The NL North improved by 4 games last year, with Ottawa and Trenton getting above .500. Despite winning 8 fewer games, Syracuse still posted its 4th-straight 100-win season. The North was the "strongest" NL division last year (measured by wins). The Warriors are still loaded, despite the loss of free agent Rafael Brogna, and have to be the pre-season favorite.
Syracuse: 2nd in the league with 862 runs last year, the Warriors' biggest offseason chore was to replace this year's biggest free-agent millionaire, Rafael Brogna. They got Valerio Benitez late in free agency to do exactly that, and will count on him for 20-25 HR's and 90-100 RBI. Billy Ray Hernandez provides OF depth and pinch-hitting. Don't be surprised if there's a trade in the works - the Warriors have 4 frontline middle infielders battling for playing time. Trend (even)
Sioux Falls: The Presidents were 6th with 762 runs last year but seem to be just a player or 2 away from breaking out. 3rd-year LF Richie Scheffer and 4th-year SS Bailey Johnson lead the attack and are ably complimented by RF Jimmie Stokes (.282/27/83) and 2B Ricardo Nunez (.271/29/79). Jim Olson will debut this year and will likely push Johnson to 3B and Jung Cho to a utility role. You'll likely see Olson on the ROY ballot. Trend (+)
Ottawa: 766 runs were good for 5th in the league last year. Rookies Cesar Liriano and Brian Jiang (and possibly Taylor Rivers and Dion Vitiello) join last year's bumper crop, but the Ice are overloaded with infielders and short on thumpers (13th in HR). With all the young and improving talent, the Ice will still improve and could be one of the top 3 offenses in the league. Trend (++).
Trenton: The Trogs put across 773 runs last year, good for 4th. Their OBP was a puny .319, so you know they're doing it with the long ball. LF Vladimir Lopez is one of the league's big secrets, but he's blasted 105 HR's in his first 2 seasons. Their even-more-unknown RF, Jesus Mendez, tagged 96 the last 2 seasons. They're lacking table-setters: 2B Tony Martinez swiped 87 bags, but needs to reach base more. Terry Kent will be an improvement at 1B, and SS Kelly Quinn was a nice Rule 5 find. Trend (+)
Syracuse: The Warriors rode their Big Three of James/Nakajima/Woodward and a stout 'pen all the way to the WS last year. They added 4th-starter types William Kondou and Davey Bailey - innings, but nothing special. Rookie Carl Hume could help an already-strong bullpen. They'll need repeat performances from the Big Three. Trend (even)
Sioux Falls: The Presidents were 14th in ERA last year. The good news: they didn't lose anybody. The bad news: they brought back the entire staff. Daryl Holtz and Bernard Myette had very nice seasons and could repeat; they could also be a lot worse. Enrique Ramirez is the centerpiece of the bullpen...rookie Ted Bennett could help. There's a trade for pitching somewhere on the horizon. Trend (even)
Ottawa: 11th last year at 4.43, the Ice lost a handful of 30-somethings in FA and signed a different handful. Jorge DeJesus, Albert DeJean and Raul Arias form a very nice front 3 of the rotation - breakout seasons imminent. #'s 4 and 5 Humberto Urbina and Reid Black have both been better than last year, so some improvement is possible there. Closer Doug Brown heads an unheralded but effective bullpen. Trend (+)
Trenton: 10th with 4.41 ERA last year. Magglio Nunez leads the staff and is a legit #1. George Titan is a capable #2 - 14 wins with a 3.68 ERA last year. Jimmy Martin
and Vic Mesa may have pitched well over their heads last year - watch out for some explosions. Casey Sherman was adequate - but no more - as closer last year. The rest of the bullpen needs improvement. Trend (-)
1. Syracuse wins 100+ again and wins its 6th straight division crown
2. Ottawa steps up to 95 wins and contends for a wild card
3. Sioux Falls 3rd - has more assets to get pitching than the Trogs
4. Trenton 4th - pitching over-achieved last year
5. Rookie watch: Sioux Falls' Jim Olson and Ottawa's Cesar Liriano
6. Sioux Falls and Trenton might move anybody for pitching: let's take a wild guess and say Ricardo Nunez and Jesus Mendez