Here's how tough the AL South is: not a single team improved last year (although Little Rock matched Season 12's 93 wins), but it still won more games (359 - 1 win short of 90 per team) than any other division. Not hard at all to imagine 3 90-game winners this year, with Nashville improving as well.
Jackson: The Holes were 4th with 908 runs last year. Ivan Maranon and Billy Ray Hernandez have moved on, replaced by a committee at SS and Rafael Machado in the outfield. Carl Serrano (41 HR's & 95 RBI as a rookie) moves to right - he joins DH Carlos Manzanillo (.300/24/74), 1B Wilson Costello (.284/33/80) and 3B Wes Phillips (.283/26/102) in the heavy lumber part of the lineup. Trend (even)
Little Rock: The Pebbles were 9th with 150 runs last year. The 2, 3 and 4 lineup slots are in excellent hands with power-hitting CF Troy Harris, lifetime .324 hitter Matt Wallace, and career doubles leader Lon Andrews. Jerry Bernero packs a wallop at SS (42 and 37 HR's his first 2 seasons), and new LF Pedro Guerrero has some monster HR seasons on the resume. Guerrero's clearly in decline, though, and the rest of the lineup is a bit of a black hole. They may need to trade for some offense to contend. Trend (even)
Richmond: 6th with 887 runs last year, the Poor Men count on a trio of sluggers for the bulk of their run production: DH Tony Ueno (.280/42/125), RF Tomas Cruz (.287/51/152), and 3B Sean Hines (.268/29/85). CF Jared Coleman isn't your ideal lead-off man, but he did score 97 runs last year. C Ryan Lord had a very nice rookie season and could improve; they could also get a boost from AAA COF's Edgar Redondo and Alex Garland. Trend (+)
Nashville: The Ramblers piled up an impressive 904 runs last year (5th). They feature a balanced power (8 plyers with 20+ HR's) and speed (5 players with 15+ steals) attack. Richie Elder (.348/22/86) is one of the league's top-hitting C's Derek Foster (.278/41/105) seems to have found his stroke again, Lance Reed (.284/39/88) could have been ROY in a different year, and Frank Schmidt has quietly put up 3 straight 39+ HR, 97+ RBI seasons. DH Ray Henley may be trade bait for pitching help. Trend (+)
Jackson: The Holes' 4.23 ERA was a virtual tie for first last year. #1 starter Johnny Collier continues his assault on the record books. #2 Del Mendoza had an off year but should return to his excellent Season 12 form, and Darryl McCorley is a steady #3. Closer Orlando Diaz is closing in on the top 5 in career saves. Somebody tell me why Quilvio Rodriguez can't pitch. Trend (even)
Little Rock: The Pebble's pitching (4.23 ERA) carried them to the Division Championship Series last year. While every conversation about Little Rock's staff starts with closer Geoff Sosa (his Cy Young/FOY double last year has only been accomplished once before, by Roger Lawson in Season 8), it's a solid young rotation (Del Ramirez has the most star potential). In the 'pen Quentin Houston is the perfect compliment to Sosa, and would probably be the closer on any other. AAA lefty Vicente Rivera could be added bullpen strength this season. Trend (even)
Richmond: The Poor Men were 4th with a 4.42 ERA last year. Charlie Cosby's the ace...the rest of the rotation has flaws but gets the job done. Rookie Dion Rice may get a chance to crack the rotation this year, as could Season 11 1st-rounder Dion Hull (AAA). Jacob Franklin might be the second-best closer in the AL now - with rookie Harry Gumbert, FA Rich Brock, Juan Martinez and Dutch Pavano, it looks like Richmond has put together a comparable set-up crew. Trend (+).
Nashville: The Ramblers were 11th with a 5.23 ERA last year. Harold Bryant regressed a little from his near-ROY rookie season, but still won 15. He's joined in the rotation by an all-30+ group - they've either seen better days or are holding their breath for the next trade announcement. Hideki Martin got 15 starts as a rookie last year and could get another crack at the rotation. The bullpen is perhaps more undistinguished - closer Yorvit Manuel is the best of the bunch but his poor control is a nasty flaw. Trend (even)
1. It's a strong division, but Jackson will take it again
2. Richmond improves its late-inning pitching to take second
3. Little Rock's pitching is good, but I don't think they can repeat last year's performance - they fall to third.
4. Nashville will socre a lot of runs, but it won't be enough in a brutal division...gotta go get some pitching somewhere.
5. Rookie watch: Richmond's Edgar Redondo and Little Rock's Vicente Rivera
6. Vets on the move: just about any Nashville hitter could move sometime this year...let's say Henley and/or Foster if both/either has a strong start.