Friday, August 8, 2008

Nl South Season 3 Preview

Well, the previews I've done for the NL North and East have already sparked some controversy. So why stop now? Let's move to the South.

Offense: We'll start in San Juan with the Dead Bunnies. They had a medicore year last season with 77 wins, but they still have offensive talent on paper. RF Calvin Chang has MVP potential, and he should get plenty of RBI opportunities with speedsters CF Jerome Grahe and SS Mike Henderson in front of him in the lineup. The Dead Bunnies have two rookies to keep an eye on: 2B Felix Pryce adds more speed to the lineup coming up from AAA and OF Steve Sweeney is a potential star in the making.

Houston traded Ivan Jones in the offseason, but they still return all-around hitter 3B Leo Miller and slugging OF Brian Saitou. LF Placido Sanchez, brought over in the deal that sent ace starter Matty Eusebio to Chicago, or rookie CF Charles Takada could end up in the leadoff spot- they'll both be giving opposing catchers fits for seasons to come. 2B Wilt Gardner is another speedster who needs to get on base just a little more. This is a team that will have to manufacture runs, as they lack power outside of Jones and Saitou.

New Orleans has a decent mix of veterans and young players in the everyday lineup. 1B superstar Lyle Barber leads the attack along with speedsters CF Don Jefferson and Jimmie Santos, but expect big things from two guys under 27, rookie SS Albie Torres and sophomore 3B Russell Blank. Blank struggled last season, but he should improve.

Austin has the makings of a decent offense. RF Benito Valdes is a good all-around offensive player- he and SS Tomas de Jesus should provide most of the power. One guy to watch could be CF Lee Kennedy, acquired from Syracuse- he's yet to prove himself in the majors but put up big-time AAA numbers. OF Marc Olson was a good, relatively inexpensive free agent pickup, but the rest of this lineup is decidedly average- not bad, but average.

Pitching: Amazing that a team can trade its ace and still be head and shoulders above the rest of its division in pitching. Houston sent Eusebio to Chicago but still has a deep rotation with starters Jerome Oliver, J.R. Guerrero, Jose Merced, and Damon Thompson. Oliver, Guerrero, and Thompson combined to win 38 games and Merced is a former 19-game winner himself. Fireballer Tex Howell is still the closer. Young setup men Cristian Price and Victor Vargas have potential, but the bridge to Howell this season could be a question mark.

Amazing that a rebuilding team with less than a $40 million payroll could have the second best staff in the division. The big question in Austin is what to do with 22-year-old Oswaldo Astacio- he could possibly be the best starter for the City Limits right now, but another season in AAA may be the best thing for his development. Even if Astacio doesn't throw a pitch for the big club this season, they still have some talent in the form of Jason Sprague, who was lights out last season, and veteran Claude Jacquez, who missed all of last season. Charlie Miller and Zach James are your prototypical #4 or #5 starters who'll go around .500 (give or take a few games) and just eat innings for you- pitchers like these two are often underrated. The bullpen has Fireman of the Year Dude Huskey, young setup pitcher Eduardo Moya, and little else.

I'll take San Juan next. Wally Lawton would, on a good staff, probably be a good #2 or #3 starter; as it is, he'll likely start Opening Day. The rest of the rotation (some combination of Jordan Jerzembeck, Kenny Holmes, Joey Adcock, Buzz Linden and rookie Charlie White) is very limited, although Linden is tough on lefties and White could be another one of those innings-eater type guys. Closer Willie Nunez had great numbers last season. Lefty Kenneth Schalk is somewhat like Astacio in Austin in that he'd be the best option they currently have in the setup role, although another season at AAA might be best for his long-term development- it's a difficult choice to make.

New Orleans gave up almost 900 runs last season and it could get worse. The only decent pitchers are 18-game winner Carlos Matos and closer Tom Hernandez. Matos is the only viable starter; Jayson Hennesey is a waste of $5 million, and I don't expect much from the three rookies who could round out the rotation-Derek Stevenson, Dave McKinley, and Eduardo Lira.
Hernandez is a viable closer, but the only decent setup man is 22-year-old Billy Ray Hooper, who probably should be in AAA for one more season.

1. Houston makes it a 3-peat in the South based on their pitching. Still too much for everyone else.
2. San Juan should score enough runs to eke out second place, probably nowhere near a wild-card berth.
3. Austin and New Orleans will battle it out for third- Austin will quietly rebuild their team.
4. New Orleans gives up 1000 runs and will trade Lyle Barber.
5. Calvin Chang will be talked about seriously for MVP.

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