The Braves will open the season with MLB's youngest roster, and they're being paid as such. Still, while a majority of the roster is still not quite ready for prime time, there is some talent, and a reason for hope in the not too distant future. As Al Unamuno enters his 3rd season in the Majors, he has emerged as one of the games finest young catchers - a patient hitter with some pop, possessing strong defensive skills. Veteran defensive wizard Melky Morales is in the last year of his contract and is well suited to his role as late inning defensive replacement and occasional starter against LH pitchers. Nash Jensen, after showing signs of becoming a true offensive threat at 1B before a back injury shelved him late season before last, regressed to sub par offensive performance last season and will be expected to step it up this season. Cesar Sanchez brings some pop from both sides of the plate as a back up to Jensen, and will often start against lefties. Slap-hitting speed merchant Buddy Jenkins demonstrated a decent approach at the plate during his rookie campaign, and he's showing continued improvement on making the routine plays to go along with excellent range. Scott Wright posseses excellent range at the hot corner, and has an intriguing combination of power and patience, though he has holes in his swing that can be exploited. The most encouraging news on the infield is the return of veteran defensive wizard Ezdra Aviles, who missed all of last season after suffering a nasty ACL tear late the season before. His range will never be quite the same, and he poses little offensive threat, but he's as steady as they come defensively. World class sprinter and switch-hitting outfielder Larry Kiermaier tore it up during brief stops at the AA and AAA levels after being drafted in June of last season. As a result, he was thrown into the fire and showed flashes of potential against Big League competition. If he improves his plate discipline and gains experience and consistency in the field he could settle in as a starter in CF for the next few year. As it is, he will begin the year batting 2nd and covering left field like a blanket. Lefty George Gibbs and switch-hitting Daniel Parrish will platoon in center and lead off, while young RF Luis Silva comes off a promising rookie season displaying an enviable combination of power, speed and defensive skills. Versatile utility man Ramiro Contreras can fill in at either corner outfield position or anywhere on the infield, and is capable at the plate as well. Veterans Yeico Castro and Pedro Aguilar anchor the rotation, which will also include lefty Jhonny Osuna, who was a pleasant surprise as a rookie last season, as well as Geoffery Ellis and Chad Sweeney, who are both entering their prime years. Veterancloser Wilt Rosen bounced back from shoulder surgery nicely last season, and has the best save percentage of any active closer in the game. Kenny Hague, Chul Chang, Julio Montana, Ismael Alvarez and Enrique Mendoze are expected to carry most of the remaining load in tha bullpen. The young Braves may develop more quickly than expected and find themselves in contention for a playoff spot late this seeason, though it's more likely that they're still a year or two away from being a serious threat.
The Orioles goal is to win the AL East, earn a bye, and let the chips fall where they may in the post season. It was a relatively bumpy ride during the regular season with multiple injuries, but we were able to see what happens when everything is clicking as we tore off 8 straight wins to win the World Series in Season 17.
We initially thought about making some 3+ big moves, but ended up moving only one significant ML piece in Vicente Rincon to the Reds. We couldn't find the right match for either Chase Malloy or Jake Mayne and both will return. The rest of the lineup and starting rotation is intact and we expect big things from the Orioles this season.
We still have a couple of roster spots open and are still trying to decide on finding some bargain free agents or promoting from within to fill those spots.
BOSTON RED SOX
The Red Sox performed much better than expected last season, and after a very successful offseason, there's even more reason for excitement in Boston.
The pitching staff will be significantly improved with a full season of Sam Phelps (resigned after being acquired at the trade deadline last season) and Yuniesky Fuentes replacing Ralph Shawler.
The bullpen remains one of the strengths of the team, with everyone returning. Kiko Wilkinson will start in the minors, but could be called up if he develops enough and/or is needed.
The offense should get a boost thanks to the acquisition of Edison Cruz, who replaces the LF platoon the Sox had last season.
The expectation in Boston is to make the playoffs as the WC1, with an upside of winning the division if things break right.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
The White Sox continue the climb back from obscurity. The team will stand pat in the FA market and count on some early call-ups from the minors. SP Manny Bong will join the team after 20 games, soon to be followed by Bing Bennett and Pat Crowe if needed. On the offensive side, trade acquisition Mo Owen will replace the first hitter to struggle, and RF Davey Bonilla and 2b Ismael Lunar are ready despite very short minor league experience.
