My Take: As of now, one of the weaker divisions in the world. It looks like this may have been the season for one of the other teams to step up to make a run at Little Rock as they lost some pieces, but it doesn't look like any of the other teams made enough changes to do so. Nashville has a ton of work to do to salvage what the previous owner did to that franchise and to his credit is trying to win now and not ripping it all apart. Jackson and New Orleans are sticking to their rebuilding plan by building from within. I'm projecting Little Rock as the division winner and sole playoff participant and a good turnaround for Nashville as I believe they under performed last season with an MIA owner.
1. Little Rock Razorbacks
2. Nashville Commodores
3. New Orleans Bayou Bengals
4. Jackson Rebels
Added thru FA
C Corky Buckley
C Ted Brock
1B Will Cook
2B Anthony Lombard
3B Crash Becker
3B Ben Brown
SS Mark Shaw
CF Joaquin Andujar
RP Adrian Kendall
RP Kane Fordyce
RP Kip Jennings
C Von Field
3B Ron Davis
LF Raul Aquino
SS Davey Jackson
RP David Costilla
RP Mac Douglas
1B Bubbles Haynes
LF Roger Valentine
C Jeff Cameron
C Roberto Puente
Basically a complete offensive overhaul in Nashville.
Outlook depends on pitching staff bouncing back from a terrible year.
The expectations are to flirt with .500
Little Rock Razorbacks
The Razorbacks biggest offseason signing was that of 39-year old Matthew Lennon. Lennon should fill the void left by Clinton Carr who became a free-agent over the offseason. Also added the Razorbacks pitching staff is Austin Byrne. Austin is making the short drive from Texas to Arkansas where he was the closer for the Mustangs the previous 9 seasons. Austin brings his experience along with a career 238 Saves to the Razorbacks where he'll help mentor young fireballer Bill Perez. The Razorbacks also added Luis Santana to the pitching staff in a trade from Anaheim. Luis is slated to be the #4 or #5 starter in the rotation out of Spring Training. Luis won 13 games for the Trojans last season and the Razorbacks are hoping for similar results from him this season.
On offense, the Razorbacks added Derek Cashman in a trade from Huntington. As of right now Derek projects to play 3rd base for the Razorbacks. Derek struggles at times with making contact but should fill in nicely towards in the bottom half of the lineup. The Razorbacks also added Marcus Perez from Huntington. Marcus should fill in nicely at the DH spot and in the field when needed. Marcus brings an average to an above average bat to the middle part of the Razorbacks lineup. Finally, the Razorbacks added Walter Goodwin as the backup Catcher. Walter does an excellent job of managing the pitch calling while bringing an average bat to the plate. He will fill in nicely when starter C Welington Calderone needs a day off.
Key Players Lost
The Razorbacks lost a slew of players to free-agency including SS/3B Anthony Lombard, 2B Oscar Purcell, 1B Martin Davis, C Chico Duran, CF James Lee, RP Quinton Hamilton and SP Clinton Carr. They lost DH Grant Dickerson to trade this offseason and lost RP Benji Cairo to trade late last season.
There are 2 players on the radar right now for making the Big League club out of Spring Training. The first is RP McKay Benes, the Razorbacks 1st-round pick from Season 10. Most believe he'll start the year in AAA and wait the minimum 20 games to allow the club to gain an extra year before Arbitration begins. There has also been some conversation about ugueth Santos, the powerful 28-year old who has spent his entire career in the minor leagues. The Razorbacks could really use a big hitting DH and if Santos can have a good spring, he may find himself on the ML roster opening day.
Outlook and Expectations
The Razorbacks lost a lot of key components to last years Division Championship team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The pitching staff is better with the additions of Lennon and Bryne. Red Lofton won 17 games last season and the Razorbacks are hoping for another good year from him. Bill Perez will be the Closer from Day 1 and the Razorbacks and fans alike are very interested to see how he performs this year. On offense, the Razorbacks are looking for someone to step up this year. It will be interesting to see if the improvement in the pitching staff can outweigh the possible offense lost. Owner miggyt4 has promised the Razorback fan base another year competing for the division title. The next step for the Razorbacks would be to advance past the opening round of the playoffs. Owner miggyt4 hopes the upgrade in the pitching staff will help with that. On the offensive side of the ball, I think it will all depend on some of the younger players stepping up and playing a bigger role for this team.
New Orleans Bayou Bengals
Key Losses: FA pitchers Allen Guerrero and Vic Calles, FA outfielder Hawk Tyner, 3B Josh Foulke (traded late last season)
Key Additions: 3B Matty Bohannon (acquired via trade late last season), Rule 5 draftee P Jose Andujar, rookie P Michael Comer
counting on strong seasons from several players in their prime - 1B Carlos Molina, 2B Jolbert Lopez, SS Carlos Gonzalez, 3B Matty Bohannon, LHS Julio Lira, LHRP Julio Rincon, and solid contributions from young players CF James Hernandez, RHS Francisco Bournigal, LHS Michael Comer and CL Bart Pellow
expected finish: somewhere between 82 and 86 wins and hopes of at least a wild card berth
Key Players Added: P Carl Rossy, free agent signing to absorb the losses of Borges and Padilla
Key Players Lost: P David Borges (started hot last season, but tapered off), P Carlos Padilla (3-16 record last season does not serve him justice)
Possible Rookie Call-ups: SP Yander Santos and RP Nash Messmer. One or both could be called up but probably not likely. I would like to give them a full season of AAA seasoning before actually bringing them up for next season.
Outlook & Expectations: I am basically bringing back the same squad with Rossy the only major addition. The Rebels played above expectations for most of the season until a double digit losing streak late in the year brought them back to earth with a thunderous thud. Hopefully, my rookies from last year will avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and produce in the ways I expect them to. Torey Vallarata and Andres Martinez (both with 33 HR & 98 rbi) should continue to produce at a high level and be the clubhouse leaders that I expect them to be.
If the team can avoid any prolonged slumps, the Rebels SHOULD see a plus .500 season in their future.