My Take: I think this division will be tight, but with Arizona pulling away. I'd be shocked if they even come close to winning the division by as huge a margin as they did last season. They lost Bernie Ortiz which is a significant blow to the lineup and the other three teams in the division got better. Boise boasts two pitchers that could both be termed "Aces." KC needs to bounce back from their second half collapse last season. Picking the Grizzlies in last is another testament to how tight this division is teams 2-4, because they have a solid squad.
1. Arizona Sun Devils
2. Boise Broncos
3. Kansas City Wildcats
4. Helena Grizzlies
For the first time, I am very optimistic about the season ahead. With Elvis Fox and Terry Powell up to the majors and the rule 5 addition of Parra at 1B our starting 8 are vastly improved. While I think our catching situation needs improvement I think it’s good enough to compete. Our pitching staff is just getting better as it matures. Daly will hopefully be lights out and the bullpen is solid. With Wall and Cairo just a short while away in AAA, the pitching will only get better. If (always the big if) we stay away from major injuries, I think we’ll be in the running at the end of the season. I know there are some good teams in my division, but I think we match up pretty well right now.
KEY PLAYERS ADDED - SS Glendon Reichert, P Willie Sabathia and P Daniel Mullens. The Grizzlies added Sabathia and Mullens as veteran free agent pitchers to stabilize the pitching staff. Mullins is expected to be the 5th starter in the rotation. Glendon Reichert was a rule 5 draftee and is considered the teams franchise SS. Reichert is a solid defensive SS with the potential to hit 20 home runs.
KEY PLAYERS LOST – LF Oswaldo Diaz (.271 avg, 22 HR, 78 RBI)
POSSIBLE ROOKIE CALL UPS – Alfredo Guzman and Benito Valbuena. Guzman was the 44th pick of the season 8 draft. Alfredo is a solid hitter and a plus base runner that is expected to win the RF job out of spring training. Benito Valbuena is the feel good story of the spring for the Grizzlies. He is a former 8th round pick of the season 8 draft and is expected to get the majority of the at bats behind the plate this season. Valbuena is a plus hitter who is still working to develop his defensive skills.
OUTLOOK – The Grizzlies return their core of young players led by pitchers Jose Mendoza and Victor Valdes. Both hurlers turned in solid rookie campaigns and the expectations are that they continue to develop and improve in their sophomore seasons. Helena will hope to generate runs with a balanced offense with little starts. Last season Dorian Griffin was called up late in the year and generated some excitement with this raw speed. He will be the opening day starter this season at 2b.
EXPECTATIONS - Grizzly fans have suffered through 5 consecutive losing seasons and are hopeful this is the season they can at least threaten to finish above .500. If last years rookies improve on their first year performances, the team should take a step forward in their quest for a winning season.
Kansas City Wildcats
The Kansas City Wildcats finished 2nd last year in the NL West after a second half collapse. KC did not sign any free agents or lose any key players. Five players signed contract extensions and four more were arbitration signings. I do not foresee any players from the minor leagues making it to the majors this year. KC has a good bullpen and enough offense. The key is the starting pitching has to get better this year for any chance at winning the division and getting into the post season.
Arizona Sun Devils