HELENA STRAW HAT PIRATES
Last season: 70-92 (as Los Angeles Poseidons, 3rd in NL West)
Offense: 13th in NL
Pitching: 8th in NL
Summary: This is still a team in need of offense. 3B William Nomo and 1B Rick Forster were the only consistent run producers last season. They need help from the supporting cast like RF Steve Sweeney. I'm not sure how much 2B Lynn Abernathy or CF DeWayne Castillo have left.
Their pitching staff could use some depth. Enrique Gutierrez and Miguel Reyes are solid at the top, but they need help after. Hi Fox is an ultratalented rookie with control problems- his future remains to be seen. The bullpen has some talent with closer Paul Schwartz and setup man Kenneth Schalk.
Outlook: I don't see this team contending. They should be right around last season's win total, give or take a few.
Last season: 59-103 (Last in NL West)
Offense: 14th in NL
Pitching: 13th in NL
Summary: Their young players didn't perform well last season, but they do have some talent. RF Melvin Taylor is the offensive star on this team, but he'll have some help with the young contact and speed guys, like 2B Albert Nunez and IF Danny Wilson as well as IF Pascual Alonso. On the other hand, OF Juan Valdes still drives in runs but has precipitously declined since his big-time season two years ago.
They will go with primarily the same starting staff as last season, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Sammy Garrido is a future star but hasn't put it together yet. Benjo Stewart and Nerio Branson are OK starters, but nothing more. They signed former Fargo reliever Kevin Li to close for this team.
Outlook: Can't help but think they'll be better this season. I like the young offense and Garrido. They won't contend but I don't think they'll lose 100, either.
SALT LAKE CITY SHAKERS
Last season: 95-67 (1st in NL West, 4th in NL)
Offense: 1st in NL
Pitching: 14th in NL
Summary: This is a lineup that, without the benefit of a DH, scored 960 runs and outscored every AL team except Louisville (965). RF Vic James is a perrenial MVP candidate and 1B Ruben Hernandez should be. The supporting cast is dangerous in IF Jordan Newfield, IF Che Bong, IF Jordan Newfield, CF George Lowe, and OF Philip McCartin- all 5 guys hit for a good average and can run. C Nick Robertson added 30 homers, so this lineup runs 8 men deep.
The pitching staff needs work. They tend to go to the bullpen earlier than most teams by design, but they still need quality innings from the starters, which Alex Sanchez, Cliff Miller, Rob Cepeda, and Gary Jackson can't necessarily be counted on to provide. The relief corps wasn't any better; Sam Lesher led the team in wins but had an ERA over 6 and closer Felipe Calles had an ERA of 5.22.
Outlook: This team can slug its way to another division title, but I think the pitching is going to have to improve before they can seriously contend for a World Series championship.
VANCOUVER GOLDEN OTTERS
Last season: 92-70 (2nd in NL West, 6th in NL)
Offense: 6th in NL
Pitching: 9th in NL
Summary: Offensively, the strength of the Golden Otters may be their balance. Nobody drove in 100 runs, but five guys drove in 80: 2B Jerry Strickland (97), 3B Wendell Durrington (93), IF Steve Bako (83), CF Roscoe Rigby (81), and C Clarence Hartman (80); all except Bako will be back. Expect IF Jim Gibson to step up and do more than he did last season.
The Golden Otters won't be able to outslug the Shakers; they'll hope to outpitch them. Oswaldo Astacio parlayed a big season into a massive contract with Milwaukee, so the Golden Otters signed former Fargo starter Orber Marin to take his spot and J.R. Guerrero to solidify the back of the rotation. In between will be stalwart veterans Jose Merced, York Burnett, and Glenallen Wehner. Ted Reese had an excellent season as the closer.
Outlook: Not sure if they win the division- I think Salt Lake City's offensive talent may outweigh Vancouver's pitching advantage. But this is a balanced team and should be at least in the wild card mix again.