Saturday, March 26, 2011

AL East Preview...

...Boston Red Sox...

New to Red Sox Nation - OF Carl Crawford...IB Adrian Gonzalez...RP Bobby Jenks...RP Dan Wheeler

Peace, see ya later - 3B Adrian Beltre...C Victor Martinez...1B Mike Lowell

In the Red Sox organization keep an eye on...SS Jose Iglesias...Jose cost the BoSox a cool $8+ mill just to sign the Cuban in 2009...This guy is MLB-ready as far as his D...His O does need seasoning, and with Marco Scutaro currently at SS Jose will get a chance to continue his development in the Minors, but he is not far from being an every day SS for this club...

Apparently the BoSox did not have a sense of humor about missing out on the playoffs for the first time in 4 years...They went out and added a ton of talent and depth...Let's have a look...

The rotation remains the same likely with guys like Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Dice-K...The bullpen still has Jonathan Papelbon closing, for now, but either Daniel Bard or Bobby Jenks can close, and still leave arms like Matt Albers, Dan Wheeler, and perhaps even Tim Wakefield to contribute to the 'pen (Wakefield entering his 19th season...wow)

The O was great in 2010, and could even be better in 2011...Crawford and A-Gon are added and should each thrive in Fenway (especially A-Gon...he hit 30+ HR's with zero protection in front or behind him in the lineupin San Diego...plus hitting at Fenway as apposed to Petco should be great for him too)...Jacoby Ellsbury returns from injury...Add J.D. Drew and David Ortiz and we see 5 great left-handed hitting bats for Manager Terry Francona...From the right side Boston has studs like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis (both looking for healthy 2011's)...Question marks are SS Marco Scutaro, and C's Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Red Sox...95.5...OVER...A return to form from guys like Lackey and Beckett will surely be required to get 96+ W's, but there is a ton of talent here so I will predict 96+ W's

...New York Yankees...

New to the Pin stripes - C Russell Martin...RP Pedro Feliciano...OF Andruw Jones

Escape from New York - 1B Lance Berkman...RP Kerry Wood...SP Any Pettitte...OF Austin Kearns...DH Nick Johnson

In the Yanks organization keep an eye on...SS Eduardo Nunez...The Yankees do have several legit prospects believe it or not (seems their rep is more like sell/trade the prospects for high-priced MLB-ready talent, but remember the Yanks drafted and raised the likes of Jeter/Posada/Mo Rivera/Cano to name a few)...Nunez is interesting to me as the Yanks refused to include him in a deal at the Trade Deadline last season with Seattle that would have landed them Cliff Lee...that puts a lot of pressure/expectations on a guy who will one day replace Derek Jeter (as if that wasn't going to be enough pressure already!!)

It is rare to see so many question marks to start a season for the New York Yankees...Not the least of which is the starting rotation...This unit is top-heavy with C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes as the 1-2 punch...There is a ton of potential drop-off after that...A.J. Burnett was terrible in 2010...Rookie Ivan Nova will be in the rotation (a rookie in the Yanks rotation?!?!)...Also guys like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia will get a shot at a rotation spot...so could Kevin Millwood at some point (he is going to start the season in the Minors)...The bullpen is pretty damn good...Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano, and Rafael Soriano provide skill and depth as set-up men for Mo Rivera

The OF is solid, but perhaps not great...Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher...The IF is great...A-Rod...Derek Jeter...Robinson Cano...Mark Teixeira...wow...also Russell Martin and Jorge Posada to C and DH (Posada likely mostly a DH going forward)...The Yankees excel at getting runners on base, and then driving them home

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Yankees...91.5...UNDER...The rotation may struggle (unless GM Brian Cashman is able to dial-up the time machine and make it 2004ish again so Millwood, Colon, and Garcia could be good)...If Nova does not produce this team will not make the playoffs...I have little faith in A.J. Burnett (he did have a solid Spring though)...LOVE the 'pen and LOVE the IF, but a tad underwhelmed everywhere else


