Thursday, April 16, 2015

NL South Season 31 preview

NL South

Season 30 Standings
Louisville ARF ARF ARF ARF's 96-66
Texas GalvestonWave 83-79
Houston Roughnecks 70-92
Jackson Juggernauts 63-99

Louisville took the South for the third straight season and 4 out of the last 5 now. Once again though, they came up short in the post season. Their 96 wins were a franchise record. They also reached the post season for the 8th time in the past 12 seasons. Texas fell short in their quest for a post season berth. It was the 8th time in 11 seasons that they failed to make the playoffs. They have had 4 consecutive winning seasons. Third place Houston missed the playoffs for the fifth time in a row. That is the longest drought for the franchise since seasons 1 through 5. Jackson missed the post season for the seventh straight time.



Louisville ARF ARF ARF ARF's
owner-Arfy(16th season)
Last 5 seasons- 454-356
Payroll- $87.9

Offense
The ARF's were one of the best offensive teams in the NL last season. They had speed, power and the ability to get on base and score runs. Russell Powell, and Brendan Latham are the top batters in the lineup when it comes to getting on base. Art Niemann and Rafael Hernandez aren't guys that will hit a lot, but they have some good power. Ben Tate can hit and steal a base, but the guy rarely takes a walk. In the off season they added a high obp guy in Sammy Ramirez that should make the offense even better. The offense should be just as good or maybe even better than last season.

Defense
The Louisville defense was above average last season. The loss of Eduardo Ortiz is a blow to the defense, but the promotion of Eduardo Tabata will make up for that a bit. Hank Herndon is the shortstop on this team and he's got an average glove with decent range and a good arm. Tabata is a reserve that can play anywhere and be solid. Ben Tate is the centerfielder and he's got an average glove with good range. Brendan Latham is the second baseman and he's got decent range and a solid glove. The team even has a little depth which is why they likely finished above average last season. This is a close to average defense.

Pitching
Louisville had a slightly below average pitching staff last season. Most of their off season moves were directed at pitching. None of those were impact players though and the trade of Geronimo Estrada is going to hurt. Clay Vernon and Felipe Ramos at the top of the rotation are a good 1 and 2 but neither is an ace. The rest of the rotation is below average though. In the bullpen Darren Banks is really good. Adding Tyreace Green through trade will help the bullpen out. Javy Amaro and Jared Witt are average arms. The bullpen is solid but not enough to make up for the rotation. This will be a below average pitching staff.



Texas Galveston Wave
owner-erichanville(7th season)
Last 5 seasons-422-388
Payroll- $100.8

Offense
Texas was a slightly above average offense last season. They traded for Bubbles Conger, and only lost PT Rosa. That should be a solid improvement for them. Alan Wilson is the guy that sets the tone for this offense. He's a great on base guy that should continue to bat a .300 plus while getting on base at a .400 clip. Dick Stanley will strike out a lot, but he makes up for it with his great power. He's another guy that can get on base a lot. Conger will add some power to the lineup as well. Alfonso Salinas is a guy that can get on base and when he does, he's a threat to steal. The offense really has some nice pieces to it, but I think they are just above average.

Defense
The Galveston Wave defense was just about average last season. Stephen Salmon is the shortstop and he's got a good glove and arm, but lacks good range. Don Hughes will also play the position, but he's just average. Jake Ashley is a really good third baseman. This team really is lacking a centerfielder and second baseman. They have a few gloves that can play those spots, but they are mostly just backup players. This defense is below average.

Pitching
The pitching for Texas was just above average last season. They added Al Manto and Kiko Hanrahan through free agency, but they are both back end of the rotation starters. As a matter of fact, most of their rotation is filled with mid to back end guys. They don't really have any bad starters though. In the bullpen is Mike Clinton leading the way. He's good, but not great and this team really lacks anybody else that can help out. The pitching staff should end up in the bottom half of the league.



