With the National League tackled, we now turn our attention to the AL. The AL East is home to one of the two 7-time division champions (Louisville, with Houston in the NL South being the other). Can Louisville make it 8 in a row, or can New York, Scranton, or Boston challenge?
Louisville (last season- 5th in AL) will return 6 players (SS Amp Palmer, C/DH Ernest Montgomery, LF Albert Martin, 1B Ismael Polanco, C Steven O'Malley, and OF Stubby Byrne) who all hit at least 33 homers and drove in at least 89 runs. Palmer is the best all-around player- he can play short and run as well (stole 28 bases last season) and scored a whopping 132 runs. Add IF/OF Orlando Franco, signed from the Houston Riverdogs in the offseason, and Louisville has a deep, versitale lineup. The Legends struck out the fewest times in the AL last season, so it's not an all-or-nothing bunch.
Boston (last season- T-7th in AL) will be led by the middle of the order- SS Daniel Koch, OF Brian Satou, OF Ryan Snyder (traded from Atlanta), and 1B Wilton Petrick. They essentially swapped Trever Russell for Snyder, hoping to get more from Snyder (although Russell's .271-40-117 are hard to top). 2B Tommy Jordan is a good table setter who just needs to cut down on the strikeouts a little. They got C Rick Anderson from Monterrey in an offseason trade- this could be a big bat for the Bambinos.
Scranton (last season-14th in AL) is counting on a key free-agent pickup to bring them back to the middle of the pack. 3B Jay Walker signed as a free-agent from Norfolk- he'll fit right in the middle of the order. Former #1 overall pick CF Turner Dolan is the best all around player on the team, hitting .311 while going 20-20. He'll have LF Chief Pearson (another 20-20 guy), RF Randall Fisher, and 1B Kevin Hyun surrounding him in the lineup.
New York (last season- 13th in AL) doesn't have the depth of the aforementioned teams. Their only consistent threat is RF Karl Benes, who put up a fine year (.312-30-99) on a bad team. CF DeWayne Castillo is a decent complementary piece, but he's no longer a star. The rookies will be asked to pitch in a lot, like power-hitting 1B Mule Mulholland, 3B Marcus Goldman (I'm not as high on him as some of the scouts around the league seem to be), and LF Marcus Friedrich (should be a good player, but I don't think he's quite ready yet). In addition, this team strikes out too often; SS Mateo James had 204 by himself last season. James stole 84 bases last season, but only scored 69 times, thanks in large part to his .286 OBP and all those strikeouts.
Louisville (last season- 9th in AL) felt they could afford to let Carlton Fleming go because of their starting depth. Without Fleming there's no real ace, but Lance Stevens, Hipolito Maradona, and Danny Little are all #2-#3 type starters. They brought in veterans Claude Jacquez (Buffalo) and Norm Edwards (Scranton) to fill out the rotation. In the bullpen, Buddy Titan is a good closer- his ERA was a tad high, though. The one thing that concerns me about this bullpen is their lack of a setup man who can pitch everyday.
Boston (last season- last in AL), as with every other team in this division with the exception of Louisville, is a one-man show. That man is Daryl Cashman, who went 14-4 on a last place team. Philip Allensworth was signed from Salem to provide some depth, but he's 36 and not what he once was. Ivan Hernandez needs some more time to develop. Christy Castillo is an innings-eater, nothing more. In the bullpen, Larry Driskill struggled a bit in his first season- I think he'll do better in his sophomore year in the closer's role. Dan Daley is a solid setup guy to have.
New York (last season- 10th in AL) will be hard-pressed to finish that high again. Kelly Downs is by far the best starter, but it's questionable how much he has left at age 34- he may not be able to get the ball every five days. I don't see Jesus Nunez repeating his good 12-9 season from a year ago. Jerome Graham and Vin Espinosa don't impress me at all. Jason Franco will be handed the closer's job as a rookie- I'm betting on him struggling this season. New York could turn to veterans Freddie Thompson or Tom Cummings if Franco does indeed falter.
Scranton (last season- 15th in AL) probably won't be as bad as they were last season, but they have some serious question marks. J.R. Guerrero is probably the only given in the rotation- he posted a sparkling 11-4 record with a 3.66 ERA last season. Jesus Estrada (Toronto) and Jerry Terry (San Juan) were both brought in for fairly big money after terrible seasons. Steve Elster only posted 5 wins last season. But the biggest question mark of all surrounds talented starter Michael Giambi, who has missed significant time in each of the last two seasons with a shoulder aneurysm- scouts wonder if he'll ever be the same. It's now doubtful he will reach his potential, which seemed pretty high back in the minors. Jose Torrealba will close after being brought over from Fargo- it's his first closing gig. Rookie Eugene Ward and veteran Justin Beverlin are likely to be the two arms out of the pen to set up Torrealba.
1. I would like to pick against Louisville just to do something new, but I can't do it. The Legends should make their 8th straight playoff appearance.
2. Could be a jumble for 2nd, especially with all three of these teams likely to fall out of it and possibly make some deals. As the rosters stand right now, I'd take Boston for second.
3. Scranton and New York are a toss-up. I'll take Scranton on a hunch.
4. Plenty of players are likely to be rumored to be traded, in particular the veteran starting pitchers of Guerrero (Scranton), Cashman (Boston), and Downs (New York). Not sure who actually goes.