Thursday, July 3, 2014

AL West Season 28 Preview

St. Louis Arch Angels
Owner: Flucie (14th Season)
Last Season: 96-66, 1st Place – Lost in LCS
Payroll: 89.5M out of 94M budget

St. Louis looks to extend their dominance in the AL West, as they have won seven division titles in the past 11 seasons.  Offensively, it looks as though St. Louis will try to use their power to score runs.  Last season, they ranked 5th in the American League in homeruns, but 12th in batting average.  Bryan Holmes, Paul Wilson, and Willie Oropesa are more than capable of driving-in runs with the long-ball.  DH Calvin Pacina (.323 BA, 31 HR, 84 RBI) is the Arch Angels’ best overall offensive player and LF Miller Hunter (.374 OBP) is looking to follow-up a career year.  Overall, I see St. Louis as an average American League offensive team.

Look for the Arch Angels to improve somewhat on defense.  Last season, they ranked 12th in the AL in fielding percentage and were dead-last in plus plays.  Stephen Salmon has a great arm at SS and made 15 plus-plays last season.  St. Louis has a number of defensive players who are young and should improve this season.  Samuel Johnson (26 years old) in CF and Skeeter Mottola (22 years old) at 3B should impress this year.  Daniel Acosta (24 years old) at C has an outstanding pitch-call rating and an above-average arm.  I predict that the St. Louis defense will end up ranking slightly below-average.

The strength of this St. Louis ballclub has been their pitching.  Last season, they were second in the AL with a 3.72 team ERA.  The Arch Angels have three solid starters in Rock Randall (16-10, Cy-Young candidate), Vinny Napoli (15-4, All-Star), and Sean Shipley (12-4).  Their relief staff took a huge hit with the loss of Carlos Flores, who saved 50 games last season.  Although they signed Justin Gregerson in free-agency, I don’t see this St. Louis team preserving as many close games as they did in season 27 (34-17 record in 1-run games), especially competing in arguably the most challenging division in the AL.  Overall, I see their pitching staff as above-average, but not top of the league as they were last year.
Future Star: At only 24 years old, catcher Daniel Acosta will be starting his fourth full season in the majors.  He has an outstanding pitch-call rating and a decent arm.  Offensively, he has above-average contact and power ratings, and will hit lefties well.  Look for him to rebound from a somewhat disappointing offensive year.

Fresno Regulators
Owner: Bobswagger91 (14th Season)
Last Season: 95-67, 2nd Place – Lost in WC round
Payroll: 107.3M out of 111M budget

Fresno is looking to build upon their first playoff appearance since season 16, where they lost a tough 5-game series to Dover in the wild-card round.  Offense is definitely a strong-point for this Regulators team.  Last season, they ranked 5th in the American League with a .274 team batting average, and just added free-agent all-star Benito Rodriguez (.293 BA, 27 HR, 103 RBI).  Fresno is returning MVP finalist Bo Long (1B), Benny Navarro (2B), and Bret Richardson (C), who can all get on base and drive in runs.  I expect Fresno to rank near the top of the AL in offense this season.

The Regulator defense will depend on how owner bobswagger91 sets his lineup, as their top hitters are not necessarily their best fielders.  Last season, they ranked 6th in the AL in fielding percentage.  Former comedian Bill Cosby is an average SS.  Fresno has four additional 3B/SS-type players, where if used at 3B and all OF positions, could be one of the top defenses in the American League.  But Fresno also has 2 first-basemen and 2 designated hitters on their roster.  Top-hitting catcher Bret Richardson could hurt the team defensively as he has weak arm-strength and pitch-call ratings.  I predict that the Regulators will be an average defensive team, but do have the potential to perform above-average.

I believe that Fresno’s pitching will decline from the 3.91 ERA in season 27, which ranked them 3rd in the American League.  They return Cy-Young finalist Tim Daubach and have a quality young starter in Wilt Sizemore, who at 24 years-old, already has two all-star appearances, 48 wins, and a 3.78 career ML ERA.  The back-end of their rotation, Chico Pineda and Magglio Figueroa, has been inconsistent over the years and might be due for a disappointing season.  The bullpen lost David Ortiz (2.90 career ERA) to free-agency and should consider replacing closer Apollo Fletcher, who blew 12 saves last season.  They had a few minor free-agent acquisitions, but I see this pitching staff dropping from top of the league to above-average, mainly because of their relief staff.

Future Star: Starting pitcher Wilt Sizemore (24 years old) has outstanding stamina, great control, and decent splits.  He is about to begin his fourth year in the majors and has already racked up 48 wins, two all-star appearances, and a 3.78 career ERA.  Sizemore is a workhorse who has thrown 32 career complete games and has averaged 280 innings pitched per season.

Salem Volcanoes
Owner: Jkenned (6th Season)
Last Season: 87-75, 4th Place
Payroll: 48.7M out of 60M budget

Although Salem finished 4th in AL West, they were only a tie-breaker away from their second playoff appearance since Season 13.  While power was the strength of their offense last year (4th in AL - homeruns), it looks as though owner Jkenned would like to improve OBP and speed at the expense of some of that power.  Salem lost four power-hitting free-agents, including all-stars Hank Roling (CF) and Benito Rodriguez (1B), and has brought up a number of promising rookies to replace.  The most-exciting of those rookies is 1B Michel Pena, who should get on base, drive-in runs, and steal bases.  Another rookie, C/DH Harry Gibson, has great power and a good eye.  Combine them with all-star C Giomar Trinidad (.325, 32 HR, 79 RBI), along with super sophomores Rubby Prieto and Avisail Martin, and Salem should be at least above-average on offense this season. 