Welcome to Canada - OF Rajai Davis...OF Corey Patterson...RP Octavio Dotel...RP Frank Francisco...OF Juan Rivera...RP Jon Rauch...RP Carlos Villanueva

Hope you enjoyed your time north of the border - OF Vernon Wells...C John Buck...RP Kevin Gregg...1B Lyle Overbay...OF Fred Lewis...RP Scott Downs...SP Shaun Marcum

In the Jays organization keep an eye on...SS Adeiny Hechavarria...we hold AA meetings around here on a regular (AA standing for Alex Anthopoulos, GM of the Jays) and we know AA has already begun to stock young high-upside talent in the organization so there is a lot to choose from...For this entry guys like Arencibia, Lawrie, McGuire, Gose, Thames, and even Drabek will take a back seat to Adeiny Hechavarria...Jays spent an amazing $10 mill to match the Yanks offer for the Cuban SS, and they landed Hechavarria...The 21 year old is already MLB-ready with his glove, but his O does need work...His glove will get him to the MLB level quickly though and we should all be in for a treat with this kid...

The pitching staff in 2011 will get their first taste of new Manager John Farrell (ex-Red Sox Pitching Coach)...Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, and Brett Cecil all need to continue their development in 2011...Same can be said for Brandon Morrow (who could be their best pitcher) but he is starting the season on the DL...also we know Morrow will again be shut down early in '11 once he reaches 180 innings (His 2010 was shut down at the 146 inning mark)...Jays hope Jesse Litsch can regain his 2008 form...Jo-Jo Reyes will get a look as a starter too (at least in Morrow's absence)...The Jays hope to one day have Dustin McGowan regain his health and his form to be able to rejoin the club...The bullpen is walking wounded currently...Closer Frank Francisco is down...set-up lefty Jesse Carlson is down...set-up righty Octavio Dotel is down...That leaves David Purcey, Carlos Villanueva, Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, and Shawn Camp to set-up closer Jon Rauch...

On O the Jays lose a ton of runs with the departures of Wells, Buck, Overbay, and Lewis...Much will be needed from rookie C J.P. Arencibia...Travis Snider is entering a shit-or-get-off-the-pot season (he has a ton of talent, but at this point it is time to start putting that on display)...Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera are new to the OF, while Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind will be the new 1B's (both played different positions in 2010 for the Jays)...A return to health, and form, is needed for 2B Aaron Hill...Jays also need the career of SS Yunel Escobar to get back on track...Of course the O is led by Jose Bautista...Many fear that Jose will step back, waaay back, in 2011...I predict another monster season...50+ HR's?!?!  Unlikely, but remember now this is a guy who really found an understanding of his swing in September of 2009, not just 2010...I think we have seen enough from Bautsita to suggest that he knows his swing so well at this point that he can continue to square up pitches and hit the ball hard consistently

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Jays...76.5...UNDER...as Jays fans we all want to see them win more than 76 games this season, but there are certain question marks on O, enough to scare me off of the OVER...For my friends that are Jays fans and keep predicting to me that this Jays team will shock people and make the play-offs in 2011 let's all take a deep breath...and remember a few things together here...If 2011 was ever on the radar for the play-offs then Doc Halladay would still be here (we remember it was Doc, AA, and Paul Beeston who all told us that Doc's timetable for winning was different than the Jays timetable...translation - Doc is ready now while Jays know their time is 2013 going forward)...plus if 2011 was going to be a play-off season then you don't allow John Buck and Scotty Downs to leave for nothing...you do not trade 2010 opening day starter Shaun Marcum for a 20 year old prospect...You likely don't even let Lyle Overbay go for nothing too...

Go Jays Go, but likely not much in 2011...2012 this team will be on the doorstep...2013+ this team will be special - perennial contenders thanks to AA

 ...Baltimore Orioles...

New toys for Buck Showalter - OF Vlad...3B Mark Reynolds...1B Derrek Lee...SS J.J. Hardy

OUT - SP Kevin Millwood...IF Ty Wigginton...OF Corey Patterson

In the O's organization keep an eye on...SS Manny Machado...very highly ranked out of High School last season and drafted by the O's #3 overall in last years Draft...he has very high upside on O, and should be a strong defender too...the comparison has been made to a young A-Rod...