Houston Roughnecks
owner-bagwellbuff(10th season)
Last 5 seasons- 368-442
Payroll- $18.9

Offense
Houston had a below average offense last season. They were below average in a lot of categories, but they were pretty good at stealing a base with 161 steals and only 52 times being caught. They traded for Gorkys Gonzales and he should add some good pop and the ability to get on base. They got a steal in the Rule 5 draft with the addition of Donne Benard. The promotion of Francisco Cervantes adds a dynamic offensive threat that can hit, get on base by walk, and knock the ball out of the park. Other promotion of Andres Rivera, and Louis Fitzgerald will also help this lineup and signals a youth movement that is going to make this offense pretty good. I think they are above average and could end up better than that.

Defense
This team had one of the best defenses in the NL last season. They also had really good range. Sam Bryant has a great glove and arm at shortstop, but his range is just slightly above average. Vic Bennett is a really good backup to have. Fitzgerald has gold glove abilities in centerfield. The same could be said for Nigel Martin in rightfield. The team really lacks a second baseman with good range and a solid glove. That is the only thing holding them back from the designation of best defense in the NL. They should be a top 5 defense though.

Pitching
Houston finished in the bottom half of the league in pitching. The promoted Stewart Hall, who is a mid to back end of the rotation starter. Timo Lee was added in free agency, but he has control issues. Albert Olivo is a legit top of the rotation starter. His stamina is a bit of an issue, but he's so good that the stamina shouldn't hold him back. The rotation altogether is solid. The bullpen looks good. The have Rodrigo Andujar, and Khiry Clark and both of them are good at getting batters out. The rest of the bullpen is just average though. This staff looks about average to me.



Jackson Juggernauts
owner-bobbyj7(19th season)
Last 5 seasons- 363-447
Payroll- $39.8

Offense
The Juggernauts offense was anything but that last season. They finished near the bottom of the league in scoring runs. They were around league average in hitting though and led the league in steals. They did finish last in homers though. Looking at the lineup, the only impact hitter they have is Vic Romero. I like Rule 5 addition Jose Arencibia, who can hit for power and hits left handers especially well. The promotion of Rick Backe adds a solid young hitter. Cliff Gray can really hit the ball, but he needs to get on base more. He is a real steal threat though. This team still has an offense that will finish in the bottom half of the league.

Defense
Jackson was below average in fielding, but they did have some good range. Chuck Hissey has really good range and arm for shortstop, but he's only about average with the glove. Josh Kirkland could be a gold glove second baseman if he played full time. Tony Franco is the second baseman and he's a former gold glover himself. Cliff Gray won a gold glove in centerfield mostly due to his amazing range. His glove is below average. This team only has average gloves in the field, but the range that they possess allows them to get to balls most teams won't. That's why I think they are above average.

Pitching
Jackson was one of the better pitching teams last season and part of that is a credit to the defense. The rotation isn't very good. Joakim Alvarez is the best starter they have and he has control issues. The rest of the rotation is back end starters at best. The bullpen is pretty solid though. DT Cromer is really good coming on in relief. Earl Magill and Vin Baker are solid. Greg Webster and Shane Perez are average relievers. This team has a below average pitching staff and the only thing saving them is the bullpen.



Predictions
Louisville is the returning champ, but they've announced they are willing to trade players for prospects. The offense looks really good, the defense is OK, but the pitching staff really hurts them. At this point they look like a team that should win about 85 games, but due to their willingness to move players, I'm not placing them that high. The Texas offense is solid but the rest of the team is not. I know they are off to a good start on the season, but there is a long way to go and I just can't see them keeping it up. Houston is a much improved team. The offense looks good and the defense is really good. The pitching could go either way. Right now though I think they are going to be tough this season and should make a post season appearance with a division title. Jackson just doesn't have the team to compete this season. They look like a 70 win team to me.

