Saturday, April 30, 2011

AL West Preview - Part IV

Colorado Scott Brede and Alving Fernandez promise to bring opposing bats Under Control

A baseball player is causing a ruckus in a bar in Denver, singing loudly, spilling his beer and screaming at the bartender for another round. After about an hour of this passes, a patron asks the bartender why he continues to put up with the guy. The bartender replies “Well, I can’t throw him out – he walked here.”

That was the joke in Denver last season. The Rockies’ pitching staff issued a league-leading 889 free passes to opposing batters. What’s even more egregious is that number is 253 higher than the next worst team statistically. Were the Rockies merely getting around power hitters, afraid of them connecting in the mile high air? No. Of the 889, only 34 were intentional, good for 8th overall. Away from home, their WHIP was a league worst 1.70. And finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the team was second in the league in one unusual category: hit batters, with 85. The pitching in Colorado was out of control.

If issuing walks were a crime, then the faces of Colorado starting pitchers Terry York and Cristobal Ortiz were plastered in post offices around the country. The pair had the unfortunate distinction of being number one and two, respectively, in all of MLB in walks issued. York walked 181 in 164 innings of work, while Ortiz walked 130 in 143.2 innings. Granting free passes to batters in a stadium where a hit seldom finds a glove to begin with is not exactly a formula for success, and the Rockies suffered for it. They gave up the most runs, and finished with a run differential of -301.

To their credit, management acted decisively over the winter to bring the pitching problems under control. The club signed 32-year-old free agent Scott Brede from the Pirates. The former Bucco pitched six complete games last season on route to a 15-12 record and a 1.20 WHIP. Brede is known for his excellent command, is extremely adept at getting a ground ball and has a solid repertoire of pitches keeping hitters guessing. His services do not come cheaply however, and set the Rockies back $56 million.

Not satisfied there, the team also signed 30-year-old free agent starting pitcher Alving Fernandez from the New York Mets. Fernandez has exemplary command of the strike zone, going 13-8 last year in 200+ innings of work and putting up a WHIP of 1.34. He also throws the ball hard, striking out 193 batters while walking only 67. Fernandez was more expensive than Brede – settling for $90 million for five years on the mound.

Finally, the club made a trade with Cincinnati to obtain starting pitcher Sal Rivera from the Reds. Rivera has good command of the strike zone and finished the year with a WHIP of 1.14 over 92 IP. The deal also brought Shayne Lee to the bullpen, and he too brings excellent control and velocity to the table while having an innate ability to keep the ball in the yard.

All of these deals banished York and Ortiz to the bullpen, where no doubt they will see limited innings compared to last season. The club also jettisoned Ned Turnbow and Justin Duran due to their control issues. With 60% of the starting rotation transformed, Colorado stands to be the most improved franchise in the AL West.

Offense has never been a problem in the Mile High City, and the face of the franchise is big bat Hipolito Iglesias, the team’s All-Star Silver Slugging DH. Just 22 years old, Iglesias batted .360 last year good for best in the American League. The team led the league in average and was in the top six teams in nearly every major offensive category. Two rookies were added to the starting lineup this season: Anthony Terry will bring good defense and a bat to third, while Jerry Schumaker gets the nod at first. Both should bolster the offense.

The club is below average defensively, so it was welcome news when fans learned the Rockies signed Rangers free agent center fielder Billy Lamb, who’s glove work at the wall will come in enormously handy. Lamb signed a 4-year, $24.6 million deal to patrol the middle of the field, and is a centerpiece of the defense now.