This O's team hit just 133 HR's in 2010...They may get north of 200 in 2011 with these additions...Sure Vlad, Reynolds, and Lee strikeout a lot, but they sure can bang...Add that power to a lineup that has good hitters like Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones, and Brian Roberts and we see potential here...C Matt Wieters needs to hit to his potential...J.J. Hardy is the new SS and we will see how he fares in the AL East (he will surely be an upgrade over Cesar Izturis)...The 2010 O's were in the bottom-third of almost every O category, but this season should be better

The 2010 pitching was a punchline...but there is potential there going forward if these young arms can mature and produce to their potential...Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman all pitched much better following the mid-season managerial change that brought in Buck Showalter...Veteran Jeremy Guthrie will be the #1 starter...The bullpen adds ex-Jays Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo to go with Koji Uehara in the back of the O's 'pen...All of them have MLB experience as a closer...Alfredo Simon might have been the 2011 closer, but he has bigger issues ie an involuntary manslaughter charge from a recent incident in the Dominican Republic...Jason Berken and Jim Johnson will get innings out of the bullpen too

Over/Under win total for the 2011 O's...76.5...The O's really responded to Showalter when he took over mid-season in 2010...How about a last place team that went 34-24 with Showalter at the helm...impressive...OVER

...Tampa Bay Rays...

IN - OF/DH Manny Ramirez...OF/DH Johnny Damon

OUT - 1B Carlos Pena...SP Matt Garza...SS Jason Bartlett...OF Rocco Baldelli...RP Joaquin Benoit...RP Randy Choate...OF Carl Crawford...C Dioner Navarro...RP Rafael Soriano...RP Dan Wheeler...DH Willy Aybar...

In the Rays organization keep an eye on...OF Desmond Jennings...stud-in-the-making...Jennings will replace the departed Carl Crawford and should be the Rays everyday OF for years to come...not necessarily a power hitting threat, but he does make good contact and he can flat out fly around the bases...smart base-runner too...

This Rays team won more games than any MLB team in 2010...That is extremely unlikely to repeat in 2011...a TON of talent left TB in the off-season...Now don't get me wrong, a TON of young/high-upside talent remains...let's take a look...

The rotation lost Garza, but stud David Price remains...he is the #1, followed by guys like James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Jeremy Hellickson...There is surely potential there for a solid staff...Andy Sonnanstine could be a spot-starter too (if he doesn't become the closer)...In the 'pen Jake McGee and Joel Peralta will both get a shot to close games

The O still has stud Evan Longoria, but a huge drop-off after that...Jennings, B.J. Upton, and Ben Zobrist all need big years or they may see their playing time go to Man-Ram and/or Johnny Damon...Reid Brignac takes over at SS...he and double-play partner 2B Sean Rodriquez both need improved 2011 seasons...John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach are the Catchers (not much to like there)...1B will likely be Dan Johnson (yikes)

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Rays...84.5...UNDER...The starting staff could still be pretty good (especially Price) but the bullpen has potential to be awful, and the everyday lineup will take enough steps back that this Rays team will struggle in 2010

Check out the other MLB Previews too...and follow me on twitter @craigballard77


AL Central Preview

...Detroit Tigers...

IN - C Victor Martinez...RP Joaquin Benoit

OUT - SP Jeremy Bonderman (currently free agent)...OF Johnny Damon...SS Adam Everett...C Gerald Laird

In the Tigers organization keep an eye on...P Charlie Furbush...aside from the great name this lefty was impressive in the Minors in 2010 breezing through hitters at 3 different levels...MLB-ready fastball...nasty curveball...this guy racks up K's, but does need to improve his HR allowed #'s

