Last season Las Vegas made it 2 division titles in a row and 3 out of 4 out in the AL West, leaving Anaheim, Colorado Springs (now Boise), and Seattle to battle for second- Anaheim took it at an underwhelming 71-91. Does Las Vegas make it 3 of a kind, or can one of last season's also-rans trump the Gamblers?
- Las Vegas appears to be, once again, the best offense in the division by a fairly wide margin. LF Wally Harvey, DH Clarence Hartman, RF Al Carrasco, and 2B Jeremy Glover are all big-time run producers. They could use a leadoff guy to get on base ahead of these guys.
- Anaheim is led by all-around star SS James Dixon and RF Kerry Kydd, but they may be the only consistent threats. 3B Alex Vazquez hit 39 HRs and drove in 101, but only hit .213 with an anemic .262 OBP- his production is slowing down at an alarming rate. 1B Darryle Van Poppel (formerly of Buffalo) could help, and it remains to be seen what IF Marino Coronado will do in a full season.
- Seattle has young talent in IF Jacque Puffer, 2B Jack Hunt, and DH Kris Olson. Unfortunately, Puffer and Hunt both play the same position and are maybe not quite ready, and there is little around the three. All-or-nothing RF Flip Chapman and inconsistent LF Richard Takahashi are the most notable names outside of the young talent.
- Boise's offense could be historically bad. They will return only one player who drove in more than 67 runs last season in DH Jung Zheng (OF Alex Lim was dealt to Fargo and LF J.D. Wingo was not re-signed) and have lost their top 4 run scorers- 2B Javier Tavarez (signed as a FA by Louisville), Lim, Wingo, and RF Vicente Palacios (not re-signed). Their replacements, such as 2B Chip Loiselle, RF Abdullah Dillon, and LF Chief Pearson, aren't all that impressive.
- Las Vegas doesn't have a dominant ace, but they have depth at starter. Steve Elster is maybe the most talented, and Buster Charles, Billy Nation, Louie Martin, and Wally Lawton are all solid options. In the bullpen, Dave Stewart deservedly won the Fireman Award last season by saving 47 out of 51 chances and posting a 1.73 ERA- he'll be back. Coco Hines is a workhorse as the main setup guy.
- Anaheim will be led by decent, veteran starting pitching. Andy Ramsey led the team with 12 wins last season, and Maceo Batista had a 3.52 ERA. Tom Griffith, Cookie Rijo, and Einar Peron all struggled last season. B.J. Wallace and Felipe Cela were good setting up Vince Perez, who needs to lower his ERA.
- Seattle's staff, like its offense, has some highly talented youngsters that have yet to come around and play at a high level. Miguel Benitez and Kane Grahe do not fall into that category- they are proven veterans and will occupy the top two slots. Starter Junior Bennett and closer Quilvio Sanchez have huge upsides, but they are only 21. Sanchez struggled last season as the closer- they have 22-year-old setup guy Larry Carasone and 24-year-old Ken Baez alongside veteran Trent Bollea.
- Boise has made plenty of changes to its rotation; whether they help or not remains to be seen. Pete Rubel and York Watson were brought in from Chicago- I wouldn't count heavily on them, although it seems the Shadow Wolves will. Ivan Castilla is the best of the rest in the rotation. In the bullpen, Dude Huskey leaves for Chicago, so Alex Cornejo inherits the role. Max Delgado signed a big free-agent deal to leave Trenton for Boise to set up Cornejo.
1. Not going out on a limb on this one this season. Las Vegas again.
2. I like Anaheim to finish second, although I've overestimated this team before.
3. I'll take Seattle to beat out Boise this season. Give that team a few seasons for their young talent to develop and they may be able to make some noise.
4. Boise's owner has stated publicly he doesn't want a top-5 pick next season. I don't think he gets his wish.
5. Not sure if I see a guy sure to leave town- Jung Zheng would make sense if he wasn't a DH, which limits who can pick him up.