St. Louis Cardinals -
Starting 9: The Cards will bring the good wood to the park everyday and should have little trouble pushing runs across the plate. Leading the way is top first baseman Wayne Rhodes, possibly the best hitter in the entire league. Some combination of Paxton Carpenter, Joshua Palmer and Takumi Chiba will be tasked with getting on base in front of Rhodes and Clay Austin, who may be one of the best hitting catchers in the game. Although he doesn't possess a great bat, center fielder Karim Palmeiro is one of the more rounded players you'll find at the position.
Pitching staff: Stan Barrett will likely occupy the #1 spot in the rotation to start the season. Dean Zimmermann, Zachrey Broadway and Carl Randall are capable starting pitchers and should be able to keep the games they start within striking range of the offense. Zimmermann in particular should be a very solid in the second spot of the rotation. Miguel Rodriguez and newly promoted Steven Pagnozzi should combine for a good 1-2 punch at the backend of the pen.
The future: St. Louis has plenty of depth at pitcher in their farm system. Ellis Buddie, C.J. Kramer and Matty Canseco are legitimate starting material, although the system lacks a true lights out closer prospect. Not quite as deep in the field, the Cards minor leagues have a couple of exciting players to watch for in SS/3B prospect Dan Wilhelm and LF Skip Beirne. Overall there are a lot of bright spots in the Cards system and the future looks bright in St. Louis.
Atlanta Braves -
Starting 9: Willis Leonard and Norberto Alvarado are the only two sound hitters on an offense that figures to be just below average. There is hope that youngsters Duke Diaz and Larry Henley can hit the ball consistently in support of Leonard and Alvarado. After these four, though, there is a dropoff in quality which will likely bog down the offense.
Pitching staff: The Braves have a very dependable rotation and project to have three good options for long relief/setup. The main question will be whether or not they can close games out as there is a glaring lack of a dependable closer on the team. Consistency at the closer spot may have to come from one of the three LR options.
The future: Currently without a strong closer option at the big league level the Braves can look to the future and uber-closer prospect Clarence Sanders. Currently in AA, Clarence could make his first appearance in late S2 and should be a full time big leaguer by S3. Although there aren't any stud position prospects in the minors, Atlanta can count a handful of future ML players who should form a solid core.
Florida Marlins -
Starting 9: Arguably the best offense in the NL South will belong to the Fish in S1. Shortstop Vinny Baez may be the best all around player in the league and is one of the cornerstone of the Marlins lineup. First baseman Diory Jose will challenge the Cardinals Wayne Rhodes for title of best first baseman. John Cheung, Spike Schmidt and rookie Woody Drew all bring dependable bats to the park and should not be overlooked.
Pitching staff: Will Granderson could compete for the NL Cy Young if he is able to throw strikes consistently this season. Behind him are a handful of youngsters, including two rookies, who will need to bring their A game if Florida hopes to win many games. Quentin Eaton, Jordan Meyer, Banana Maas and Martin Scholl form a solid bullpen and closing out games this season shouldn't be a worry for the Marlins.
The future: Hayes Leary, Tony Urbina and Seop Mori will one day push the current youngsters in the bigs for spots in the rotation. In the field Joe Bush is easily one of the top prospects in the NL and could make his debut late in S3 or in S4 if he develops well.
Houston Astros -
Starting 9: The 'Stros offense should be productive this season and especially capable of pounding left handed pitching. Vicente Chavez is yet another stellar first baseman in the NL South and Cap Valentine is one of the top catchers in the league. They are supported by a handful of guys who may not hit for the best average but should bring some pop to the lineup.
Pitching staff: Dennis Charles is the best SP option for Houston but the main concern will be how many innings he can effectively throw. Behind him aren't the best collection of starters but they should prove to be dependable. The bullpen is without any true LR option and instead it will have to be a patchwork of relievers holding the lead in the late innings. Luckily for the Astros they can count four solid relief options in their pen, including Luis Cortes and Archie Duncan.
The future: Brighter days may be ahead for the Houston rotation. A number of SP prospects reside in the minors currently. However, all of them may already be fully developed and the question looks to be not if they're ready, but when they will they be needed at the ML level. Position-wise there not any superstars in the Astros system, but a few guys who can one day prove to be everyday players at the big league level.
How they will finish: The Cards would appear to be the most well rounded team in the NL South. If Florida's rookies can perform well consistently they will likely challenge the Cards for the division title. Atlanta lacks the offense needed to compete and Houston's opening day rotation will have trouble over the course of 162 games.