Last Years Finish and S2 Division Prediction:
--- Last years AL North fell just as predicted with both the Detroit offense and pitching holding up their end of the bargain while the Blue Jays offense couldn't quite carry the team as far as it needed to. The Jays did get into the playoffs though, as the WC 2, and were knocked out three games to one by the eventual champion Anaheim. The same fate befell division champ Detroit, as Anaheim bested them in a great seven game series. Look for Detroit to repeat and return to the ALCS.
While Detroit pitching shut down the opposition young DH Wilfredo Candelaria lit up opposing pitchers to the tune of 45 and 133 while posting a solid .275 average and .902 OPS. He was helped by a surprising campaign by Ryuu Song who hit .308 in 312 at bats. LF Paul Smith and pure power hitter 1B Charlie Neal each also chipped in solid seasons with Neal surprising many by hitting .271 to go with his 35 HR and 86 RBI in 106 ML games after tearing up AAA for 34 games.With all of the aforementioned players in their mid to late 20's there's no reason to believe they can't support their pitching staff once again.
The real story in Detroit was the choke hold their pitching staff put on most opponents. Shawn Montgomery led the team in wins (18), ERA (3.18), IP (215) and OAV (.219) and was easily their most effective pitcher. Collectively the Tigers staff posted the third best ERA, WHIP, the best OAV, and allowed the fourth least ER in the league. In the offseason 13 game winner and staff ace Johan Kotsay was re-signed and ready to go after posting a less than average (by his standards) season. The Tigers staff is aging, though, and their time of dominance on the mound is short.
Like other teams, the Tigers made no major splash in the IFA market but snagged a solid long reliever/spot starter Olmedo Guardado with the 18th overall pick of the inaugural draft. Future staff cornerstone Sammy Pascual made strides at the High A level last season and has his eye set on joining the Tigers rotation, and just in time, by Season 4 at the latest. Twenty three year old reliever Eswalin Diaz also progressed nicely while holding the lead for Pascual last season but is at least a half season behind Pascual for debut date. The Tigers best position prospect, 1B Doug Davis, will start off in High A ball this year but watch for him to hit AA, maybe AAA before the season is out.
Another solid season lay ahead for Detroit and, likely, another division title.
RP Max Cordero
P Eugene Allen - Gold Glove
SS Phil Anderson - Gold Glove
The offense in Toronto performed better than expected last season but it wasn't good enough to get them the division title. They'll look to improve upon their WC2 birth last season and take the division from Detroit. To do that they'll need help offensively and rookie CF Stone Caufield is on the way. He'll join a lineup which already features a trio of power hitters, however, the power he adds to the lineup will be welcomed by a team that had the third fewest homers in the majors last season despite having three players hit 30 or more homeruns. Caufield's number projections should bump the team up from bottom three in HR's to middle of the pack. Surprising seasons like that had by Ralph Justice could propel the Jays to the top of the division.
Landon Norton garnered pre season CY Young hype and while he posted solid numbers it was Artie Ryan who stole the show on the mound with an astounding 22 wins. The season had by youngster Johnny DuBose should not be overlooked as he chipped in 15 wins and a solid 3.55 ERA as a 22 year old after being called up from AAA. Reliever Andres Corpas was also called up and stunned opposition hitters as a 21 year old with a 2.08 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 28 games. This mostly veteran, although not old by any means, pitching staff should be dependable once again and will look to the offense to help get those 10 or so more wins needed for the division in Season 2.
The talk of the league is the depth of the pitching prospects in the Jays system. SP prospect Ichiro Kondou is good enough to contribute to any ML team right now and is still two seasons away from being truly ready. Future lights out closer Amp Bonham is much further away but made decent progress last year and is on track for a S5/S6 debut. Another SP prospect, Morgan Nixon is a good three seasons away from playing in Toronto but will be a nice complement to Kondou when he gets there. While some scouts drool over the pitchers of the Jays system others look toward Saul Romero, a free swinger with raw power who needs about three more seasons before he can terrorize ML pitchers. Last season at High A he beat up pitchers with a .353/43/117 line.