1. Houston
2. Texas
3. Louisville
4. Jackson


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NL West Season 31 Preview

NL West

Season 30 Standings
Seattle Strikers 102-60
Albuquerque Komodo Dragons 91-71
Colorado Springs Night Watchmen 70-92
Oklahoma City Prairie Dogs 67-95

The Strikers took this division for the third straight season with 100 wins or more in all three. They were unable to win in the post season in any of them. The Komodo Dragons finished in second to make the playoffs for the first time since season 27 and just the second time in the past 13 seasons. They didn't just stop there. Albuquerque went on to win the NL title and then lost 4 games to 2 against a dominant Salem team in the World Series. Colorado Springs finished in third which was their lowest finish since season 19 and they missed the post season for the second time in a row. Oklahoma City finished in last and missed the playoffs for the second straight season. They've only made the playoffs once in the past 20 seasons.


Seattle Strikers
owner-ghutton9(25 seasons)
Last 5 seasons- 443-367
Payroll- $108.9

Offense
The Striker offense was pretty average last season. They didn't hit very well, but they did get on base and scored runs just above league average. They were a team that relied heavy on speed. The addition of Gus Justice adds some much needed power and he's a guy that can get on base and steal as well. Buddy Berry was acquired in a trade and he'll add a little power and ability to get on base. They traded Raymond Petrov, who had a down season but he was still a good contributor to the offense. Eric Miller and Salvador Gallarado added with Justice should make for a really good middle of the order. Sean King and Benito Sanchez are decent hitters that will be relied upon at the top. This offense is improved and should finish among the top 5 or so teams.

Defense
Seattle was above average with the gloves last season. Ozzie Inouoe is an above average shortstop and Louis Luna makes for a solid backup. Sean King is a great glove in centerfield. Graham Richard has great range and an average glove at second base. So why wasn't this team a top defensive team? It was because they needed to find a position for the great hitter Eric Miller who is a DH at best. He'll play left field to keep his chances down, but he hurts this team. I think this is a really good defense with a glaring weakness.

Pitching
The pitching was great last season. I believe they set the record for best team ERA in a season at 3.06, if not then they were close. The pitching staff is largely the same except for the loss of closer Juan Sierra. He was replaced by the signing of Tom Leonard, but Leonard is not quite on the level of Sierra. The rotation is one of the best in the NL with Tim Daubach and Benny Villano leading the way. Both are aces and Daubach has won the past 2 Cy Young awards in the NL. John McNamara is the mid rotation starter but he's got the ability to be an ace. This is a really good rotation. The bullpen is anchored by Brendan Taylor, who is one of the best relievers in the league. Geraldo Molina is good as well as Louis Post and Tom Leonard. The bullpen is pretty good. Overall this is one of the better pitching staffs in the NL.



Albuquerque Komodo Dragons
owner-csudak(12th season)
Last 5 seasons- 404-406
Payroll- $83.1

Offense
It's not really surprising that this team won the NL title last season as they had the best offense in the league by quite a bit. With 954 runs scored they led second place by 103 runs. Their 268 homers also led the NL. This is a powerful team that can also get on base. Leading the way is Neal Hartzell. He can hit and he hits it a long way. Harry Pizzaro, is another great bat in the middle of this order. Bert Heiserman, and Vicente Palmeiro aren't great hitters, but when they make contact, they can hit it a long way. It's should be another high scoring season for the Komodo Dragons. They have one of the better lineups in the NL.

Defense
The fielding here was below average last season. Albert DeLeon has the glove to play shortstop, but not the range. He's only a backup for them, but he's their best option at the position. Neal Hartzell isn't bad, but he's below average at shortstop. Ernesto Menez plays mostly third, but he's their best second base or centerfield option. This team is surely not built for defense. I think this team due to a lack of depth and a real shortstop is one of the worst teams in the NL with the gloves.

