Our last stop on The Bigs Magical Mystery Tour lands us out west in the home of the 2-time AL champion Seattle Killer Whales, who again fell short in the World Series. Helena (now back in Las Vegas as the Sand Cats) and the Boise Shadow Wolves both made the playoffs in perhaps the best division in baseball (the NL East denizens might take issue with that statement). Can Seattle win the division again and go back to the series? Does Las Vegas still have enough to make another playoff run? Is Boise on the way up? Can the Anaheim Chiles make some elbow room playing with the big boys?
Seattle (last season- 1st in AL) has a nice core of hitters with veterans 1B Osvaldo Johnson, 3B Denny Moss, and C/DH Kris Olson and young stars LF Jacque Puffer and 2B Jack Hunt; these five should have the Killer Whales among the leaders again. They are still waiting for RF Candy Kreuter to reach his potential, and it remains to be seen how much losing RF Pete Duvall to division rival Las Vegas will hurt.
Boise (last season- 5th in AL) should have a solid lineup. LF Barry McEnroe is entering his second season already known as one of the most feared hitters in the league, but he's got help in C Hiram Spooneybarger, DH Santiago Martin, 1B Michael Lee, and SS Ryan Hamill. With Hal Ball gone, IF B.C. Stone will likely be counted on to provide the speed in the lineup. They picked up 3B Jay Walker, which should add even mor depth.
Las Vegas (last season- 11th in AL) made some bold moves to try and upgrade the offense. They had only two consistent run producers in 1B Wally Harvey and 2B Jeremy Glover and Glover left for Fargo in free-agency. So they signed RF Pete Duvall from Seattle and dealt for struggling LF Bob Koplove to provide some power. SS Kevin Kim will be responsible for getting on base ahead of these guys.
Anaheim (last season- 12th in AL) does boast some dangerous hitters. 3B James Dixon, LF Pedro Candelaria, and 2B Bob Stewart are all quality run producers, although Candelaria saw a precipitous drop in his average. Chiles fans are hoping for big seasons from those three- if that happens and they get production from young hitters like RF Dweezil Milligan, SS Vic Mercado, and CF Kyle Ramirez, this could be a dangerous lineup.
Anaheim (last season- 5th in AL) has at least the top of the rotation figured out. Ace Mateo Batista (17-4, 2.43) finally put everything together and won himself a deserved Cy Young award. He'll be backed by young starters Peaches Thompson and Gaylord Matheson (both all-name candidates) and veterans Zephyr Palmer (can we just declare Anaheim the winner of the best names contest?) and free-agent signee Steve Clay. L.J. Jordan was up and down as the closer.
Seattle (last season- 6th in AL) has a deep, solid staff. Marty Lane won 20 and Kane Grahe won 18, although their ERAs were over a run higher than Batista's. Junior Bennett had a nice season and former Cy Young winner Miguel Benitez can still provide innings, although he's not even close to what he once was. But the best of the staff maybe young starter Slash Ruffin. The bullpen still has ace closer Quilvio Sanchez at the end (hard to believe he's only 25- seems like he's been in the league forever), but there could be some question marks leading up to him.
Las Vegas (last season- 2nd in AL) has solid veteran leadership. York Burnett, Coco Hines, and Louie Martin will lead the staff- none are stars, but all are solid. Rookie Adrian Henderson is likely to get a shot at a starting spot. Dave Stewart, last season's closer, went to Cincinnati as a free-agent.
Boise (last season- 15th in AL) disproved the theory that you need pitching to make the playoffs. They will turn the rotation over to 1st and 2nd year players like Pedro Limon, Hector Manto, and Victor Soto. The decidedly average Mitch Foster and the awful Pedro Medrano round out the rotation. Don Wang was inconsistent as the closer; Jaime Weaver and Armando Lopez were solid in the setup roles- they'll be helped by veteran lefty Alex Cornejo. They won't be much better than last season.
1. Seattle should have enough to repeat.
2. Las Vegas and Boise both have holes, but so do all the other wild-card contenders. They'll be in the mix. I'll take Boise for second.
3. Have to think whoever takes second should get in the playoffs.
4. Don't count Anaheim out completely. If their offense comes around they could be in the mix.