The Tigers enter 2011 having numerous players with nagging injuries so we will look for this team to get better throughout the year as their health (hopefully) improves...The rotation is led by Justin Verlander, with Max Scherzer as a promising #2...after that the potential is there, but Detroit needs to see increased production from Rick Porcello and Armando Galarraga...Phil Coke will be interesting to watch as the former reliever will be in the rotation too...Coke has appeared in 158 MLB games (and had a lot of success) as a Yankee, and now a Tiger...only 1 of those times he was the starting pitcher...The bullpen is bolstered big-time by the addition of Joaquin Benoit...he will fit nicely with talent like Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry, and from the left side we will see Daniel Schlereth and Brad Thomas get their shot to set-up closer Jose Valverde

The O will likely improve in 2011...C Victor Martinez is a sure .300 hitter added to the line-up...If you are a Tigers fan you wonder what type of 2011 will 1B Miguel Cabrera actually have...Clearly you need him to be at 100% as he is a monster in the middle of that lineup...Detroit needs a return to health, and form,  from Carlos Guillen...Also need improved play from SS Jhonny Peralta...All that being said I still think the major cogs in this line-up have to be OF's Austin Jackson and Brandon Boesch...Both need to have next-step seasons for Detroit to be able to either overcome the loss of Cabrera, or provide Cabrera protection in the lineup...Ryan Raburn could fit into that category too

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Tigers...84...OVER...we see potential in the pitching staff, and we see potential on O...Again we say let's watch Miguel Cabrera this season...should be very interesting in Michigan

...Chicago White Sox...

Welcome to the ChiSox - RP Jesse Crain...1B/DH Adam Dunn

Gone from the Ozzie Guillen madhouse - RP Bobby Jenks...OF Andruw Jones...RP Scott Linebrink...RP J.J. Putz...Man-Ram

In the ChiSox organization keep an eye on...P Chris Sale...stud-in-the-making for this team...will he be in the rotation or bullpen?...Sale (starter growing up) made his MLB debut quickly after being drafted #13 overall in the 2010 Draft...months later he was closing games for the White Sox, and his #'s were wow wow wow...23 IP - just 15 hits allowed with a whopping 32 K's...he kicked ass as a closer in his brief MLB stint, but he has 3 MLB-ready pitches and that sort of make-up is usually better suited for a starting pitcher...time will tell but this lefty looks good folks

Usually this team is interesting to watch because we remember White Sox GM Kenny Williams as a Blue Jays player in 1990 running over Jays 3B Coach John McClaren on one of the more bizarre sequences you will ever see, and because Manager Ozzie Guillen is his own walking reality tv show...This year the on-field antics may be worth a peak too...A lot of potential here for the Southsiders...Pitching staff could be damn good...Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Edwin Jackson give the club a solid 1 through 4...Philip Humber looks like he will be the #5 starter until Jake Peavy is able to get back on the mound...Can you imagine this staff if Peavy returns to form?!?!  A ton of potential here...The 'pen looks good too...Sale, Matt Thornton (Thornton is my fav lefty reliever in baseball), Sergio Santos, and Torontonian Jesse Crain provide skill and depth

The O has potential as well...OF's Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin have upside...as does1B Paul Konerko...New addition Adam Dunn should bring 40+ HR's to this lineup...SS Alexei Ramirez is solid...C A.J. Pierzynski needs a better 2011...Another good season will be required from Juan Pierre...Question marks with rookie 3B Brent Morel (as he is known more for his glove than his O) and 2B Gordon Beckham...MUCH more was expected of Beckham...ChiSox have to be hoping that with the hype pretty much dead now perhaps it will be a better opportunity for Beckham to thrive/produce at the MLB level

Over/Under win total for the 2011 White Sox...85.5...OVER...too much to like here...easy to believe 86+ wins is in the cards for the Chicago White Sox

...Minnesota Twins...

New to the Twins - SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka

OUT - RP Jesse Crain...RP Matt Guerrier...SS J.J. Hardy...2B Orlando Hudson...RP Jon Rauch...RP Brian Fuentes

In the Twins organization keep an eye on...OF Joe Benson...always had speed and D (great arm) with a decent bat, but last season the power was on display as he developed a swing that puts the ball in the air...let's see if the power was a 1-year wonder, or if he is adding that to his game...