Pitching
The pitching staff was one of the worst in the NL last season. That was most of the off season focus for them. The additions of Patrick Wilson, Sammy Johnson and Lou Montgomery are solid, but each has flaws and aren't guys you want anchoring your rotation. The best starter they have is Rey Prior, and he's good, but not really an ace. I also like Ed Paul, but he struggles against right handers and that's not good for a starter. The rotation is just below average. The bullpen features Tommy Callaway and Ricardo Johnson who are both just above average. This pitching staff is below average, but I don't think they are as bad as they were last season. The biggest problem with the staff is control. Add a shaky defense behind them and then the pitching numbers aren't going to look good.



Colorado Springs Night Watchmen
owner-Fantasy Frea(1st season, 10th season overall)
Last 5 seasons-443-367
Payroll- $70.2

Offense
The Colorado Springs offense was below average last season. They didn't really change much in the off season. The lineup is built around a really big time power hitter in Keith Williamson, but they don't have much else around him. Pedro Reyes is solid. Eddie Tomlin was added in the off season, but he's just average. This teams offense is going to struggle this season. They could end up as one of the worst in the NL.

Defense
The defense was above average last season, but they lacked range. They have some good gloves on the team again, but they still don't have good range. Benny Guerrero is the only true shortstop they have but he's a backup. Kennie McCracken is playing shortstop and he has the glove for it, but his arm accuracy is terrible. Shane Pose is a really good centerfielder. Omar Chavez is good anywhere in the outfield. This defense has the potential to be above average, but the shortstop position holds them back. Right now they are below average.

Pitching
Colorado Springs finished near the bottom of the league in pitching. The rotation looks below average. Mo Lee, Louie Dorsey and Jack Brown are the teams top starters, but they are better suited as mid to back end starters. The bullpen isn't much better. The addition of Pat Chen gives them a solid reliever, but the rest of the staff is average or worse. This pitching staff will finish near the bottom of the league again this season.



Oklahoma City Prairie Dogs
owner-brentcnb(19th season)
Last 5 seasons- 383-427
Payroll- $85.8

Offense
The OKC offense finished near the bottom of the league last season. There wasn't much they did well. The addition of PT Rosa gives them a proven average bat and the rule 5 selection of Brian Tamura could be a nice addition to the bench. The lineup is built around Jin-Chi Yamamoto. He's a great hitter that can hit a lot of home runs. Carlos Zorilla and Phil Gonzales are a couple really good hitters to compliment him. The lineup drops off quite a bit after that. They lack good contact and batting eyes. This defense isn't one of the worst in the league but they are below average.

Defense
The Prairie Dogs were just above average of defense last season. They did lead the league in plus plays and had the fewest minus plays. Pete O'Brien is the shortstop but his glove is below average. He has plenty of range and arm though. Jose Lopez is a really good second baseman with good range. Overall, the defense has some really good gloves at other positions and looks to step up near the top of the league this season. If they had a better glove at shortstop then this team would be one of the best.

Pitching
The pitching staff was in the upper half of the league last season. Not much has changed for them. Erik Zaun should be the ace of this staff but they have chosen to use him in the bullpen. Milt Leary is another good pitcher that could be a starter but is used out of the bullpen. With those two in the bullpen there isn't much left for the rotation. The pitchers that will be starting are below average. Obviously with Zaun and Leary in the bullpen, that is the staffs strength. That makes Oklahoma City a below average pitching staff.



Predictions
I'm a little biased of course, but it looks to me like Seattle is the most well rounded team. It's going to be really tough to knock them off of the top. If Seattle can't make it deep into the post season now then they never will. Albuquerque will have a great offense, but the defense and pitching really set this team back. I'm not sure the offense can carry them to the division title but they'll make a run at another post season berth. Colorado Springs looks about ready for a full rebuild. The team just isn't ready to compete this season. They have some good pieces that could be traded for quality prospects. Oklahoma City isn't a bad team, but they have too many holes to make a run at the post season. The pitching staff confuses me and the offense isn't very good.

