Season 18 Recap: Detroit won 85 (up 7 wins) for its first division crown in 10 seasons. Cincinnati (down 18 wins), Columbus (down 28 wins) and Rochester (down 10 wins) all had their seasons fall apart and won 62. The Gangstaz upset Cleveland in the first round before falling to Pittsburgh in the DCS. The North picked up one of the post-season player awards, with Detroit's Miguel Rivera winning the ROY.
DETROIT continues to recycle over-the-hill vets while their prospects mature. They lost last year's entire opening-day rotation to free agency or trade, and only 2 of them have contracts elsewhere. On a historical note, it looks like the end of the line for Teddy Nelson, a long-time fav in Burlington who ends up with 113 wins and a 3.97 ERA; and Denny Perisho, who banged 442 career homers and picked up 3 Series rings with the Austin organization (as the old Jackson Holes). The Gangstaz will try to catch lightning in a bottle again with oldtimers SP Dan Cirillo (36), 3B William Kwon (37), C Harry Encarnacion (37), and SP Jacob Martin (37). They join a core group of youngsters who have some promise: LF Bonk Liniak (Season 17 ROY), 1B Miguel Rivera (Season 18 ROY), SP Burke Jordon (Season 16's #9 pick), and RP Blaine Knight (Season 15's #9). Prospects Tomas Park (Season 17 #1 overall), Fernando Belliard (Season 18 #17) and SP Yadier Eusebio (Season 18 IFA) will spend the entire season in AAA but could see the Show next season.
CINCINNATI saw most of their lineup dip below career norms last year - runs were down by 50 from Season 17. But it's a solid crew that's mostly well under 30. 1B Martin Munro has 35-40 homer potential, DH Norberto Pujols (.258/32/90 as a rookie) has 50+ homer potential, and COF's Solano and Munoz can both put up .300+ with 20-30 homers. SS Midre Dunn had a breakout .282/23/80 (with 43 SB's) season as a sophomore, and is on the verge of superstar status. The staff went from middle-of-the-pack in Season 17 to last in Season 18 (Team ERA of 5.45) - big improvement needed. FA agent Amos Christians is only marginally likely to help (4.78 career ERA)...same with rookie Howie McMasters. Carlos Javier may be the most likely starter to give the Waster Managers a breakout season...Matty Maduro and Edgar Perez both could on the relief side, but are anything but sure things.
COLUMBUS might be the most inexplicable story of Season 18. After a long winning tradition they went through rebuilding seasons from years 13-15, then improved to 80 and 90 wins in Season 16 and 17. A return to form and a couple of power prospects should get them back on track. The new-look lineup starts with 1B Craig White (Sea 15's #4 pick), a switch-hitting big-time power prospect, and LF Ben Flynn (Sea 14's #33 pick by Oakland), another power hitter who came over from Syracuse in last year's Theodore Maxwwell trade. 3-time Silver Slugger Fernando Espada is probably heading back to 2B, where he should be an All-Star and SS for another 6-7 years. CF Fred Watson joins Espada as a top-of-the-order speed threat, and DH Pascual Pena is almost a sure bet to improve on last year's .257/27/107. The Criminals scored 933 runs in Season 17 and 763 last year; you can bet the farm they'll be over 850 this year. Out of Al Escobar, Daryl McCorley, Eduardo Pena, Khiry Robinson, William Innoue and Hector Romo, Columbus should be able to find 2 or 3 decent starters. In the bullpen, Rolando Gomez and Julian Lopez are just adequate.
ROCHESTER seems content to keep their payroll low this year and score an IFA or 2. Their ML roster is currently incomplete to say the least, with no OF's. Among the hitters that are there, rookie C/DH's Einar Gonzalez (Sea 14 2nd-rounder), Earle Nash (Sea 12 2nd-rounder), and Ivan Sobkowiak (Sea 13 2nd-rounder) are the best. Among the pitchers, SP Edgard Hernandez (Sea 13 2nd-rounder) and RP Carlos Jacquez (Sea 14 #24) look like the best bets to be ML contributors. The Riot is expected to fill out their ML roster from their ample supply of AAA 2B shortly.
Well, I'd get accused of sandbagging if I counted myself out, so I'll refrain. I do think the Gangstaz are likely to take a step back this year...you can get lucky on scrap-heap FA's only so often, and there's no 3rd straight ROY coming. Cincy and Columbus would both be better even if they didn't have any promising rookies coming up, and they do. So it looks to me like a 3-team race...I honestly expect Columbus to win it. Detroit noses out Cincy for 2nd, with Rochester exiting the race early.
Will contend for the MVP: Midre Dunn (CIN), Fernando Espada (CLB)
Will contend for the Cy Young: none
Will contend for the ROY: Craig White (CLB), Ben Flynn (CLB)