Shortstop is the other black hole in the defense, and was the only one that the Rockies struggled to fill. After light hitting Anibel Saenz retired last season, the team was looking to replace his below average range and poor arm strength. Jesus Bonilla, the team’s best prospect, is only 19 and still years away from playing in the majors. So the club bit the bullet and signed utility player Andrew Forbes from the Yankees for a pittance. A defensive specialist, Forbes has a major league problem: he can’t hit, even in the thin air of Colorado. Last season while resting the starters he collected just 9 hits in 82 AB – while striking out 35 times. If Forbes starts every game for the Rockies, it’s a virtual lock that he will set a dubious league record for strikeouts in a season – and one that will probably never be broken. He is a black hole in the lineup that’s outstanding otherwise. The Rockies must be hoping that the presence of so many other weapons will carry him.

dwb’s take: The Rockies spent a lot of money in the offseason – but wisely. Thanks to its vastly improved pitching, the club will improve dramatically this season, leapfrogging Oakland and challenging Seattle for second place in the AL West. Give all the credit to management: by all appearances they knew what to do and fearlessly pursued the plan, having the best offseason in terms of addressing needs of any team I previewed. The club will have to address the shortstop situation with a trade mid-season. Look for the team to make the biggest gain in its win total this season.

Friday, April 29, 2011

NL East Preview

NL East Preview

When the dust had settled and the regular season had commensed, the NL East had seen a variety of scenarios played out during season 1. The Pittsburgh Pirates had set the pace with one of the best records in all of baseball. The Philadelphia Phillies had fought through a management change mid-season and clawed their way to the final Wild Card spot. The New York Mets had a management team that walked out on them mid-season, and the Washington Nationals were tied with the worst record in Baseball. It was a season full of ups and downs. With Season 1 now in the rear view mirror, we shift our attention towards the horizon. This is our Season 2 preview of the MLB's NL EAST!

1. Pittsburgh Pirates (110-52)
Key Additions: Eugene Beckham FA (34 SV, 4.04 ERA), Andy Donnelly (3-5, 4.39 ERA)
Key Losses: Barry Yearwood (.297 BA, 25 HR, 98 RBI)

Dont expect much fall off from a team that won 110 games last season. They return All Star pitcher and Cy Young candidate Hugh Downs (20-4, 2.73 ERA) to a starting core that went 58-23 last season. Their team 3.37 ERA was third best as was their 1.27 WHIP total.

Offensively, there will be some big shoes to fill in the absence of Barry Yearwood. At this point, the Pirates have elected to go with Julio Gimenez in that spot but dont be surprised if they elect to make a change at some point this season. Gimenez isnt capable of Yearwoods offensive production and with the team losing 20+ HR's and 98 RBI's, they will possibly be looking to address that shortfall.

Outlook: Expect to see this team finish in the neighborhood of 90-100 Wins. They shouldnt have a problem contending for the division crown!

2. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73, Wildcard)
Key Additions:
Mat Jurjenns (17 HR, 67 RBI, .273 AVG)
Key Losses: Edgar Castillo (41 HR, 114 RBI, .333 AVG)

The Phillies went through a considerable amount of ups and downs last season ranging from a management change midway through the season to fighting their tails off to snag that 6th and final playoff spot. New GM FWkekionga really brought in a stable front office attitude and the team responded well playing dynamite baseball down the stretch and snagging the final wild card spot. Although a sweep would follow in the first round of the playoffs by the Brewers, the early foundations were laid for this team to be succesful for the next couple of seasons and possibly longer.

Offensively, the Phils took a considerable gamble parting ways with Edgar Castillo. Castillo (NL All-Star & Silver Slugger) heads to division rival Washington. In return, the Phils bring in prospect & starter Willie Shuey. Shuey pitched 23 games last season for the Nats compiling a 2-13 record. Although the record is attrocious, he showed great promise. Shuey will start the year at AAA and with some solid coaching, shouldbe a great pitcher for years to come.

Outlook: These guys are primed for a run at the division. If they can somehow find the offense they lost with Castillos departure, they could be a lock for the playoffs again this season.

3. Washington Nationals (47-115)
Key Additions:
John Jung (15 HR, 75 RBI) Edgar Castillo (41 HR, 114 RBI, .333 AVG) Pepper Hayes (5-11, 4.43 ERA)
Key Losses: Fritz Gray (4-6, 6.40 ERA) Willie Shuey (2-13, 4.31 ERA)

The Nationals tried there very best over the winter to put the pains of last season behind them. In a flurry of offseason moves, the Nats saw 8 players head out the door and 9 players come in. Gone are prospects Fritz Gray (Seattle) and Willie Shuey (Philly). However, some imressive prospects (John Jung, Hiram Sierra, Juan Morales) have joined the club as well as some verteran pitchers that should see this team drastically improve upon their league leading 115 losses from Season 1.