1. Seattle
2. Albuquerque
3. Oklahoma City
4. Colorado Springs

Monday, April 13, 2015

AL West Season 31 Preview

AL West

Season 30 Standings
Salem Volcanoes 124-38
Vancouver Canucks 95-67
Fresno Grizzlies 85-77
St Louis Arch Angels 79-83

Salem won this division for the third straight time last season and also won an amazing 124 games. In each of those seasons they've won 100+ games and made it to the ALCS with 2 World championships. They have been dominant lately and will likely be a force again this season. Vancouver finished in second and won 95 games, which is the most for them since season 9. They made the post season for the seventh time in nine seasons. With 2 AL titles in the past 5 seasons, a World chapionship is the only thing they haven't accomplished. Fresno made it back to the post season after missing it for just one season. That gives them 3 out of 4 seasons with a berth. They have not won the division since season 16, but have not had a losing season since season 24. St Louis finished in last place and missed the post season for back to back seasons. That's the first time that's happened to them since season 16. One thing to notice about this division is that over the past 5 seasons combined, no team has a losing record. The AL West has been the dominant division in the AL.



Salem Volcanoes
owner-jkenned(9th season)
Last 5 seasons- 491-319
Payroll- $73.6

Offense
Of course, Salem had the most dominant offense in the AL last season. They led in runs scored, average, obp, home runs and finished second in steals. Not only were they good, but they were well rounded. The losses of Wolf Dodd, John Satou, and David Guerrero will hurt them some. The promotion of Brian Woolf will add some power but his hitting won't compare to any of those three. MVP Ruby Prieto is the man that makes this lineup go. He is a great player that will continue to put up MVP type numbers. Harry Gibson would be the top hitter on many teams, but he's second fiddle here. Hipolito Arrendo is another guy that makes the middle of this order just downright scary. Salem might not be as good as last season, but they still look like the best offense in the AL.

Defense
Salem finished second in fielding last season. Lefty Twitchell is a dynamite shortstop and should challenge for a gold glove. Harry Rosario is the backup and is just as good. The lack players with good range to play centerfield and second base. That is the only thing that keeps them from being the top defensive team in the league. Even though they aren't the best, they still are top 5.

Pitching
As you'd imagine from a team with 124 wins, they also had the best pitching in the AL. They really do have a great pitching staff. They traded for Aurelio Ozuna and that is just going to make them even tougher. The rotation features Lonny Gonzalez, Gerald Foster and Rymer Tavarez. All three are top to middle rotation starters and Ozuna is as well. The bullpen features a couple of the better relievers in the league in Dennis Coleman and Lou Lomasney. Glen Dunston and Mike Franklin are pretty good as well. This is the best pitching staff in the league, if not both leagues.



Vancouver Canucks
owner-skplayer07(14th season)
Last 5 seasons- 439-371
Payroll- $105.7

Offense
The Canucks offense was well below average last season. The addition of Rafael Unamuno in free agency should help them. The loss of Mac Braden nearly offsets that, but he's only a part time player and Unamuno should get more at bats. An offense that features Houston Graves at the top and Bo Long as another guy that can get on base shouldn't finish in the bottom half of the league. Willie Tarasco is an MVP caliber player that powers the middle of the order. There is plenty of power on this team and guys that can get on base. I think they are above average and should bounce back from a down year.

Defense
The defense for this team was above average last season. Mix that with leading the league in plus plays and the defense is an asset. Nolan Bourne has an average glove at shortstop but his range and arm make up for that. Christy Hayes is a nice backup to have. Luis Sojo is in centerfield, but his range isn't ideal. The addition of catcher Melky Torres is a boost behind the plate with one of the better defensive catchers in the league. Overall though, this team is likely to step back a bit defensively. I think they don't have the depth and the starters just aren't great. They look below average.