Minny has won the AL Central 2 straight seasons...The pitching staff will have to come through for this team to 3-peat...SP's Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano have great potential to be a 1-2 punch...Scott Baker (needs to get hits allowed down), Nick Blackburn (needs to get HR's allowed down), and Kevin Slowey (needs to get hits allowed waaaay down) provide potential for #3-4-5...If the Twins remain in contention we could see GM Bill Smith add a starter on the fly...The bullpen has potential...The set-up guys look strong in Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Jose Mijares, Pat Neshek, and Jeff Manship...Joe Nathan returns as closer after missing 2010 with Tommy John surgery...Nathan was hit extremely hard in Spring Training so we will watch how he starts the 2011 season...It may take time (still) for him to be back to his old self

The O gets the return of Canadian banger Justin Morneau...He and C Joe Mauer are the core of this team, and the leaders on O...OF Delmon Young was finally producing to his potential in 2010, and a repeat performance is surely paramount for the Twins to have success in 2011...CF Denard Span took a step back in 2010...Span will get 620+ AB's so he needs to get back to his 2009 form...Speaking of return to 2009 form how about RF Michael Cuddyer...3B looks in good hands for years to come with Danny Valencia...Tsuyoshi Nishioka may or may not be known by you now, but he surely will be...and soon! ...26 year old came over from Japan as the Twins won the bidding rights for him at a cool $5.3 million...Switch-hitting SS who can also play 2B...great speed...great hitter...Question marks will be Jason Kubel and 2B Alexi Casilla...will either hit in 2011 (or at least hit better than 2010)

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Twins...86...UNDER...I see a lot to like on O, but a pitching staff that could see its share of problems...

...Cleveland Indians...

Welcome to the Cleve - SS Adam Everett...(welcome back) OF Austin Kearns...IF Orlando Cabrera

No notable departures...

In the Indians organization keep an eye on...P Joe Gardner...nasty MLB-ready sinker on some now-you-see-me, now-you-don't level...this guy was good in 2010 and should be a MLB pitcher in the next few years

Things have gotten rotten in the Cleve...Remember the days when Jacobs Field was a sure sellout (TONS of them - a record 455 straight sellouts at one point)...Would you believe that no team had worse attendance in MLB in 2010 than Cleveland...Back-to-back miserable 60+ wins seasons have killed the spirit and the attendance of Tribe fans...Chris Antonetti takes over as new GM and he has significant work to do...In the rotation you have a proven guy like Fausto Carmona...The rest of the crew showed signs of being good in the second half of 2010...Still much more will be required Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, Carlos Carrasco, David Huff, and Josh Tomlin...The bullpen has Frank Herrmann, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, and Tony Sipp to set up closer Chris Perez

The O needs several guys to return to form, but first they need a return to health...Grady Sizemore, Carlos Santana, and Travis Hafner all are would-be offensive leaders for this club, but all have been plagued by injuries (for Sizemore and Hafner the injury bug has bitten them in multiple years now)...3B Jayson Nix and 1B Matt LaPorta both had miserable Springs, but both need to bring 20+ HR's to this lineup...SS Asdrubal Cabrera hopes for a healthy 2011 so he can get back to his 2009 form...Veterans Orlando Cabrera and Adam Everett provide depth for the middle IF positions...Young Luis Valbuena will get playing time in the IF too...In the OF let's watch Shin-Soo Choo...Choo hits .300+ annually, and has hit career highs in HR's 3 straight seasons...Young Michael Brantley will have to pick his game way up, or Austin Kerns could take his AB's

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Indians...71...UNDER...Bullpen has potential, but I think a third straight season of wins in the 60's is the fate of the 2011 Cleveland Indians

 ...Kansas City Royals...

