Kansas City 94-68
Tampa Bay 77-85
-- Last season KC cake walked to the AL South title and the second seed in the playoffs. Texas, predicted to finish second and possibly challenge KC for the top spot was hugely disappointing; their pitching strength didn't come through and their offense couldn't carry them passed 60 wins. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay and Charlotte got solid performances from some surprise spots to stay out of the basement. Still, with the core of KC's offense returning the division is theirs to lose.
In Season 1 the Royals offense was nearly unstoppable with great performances from All Star 1B Harry Skinner and 3B Stone Bowen who combined for 91 homers and 250 RBI. RF Sal Liniak had a breakout performance hitting .325 with 28 big fly's and 106 RBI. The team ranked in the top three of most major offensive statistical categories and with the entire offense from S1 returning there is no reason to think they won't put up a similar performance.
By the numbers the Royals pitching staff performed well below the league average but obviously did well enough to back their offensive juggernaut. The three headed rookie pitching monster of Buck Decker, Diego Suarez and Ryan Randall put in great performances and may be the best story of S1 after the magical Series run of the Angels. The three rookies put together 46 wins although they were mostly backed by the offense. Wandy Batista proved solid as the closer with 38 saves in 44 chances, though the rest of the bullpen was a bit weak. What's more surprising that KC allowed a couple of their vet relievers, who put in decent performances, walk as FA's at the time of writing. Still, the offense in KC is so strong that it would take some sort of lackluster season to keep KC out of the playoffs and from atop the division.
KC drafted ML ready catcher David Martin, a college sophomore, with the second overall pick of the draft. Martin should find his way to the majors sooner rather than later and will add yet another weapon to the Royals arsenal. SP's Rich Fikac and Corban Norton made progress last season and continue their march toward the bigs. Norton may make an appearance toward the end of the season and look for him in S3. First baseman Kenneth Mulholland joins Martin as the top position prospects in the system.
P Diego Suarez
P Buck Decker
P Wandy Batista
1B Harry Skinner
3B Stone Bowen
1B Harry Skinner
3B Stone Bowen
C Landon Taylor
Tampa Bay Rays
A second place finish well behind the Royals means the Rays have work to do in Season 2. Offensively the work has already begun and at the time of writing only seven position players are listed on the 25 man ML roster as ovechkin made the decision to release five position players from last years roster. DH Cody Wall had a great fist half and was rewarded with an All Star nod but the best offensive performer for the Rays was Vern Rose who hit .289 with 42 bombs and 132 RBI. Despite a low team average and a general lack of power the Rays were still able to score runs last season and it was their pitching who let them down. It remains to be seen what plans ovechkin has for filling his roster out but with the key players from last years lineup returning the offense should stay on track in S2.
The pitching is in flux this season with a number of arms who both performed well and bad leaving the squad. Like the offensive side, there are still moves to be made for ovechkin at the time of writing as there are only nine pitchers currently on the 25 man roster. The Rays still look to have the same problem that they did last season; a lack of true starting pitching. One would assume ovechkin will go after some starting pitching to try and tighten up the staff. If he can add a couple decent arms the Rays may have a chance at chasing the WC this season.
One solution may be to call up blue chip SP Scott Lewis. Although Lewis could use another season or two of development he represents a huge bump in the quality of the rotation, despite still needing development. Bubbles Malone was drafted with the 7th overall pick and will help the staff enormously but likely not until S5 at the very earliest. The position side of the system has a handful of decent prospects who could contribute one day. Catcher Paul Chen, who looks to have both the defensive and offensive skills to be an All Star although he still needs about three more seasons to develop.
DH Cody Wall
Expectations weren't high in Charlotte in Season 1 due to a lack of offense on the roster. Some may have thought that Gary Adams and Willie Quintanilla may have been able to make the team competitive but Quintanilla underwent elbow surgery and only made eight starts. Adams put up decent numbers and likely didn't deserve 13 losses but something remains desired of his S1 performance and a better quality season is expected from him in S2. Veteran reliever Pedro Morlan turned in a fine season with 51 appearances and a 3.63 ERA. Benito Fernandez was called up late last year and his performance would best be described as shaky. Still, better things are expected of the now 24 year old and he should bolster the rotation for S2. Quintanilla needs to stay healthy, if he can this rotation should be dependable for the Knights.
One of last years top signings, Raul Roque, was thrown into the fire last season after being signed early and performed admirably. Outfielder Rudy Webster had a breakout season at the dish and drove in 104 while hitting .318 with 23 bombs. Free swinging 3B Matty Frias had the most surprising season with 35 dingers and 101 RBI. Still, though, this team is lacking offense although they may have enough power to back the rotation and pickup some more wins this season. Another third place finish seems about right for this squad, which should suit
Speaking of minors, uber blue chipper SP Red Bohanon and ready to contribute SP Vladimir Henriquez make up an impressive stock of arms. CF prospect Stevie Cambridge is also ML ready and should see time up top this season. A minor setback to the Knights was the failure to sign 19th overall pick, pitcher Buzz Cole. Cole was represented by his mom, which led to trouble signing and will return to college for his junior year.
The pitching staff in Texas was a major disappointment in S1. It's true that the offense didn't back them very well, but some performances were eye opening. The decision by willsauve to only use one of the best SP's in the majors, Jose Alfonzo, as a reliver confounds me. Alfonzo put up good numbers but only threw 89 innings in 72 appearances for the Rangers. It's doubtful that Alfonzo would have made much of a difference in the Rangers final standing but it's still a head scratcher. Marino Oropesa had a bad season by his standards and should bounce back in S2. Luther Bartee will make his ML debut to start the season and adds yet another great arm to the rotation. A few other callups should bolster the Rangers pen and allow Alfonzo to return to starting duty. This could be the best staff in the league.
As expected the Rangers offense couldn't push many runs across the plate last season. There were many OK performances from the squad but just not enough consistency. To prospect Raymond Cornelius has been called up and immediately becomes the best hitter on the team. Still, it doesn't feel like there's enough talent here to strike fear into too many opposition pitchers hearts. It will be up to the staff to get it done this season. If they can perform anywhere near what you'd expect from them this team could compete for the WC.
With the 5th overall pick the Rangers added CF John Takada to bolster the position side of their system. They still boast the deepest stock of pitching potential in the league with guys like Marcus Smith, Ross Aaron and Mark Helton, all of whom are very close to coming to the majors. Basically, willsauve is going to be able to feature a staff of almost all above average talent in just a season or two, very scary stuff.
1B Gil Roosevelt