Finally, we work our way to the West. Last season, Helena barely beat out a young Seattle team, which caught fire in the playoffs and made a surprise ALCS appearance. Who wins out this season? Can Anahem challenge this season? How long until we can expect Boise to contend?
Seattle: The Killer Whales (6th in AL last season) added some pieces at the end of last season and their young players have one more season of experience, so I like them slightly more than the team that was statistically better last season in Helena. LF Jacque Puffer and 2B Jack Hunt are young, talented, all-around hitters that set up the big hitters in DH King Winn, RF Pete Duvall, 1B/C Kris Olson, and 3B Denny Moss. This is a lineup that could potentially be 7-8 hitters deep.
Helena: The Grotto Gottos (2nd in AL last season) shed themselves of a few members of their offense, but return most of the core. DH Clarence Hartman is the main cog, and he has support in RF Wally Harvey, CF Wil Weston, and LF Jeremy Glover. They'll need the infield, specifically 3B Jay Hegan and 2B Paul Ingram to provide depth to keep up with Seattle.
Boise: The Shadow Wolves (8th in AL last season) are not bad on this side of the ball. They've got some ML talent in C Hiram Spooneybarger, RF Abdullah Dillon, and SS Ryan Hammill. The Wolves expect big things from young 2B Victor Flores and DH Santiago Martin; there's plenty more offensive talent in AAA. Before they called up those two, their AAA team might have been able to beat the big club in a Home Run Derby match.
Anaheim: The Chiles (10th in AL last season) don't have a star (you could argue 3B James Dixon and LF Pedro Candelaria have some clout), but they had 6 guys hit 20 HRs last season. They're not in the top half of offense (too low OBP, too many strikeouts), but they're not inept, either.
Seattle: They leapt up to 3rd in the AL last season, which was a big part of their success. Cy Young winner Miguel Benitez was most certainly deserving of the honor, and Kane Grahe and Junior Bennett also had fine seasons. This season they add 22-year-old Hawaiian Slash Ruffin, who I think will wind up a top 2 guy in the rotation eventually- he's got the talent. Quilvio Sanchez gets better each season, and Larry Carasone is a good 8th inning option for the Orcas.
Anaheim: The Chiles finished right behind Seattle, 4th last season. They've got good depth in the rotation, although their starters aren't as good as the Orcas. Maceo Batista, Peaches Thompson, Andy Ramsey, and Zephyr Palmer are all good starters, although none is an ace. They'll try Vic Trevino (brought over from Scranton) in the closer's role, moving Valerio Almanzar to the 8th inning.
Helena: At 7th in the AL last season, they were good enough to win the division. I'm not sure Billy Nation, Louie Martin, and York Burnett are good enough a top 3 to get it done again. Dave Stewart and Coco Hines are the back end of a solid bullpen.
Boise: They were 13th in the AL last season and, like most young teams, this is what separates the contenders from the pretenders. Joey Hubbard, Ivan Castilla and the no longer overpaid Pete Rubel would be a good back end of a rotation for a contending team- here they're the top 3. Alex Cornejo saved a lot of games last season, but needs to lower his ERA a bit. The setup roles could be questionable.
1. I like Seattle this season, especially with their pitching staff in a pitchers' park.
2. I think Helena will be in contention- they always find a way to stay in it.
3. Should be Anaheim for 3rd- their pitching trumps whatever Boise can throw out there.
4. Boise will be interesting in a few seasons, especially if they can find a way (either through their minors or FA/trades) to add to the pitching in their system.
5. Helena may look to add pitching- their offense is good enough to keep them in long enough for them to be a buyer.
6. Most likely to be dealt: is it time for Dixon to get a change of scenery? Not sure of the answer to that.