And the last division on the docket is the Wild Wild (AL) West, which again should be wide open. Las Vegas won the division last season by winning a whopping 79 games- they'll play as the Helena Grotto Gottos this season. The Anaheim Chiles finished only 5 games back- can they make up the difference? And what should we expect from the young, talented Seattle Killer Whales and the speedy Boise Shadow Wolves?
Seattle (last season- 7th in AL) has several young players who are ready to take the next step in their careers. 2B Jack Hunt and LF Jacque Puffer are both entering their sophomore seasons- they, like 3B Denny Moss, have a rare combination of speed and power- all three can be dynamic forces. DH Kris Olson will be the main cog behind those 3 in the lineup. They will need more from CF Henry Canizaro this season.
Boise (last season- 5th in AL) will rely on its speed again. LF Chief Pearson was the only Shadow Wolf to top 20 homers and the only returning member of the club to top 100 RBI last season. But they return 4 players (IF Mark Jung, RF Abdullah Dillon, IF Hal Ball, and Pearson) who had at least 25 stolen bases, and added CF Melvin Nakano, who stole 37 last season. The Shadow Wolves are hoping he adds a bit of power as well.
Anaheim (last season- 9th in AL) has seen the end of the Alex Vasquez era. Superstar James Dixon moves over from shortstop to 3rd to fill the spot. He'll have LF Pedro Candelaria and 1B Daryle Van Poppel to help him in the middle of the lineup. If SS Mateo Coronado can get on base more, he can use his speed to help the lineup.
Helena (last season- 15th in AL) took a big step back offensively last season. C Clarence Hartman, 1B Jeremy Glover, and RF Wally Harvey are all still dangerous hitters, but they need 2B Emmitt Yearwood to regain his old form and the young hitters like SS Kevin Kim and CF Will Weston to step up to return to the top half of the league.
Helena (last season- 7th in AL) won this division by giving up the fewest runs. They still have what is probably the deepest rotation in the west- Billy Nation, Louie Martin, and Anthony Hall aren't special, but they're all pretty good. Look for good things from Kevin Elster as well. Coco Hines is a good closer, and Dave Stewart is a veteran setup man.
Anaheim (last season- 9th in AL) will be counting on a few young arms to step up this season. Veteran Andy Ramsey will anchor the staff again, but Mateo Batista and Peaches Thompson may really help determine the Chiles' fate this season. Vince Perez made a quantum leap last season from one of the worst closers to one of the best, lowering his ERA by almost 4 runs. Greg Nieman may be the best arm in the bullpen if he doesn't end up in the rotation.
Seattle (last season- 12th in AL) has plenty of question marks. Kane Grahe is maybe the best starter in this division, but he'll need help. Miguel Benitez and Junior Bennett need to be better, and Placido Cela is not the answer. On the plus side, Quilvio Sanchez is soon to be a dominant closer and Larry Carasone is a fairly good setup man.
Boise (last season- 15th in AL) is likely to give up a lot of runs again. Journeyman Joey Hubbard was brough in- he'd be OK as a #5 starter, but he gets the opening day start. Ivan Castilla and Pete Rubel are nothing more than innings eaters, but they're the #2 and #3 options- they don't have a starter who can really get guys out on a consistent basis. Alex Cornejo has been OK as a closer (doesn't blow saves, but ERA a little high), and there's little else in the pen.
1. I always make one prediction that's a little unconventional, and it's usually wrong. So I hereby jinx the Seattle Killer Whales by predicting that they will take the AL West.
2. I feel a lot more confident about this one- 85 wins would easily win this division.
3. The order behind Seattle- I'll take Helena, Anaheim, and then Boise.
4. Most likely to be dealt- Anaheim's Dixon could have a lot of teams calling for him should the Chiles fall out of the race early, but I'm not sure if Anaheim(or any team, for that matter) would deal a 25-year-old as talented as Dixon. So it's probably a complementary piece like, say, a Dave Stewart from Helena if they can't compete.