Offensively, this team has taken two giant steps forward. The Nats were dead last in runs scored (580) and home runs (101) last season. Those numbers are immediately improved on by Castillo and Jung. The pitching should also be consdierably better from last season with the addition of Pepper Hayes as well as Matt Mitchell and Steve McConnell. The rotation last season was essentially a major league rotation made up of minor leaguers.

The Outlook: The improved pitching staff should be good enough to add another 15 wins and with the improvments to the offense, id expect another 15 wins. At the end of the season, I would not be surprised to see this team standing at .500 although 5-7 games below .500 would be more likely. Overall, its a vast improvement from the team we saw at this time last season.

4. New York Mets (80-82)
Key Additions:
Bo Barrett (2-13, 6.81 ERA) Dan Cummings (6-0, 4.71 ERA)
Key Losses: Louis Roosevelt (5 HR, 36 RBI)

As the division rival Phillies did, the Mets had their own adversity to fight through last season. With a manager that essentially quit on them half way through the season, there was quite a bit of a mess to cleanup for new GM Foxspor54. When he took his spot in the front office this winter, he didnt rest on his laurels. Although they didnt make any trades, they did acquire some fresh faces via the Rule 5 Draft and Free Agency.

The Mets bolstered their pitching staff with the additions of Bo Barrett and Dan Cummings through free agency. Neither are world beaters but they should provide the club with some much needed depth out of the pen. They also added Trot Mattingly through the Rule 5 draft. Mattingly is a young pitcher with some solid upside. He was a great pickup for Foxspor54 and should be a big help this season.

The Outlook: The table certainly isnt set for any type of playoff run. With the additions that their Divisional counterparts made, the Mets could easily become the punching bag of the east. They should be good enough, when all is said and done, to equal their 80-82 output from last season but with a couple of injuries or just downright poor play, things could get bad fast.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

AL West Preview - Part III

Oakland Jake Rhodes is the silver lining behind last year’s Blown Opportunities

What does a guy need to do to be considered for Rookie of the Year?

The Athletics’ starting catcher Jake Rhodes hit .343 to finish fourth in the league in batting average while smacking 25 homeruns and slugging .531 – but in perhaps a crowded field his name failed to show up on the ballot. Not that Rhodes went completely unnoticed: the catcher’s bat was rewarded with a Silver Slugger. That hardware was not an uncommon sight in the AL West last season, where all four teams in the division sported a silver splinter in their lineup.

Rhodes will once again be the centerpiece of the Athletics’ offense, backed up by a bevy of long-ball hitters. The club collectively went yard 241 times last year, good for 8th overall in the league. DH/1B Nate Cunningham had the dubious distinction of collecting exactly as many hits (123) as strikeouts, but an amazing 46 of his 123 connections found the cheap seats! He remains in the lineup, while promising young Al Reynoso (.262/.335/.435) hopes to live up to fan expectations in his sophomore season. There’s no shortage of opportunities for these rising stars to prove themselves.

Speaking of opportunities, blown ones were the story of Oakland’s season last year. The bullpen converted on just 30 of its 58 save opportunities, or a major league worst 51.7%. The Athletics’ spent much of the season searching for an answer, as no one reliever working out of the bullpen had more than 13 tries, and of the trio who had at least ten cracks at holding a lead, the best one (Don Martin) only converted on half his tries.

Further evidence of the lack of solid relief pitching could be seen in one telling statistic: the Athletics’ were just 16-29 in games decided by one run. Only the Rockies fared worse statistically in these contests.

No permanent solution to the bullpen woes was found in the offseason either, so the A’s opted to sign two aging short relievers as stop-gap measures instead. Clyde Becker is a welcome sight from the Marlins and throws effective stuff, but he tires easily and had limited appearances (less than 40 IP) for Florida last year. Another veteran, Wayne Randolph, swam across the bay from the dreaded rival national league franchise, but Oakland has to be hoping he also left his 1.76 WHIP in the cold water.