The White Sox should improve on their 85 win season and division title. Playoff advancement is necessary for this season to be considered a success.
A season that started with the promise of a repeat trip to the playoffs quickly went by the wayside. Pitching staff disappointed, the offense finished #2 in the NL in runs scored while pitching was in the bottom 2 spots in most categories. With that in mind, the Reds management set out to drastically improve upon that.
We added Walter Gray to the rotation and brought back Julian Porter, which slides everybody down a slot or two and hopefully makes this rotation competitive. The bullpen only returns 3 pitchers out of 7 spots, and the top 4 are new and should be a tremendous upgrade.
Offensively, long-time Red Travis Evans’ range has finally declined to the point where it wasn’t feasible to put him in CF, so we slid him over to LF and got the best available CF in Charlie Black. We brought in new C Rubby Gomez and SS Takumi Kobayashi. RF Steve Carlyle made his debut last season and we will see how he does in a full season. Bert Root returns as a solid bat off the bench and IF Rico Ramirez and Junior Ibanez provide versatility off the bench as well. Slim Winn will hit and C Bob Truman gives us a true defensive C off the bench. This team should be an upgrade and we look forward to competing for the divisional crown.
Cleveland hopes to continue to improve this year and compete for a playoff spot. The youthful pitching staff led by Tony Santos should be coming into its own this year and will keep the Indians in most games. Closer duties will again fall to budding super star L.J. Irwin who exceeded expectations in his rookie year. Ned Wright was added through trade and will patrol RF, allowing Darrell Allen to move over to LF. Together with Pat Howard in CF, the Tribe should boast one of the best defensive outfields in the league. Adam Hannahan at 3B, Elroy Brown behind the plate and Ben Hernandez at short will continue to be the backbone of a very solid offense. 2B Joe Watson was added through FA and should be able to hold down that spot until Jordy Ward (currently in AA) is ready to hit the bigs.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
With a re-tooled rotation and bullpen KC is hoping to sneak into the playoffs. KC moved Fuentes in a blockbuster trade to Boston, essentially helping out the team that beat them out for the final WC spot last season. But even with that move KC is trying to get that WC spot back from them. In that deal they received some good prospects as well as Ralph Shawler, who will replace Yonder Silva at the back end of the rotation. Sawyer Cross was signed to replace Fuentes as best he could. The bullpen was improved infinitely (was abysmal last season) and KC is hoping that will be the difference maker. KC had a top 3 offense last season and it should be just as good this season. Estalella was acquired in a trade and will platoon with Payton. Browning was replaced by McInerney which will hopefully be just as productive. KC is expecting around 93 wins this season, which will hopefully get them to the dance.
There is a slight buzz going around the Twin Cities as the new season approaches. An improvement of 13 games from the previous season and a second place finish in the division has management a little excited.
Led by MVP Rene Lankford (61-148-.300), the Twins look to make a run at the division title. Only one change was made to the offense and that was the free agent signing of 2B Brian Sutton. Sutton is a slight upgrade at the position but should provide some stability in the middle infield.
The biggest issue from last season was the bullpen and management feels they addressed that with the signing of Bruce Stevens to go along with a Page-Plant reunion. No, NOT Robert and Jimmy, but Don and Chris. All three are expected to plug the gaps in the set-up roles leading up to All-Star closer Jim Berg.
Management is pleased with the off season activity as hopes are beginning to take flight.
The Montreal Expos are on their way back up, after two rebuilding seasons.
While the 81 win team from last season remains largely unchanged, the Expos did make some significant moves to improve the club.
Montreal acquired former rookie of the year, Victor Rodriguez, who hit 51 HRs and drove in 121 runs last season for Washington. They also went out and signed 13 game winner Jose Viriato in free agency.
23 year old Guy Voigt will become the team’s starting 3B, allowing Alex Sandoval to move to RF, where he can concentrate on hitting. Sources told us that Sandoval was excited about the move to the outfield, saying, “Baseballs come very fast to me at the third base. Sometimes I scared of them.”
