Last season was obviously our big step out of the rebuild and into the competition at the top of the world. The ensuing playoff run resulted in Richmond’s first title. Coming into this season, there was pretty much one overriding theme: “If it isn’t broke…”
We didn’t have any free agents from last year’s team, and we didn’t bring anyone in either. Improvement will still come, but internally only. First, the team is still young enough that several of the position players are still on the upswing, so many of the guys from last year look even better this season. Then second, former first-round pick Ralph Small will be called up to man the hot corner full time. We almost pulled the trigger on Ralph at the end of last season, but ultimately decided to give him another offseason and spring training to develop. He will push some guys to more full-time bench roles, which should in turn improve the bench and overall depth.
We hope to make the playoffs again and then take a shot at defending the championship.
Kansas City Wildcats
The Kansas City Wildcats are still rebuilding. There are several players in the minors Louie Cook, Benny Ingram, Joc Patterson, and Harold K'aaihue that will be ready for the big club in the near future.The outlook for this year is trying to win 81 games.
Key Additions: Darrell Haywood (should fill the 4th or fifth starters roll), Albie Tejeda (a veteran who will play everyday until we promote some rookies)
Rookies to be called up: Vincente Carreras, Frank Pence
We expect continued improvement this year. A possible wild card run if all goes well. The offense led by Wandy Cedeno, Tony Kim, and the rookie Carreras should be good enough to keep us in most games. The bullpen will once again be a strength, led by Buzz Beirne. The unknown for this team is starting pitching. There is some talent, but they are young and unproven. There is no starting pitching in the minors so we will have to live and die with the guys currently on the roster.
The Bearcats, sufferers from sub-500 seasons in a division that leaves no room for errors, appear to be on the road to recovery. Recovery, in this case, means a pulse and not a healthy heartbeat. Minnesota will be, well, Minnesota. Portland and Fargo are in building programs that have infused more talent into the Majors than the Bearcats have, so, the Bearcats promise to be better; but, nobody around here expects them to make the playoffs. There are just too many intra-division hurdles to clear.
Last year saw the 'Cats add some positive young talent. Albie Gomez (ss) and Jerry Hume (2b) give the 'Cats the best defensive keystone duo in the league. Jalal Bowman (dh and backup catcher) showed real power potential and promises to be a good fit for the home ballpark. Ricardo Arias (p) made a contribution to the starting staff and should be a reliable #4 starter.
This year, rookie Len Whitesell (cf) will be around for the full season. He had a cup of coffee in the Bigs last season and demonstrated the kind of top of the order offensive punch the 'Cats so sorely need.
Young arms in the bullpen had banner years. Beltre, Calderone, Song, and Lee had 1.92, 2.59,2.31, and 2.62 ERA's, respectively. Song added 36 saves.
The 'Cats have good reason for not being ready for prime time. Needs include a reliable left hand presence out of the pen, a #1 starter, and more punch out of the corner positions. The old problem of firing blanks in the draft has been cured. The last couple of drafts yielded excellent prospects. Incremental improvement is expected.
Key Acquisitions: None
Key Players Lost: Ralph Myette SP (FA), Roger Herndon LF (Declined option)
The Tigers will return virtually the same lineup that finished 4th in the division last year, with Roger Herndon being the lone missing bat from last season. Management opted to let Herndon walk to free up salary in hopes of adding more power to the lineup, but fell short in those plans. The pitching staff will have a similar look as well. Chili Carver will continue to develop and gain experience while proving to be the ace of the staff. Cameron Cardona enters the rotation taking over for Myette, whom the Tigers had originally hoped to retain. Expectations entering the season will be mediocre at best, but Memphis will remain optimistic on improving upon last season.
Last season included a 12 win improvement over the prior season, another .500+ finish, and another 2nd place division finish, the 5th 2nd place finsih in 7 seasons with tdfactory at the helm. Fans are a bit restless and looking to make the playoffs again, but do acknowledge Coach tdfactory has put the program in better position than the first 15 years of the program prior to his arrival.
Not many changes in Columbus this year from a player movement standpoint. P ALbert Rincon tested the FA market but ultimately returned to CLB. THe Bucks added backup C Che Jung and slected Utilitly infiielder Kevin McConnell from Louisvill int he Rule V draft. No players were lost to FA.
Former first round pick in Season 17, Hector Narveson, had an impressive Rookie campaign, appearing in 62 games, with a 9-2 record and 1 save, pithcing in 112 innings with a 2.88 ERA. Former Buck P-Dallas Parrott returned through trade to CLB last season from Huntington and is expected to add to a rotation that is veteran laden. Joey Delucci returns for one more season to be the closer, and former first rounder in Season 18, Stephen Harvey is expected to improve his contribution in the bullpen.
In the field, 3B Thomas Fogg continues to be the main power source, with 1B Danny Sheffield looking to add to the Bucks offense in his 2nd season in CLB. Last seasons big FA acquisition, CF Everett Wood went down in spring training and missed over half of the season. When he was ready to go, he found that he had lost his job to a younger CF Al Bristow, who led off, had a .361 OBP and stole 64 bases, while adding 28 RBI and batting a respectable .278. Wood returned but only appeared in 85 games and never found his groove, hitting only .199 with 6 HR's.
TDfactory hasnt decided at press time who will man the middle of the outfield, but both players are looking over their shoulder at pressure coming up from the farm. Two top prospects for the Bucks roam the great middle. Freddie Urich was a first round selection in Season 20 and had an outstanding season in AAA last year, belting 34 HR's, 108 RBI, stealing 28 bags, and hitting .271. This writer feels the veteran Wood will get the start, but if he falters, Bristow has proven he can handle the job, but most likely a flatering Wood would be dealt and Urich would get a chance to take over. How long Urich has the job or Bristow is with the club depends on this seasons development of top pick Bill Daily, who will start the season in AA. He has potential, some solid power, a good eye and will give right handed pitchers plenty of headaches. THe Bucks don't want to rush him, but expectations for his career are high.
The Bucks took a minimal change approach this offseason, expecting the veteran rotation to be able to hang on for another season and for the young fielders to continue to develop. It will either pay off with a playoff run, or if the Bucks are too far back at the trade deadline, some big names and contracts could be dealt. Should be an interesting season in Columbus.
Iowa City Hawkeyes
Not a whole lot to update with the Iowa franchise. Still looking for that elusive SP Crosby is getting older lost a veteran and only have 1 rookie worth bringing up.
Decided not to spend a lot of money on free agents and keep some for possible trades through the season. As well I will be looking for the SP on international market I hope.
The Jackson Rebels had a very quiet off season outside of picking up Fernando Segui's option, there were no major moves.
Of course, the glue to this team is slugging RF Lyle Daly, Daly is looking to bounce back from the knee injury that caused him to miss out on the last 50+ games last season. Before the injury, he was well on his way to a career year (40 HRs, 94 RBI, 36 SB). Also looking to bounce back from injury is the young lefty Jordan Stephens...his injury occurred in his sixth start and he was out for the year. However, Yonder Santos is the ace of the staff and this has to be the year he starts earning that hefty paycheck. With closer Nash Messmer once again anchoring the bullpen, things look bright.
Hopes are high for this season, but then I again I say that every season and there is always a stretch that dooms the season.