The starting pitching is expected to be boosted by the promotions of rookie starters Mario Polcovich and Larry Wells at some point this season. As a result, the rotation will be stronger and could possibly take some of the heat off of the pen.

Defensively, the team is average with the exception of All-Star center fielder Mitch Thornton, who appears regularly on ESPN highlight reels. In fact, the AL West is not home to one but two of the best defensive center fielders in MLB, and many say Anaheim’s Pascual Solano is the one player stopping Thornton from acquiring a Gold Glove. Thornton converted on nearly all his chances (.997) and made 19 spectacular defensive plays while committing only one error last season.

The acquisition of utility infielder Abdul Sweeney (.298/.367/.430) from the Reds in exchange for COF Steve Parrish and starter Vinny Weatherford should improve the team offensively, as the Athletics’ no longer need trot out Gold Glove winner Vinny Kingland (.212/.272/.272) and suffer through his bat.

dwb’s take: Oakland’s offense packs some punch but lacks the well-roundedness of Anaheim’s and Seattle’s attack. Look for Oakland to improve on its win totals from last season and tighten up the division race somewhat, as the string of bad luck in one-run games won’t continue even if only minor tweaks to the bullpen were made. The team lacks a true ace however and in the end will continue to play for next season.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Top RP

  1. Fred Adams TEX
    8-5, 21/26 SV, 80 G, 82.0 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, .259 OAV, 81 K
    Solid durability/stamina combo. Great control. Dominates RHB. Solid against LHB. Great velocity. 3 plus pitches. Good at getting groundballs.
  2. Benny Waddell LA
    1-2, 42/47 SV, 50 G, 46.1 IP, 1.75 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .203 OAV, 41 K, NL FOTY
    Lacks ideal durability/stamina combination. Great control. Better against LHB than RHB. Good velocity. Good pitches. Can get groundballs as needed.
  3. Elvis Janssen TEX
    0-3, 42/46 SV, 49 G, 43.0 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, .244 OAV, 48 K
    Solid durability/stamina combo. Pitches 1-3 are good, pitch 4 is not. Groundball & strikeout specialist. Good control. Very good against both RHB & LHB.

Top SP

  1. Edgar Martin BAL
    22-8, 267.2 IP, 3 CG, 2.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .216 OAV, 209 K, AL CY
    Durable. Can pitch deep into games. Dominating against LHB & RHB. Great control. Lacks ideal velocity. Great groundball pitcher. Great first pitch. Good secondary pitches. Has 5 pitches.
  2. Hugh Downs PIT
    20-4, 266.2 IP, 10 CG, 2.73 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .232 OAV, 184 K, NL GG
    Ideal groundball pitcher. Better against LHB than RHB. Great control. Good durability/stamina combination. Top notch first pitch. Very good second pitch. Solid 3-5 pitches. Lacks ideal velocity.
  3. Bernie Speier LA
    20-5, 217.0 IP, 2.20 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, .190 OAV, 239 K
    Great control. Dominant against RHB. Good against LHB. Great velocity. Pitches 1-5 range from good to great. Good durability/stamina combination. Average at producing GBs.

AL West Preview - Part II

Seattle Frank Terrell explains why the Mariners’ future Takes the Cake

Can you have your cake and eat it too? The Mariners seem to think so.

After challenging Anaheim for the AL West title last year, the team secured the wild card and a first round match-up with the Orioles. But after getting bounced by Baltimore in the first round, Seattle made a series of moves that left fans debating whether the team was buying the missing pieces for another run at the playoffs, or selling some of their assets because they were more than a piece or two away from truly contending.