Youngster Ricardo Borges, a late season call up, will be the team’s starting 2B and the ageless wonder, 37 year old Phil Gao, The MLB’s all-time leader in hits, doubles and walks, will look to add to his totals from LF, a position where he’s only played 21 games in his career.
Last season’s Cy Young award winner, Dave Lester is coming off a ridiculous season in which he pitched 259 innings with a 0.97 WHIP, and Lester actually thinks he can improve on that with Montreal’s upgraded defense. Miguel Peron, the newly acquired Viriato, Guillermo Lee and Luther Stone round out a solid rotation. The bullpen is deep anchored by 39 year old Rick Coveleski.
The Expos expect to compete in the NL North and challenge for a wildcard spot this season.
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ
Much of the same in New Orleans. The strength of the team is still the pitching, with Sanchez and Ni anchoring a deep starting rotation. The bullpen is also very solid with Ned Gold and Cookie Alonzo and veteran Willie Aldridge was added to give the pen a needed 'innings eater.' The positional players are also very much the same. The only difference is Jackson will be moved from CF to 2B due to his range decline and rookie speedster Eddie Greenwood will get the chance to start in CF. Our expectations remain to get into the playoffs, and hopefully, get back to the WS. This will be the last shot for this current group, as many of the veterans have their contracts coming up and won't be retained by the organization leading to some sweeping changes going into next season.
NEW YORK YANKEES
A year removed from a deep playoff run, season 17 turned quickly into a long, difficult season in the Bronx. Injuries and poor play led to a disappointing finish. Hope is high in Yankee land that they will again compete for the playoffs. Replacing SS William Aoki was the Yankees biggest off season issue. While Aoki's bat has always been stellar, his D has left much to be desired. Rip Stevenson takes over at SS and brings a dramatic change in abilities to the position as fielding will be his strength and he will be hidden at the bottom of the lineup. C/DH's Randy Washington and Mendy Delehanty will need to provide major punch to the O. 2B Michael Adams had a great rookie year and looks to avoid the sophomore slump. Brian Greenwood and Esmil Cano will be relied on to get on base at the top of the order. Ivan Wise and Johan Springer will be a strong 1-2 combo at the top of the rotation. Terrence Hartman finally asserted himself into the closer role over the last 2 seasons while Danny Buss, Tony Jung, and Phil Worthington will be important pieces out of the bullpen. Management views the bullpen as a major strength of the team. The Yanks will be a little less Bronx Bomber this year as the current roster will need to win playing high OBP and timely clutch hitting.
After a quick 2-yr rebuild, we returned to the playoffs last season and should have an improving club again this year. Last offseason, we made a ton of moves to upgrade the ML roster; this offseason was much quieter as I feel the core needed to compete is mostly here.
The offense should remain strong, with Alomar, Cedeno & Uribe anchoring the heart of the order. Tito Huang will join them at the 20-game mark to provide some serious power from 3B, and we are excited about his pending arrival.
On the pitching side, the only notable move we made in the offseason was actually to dump a contract (Christopher Mays) that I regretted signing last season. Picked up a potentially useful part in a back-end starter type. The remaining rotation is comprised of some pretty decent arms, though they all have a similar flaw in lower stamina (seriously, the stamina of the 5 SP: 70, 70, 67, 64, 56). Gonna need a lot of help from the bullpen and will probably carry two long relievers as a result.
If we fail to contend this year, it will be due to the pitching fatigue and ineffectiveness. The offense should more than hold its own. Expectations are a return to the playoffs, hopefully that will be the case.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Season 18 looks to be a rebuilding year for the Padres. The offseason was eventful as the squad was able to sign Phil Lowery & Seth Wall for the next few seasons. The squad will be relying on some young pitchers to carry the rest of the rotation. Rubby Benitez is solid at # 3 and Alejandro Cayones should be a solid #4. The 5th starter is up in the air at press time.
