We now turn to the AL South, which was maybe the best division in baseball and yet had a familiar end result. Monterrey ended up winning its 9th division title in 10 seasons, but the division yielded both wild card teams in Jackson (now Mexico City) and Montgomery. Will we have a 3 team race again this season? And no one has heard from Charlotte in a long time- does that change this season?
Monterrey (last season- 1st in AL) has an offense that is a force to be reckoned with. 3B/LF Sean Simpson is still putting up MVP type numbers and he's got plenty of help in DH Tony Escuela, IF Justin Gordon (acquired from Austin), C Vin Logan, and OF Magglio Perez to drive in runs. CF Charles Takada and RF Trot Turner are quality table setters.
Mexico City (last season- 2nd in AL) did a good job in plugging some holes via free-agency. They already had stars CF Raul Vallarta, 2B Tony Johnson, and LF Dennis Tamura, but felt they needed more to compete with Monterrey, so they grabbed star 3B James Dixon (from Anaheim) and solid hitting 1B Stephen Mills (from Trenton). Speedy IFs Tony Johnson and Steve Lofton help create havoc on the bases and will be counted on to score in front of the big hitters.
Montgomery (last season- 6th in AL) will have its fortunes determined from the top. If LF Felipe Valdez can get on base more he could become a very dangerous top of the order (or middle, for that matter) hitter. He'll be joined by 1B Thurman Allen, DH Vladimir Rodriguez, 3B Juan Rodriguez, and CF Matty Clemens.
Charlotte (last season- 10th in AL) fans are excited as a new era starts this season. The offense will be led by two rookies; both are former #1 overall picks. RF Joe Grace (23 years old) and 2B Floyd Floyd (20 years old) should be the #3 and #4 hitters in the lineup- both are potential MVP candidates someday and Floyd has drawn some comparisons to Gregg Black (the world's only current HOFer). They'll be helped by veterans such as C Tony Stieb, DH Mel Messner, and LF Luis Melo.
Monterrey (last season- 3rd in AL) will go as far as their veteran staff will take them. Albert Gonzalez nailed down his 2nd Cy Young Award and Patrick Clifton and Luther Brush were both good last season. Jocko Keats won 15 games due in part to run support. Pablo Rijo was good last season as the closer, but he's 38 and some Sultans fans are worried he might lose it at some point soon.
Mexico City (last season- 6th in AL) should be an interesting staff to watch as they move to a new stadium. They've got talent in Alex Samuel, Jimmy Cole, Fausto Almanza, and Ivan Webster, but they all had ERAs over 4- does the move south of the border help or hurt their numbers? They may not be sure about the setup roles, but they've got one of the best in the closer's role in Garry "Dream Weaver" Wright.
Montgomery (last season- 7th in AL) parted with their best player last season to help their pitching staff. They picked up their top 2 starters in Stone Curtis and Neifi Gonzalez from Atlanta, giving up 3B Mitch Sobkowiak. Curtis led the team with 15 wins and Gonzalez was solid. They'll be joined by veteran righty Russell Newson and young Mexican import Rafael Aguilar. Joe Overbay was solid as the closer last season.
Charlotte (last season- last in AL) looks like it could be a one-man staff this season. Ronn Lincoln is a very good looking young starter, but he's got little to nothing around him. Veterans Lawrence Carver, Jerry Terry, Felix Comer, and Alfredo Veras won't win many games. Closer Esteban Gutierrez may be better suited to start, but we'll see how he does at the end of the game.
1. Should be close again, but I like Monterrey to repeat.
2. I like Mexico City to make the playoffs again. They're a good team.
3. Montgomery should be close, but I'm not sure they get in again.
4. Charlotte's offense should be respectable, but their pitching will probably doom them to another top 5 pick.
5. This year's AL rookie of the year will be wearing a Lions uniform, whether it's Lincoln, Floyd, or Grace.