For those fans who think the team is selling, they start by pointing to the offseason trade for 20-year-old Frank Terrell. Terrell can hit the ball a country mile, and as a prospect is one of the brightest in the Mariners’ system. But to secure him, the team moved Merv Dorsey, a corner outfielder acquired from Cleveland last year, who hit a reliable .282/.357/.489 in 79 starts while holding down the starting job in right. His loss means the duty of patrolling the corner falls to power whiffer Nipsey Greer, who struck out 80 times in 276 AB but tore the cover off the ball when he managed to make contact, or to the speedy Geoffrey Surkamp, a player who rarely saw a pitch that he didn’t take a cut and lacks the power one would expect to see in the position. Neither player is an entirely satisfactory answer to Dorsey’s departure.

Along with Dorsey, the Mariners also waved goodbye to young starting second baseman John Jung. A versatile infielder, he was traded for a starting pitching prospect.

For those fans who think the team is buying, they point to the offseason trade for starting third baseman Barry Yearwood from Pittsburgh. The 32-year-old Yearwood (.297/.377/.505) slugged 25 homers and drove in 98 for the Buccos last season. He holds his own with the expectations for power from the position, and the team hopes that power will make up for his lack of mobility. The trade allows the team to move All-Star Silver Slugging Luther Becker to second base in place of Jung. But to acquire Yearwood’s services, the team shipped reliable young reliever Andy Donnelly (1.46 WHIP, 80 IP) to the ‘burgh.

The team also sent speedy prospect Cozy Russell to the White Sox for long reliever D.T. Vining. A late call up with Chicago, Vining performed a limited amount of work last season. He throws hard, and coaches say his best pitch is his sinker, but it’s backed up by a good 4-seamer and a cut fastball. His command of the strike zone is iffy.

Over the winter, the team also signed a pair of aging utility players (Art Dobbs, Sid Wilson) and welcomed pitcher Mario Kemp from Colorado, where Seattle expects his 1.81 WHIP to decline somewhat now that he doesn’t need to visit the humidor before the mound.

The Mariners allowed the only pitcher on their staff with a losing record, Rob Ramsey (8-9, 19 GS), to depart for San Diego as well as aging Trevor Robinson who made regular appearances out of the bullpen signed with the Rangers. Robinson was 9-3 last year with a 1.22 WHIP, 2.86 ERA and struck out 54 batters in 63 IP.

So what to make of all these moves? The talented starting pitching staff returns largely intact, with all starters very durable guys ready to go on three days of rest if needed. The oldest of them is 30. Notably the team extended the contract of staff ace Jeff Carter. His 17-5 season with 3 complete games netted him a four-year, 22.4 million dollar deal. Carter throws fairly hard, has decent command and effective stuff. He struck out 206 batters last year. Collectively the staff had a 1.35 whip (below the league average) and allowed 710 runs, while holding down a spot in the top 10 in the league for keeping opponents off the base paths.

Defensively , the team is sound and committed only 59 errors last year, good for second overall in the league.

The offense will continue to be lead by All-Star Luther Becker and Donatello Ramirez. Six Mariners hit 20 or more homeruns last season, so power is well distributed through the lineup and management obviously feels the team has depth. Of note, a disgruntled Becker will likely test free agency next year after the club failed to tender an offer in time.

dwb’s take: while both buying and selling in the offseason, only a couple of losses will truly be felt by the Mariners this season. Dorsey’s departure and the loss of Robinson are not critical however, and the team has the defense, pitching and enough offense distributed throughout the line up to continue to challenge Anaheim. I think the team takes one step back this season to take two forward with the acquisition of a future star. One could say they have their cake and eat it too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top RF

  1. Harold McKnight LA
    .309/.394/.567; 39 HR, 139 RBI; 7 assists
    Superior defender. Very good power. Very good at making contact. Good eye. Poor baserunner. Good speed. Solid against RHP and LHP.
  2. Ernest Cambridge FLA
    .310/.400/.629; 45 HR, 130 RBI; 12 assists, 14 bad plays
    Average arm. Average range and glove. Great power. Better against LHP than RHP. Great eye. Very good speed. Average baserunner. Major health risk. Solid durability.
  3. Footsie McKinley BAL
    .309/.393/.531; 27 HR, 87 RBI; 7 assists, 2 good plays, 3 bad plays
    Average defensively. Slow. Solid baserunning instincts. Average power. Average at making contact. Very good against RHP. Solid against LHP. Great eye. Lacks ideal durability.

