Sunday, October 25, 2009

AL West Preview

The West was the strongest AL division during season 10. Both AL wild cards came from the division, along with the ultimate AL champ Las Vegas Dealers. With all 4 owners returning and a strong off-season, it will be no surprise if the division is the strongest once again. Any of these 4 teams could be flying the Season 11 World Series flag above their stadium next spring.

The Las Vegas Dealers are bidding for a fourth AL title, relying again on strong starting pitching and home-grown young bats. With the recession felt deeply in Vegas, and young starting pitchers nearing arbitration, owner jceffali demanded payroll be cut to $67M this year, forcing several key players to depart. SS Jacob Raines, a life-long Dealer, is out and William Hyun a light-hitting but rifle-armed SS takes over until a key SS prospect is ready. Outstanding RF Frank Woo also departed, his services no longer required with the emergence of young corner OFs Quilvio Castro and Esteban Gardel. Castro hit 5 HRs in the Dealers post-season run last year and will start with the big club. Gardel may start in AAA. The loss of the two free agents brought Type A and Type B draft compensation, and the Dealers spent heavily on amateur scouts to replenish the prospect pipeline. Still, the key for the Dealers is keeping their stellar starting rotation healthy, with Max White, Lance Ward, Luis Rincon, Darwin McBride, and Rigo Franco making up the rotation again.

The Vancouver Asteroids finished second last year and went all-in this year in a balls-to-the-wall effort to bring the franchise its first championship. The franchise has a stellar regular season record with 7 playoff appearances in 10 seasons, but has never advanced past the ALCS. This year, owner brooklynpunx has jacked payroll up to $122M while the minor league system will endure another year without signing a legitimate prospect. Key signings included Chip Huson who probably got a bit of a generous contract, and Max Bennett. Of course the team still features all-time Jersey League HR king Bernie Gongora, who at age 30 hasn't lost a step. The big questions on the pitching staff are Perry Ruth, who suffered a tough injury last year and the aging but still effective William Takahashi. If those two stay healthy and can provide one last big year, the Asteroids fans should be in for a treat. After that, it could be a long ride down, as the Asteroids will need to wait for several giant contracts to run off before rebuilding.

It has been a nice ride up for the Iowa City Independence. The team was dreadful back in the day, with two straight sub-60 win seasons back in years 4 and 5. But owner carlspenard stuck with it, learned the game, and has built a winner, with two straight playoff appearances and 91 wins last year. Iowa was quiet in the off-season, bringing most of last year's team back with the exception of back end starter Julio Seguignol and long man Ray Workman. Like Vegas, Iowa also boasts an outstanding young rotation led by Spike Chase and Luis Santos, who will be joined this year by pre-season Rookie of the Year candidate Hipolito Padilla. The big story last year was Rookie of the Year Mickey Fikac, whose 46 dingers in pitcher-friendly Iowa opened many eyes. Many scouts are predicting a sophomore slump for Fikac, but maybe he really is that good? The pressure also continues to be on Karim Espinosa, who has performed reasonably well, but never seems to live up what scouts--or his salary--projects.

Its hard to believe that the Salem Argonauts finished last in season 10, barely missing the playoffs with 89 wins. This is a good team from top to bottom and owner hooner65 was active with several free agent signings, including slugging 1B Cameron Lewis, as well as two big trades, both of which sent away prospects. The first trade brought Dealer farmhand Wade Jefferies, a fine 2B or CF that was stuck in the Dealers system in exchange for SP prospect Hooks White. The second was a blockbuster, bringing solid 3B Taylor Payton and CF Weldon Flores. Shipped away were prospects Vince Mercedes, Louie Kaufman (wow, that kid can hit!), and Angel Ramirez. Unfortunately for pitchers everywhere, big 1B Karl Shea will return for the Argonauts this year, as will slugger Sergei Hackman.

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