Louisville Legends (105-57 last season)
Major Additions: None
Major Losses: SP Max Jacquez (FA- Monterrey)
Offense (last season: 2nd in AL): A potent lineup that put up over 1000 runs last season and could threaten, if not break, that mark again. The heart of the lineup is made up of veteran 2B Bernard Young (.308-48-138) and young C Ernest Montgomery (.305-37-130). C/1B Cy Hughes drove in 105, C/DH Arnold Hunter drove in 104, SS Kareem Raines drove in 102, and 3B Stewart Reese drove in 92. These guys tend to strike out quite a bit but also hit for high averages, so they have production up and down the lineup. They could be a little more dangerous if they had a true leadoff hitter who could be a high OBP guy and steal some bases, but that's nitpicking a little. This is a deep lineup as currently constituted.
Pitching (last season: 2nd in AL): At first glance, one might question letting a SP go to a league rival in Monterrey, but Jacquez underachieved last season and Louisville should make good use of the two draft picks coming their way. As for what remains in Kentucky, Lance Stevens won 20 games, 22-year-old Albert Herzog (17-7, 3.39) could very well step into the #2 role, Tom Beltran (14-2, 3.09) makes a great #3 and Danny Little (15-9, 3.74) was very solid. Eli Estrada
went 14-4 between starting and relieving and could end up being the #5 starter. The depth of the starting staff made letting Jacquez go a fairly easy decision. As for the bullpen, Justin Lawrence saved 43 out of 50, albeit with an ERA of almost 5. Mac Sung had a nice year setting Lawrence up and both Benito Chavez and Steve McDonald are viable options out of the bullpen.
Outlook: Great offense, depth at starting pitching and a halfway decent bullpen? Hard to see them not repeating as division title winners.
New York New York (90-72 last season)
Major Additions: SP Perry Herman, SP Cesar Fernandez (trade- Trenton)
Major Losses: C/DH King Winn (trade-Trenton), SS Ivan Jones (FA-Houston), SP Miguel Benitez (trade- Chicago)
Offense (last season: 4th in AL): They scored a bunch of runs last season on their way to the playoffs last season but this isn't the same offense. Rookie C Keith Buckley looks to be a big-time prospect, but it will be awfully hard to replace Winn's 68 home runs and 168 RBIs in the lineup.
Likewise, they are counting on either Patrick Durham, who struggled last season, or rookie SS B.C. Thompson to replace Jones, who takes his 82 RBIs to the Lone Star State. This is not to say they will be punchless: big-time hitter Bernie Soriano (.305-49-128) remains, as does RF Pete Duvall (.290-44-107). As for the rest of the lineup, 20-year-old LF Vladimir Rodriguez hit .326-28-77 in 111 games and looks to be a potential future star. The fate of this lineup could be in the hands of rookies; Buckley, Thompson, and 1B Omar Johnson should see a significant number of at-bats. Those three will need to contribute (as will CF Scott Diaz- New York can't afford for him to hit .248 again) to provide depth for the lineup even remotely close to what the likes of Louisville, Monterrey, and Las Vegas trot out.
Pitching (last season: 8th in AL): They felt they need a change in the starters and made some moves in that regard. The upside of the King Winn trade was it netted them 2 ML ready starting pitchers in lefties Perry Herman and Cesar Fernandez. Fernandez may have been 7-13, but had an ERA far below what several of their returning starters had last season, although it remains to be seen how the switch in leagues affects Fernandez's ERA. Herman has quite a bit of potential, but he is 22 and just simply needs to get a consistent role and put it together. It might not be this season, but eventually he'll be a solid starter. As for the returning starters, Duffy Parnell (17-13, 4.48) was the most consistent. 23-year-old Joey Hubbard won 16 games but had an ERA of almost 5.50. With the loss of Benitez (17-9, 4.65), no returning starter other than Parnell had an ERA under 5. The bullpen wasn't much better; Jose Martin had an awful season, blowing 4 of 17 save opportunities but finishing with an ERA over 9. Wesley Cora (23 of 25, 4.17) was effective and probably gets first crack at the role this season. Their setup corps have too many guys who couldn't cut it as starters.