Top CF

  1. Rolando Cairo TOR
    .296/.360/.614; 55 HR, 132 RBI; 28/36 SB; .981 fldg %, 7 bad plays
    Lacks ideal range and glove for CF. Durable. Speedy. Great power. Dominates RHP. Good against LHP. Solid eye. Good baserunner. Above average at making contact.
  2. Ringo Johnson TEX
    .315/.386/.699; 64 HR, 170 RBI; 24/33 SB; .990 fldg %, 4 good plays, 1 bad play
    GG RF. SS RF. MVP AL. Tremendous power. Dominates RHP. Below average against LHP. Good speed. Durable. Good at making contact. Below average eye. Great range. Average glove.
  3. Alex Cheng ATL
    .248/.325/.412; 15 HR, 52 RBI; 7/15 SB; .979 fldg %, 1 bad play
    Good range. Average glove. Great speed. Bad baserunner. Good power. Good at making contact. Solid against LHP and RHP. Good eye. Lacks ideal durability. No health concerns.

Top LF

  1. Reed Hoyt TEX
    .278/.381/.552, 41 HR, 134 HR; 29/40 SB
    Average defender. Very durable. Great speed. Solid baserunner. Great power. Great against LHP and good against RHP. Good eye. Solid at making contact.
  2. Michael Blasingame LAA
    .315/.416/.515; 18 HR, 68 RBI in 110 Games
    Lacks ideal glove for LF. Durable. No health concerns. Makes good contact. Slightly above average power. Great against RHP. Above average against LHP. Great eye. Decent speed. poor baserunner.
  3. Sherman Thompson TEX
    .319/.404/.517; 24 HR, 104 RBI; 28/37 SB
    Average power. Great at making contact. Better against RHP than LHP. Great eye. Great baserunner. Good speed. Below average defensively. Durable. Lacks health concerns.

Top SS

  1. Steve Gil TB
    .298/.355/.510; 29 HR, 82 RBI; .972 fldg %, 7 bad plays
    Lacks ideal range. Health risk. Solid glove. Solid arm. Durable. Very good at making contact. Dominates LHP. Good against RHP. Good power. Good eye. Below average speed.
  2. Art Redding FLA
    .297/.371/.363; 8 HR, 70 RBI; .972 fldg %, 19 good plays
    Great defender. Great arm. Makes contact a lot. Doesn't have much power. Dominant against LHP. Solid against RHP. Good eye. Average baserunner. Above average speed. Extremely durable.
  3. Art Redding CH2
    .285/.352/.515; 25 HR, 71 RBI; .967 fldg %, 6 bad plays
    Below average range and glove. Solid arm strength. Lacks accuracy. Solid at making contact. Good power. Better against LHP than RHP. Solid eye. Average speed and baserunning. Durable.

Top 3B

  1. Luther Becker SEA
    .268/.383/.451; 24 HR, 77 RBI; .978 fldg %, 17 good plays, 1 bad play
    Solid at making contact. Solid power. Very good against LHP and RHP. Great eye. Good baserunner. Good defender. Decent speed. Durable. Health is a concern.
  2. Edgar Castillo WAS
    .333/.403/.649; 41 HR, 114 RBI; .947 fldg %, 8 bad plays
    A terrible defender. Solid at making contact. Great power. Dominant against LHP and RHP. Above average eye. Average baserunner. Decent speed. Less durable than the average player. Health is a concern.
  3. Sam Schwartz TB
    .278/.350/.525; 39 HR, 103 RBI; .991 fldg %, 12 good plays
    AL GG winner. Great defense. Very durable. Good speed. Solid at making contact. Good power. Good against LHP and RHP. Good eye. No health concerns.

AL North by byers61

In season 1, each of the four teams spent at least a brief moment at the top of the standings and the jockeying continued for quite some time. Detroit's lack of run production (3rd lowest in the majors) began to show by midseason, and Chicago's pitching staff became a MASH unit. At the end, Toronto's pitching was enough better than the rest of the division to secure the division title. Here is the preview for season 2:

Key Losses: Mostly insignificant, losing 3 aging pitchers to free agency and LR D.T. Vining was sent away in a trade.