Fielding is the strength of this Salem team.  Last season, they ranked second in the American League in fielding percentage and fourth in plus-plays.  The Volcanoes added free-agent Ernie Borders, who has great range and an arm in CF.  They also brought up 23-year old rookie Lefty Twitchell, who is a few years away from being one of the best shortstops in the majors.  The only weakness is in the arm accuracy of their catchers, which could lead to a high number of stolen bases against.  Overall, Salem has a surplus of quality fielders, and I predict that they will once again rank near the top of the American League. 

I see Salem’s starting rotation as the weakness of their ballclub.  The top returning starters are Jose Marquez, who encounters control problems, and F.P. Huff, who lacks stamina and will likely be used in a tandem role.  The Volcanoes added free-agent veteran Napoleon Hallman (11-8, 3.71 ERA), which was a necessity.  The bullpen does have a number of quality setup guys, including Todd Blair (2.27 ERA) and Mike Franklin.  On the other hand, Glen Dunston returns to the closer role, where he struggled in Season 27 with 9 blown saves and a 5.59 ERA.  Overall I view Salem’s pitching as below-average, unless they can obtain another starter (or two!).

Future Star: Shortstop Lefty Twitchell (23 years old) will be making his MLB debut this season.  By the time Twitchell reaches his prime, he should have mid-90 ratings for range, glove, and arm.  He also has above-average contact and power ratings for a shortstop.  Look for Twitchell to contribute immediately, especially on defense.

Vancouver Canucks
Owner: Skplayer07 (11th Season)
Last Season: 87-75, 3rd Place – Lost in DCS
Payroll: 86.5M out of 95M

Vancouver has made four straight playoff appearances, including a run to the World Series two years ago.  Last season, they led the majors with 318 homers and will still have a lot of power in the lineup, even after trading Rickie Halama to Iowa.  I like the following three players, who put up solid contact and power numbers: 2B Vicente Feliz (.305, 38 HR, 128 RBI), DH Armando Mota (.305, 40 HR, 102 RBI), and 1B/LF Willie Tarasco (.295, 45 HR, 114 RBI).  Tarasco might have had a career year, and it will be interesting to see if he can reproduce those numbers again.  Speed could be an issue for the Canucks, as they ranked close to last in the majors stealing bases.  Overall, I believe that Vancouver’s offense will have an above-average season.

Last season, Vancouver’s fielding percentage was average, but they were third-to-last in the AL for minus-plays.  Opposing teams should think twice about stealing bases on Gold Glove C Mac Braden, who threw out over 40% of base-runners last year.  The Canucks have low glove ratings at 2B and SS, which could allow for extra base-runners.  SS Nolan Bourn will need to improve on his 34 errors from Season 27.  Vancouver does have 4 shortstops on their roster, which can be used to strengthen some other positions.  I view Vancouver’s fielding as slightly below-average. 

The Canucks look to improve upon a 4.38 ERA, which ranked them fifth in the American League.  Their starting rotation should be very solid.  They made a huge offseason move by trading for two-time Cy-Young winner Sticky Farquhar.  22 year-old Yoshinori Zhou looks to improve upon his rookie year, where he impressed with 14 wins and a 3.93 ERA.  Darren Banks was selected as an all-star and is slotted in a tandem role.  The Vancouver bullpen might be average.  Phil Linton will be an outstanding setup guy.  Raul Santiago was a minor free-agent acquisition, who is a few years past his prime.  Brian Purcell was very average in the closer role last season.  In my opinion, Vancouver has an above-average pitching staff, mainly because of their starting rotation.

Future Star: Starting pitcher Yoshinori Zhou (22 years old) has great control and velocity.  His splits are also very impressive (especially against lefties), and should still improve.  Zhou was 14-12 with a 3.93 ERA during his rookie year.  Opponents did bat .280 against him, but look for that stat to improve in his second season.


The AL West is definitely a stacked division, and these teams aren’t separated by much.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this division produces both wild cards once again.  I predict that Fresno will win their first division title in 13 seasons.  They are the most consistent team in all three areas (offense, fielding, pitching) of the game.  If you look at Fresno’s previous win totals, they have either stayed the same or improved every year since Season 20.  Look for that to continue.  Vancouver has plenty of power and I like their starting rotation with the addition of Farquhar.  Their fielding is a big question mark, so that is why I have them in the #2 slot.  St. Louis will be depending on their pitching, as their offense and fielding are average.  They have three outstanding starting pitchers, but might have trouble keeping the lead in close games.  St. Louis does have the most experienced owner, Flucie with over 9,000 career HBD wins, so don’t be surprised if they pull out another AL West title.  Although they are not a bad team at all, I have Salem in fourth because they lack starting pitching and are depending on a number of first/second year players.  Look for Salem to contend for the AL pennant in a few years.

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

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