Pitching
Pitching seems to be the name of the game in this division. The Canucks finished second to Salem in the AL last season in ERA and WHIP. They led the league in complete games and shutouts. Cy Young winner Rock Randall is coming off of an amazing season that will be tough to match. Yoshinori Zhou matches up with Randall to give this team a great top of the rotation. Alberto Rivas and Sammy Salinas are two really good mid rotation starters. This is one of the better rotations in the AL. The bullpen features Vance Pettyjohn, and Apollo Fletcher. The other pitchers are below average out of the pen. The bullpen is the weakness on the pitching staff, but if the starters pitch to their potential then the bullpen won't be needed much. This is a top 5 staff this season.



Fresno Grizzlies
owner-dlmose(3rd season)
Last 5 seasons-441-369
Payroll- $93.6

Offense
The Fresno lineup was just below average last season. They hit well, but didn't hit for power and didn't get enough runs home to be considered any higher. They didn't change much in the off season and look much the same. Benny Navarro leads the offense with his great hitting ability although he has lost much of his speed. Felipe Osoria is a great young hitter that is going to be great. Besides them the lineup isn't very strong and looks below average.

Defense
The Fresno defense was among the worst in the AL last season. Joel Reid is the shorstop and he's average. Ismael Baerga is the third baseman and he's really good in that role. This team really lack a player with the range to play centerfield and secondbase. That is why I think they are below average.

Pitching
Fresno was well above average in pitching last season. The rotation features Wilt Sizemore, who can eat up innings, but he's more of a mid rotation guy. Besides him, the rotation does not look good. The bullpen is another story though. Diego Benitez, Juan Ramirez, and Mitchell Hayes are all really good relievers. The rest of the bullpen is pretty average, but those three make it a good bullpen. Overall, I don't think this is a good pitching staff. I think they are average at best, but the rotation makes me lean toward below average.



St Louis Arch Angels
owner-Flucie(17th season)
Last 5 seasons- 428-382
Payroll- $74.2

Offense
St Louis was a very average offense last season. The only move they made to improve was the promotion of Wallace Duffy and he should hit. The strength of the lineup is Willie Oropesa and Valerio Martinez. They are great all around hitters that can hit for power. Calvin Pecina can flat out hit. After those guys, this lineup drops off quick and they lack depth. That makes them an average offense with the potential to be more.

Defense
This team also was an average defensive team. Cecil Pratt is the shortstop, but he's lost the range to play the position like he once did. Enny Tejera is a good glove for centerfield, but his range is below average. Skeeter Mottola will play a really good third base. That is really all this team has though. The depth isn't there and other positions feature below average players. This defense is below average and won't likely do as well as last season.

Pitching
St Louis was above average in pitching last season. I'm not sure how. The rotation looks really rough. They have a patchwork rotation of back end starters at best. The bullpen is slightly better with Phil Linton anchoring it, but they are mostly average pitchers. This pitching staff doesn't look very good to me and my guess is they finish much lower this season.



Predictions
I don't think I can seriously say that Salem has a challenger this season. Salem is the most well rounded and their strengths are great and weaknesses few. I wouldn't be surprised to see them win another World Series title this season. Vancouver is a really good team that would win a few other divisions in Pine Tar, but not this one. I think it'll be a closer race than last season, but that's only because I doubt Salem can put together another season like that. Fresno is an average team and should win around 80 games this season, but I don't think they'll find a way into the post season again. St Louis is below average, but they have some really nice offensive pieces. It may be time for a full rebuild and they could use those pieces for some good prospects.

1. Salem
2. Vancouver
3. Fresno
4. St Louis

Friday, April 10, 2015

NL North Season 31 Preview

Scranton and owner reggie988 dominated the NL North, winning 102 games and securing their third straight division title.  The Red Barons fell one game short of making a return trip to the World Series, as they lost to Albuquerque in game 7 of the NLCS.  Iowa City and Fargo tied for second place, but finished 29 games behind first place Scranton.  Hawkeyes’ owner tk21775 traded away some offensive stars for prospects and ended the season with 12 fewer wins than in Season 29.  Fargo moved to Minnesota, where first-year owner ranscott64 hopes to get the Huskies’ franchise on the right track after two years of rebuilding.  Helena finished in fourth place and is openly rebuilding, as owner pinetaar dealt a bunch of high-priced talent during the offseason.