Outlook: They won't score as many runs as last season, although it may not be as dramatic as the losses of Winn and Jones might suggest; I say the rookies will be at least serviceable and Diaz bounces back. The pitching staff is a mess and I think might prevent them from returning to the playoffs. This is a young team, and they could surprise if their young pitchers can get things figured out quickly.
Huntington Beach Combers (85-77 last season)
Major additions: Jimmy Arnold (FA- Toronto)
Major losses: RF Orel McFarlane (trade- Chicago)
Offense (last season: 5th in AL): This is an offense that can compete with the powerhouse teams of the AL. They have the speed with IF/OF Steven Leonard (.272-10-85, 50 SBs) and RF Pedro Cabrera (.280-14-85, SBs) and plenty of power with star IF Bob Koplove (.277-58-145), SS Benito Valdez (.285-39-116), and 1B Anthony Bedard (.308-18-110). If Hideki Martin can hit like he did in a little more than half a season and if Julian Nichols (.304-55-157 in AAA) can hit on the ML level this could be one of the deepest lineups in either league. Their defense might be shaky at times and they do swing and miss quite a bit, however. The upside is their position players are young; of all the players mentioned above Bedard is the only one older than 30.
Pitching (last season: 13th in AL): They gave up runs just as fast as they scored them last season, so if they want to make the leap from good team to contender, this is where they have to improve. Daryl Cashman (13-10, 4.26) has the most talent on this staff, but has to learn to keep the ball in the yard, as he gave up 25 HRs last season. 21-year-old Damion Mays will get a shot at the #2 spot in his first full season; he's got potential but may not do great things this season. Hard-throwing Olmedo James will look to improve on his 10-12 record from last season from the 3rd spot, and Jimmie Arnold received a large contract after pitching only 7 1/3 innings for Toronto last season. Russell Watson was 13-9 but had an ERA of 5.88 and must also pitch better this season for Huntington to contend. Davey Guzman had a solid season, closing 30 of 34 opportunities and Billie Ray Ennis and Santiago Martin had good seasons setting up; the rest of the bullpen is filled with question marks.
Outlook: This team is going to go as their pitching goes. Any team that outscores the likes of Milwaukee and Nashville, as Huntington did last season, can put runs on the board. I don't think their pitching staff has quite enough to put them over the top, so I'll predict a season very similar to last season: right around .500 and in contention, but eventually just falling short. Watch out for this team in the future though; they're still young.
Kansas City Comets (47-115 last season as Baltimore)
Major additions: P Ivan Quinn (trade- Toronto)
Major losses: None
Offense (last season: 12th in AL): They don't have as much as the other teams in this division. They have two main types of position players. One is the pretty good and overpaid hitter, such as CF Javier Tavarez (.262-21-100, $7.8 million) and 1B Al Bautista (.262-14-74, $5.6 million). The other type is the young and unproven player, such as 3B Edwin Love, Rule 5 steal 2B Del Lopez, and RF Wilson Hughes. They'll struggle to score runs.
Pitching (last season: last in AL): The ranking of last doesn't begin to describe how dreadful they were last season, although since they were abandoned for much of the season you have to throw it out to an extent. Top two starters Ringo Walsh and Clarence Forsch are better than their numbers from last season; they're not aces, though. Quinn provides some depth and Jose Johnson takes the 5th spot. Their starting staff is decent, not great. The bullpen got shelled last season. 21-year-old phenom Tony Merced will begin the year as the closer, but the question is can he jump from AA to the majors? Expect some of the setup guys (Ralph Washington and David Casey in particular) to pitch far better than they did last season.
Outlook: They'll be better than last season, but this is a rebuliding project nonetheless. I have them pegged somewhere around 60 wins or so.