Added free agent SP Brandon Saunders and SP Red Cornelius, projected to fill the #2 and #3 spots in the rotation. The #4 spot will probably go to SP Julio Javier, acquired from S. Francisco in a spring training trade. To avoid a repeat of the season 1 pitching debacle, the White Sox acquired two more SP/LR for insurance: Charles Wang in the Rule 5 and FA Glen Bunch. On the offensive side, the only notable signings were FA C Jhonny Ontiveros and 3B/COF Gregory Courtney, acquired in the Rule 5.

Rookies/prospects to watch: RP Sticky Cook will join the two Rule 5 pick-ups as the only rookies on the ML roster. Sticky performed well after roster expansion last year and looks to be the set-up man.

Outlook: Last year's team was poised to make a playoff push last year had the starting pitching held up. When 3 of the starters hit the DL, the lack of depth was horribly exposed. There were pitchers in the major league rotation who might have struggled at AA. Byers61on his chances: "With the pitching additions and a full return of the offense with another year of experience, I expect to compete for the division title."

Key losses: Closer E. Beckham and his 34 saves. RF Footsie McKinley, who batted .309 with some power.

Added: 3B/COF Mario Ortiz.

Rookies/top prospects: RF Juan Aguilera should become a fixture in the middle of the lineup. C Jose Castilla should have a good bat but is weak defensively. RP Willie Aldridge will probably get a mid-season callup.

Outlook (no quotes from Arte): Despite the quick start, not much was added in free agency or the Rule 5 to improve the team. Unless a few younger players make big strides, Detroit will probably not improve on the 64 wins from season 1.

Key players lost: 1B Freddie Hackman (21 HRs, 108 RBI), age played a factor in not re-signing..same with OF Rudy Campbell (.287 avg, 22 HRs)

Only "major" addition was the FA signing of 3B/COF Tex Barker (2 yrs-$4.2M)

Rookies this year that should contribute: P Scott Kent, P Nerio Hawkins and OF Richie Truman. Truman gets the starting nod in CF..while Kent & Hawkins begin the year in the bullpen before eventually earning spots in the starting rotation.

Outlook: Looking to improve on Season 1's second place finish and at least clinch a wildcard spot. After a slow start, the pitching stablized as the season went on. According to Iceman: "Pitching once again will be a key component. MVP candidate Pat Dunston should once again put up big offensive numbers. I expect OF Ernest Burroughs to bounce back from a disappointing season. Burroughs and a full season from C/DH Trent Cambridge should help compliment Dunston in the lineup."

Losses: The big loss was Ed Parkinson, who now plays for Texas. He was lost to injury and is still 133 days from being back so it was an easy no-sign..

Mitchrapp on his additions: "I added plenty, especially pitching. Nothing spectacular but Ben Wooten and Bill Conti highlight the FA pitching class for me. Hitting, Albert Belliard, a poor catcher who will DH for me is my prize FA pickup and i use the term loosely. Also added a power hitting RF in Bob Hanson."

Mitchrapp on his rookie and prospect situation: "The team still revovles around Rolando Cairo, my big hitting CF and pitching. I'm hoping last years rookie of the year for Toronto, Santos Valentine, continues on what he did in season 1. I don't currently have any rookies on my teamor anyone who will play a significant role for a couple years."

Mitchrapp on the team's outlook: "I won 86 in season one, good enough to win the division. I was expecting 56. Toronto needs a lot of luck and though they might seem a bit better on paper, I predict somewhere between what I thought and where I ended up, last season. Prediction: 72-90."

I think mitchrapp is downplaying his role as favorite to repeat. The franchise rankings have him ranked highest on both pitching and overall. However, it could be a real close 3-team race until the end. Detroit will continue to rebuild through the draft. I see three teams with better than .500 records, Toronto the favorite, and my White Sox possibly pulling a 3rd to 1st upset.