Season 14 Recap: Cincinnati skunked the division, winning 93 to finish 26 up on runnerups Augusta and Madison (now Buffalo), while Columbus started tearing down and won only 58. The division brought home no major awards. The Waste Managers won their first-round playoff series against Nashville (3-0), but lost in the second round to eventual AL Champ Jackson (3-1).
CINCINNATI WASTE MANAGERS
Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 7th, Team ERA - 6th, Fielding % - t 4th
Sayonara: the whole crew is back
New Faces: no trades or FA signings
Rookie Possibilities: Andy Newman appears to have nailed down the #4 or #5 starter job. Season 11 IFA Al Solano (LF) and Season 12 #1 pick Matty Maduro (RP) are ready to contribute.
OUTLOOK: Cincy boasts a nucleus of excellent hitters in their prime years. 2B Carlos Pineiro (.316/25/81, 42 SB) may have had the best season of any leadoff hitter (I'm guessing he hit leadoff) last year. 4 players had 94+ RBI, lead by Carlos Cairo (.289/32/110). Carlos Javier has front-of-the-rotation stuff; the rest of the rotation is solid but not spectacular. The bullpen gets by on quantity of arms rather than outstanding talent, although Ashley (injured), Gonzalez, Lowry and Valentin all had very good seasons last year. Likely finish: 1st
AUGUSTA POLAR BEARS
Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 12th, Team ERA -15th, Fielding % - t 6th
Sayonara: SP Turner Cromer, RP Oswaldo Escuela, 1B Larry Keisler, C Lewis Bell
New Faces: C Melvin Vina,
Rookie Possibilities: IF Rod Goldberg (Season 10's #1 pick) is ready to debut.
OUTLOOK: With Bell and Keisler gone, the Bears are in danger of sending out an even punier offense than last season. 2B Roy Drew, 3B Matthew Ryan and C Quilvio Nunez need to step up with better seasons - good possibilities with all. Mickey Beckett and Jacque Butler are pretty good on the front end of the rotation, and Thomas Martin seems well-suited to a 100+ inning setup role; after that the staff trails of badly. Likely finish: 4th
Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 14th, Team ERA - 11th, Fielding % - T 6th
Sayonara: 1B James Riggs, RP's J.J. Little and Dario Darr, LF Samuel Blair.
New Faces: 1B Hanley Woods, RP Danny Hernandez, C's William Katou and Buzz Arnold, RF Vinny Zhang, CF Jimmie Castro
Rookie Possibilities: Doyle Pellow (Season 7 sandwich pick) looks like he'll make the roster as a defensive utility man. RP Danny Hernandez has been kicking around the minors for 7 years and finally gets a shot. Season 13 first-rounder (#3 overall) Daniel Tankersly will start the season in the rotation. AAA 3B P.T. Flores could help against lefties (can't hit righties for crap, though).
OUTLOOK: With Katou, Zhang and Woods joining Bartolo Olivares (.292/26/73), Jose Polanco (.282/32/75), and Hack Bush (.281/27/74) in the lineup, the offense should jump a few notches. Tankersly will help a rotation anchored by solid vets Dan Cirillo and William Innoue. At presstime, the Wings only had 7 pitchers on the big league club, and there's no help in AAA. They have a little cap room left, so we'd guess they're still negotiating hard with some of the holdover free agent pitchers. Likely finish: 2nd
Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 15th, Team ERA - 14th, Fielding % - T 14th
Sayonara: 3B Frank Nicholson, 1B Marvin Page, SP Charles Matsumoto, LF Emmet Green
New Faces: SP Kyle Bradshaw
Rookie Possibilities: 2B Fernando Espada was one of the seasons's top international singings, last year, absolutely murdered AA, and showed he was ready for the bigs in a 17-game cup of coffee (.304/4/15). Season 11 #1 (23 overall) Pascual Pena moves in as the DH. Both these guys should be very good - look for one or both in the middle of the ROY race. Barry Snopek (season 7 #1 - 25 overall) takes over in CF - he could be adequate at the plate but could struggle defensively. Jeffrey Fields (Season 11 3rd-rounder) and Willie Lopez (Season 9 IFA) look like they'll battle for pt in right. Rule 5 draftee Dion Hull could nab the #5 start job. The prime dividend of last year's Fred West trade, OF/1B Andrew Davis, could get the call if any of the COF's struggle early.
OUTLOOK: No team has undergone a more complete transformation over the last year than the Criminals, so they're tough to predict. They have some very talented rookie position players, but I doubt their pitching will improve much. They could battle for 2nd, but I think they'll eventually settle in 3rd behind Buffalo. Likely finish: 3rd