With the NL out of the way, we move on to the American League. We'll start with the East, where the two-time defending division champion Louisville Legends reside. Will they make it three, or is this the season that New York, Huntington, or Charlotte knocks them off?
Offense: We'll begin our trip around the division in Louisville. The Legends have the most talkent on paper, but not all of it performed up to its potential last season. 3B Kareem Raines hit basically the same as he did in season 1 and drove in 40 fewer runs. He'll have DH Ernest Montgomery, 2B Stewart Reese, IF/OF Bernard Young, and C/1B Arnold Hunter around him in the order. LF Yank Lohse, late of the Scottsdale franchise, will provide more power; the only question is can the leadoff guys get on base ahead of them.
Huntington should be next in line offensively. Star 2B Bob Koplove almost singlehandedly makes this a viable offense. He will have help in the form of 2B Steven Leonard and IF Hideki Martin ahead of him in the order and 1B Wilson Petrick will help drive in runs. Two rookies, IF Derrin Hernandez and CIF/COF Julian Nichols, could be counted on for depth in this lineup; Hernandez is blessed with speed and Nichols has a ton of power.
Charlotte is rebuilding from the ashes of Baltimore/Kansas City. The do have some offensive pieces in 2B Javier Tavarez and free-agent signing SS Moose Coleman. 3B Greg Whitaker needs to revert back to his 44 HR-100 RBI form from season 1. Infielders Del Lopez and Edwin Lowe need to fulfill their potential. IF/OF Omar Cruz is lightning fast but needs to improve his OBP. C Octavio Candelaria is a professional hitter.
New York has offensive talent, but for some reason most of it took the year off. 1B Bernie Soriano, RF Pete Duvall, SS B.C. Thompson, and OF Jeff Montague all saw their numbers take a nose dive last season. If those four return to form, they'll form a deep lineup along with CF Scott Diaz and LF Vladimir Rodriguez. Rookie infielder Melvin Bailey could see significant playing time.
Pitching: We once again begin in Louisville. The Carlton Fleming signing could tie them up financially long-term, but in the meantime he'll combine with Albert Herzog and Lance Stevens to form a pretty good top of a rotation. It would be even better if Danny Little can come off of his injury and pitch well out of the #4 slot. In the bullpen, Justin Lawrence turned in a great season in the closer's role, and the setup crew is led by Mac Sung.
New York checks in next. Their big offseason pickup was SP Manny Christians, whose stuff has never been questioned (although his stamina has). He and fellow former Traffic pitcher Perry Herman combine with Kenneth Graves for a top 3 to rival Louisville. Joey Hubbard crashed last season after a big season 1; I think season 2 is more indicative of his talent level. Wesley Cora was excellent as the closer last season. Former closer Jose Martin seemed to take to his setup role fairly well.
Huntington was a little behind Louisville and New York in the pitching department last season. Daryl Cashman is a pretty good starter. Russell Watson and Olmedo James are overpaid inning eaters. Huntington's pitching coach should make his top priority working with fireballing Canuck Damion Mays to see if the squad can get Mays straightened out. Davey Guzman is a good closer and Lefty Hahn is pretty good as the setup guy.
Charlotte will struggle to get hitters out. Clarence Forsch proved that his 2-22 campaign from season 1 was an aberration by going 12-11 with an ERA under 4.50. Unfortunately, along with the overpaid Tony Howell, he's the best they have. Ringo Walsh got beat like a drum (sorry, couldn't resist) and Stan Thompson proved that he was just as bad under the new ownership as he was under no ownership. Andrew Wallace may get a shot as the rotation; he's probably being rushed, as he has never pitched an inning above AA. In the bullpen, King Burns was brought over from New Orleans; he went from lights out in season 1 to having the lights turned out on him in season 2. Regardless, he or Tony Merced probably closes. Justin Witt had a good season setting up last season. Andres Rivera will help Witt out after coming over from Scottsdale.
1. I want to pick against Louisville, but I can't. Give them 3 in a row.
2. Going to take Huntington to leapfrog New York for 2nd place this season; both will watch the playoffs on TV.
3. It's going to be a long season in Charlotte, who will be hard pressed to improve more than 5 games over their 67 game finish from last season.
4. Look for at least one member of Charlotte's bullpen to be traded at some point; Moose Coleman will be asked about but could possibly stay in North Carolina.