P Artie Ryan
3B Tom Burton
Chicago White Sox
The South Siders suffered from a lack of pitching last season yet found themselves hovering around .500 to finish the season due in large part to the offensive clinic put on by Jumbo Starr and company. The All Star left fielder and preseason MVP pick by many showed just what he can do at the plate by ripping opposition pitchers to the tune of a .306/.553/.942 line and hit 35 homers while driving in 108. Not to be outdone, Silver Slugger catcher Enrique Coronado put on an impressive show of his own by hitting 52 homers and knocking in 134 with a .293 average and 1.030 OPS. Contributions by All Stars Nate Ferrara (SS) and Junior Lorraine (CF) propelled this offense to being one of the best in the majors. With no departures from the lineup and the addition of 26 year old RF Leon Harper from AAA this team will be crackin heads again at the plate.
One of last seasons worst pitching staff's returns for S2. At the time of writing five spots remain on the 25 man roster for the ChiSox and with only 9 of those spots taken by pitchers you'd figure at least 3 pitchers will be added to the squad by ST end. The question is where will these other pitchers come from? RP Del Lowell and SP Bret Rose would make the ML squad better but there's little else after those two. The best bet is to not bet on the White Sox this season, though if the pitching staff can put together an above average campaign the Pale Hose will probably be in contention of a WC spot.
Warren Kelly and Burke Spooneybarger don't project to have quite enough stamina to be go-to pitchers but are the future of the White Sox rotation. As already mentioned, Del Lowell and Bret Rose could look to help the team this season. If they aren't called up you can look for them to be full time ML'ers next season. As if they needed any more offense, Ramon Lee, a projected top end all around hitter, and Theodore Yount currently make up the best of Chicago's minor leagues. Yount, another power hitting catcher, is close to being ready and may make an appearance this year.
P Benito James
SS Nate Ferrara
LF Jumbo Starr
CF Junior Lorraine
C Enrique Coronado
CF Junior Lorraine
Fireman of the Year:
Last season I predicted a last place finish for the Twins and though I was correct on that I failed in my prediction that their offense would sputter. Instead, the bats of the Twin Cities performed well above expectations. Though their power numbers were low, the offense posted better numbers than the league average in many statistical categories. Tim Fisher arguably had the best offensive performance of any SS in the majors logging a 30/30 season with 152 ribbies and also hit for the cycle. Big contributions came from rookies Gary Martin and Teddy Marquis, each hitting 34 homers and combining for 213 RBI. Minnesota added another power hitter in the offseason in Felix Priddy, who played off the bench mainly for Cincinnati last season. No real reason to believe that the Twins offense won't be productive once again, look for Martin, Marquis and Fisher to put up solid seasons again.
Rookie Henry Parker led the team in wins last season with 11 while recording a respectable 3.82 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. The problem is, he's a reliever. As expected the Twins staff was one of the worst in the league and ranked near the bottom in most statistical categories. Bill Tam, the Twinkies best pitcher, started 34 games but was only able to record 11 decisions, due in part to his lack of true starter stamina. Einar Hernandez was the lone bright spot, making the All Star team and ending the season with 34 saves in 39 opportunities. There's not a lot of hope for Twins pitching although the call up of SP Jeffrey Bush and signing of minor league FA Diego Aguilera from Seattle will improve the quality of the staff but likely won't make the difference between another losing season and a playoff appearance.
Minnesota has a couple of nice pieces down at the farm in last years 11th overall pick Buddy Washington, a starting pitcher with great control and a plus sinker, and future All World 2B Turk Weber, who posted a very nice season at AA hitting .312 with 25 HR and 134 RBI. While Washington is straight out of high school while Weber could contribute now as a 21 year old.
P Einer Hernandez
SS Tim Fisher