The lineup will be revamped and will have more of a platoon feel. Aging sluggers Neftali Barrios and Donnie McInerney were released and will be missed. New faces Branch Pressley, Rubby Blanco, Sparky Lowery , Emil Roque and Sammy Page will be expected to contribute. Lou Metzger & Rod Doyle will share the C duties and mainstays, Jim Griffey, Trumbo O’Toole and Benj Fox should anchor the lineup. All in all – the lineup should hit a little less and field a bit better. If all breaks just right, the squad could make the playoffs.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
New Cards management will take a wait-and-see approach to Sea18, evaluating all ML and farm talent. While fans will clamor for future studs like Carlos Valenzuela and Austin Finnessey to be called up, any major big league promotion will likely be pushed back to Sea19. Biggest emphasis throughout Sea18 will be on the pitching staff, who undoubtedly will benefit from the pitcher-friendly confines at Busch. The road will be an entirely different story. Off-season acquisitions SP Carlton Ramirez (Rule V), SP Hector Maxwell (trade), SP Edgard Rojas (FA) and LRs Branch Turner (FA) and Kerry Quinn (Rule V) will hopefully energize a staff that frankly didn't belong in ML last season. On the farm, at least 6 young arms will further their skills hoping for their shot in the next 2-3 seasons.
Key question: Will Les Hammel enjoy his move from the OF to 1B and return to Sea16 form when he hit .309 (OPS .954) with 110 RBI and 109 R? A repeat of last season's .226 (OPS .685) with 75 RBI could cause management to pull the trigger.
Key point of concern: with only 1 S and 1 LHB on the opening day ML roster, STL brass hope to see many opponents' LHPs.
Projected record: 79-83, 3rd place NL South.
Projected team MVP: LF Milton O'Leary, who looks to build upon his rookie season .282-31-118 with OPS .821 and 18 SB.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Tampa Bay is returning primarily the same team that made it to the ALCS last season with a few changes. One of the bigger changes is the signing of free agent pitcher Hipolito Ramirez. Hipolito is a vetern lefty that Tampa Bay hopes gives them that 1, 2, 3 punch in the playoffs. The other big change is the acquisition of LF Vernon Stewart. The Rays were sad to see Byron Sullivan go after 6 strong seasons but are happy to have Vernon fill his spot.
Texas hopes to rebound from a disappointing season. The city has high hopes that the offense will return to the top 3 level of season 16 instead of the well below average performance of season 17.
A quiet offseason where management got outbid for every type A pitcher targetted may doom the Rangers to another sub-par performance
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Toronto Blue Jays front office is excited about the team’s future outlook, despite finishing with the 2nd to worst record in the majors in 17. The new regime deemed the team's top-level batting prospects not quite ready to play ML Ball, so, in a series of moves to focus on winning now, the 'Jays will employ a lineup featuring new 5 veteran bats, all signed to one-year team friendly deals, in the hope that the established vets can bolster an offense that was, at best, anemic in 17, all the while bringing in defensive upgrades at 2/4 infield spots. The starting rotation, an area of weakness inherited from the previous regime, is headed by 24 year old ace and future Cy Young candidate, Doug Rogers, and two recently acquired goundball pitchers in Tim Blackburn, acquired from Montreal and Harry Wagner, recently signed from division rival, Detroit. The youthful bullpen remains largely intact, but, features three new veteran free agent signings, which should help stabilize a wildly inconsistent group in 17. The Jays real promise lies in their deep farm system, which will continue to be an area of improvement in 18, however, the new-look team fully expects to contend for the AL North title in 18.
WASHINGTON D.C. NATIONALS
Season 18. Lots of changes this season. C: Toby Bolling 1B: Tito Irabu till Shouhei Suzuki is ready 2B: Ross Wilkerson could be his last season here SS: Max Redondo this season till Tony Tavarez gets called up next season 3B: Jonathan Nix LF: Vin Chavez CF: Reagan Fleming RF: Chris Turner , Pepe Nieto or Rogers Springer Starting Pitchers: Orval Keefe , Hugh Davidson , Dewey Golub , Kelvin Hardy , Dewey Norton Bullpen: Brandon Hardy , Shawn Long , Chris Coolbaugh , Everett Carroll plus 2 more. Lots of youngsters, hard to say what to expect from this team. Could win between 55 and 75 games this season.