Welcome to our rebuilding project in KC - OF Melky Cabrera...SS Alcides Escobar...OF Jeff Francoeur...SP Jeff Francis...2B Joaquin Arias...OF Lorenzo Cain...SP Vin Mazzaro...3B Pedro Feliz...RP Jeremy Jeffress

Now leaving KC (you're welcome) - SP Zack Greinke...3B Josh Fields (although Fields goes to Pittsburgh which is pretty much KC of the National League, if not worse)...SS Yuniesky Betancourt

In the Royals organization keep an eye on...3B Mike Moustakas...1B Eric Hosmer...C Will Myers... you can imagine there is a ton of talent in this organization as the Big Club loses so damn much they always get high draft picks (we saw the Rays build a perenial playoff team that way, but it is a tough road)...these 3 are in the plans for the future of KC as everyday starters...we will see all of them as soon as 2012, possibly even as early as this season (so much talent we will likely see them as September call-ups at least)...They project to group with Billy Butler as the middle of KC's order for years to come

Greinke, Gill Meche, and Brian Bannister are all gone leaving a lot of rotation spots open...Guys like Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies, Bruce Chen, Sean O'Sullivan, Luke Hochevar, and Canadian Jeff Francis will all get their shot at the rotation...The closer on this team is lights-out...Joakim Soria is about as good as it gets...Getting the ball to Soria in a Save situation is tough for the Royals...Robinson Tejada is likely the best set-up man on the roster, plus Jeremy Jeffress will get a shot too (Jeffress one of the many young talents that came back from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke)

The O could get a boost from new OF's Jeff Francouer, Melky Cabrera, and Lorenzo Cain...Cain came over along with SS Alcides Escobar in the Greinke trade...Billy Butler proved he belongs at the MLB level...Wilson Betemit should see plenty of playing time, likely at 1B/3B...Mike Aviles should see action at 3B and 2B...If Pedro Feliz can regain his 20+ HR form from a few years ago then he will see time at 3B too...Not a whole lot to like here (yet)...There is plenty of O coming through the system, and plenty of young talent at the MLB level for the future to look very bright in KC

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Royals...69...UNDER...2013+ looks strong for the Royals...2011, not so much

Check out the other MLB Previews too...and follow me on twitter @craigballard77


AL West Preview

...Texas Rangers...

Welcome to the Lone Star State - SP Brandon Webb...C Yorvit Torrealba...RP Arthur Rhodes

OUT - OF Jeff Francoeur...OF/DH Vlad...IB Jorge Cantu...SP Rich Harden...SP Brandon McCarthy...C Bengie Molina (currently FA)

In the Rangers organization keep an eye on...P Tanner Scheppers...This guy has a Justin Verlander-type upside...Mid-high 90's fastball with above average breaking pitches...question is do the Rangers build him as starting pitcher, or reliever

The defending AL Champs lost SP Cliff Lee in the off-season after paying a heavy price to get him (I am a fan of Justin Smoak and his potential)...That does reduce the skill on the staff, clearly...Let's take a look...2011 opens with a rotation of C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland.  Tommy Hunter will join this crew when he gets healthy...Actually some nice 3's to low 4's era potential in all of those pitchers, so pretty good...Other arms like Brandon Webb (will start the season on the DL) and Michael Kirkman could see time in the rotation in 2011 too...We could see a Scott Feldman sighting in 2011 too if he can regain his form...The bullpen has plenty of talent with guys like Alexi Ogando, Mark Lowe, David Bush, Brett Tomko, Pedro Strop, Mason Tobin...all of the above will get a chance to set-up for closer Neftali Perez...I heart Perez...this guy has an electric arm and is just getting his career started

The #1 O in MLB from 2010 adds 3B Adrian Beltre and C Mike Napoli...This is significant as most Championship teams are able to adjust on the fly (add a player or two through in-season trades) and the addition of Beltre gives the Rangers a potential trade piece in Michael Young...time will tell...The OF is very good with mega-star Josh Hamilton, plus Nelson Cruz and Pedro Borbon have skills to pay the bills...Double-play duo of Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler need to be a bit more productive/consistent...The question marks on this O are 1B and DH where any of Chris Davis, Mitch Moreland, and David Murphy need to step up and assume the everyday role (likely Young can produce at DH, but that still leaves 1B as a position to address for the Rangers)

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Rangers...86.5...The holes on this team are minor and look like they are fixable...I think this team should surely win 87+ games in 2011...OVER

...LA Angels...