Helena Copper Kings (pinetaar - 5th season)
Payroll: 39.8M
Draft Pick: #5

Season 30 Record: 67-95 (4th place)
S30 Runs Scored
S30 Team ERA
S30 Fielding Percentage
705 (8th in NL)
5.04 (16th in NL)
.980 (14th in NL)

Offense:  Expect the Helena offense to go from average to one of the worst in the league with the losses of Benito Rodriguez, J.A. Stanley, and Alex Suzuki.  Bengie Romano (.267 BA, 53 RBI, 27 SB) has a nice blend of contact and speed, and Ian Langston (.286 BA, 22 HR, 58 RBI) should drive in some runs.  However, the Copper Kings need much more to be competitive.  Keep an eye on the following AAA players, who could contribute if they get promoted: Vin Volquez, Matthew Rivera, and Mike Lawson.

Pitching: The Copper Kings should again see themselves near the bottom of the league in pitching, after finishing dead last in Season 30.  The starting rotation will struggle, led by veteran Miguel Rivera (3.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP), who might be better suited for the bullpen with his stamina.  The bullpen has a couple of promising youngsters in Rigo Jimenez (3.87 ERA, 20 saves) and Luigi Duran (3.69 ERA), but could use a few more solid arms in order to preserve leads.

Fielding: Helena’s middle-infield is decent as Bengie Romano is one of the best 2B in the league.  Jerry Greenwood will hold his own at SS, although his arm strength could be a deficiency.  The Copper Kings lack a true CF and have an average catcher in Delino Fuentes (31% CS).  I predict that they will rank below average, but not bottom of the league like last season.


Iowa City Hawkeyes (tk21775 - 16th season)
Payroll: 48.0M
Draft Pick: #14

Season 30 Record: 73-89 (tied 2nd place)
S30 Runs Scored
S30 Team ERA
S30 Fielding Percentage
529 (16th in NL)
3.39 (2nd in NL)
.989 (1st in NL)

Offense: Iowa City looks to improve upon a ranking of dead last in runs scored during the previous season.  The Hawkeyes return Alexei Marrero (.380 OBP, 27 HR, 72 RBI) and Max Barrios (.298 BA, 20 HR, 84 RBI), who should be their top offensive threats.  They also acquired contact-hitter Elroy Epstein (Cincinnati) and power-hitter Eugene Harvey (Scranton) in the off-season.  Iowa City should have an improved offense, but still slightly below average in my opinion.

Pitching: Iowa City has definitely played to their ballpark, as pitching was once again a major strength last season.  The rotation should be above average with 4 dependable starters, including Sean Shipley (2.98 ERA, 129 career wins).  The bullpen currently consists of zero players with major league experience, so I’m not sure what tk21775 is planning.  Look for AAA relief prospect Junior Martin to be a star when he gets called up to the bigs.  I expect the pitching to drop to average, due to the bullpen.

Fielding: The Hawkeyes led the NL in fielding percentage last year, and should be near the top again this season.  Cam House (21 plus plays) finally got recognition for being one of the best shortstops in the league with his first gold glove award.  Iowa City returns its catching duo, who threw out 41% of base stealers last season.  I only see slight deficiencies in range at CF and 2B.  Overall, this should be a solid defensive team.


Minnesota Huskies (ranscott64 – 1st season)
Payroll: 62.2M
Draft Pick: #13

Season 30 Record: 73-89 (tied 2nd place)
S30 Runs Scored
S30 Team ERA
S30 Fielding Percentage
639 (13th in NL)
4.29 (11th in NL)
.978 (15th in NL)

Offense: The offense had a major decline last season, after the previous owner traded a number of stars in order to rebuild.  Minnesota’s offensive strength is speed, as they have multiple base-stealing threats including Octavio Espinosa and Geoff Weems.  The Huskies lack enough contact and power hitters to improve upon last season’s low ranking.  Junior Shigetoshi (.418 OBP, 65 RBI) is the exception, and should be the Huskie’s top offensive player.

