotation starter, he'll pitch his innings from the middle of the rotation behind Johan McInerney and rookie sensation Humberto Aguilera. Aguilera reminds me of a young Vitas Henley. Once some of these young guys start to reach their potential, Durham will be a force to reckon with in the A.L. East.

Season 10: T-3rd Place (62-100)
Season 11 Prediction: 4th Place

The Skinny:
Baltimore Blast owner, reps, has been very quiet and methodical over the last few seasons as he tries to build this franchise back up. The beat goes on in Baltimore as there wasn't too much activity in the offseason. Because this team hasn't had much success lately, one of the best players in Mantle World has probably gone unnoticed by most, but I'm here to get his name out there. Blast 1B Bruce Payne has quietly put up back-to-back seasons of 50+ home runs, 110+ RBI and 100+ runs scored with a slugging percentage over .600 and an OPS over 1.000 in those seasons. He also hasn't missed a game in those seasons and won his first Silver Slugger award this past season. Payne will get some help this season from a rookie I like quite a bit, outfielder Scott Hall. At just 21-years old, Hall has the potential to be a 40/40 guy for the Blast.
Baltimore has a pair of solid starting pitchers in Mike Burnett and Dave Fisher, but they might benefit from shopping Brook Grey at the trade deadline to get someone younger who may be able to step into the rotation in a season or two. Overall, I like the direction Baltimore is headed. In the past, I've noted the success Baltimore has had in getting serviceable players via the Rule 5 Draft so it's only a matter of time before Baltimore fields a team that can compete for the division.