With Houston losing the AL South to Austin, Louisville now stands alone as the only 8-time division champion. They took the division by ten games last season. Can they make it 9? Can Boston avoid the late season collapse this time and overtake them? Can Scranton or New York contend this season?
Louisville (last season- 4th in AL) has talent up and down the lineup. LF Albert Martin and 30-30 3B Amp Palmer both drove in 100, and the always consistent C Ernest Montgomery came close. 1B Ismael Polanco and 3B Orlando Franco are good bats and they will add IF Miguel Cerveza and CF Dewey Greenwood to the mix this season.
Boston (last season- 3rd in AL) got big seasons from RF Ryan Snyder (.328-33-128) and 1B Wilton Petrick (.282-28-126) in the middle of the order, but the lineup is deeper than that: 2B Tommy Jordan, SS Daniel Koch, DH Ricky Beech, and C Rick Anderson all drove in over 80 runs. RF Brian Saitou was a disappointment.
Scranton (last season- 10th in AL) need help for superstar CF Turner Dolan. LF Chief Pearson led the team in RBI with 94, but they will lose 3B Jay Walker (traded to Boise). There is a big talent dropoff after that, as guys like 2B Ricky Martin, 1B Jackie Howard, and SS Dante Shumpert haven't proven they can hit big-league pitching consistently and RF Randall Fisher had an off year last season.
New York (last season- last in AL) will struggle mightily for runs again. They have DH Karl Benes, but they will be relying on second year players 3B Marcus Goldman, 1B Mule Mulholland, LF Mark Friedrich, and rookie CF Albert Dale. All are nice players, but they all have limited ceilings and have yet to prove themselves.
Louisville (last season- 7th in AL) got it done with their offense, but they have solid starting depth as well. Hipolito Maradona and Danny Little both had good seasons, helping to make up for the fact that Albert Herzog had a second straight bad season. Claude Jacquez provided solid depth at the 4 spot. Buddy Titan (30 saves, 3.51 ERA) was pretty good- he may end up setting up Jamey Dwyer this season.
New York (last season- 4th in AL) should expect a drop-off this season. Vin Espinosa and Benito Madura both had solid rookie seasons, but I expect the league to catch up with them this season along with innings-eater Marv Starr. Getting Dixie Reynolds from Washington should help, but not all that much. On the upside, Jason Franco had a great year as the closer.
Boston (last season- 10th in AL) just couldn't get enough pitching to take a playoff spot. Daryl Cashman will keep them in just about any game he is in, but he needs help. Victor Sierra was a nice find, and B.C. Santiago and Christy Castillo provided decent innings. Dan Daley had a nice season as the closer (20 of 24, 2.43 ERA) after coming over from Houston.
Scranton (last season- 13th in AL) has little depth to work with. Journeyman Jesus Estrada had maybe his best season (17-9, 3.65 ERA) at age 34- it's hard to believe he can duplicate that. Former highly touted prospect Michael Giambi finally started more than 30 games and the result was not pretty (11-17, 4.78). Jerry Terry (now with Charlotte) and Steve Elster were both awful. They brought in veteran arm Dennys Fox to try and provide some innings. The bullpen is in flux- expect either young Eugene Ward or erratic veteran Jose Torrealba to get the closer's role.
1. I'd say Louisville is the odds-on favorite to win as the rosters currently stand.
2. Boston should be fairly close and could really give Louisville a good run with a trade or two.
3. I think Scranton and New York should be close for third, miles behind the other two. I'll take Scranton- normally I will pick the team with pitching, but I think New York made the top 4 with smoke and mirrors last season.
4. I would nominate Chief Pearson to be the most likely veteran to be dealt.
5. Not exactly touting him as a ROY lock, but Albert Dale should be a solid contributor as a rookie.