Pitching: The Huskies pitching was below average last season, and could get worse with the trading of star pitcher Aurelio Ozuna.  As a group, the starters will struggle, as most are bottom-of-rotation guys.  Ben May (25 years-old, 13 wins) and Emil Martin (26 years-old, 3.86 ERA) are exciting young starters who will continue to receive the opportunity to showcase their skills.  The bullpen has a dependable closer in six-time all-star Rickie Metcalfe (37 saves), but I’m not sure that they have the setup guys to send the game to Metcalfe with the lead.  Overall, I predict that the Minnesota pitching staff will rank near the bottom of the NL.

Fielding: The Minnesota defense has the potential to improve upon their low Season 30 ranking, where they finished 15th in errors and last in plus plays.  Jhonny Castro is a good shortstop with great range, who will make some spectacular plays for the Huskies this season.  The catching will be solid, as the duo of Jonny Lincoln and Shigetoshi nailed 35% of steal attempts last year.  The big question will be who plays 2B and 3B?  If Lazy Barkley and Darren Hogan are in the lineup on a daily basis, then I believe that this defense will be average, if not better.


Scranton Red Barons (reggie988 - 9th season)
Payroll: 64.7M
Draft Pick: #31

Season 30 Record: 102-60 (1st place – Lost in NLCS)
S30 Runs Scored
S30 Team ERA
S30 Fielding Percentage
851 (2nd in NL)
3.49 (3rd in NL)
.987 (3rd in NL)

Offense: Scranton should again have one of the best offenses in the league, as they have a successful blend of hitting and power.  The Red Barons return season 30 MVP Eugenio Canseco (.321 BA, 38 HR, 124 RBI), all-star selections Jim Hawpe and F.P. Gentry, and ROY runner-up Luis Cruz (.282 BA, 23 HR, 90 RBI).  The speed is lacking, but that didn’t seem to hurt them last season.

Pitching: The Red Barons have a deep rotation, with three starters returning who had at least 15 wins last season.  Gustavo Santos (17-5, 2.49 ERA) has established himself as an effective ace, and finished second in Cy-Young voting.  The bullpen has a number of strong arms, and should be able to hold leads.  Veteran Alberto Blasco was signed in free-agency to go with Avasail Soto and Mitch Mota (28 saves, 2.34 ERA).  Expect Scranton’s pitching to rank near the top of the league again, where they finished 3rd a season ago.

Fielding: Scranton’s fielding should be above-average, but not at the top of the NL like last year.  The strength of this team is their outfield, which lets very few balls drop due to their outstanding range.  Gold glove winner Vladimir Toregas (30 plus plays) has also been great at 3B.  The weak spot for the Red Barons defense is the shortstop position.  They don’t have a true shortstop, and last season Jim Hawpe struggled with 23 errors and 11 minus plays.


Prediction:

If Las Vegas generated odds for HBD, then Scranton would be about a 1-10 favorite to win their fourth consecutive NL North title.  The Red Barons should win the division easily and be able to make a serious run at the pennant.  Scranton should enjoy their success now, as some of their young stars are about to become very expensive with arbitration.  The remaining three teams have been rebuilding and are not yet ready to contend.  I expect Iowa City to finish second in the division, and come close to a .500 record.  The Hawkeyes have great defense, respectable pitching, and an improved offense.  Minnesota and Helena are in a much deeper rebuild.  Not only will they be in a neck-and-neck race for last place in the NL North, but also for the #1 overall draft pick.  I believe that Minnesota will finish a few games ahead of Helena, due to slightly better fielding and pitching.

1.  Scranton
2.  Iowa City
3.  Minnesota
4.  Helena