We turn our attention to the American League today. We'll start in the East, where Louisville has won the division for each of the five seasons of the league's existence, and Scranton has made the playoffs for the last 3 seasons. Can Louisville make it 6 straight titles? Can Scranton be the first team to take the top spot from the Legends? How about New York and Boston- can they make the playoffs this season?
Louisville (last season- 4th in AL) is likely to be led by two of the most dynamic young players in the entire league. 1B Ismael Polanco had a breakout season (.322-54-125), and expect big things this season from 3B Amp Palmer as well. The Legends also have some good veteran bats in C/DH Ernest Montgomery, 2B Javier Tavarez, and RF Pete Mercedes. Expect good two-way catcher Steven O'Malley to see plenty of time in his rookie season.
Boston (last season- 6th in AL) has to get all their talented bats to perform in order to be playoff-worthy. RF Brian Saitou, LF Trever Russell, and 1B Wilton Petrick all drove in over 100 runs and SS Daniel Koch slugged 30 home runs. If 2B Tommy Jordan is healthy (missed all but 8 games last season with a torn ACL and sustained the same injury in Spring Training), it would be a big boost to the offense. They will also need to replace departed 3B Julian Nichols's 42 homers and 89 RBI somehow.
Scranton (last season- 8th in AL) will likely live and die on their speed. 3B Paxton Coleridge and CF Kevin Hyun were the only Janitors to top 65 RBI, but they had 8 players with at least 10 steals. LF Harold Grimsley, 2B Matt Davies, and RF Randall Fisher are the top speedsters on the roster and will keep AL catchers busy all season.
New York (last season- last in AL) desperately needed to upgrade their offense from last season. They went out and signed perhaps the biggest hitter on the free-agent market in 2B Pepe Martin and also added RF Orel MacFarlane to go with mid-season acquisitions LF Justin Hernandez and IF Greg Whitaker. 1B/DH Pete Duvall was an MVP finalist, but he'll need help from the new guys and holdovers like CF DeWayne Castillo and 3B Placido Sanchez.
Louisville (last season-5th in AL) probably has the deepest starting staff in this division. Lance Stevens, Danny Little, Hipolito Maradona, and Albert Herzog are all solid pitchers. The two big question marks here are the health of top starter Carlton Fleming (limited to 150 innings last season due to a labrum tear, reinjured the same shoulder in spring training and will miss about 2-3 weeks) and the closer position. Former closer Tom Beltran in in Monterrey; if Steve McDonald (7.47 ERA last season) can't cut it, expect former Trenton closer Rob Gilmore to get a shot at it.
Scranton (last season- 3rd in AL) also has a solid 1-4 starting staff. There's no real ace here, but J.R. Guerrero, Clarence Forsch, and Dennys Fox all won 13 games; Norm Edwards pitched a little better than his 8-9 record might indicate. The bullpen is also fairly solid, with Vic Trevino as the closer and Larry Stokes and Tony Howell (17 wins in relief) setting up.
New York (last season- 2nd in AL) falls a little bit on this list with the offseason trade of #1 starter Jason Sprague to Houston. They will return 17-game winner Vic Chavez, Max Jacquez, Jesus Nunez, and Damon Thompson- this is a solid rotation, but not the same without Sprague. New York is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with 5th starter R.J. Toca. Eduardo Moya was just about automatic in the 9th inning last season, and he'll have Achilles Hume (acquired in the Sprague deal) as the primary setup man.
Boston (last season- 14th in AL) has some talent, but was perhaps hurt a bit by both Fenway Park and the defense behind the pitchers. Stephen Tucker led the way at 14-8, but Daryl Cashman, who before last season had been 13 games above .500 for his carrer, limped to a 7-15 finish. Buzz Linden and Christy Castillo will comprise the 3 and 4 spots this season in all probability. Davey Guzman had a good season, saving 42 games. Carl Spezio and Andy Hogan were both good out of the pen last season.
1. I don't think Scranton has enough offense and I don't think New York or Boston has the pitching. So I guess I'll have to pick Louisville to take its 6th straight title.
2. Toss-up for 2nd and 3rd- if I had to pick, I'd take Scranton, Boston, and then New York.
3. Scranton's been to the playoffs 3 straight seasons. They will probably be in the mix again.
4. Not sure who is likely to be traded out of the division, but look for players to be traded into it later in the season. Look for Louisville and Scranton to try to add a bat.