IN - OF Vernon Wells...RP Scott Downs

OUT - RP Scot Shields...DH Hideki Matsui...3B Kevin Frandsen

In the Angels organization keep an eye on...C Hank Conger...He was part of the reason the Angels were able to trade C Mike Napoli as part of the Vernon Wells trade...Napoli led the Angels C's in HR's etc, but they feel that the 23 year old Conger will fill those shoes...he has always been able to hit...He is Korean - I cannot recall a Korean C...several pitchers and Shin-Soo Choo is a position player, but no catcher's

This team needs several players to step up...For this team to get back on top in the AL West guys like OF Peter Bourjos, IF Maicier Izturis, IF Erick Aybar, and C Jeff Mathis need to take their games to the next level...The O gets a return to health from 1B Kendry Morales, and adds OF Vernon Wells...Bobby Abreu needs to regain his form too...2B Howie Kendrick needs a bit of a more polished hitting attack for the Angels in 2011...Torii Hunter put together a pretty healthy 2010, but needs to regain the O skills he showed in 2009 (his best season as an Angel, but there were injury issues in '09 so no one wants a repeat of that of course, just the production)

The rotation looks solid...Veterans Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro will all get several starts for this team...Scott Kazmir will get a chance to regain his form in Anaheim too...very solid starting staff here...The bullpen has potential too...The additions of Scotty Downs and Hisanori Takahashi help add skill and depth...Other arms like Kevin Jepsen, Rich Thompson, Michael Kohn, and Jordan Walden all have great potential to contribute too...We may see Trevor Bell and Francisco Rodriquez get their chances as well...The closer will likely be Fernando Rodney

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Angels...83...OVER...A lot of players need to rebound from down seasons in '10, but the potential is here for a great 2011 Angels club

...Oakland A's...

IN for the Athletics - DH Hideki Matsui...SP Brandon McCarthy...OF Josh Willingham...SP Rich Harden...OF David DeJesus...RP Brian Fuentes

OUT - DH Jack Cust...3B Akinori Iwamura...OF Gabe Gross...SP Vin Mazzaro

In the A's organization keep an eye on...Chris Carter...this 24 year old has been a top prospect for years and in 2011 he should get a chance to be an everyday OF...BIG power upside...We remember his MLB debut with Oakland last season and started 0 for 33 (yikes)...last 4 years in the Minors he averages 30+ HR's which is why I look for him to get playing time in Oakland as their team O was a punchline in 2010...

Additions to the O like Carter, Matsui, Willingham, and DeJesus are nice, but this team still is likely without a 25+ HR hitter...Guys like Kevin Kouzmanoff, Cliff Pennington, Mark Ellis, Daric Barton, Coco Crisp, Connor Jackson, Kurt Suzuki, and Ryan Sweeney are decent at best...I like the A's O less than any other team in baseball (except perhaps the Mariners...oops sorry, and the Padres)

The pitching staff has certain potential...Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Gio Gonzalez are really good...Dallas Braden needs to develop consistency (and not be such an ass)...The A's would be thrilled if they got production form the return of Rich Harden, and newcomer Brandon McCarthy...Tyler Ross will get a shot to be in the rotation too...The bullpen has depth... Craig Breslow, Michael Wuertz, Jerry Blevins, Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine, Philip Humber, and Trystan Magnuson will all get a chance to set up closer Andrew Bailey...Throw Brian Fuentes into that mix too as he has closer experience, and could be a legit 8th inning set-up man as well

Over/Under win total for the 2011 A's...84...UNDER...A ton of potential as far as pitching, but I am very underwhelmed with the batting order in Oakland...

...Seattle Mariners...

IN - DH Jack Cust...SS Brendan Ryan...C Miquel Olivo

OUT - C Josh Bard...C Rob Johnson...1B Casey Kotchman...3B Jose Lopez

In the Mariners organization keep an eye on...Dustin Ackley...#2 overall pick in last years Draft...up in the air as far as what position Ackley will play, but his upside on O is huge...He is regarded as a can't-miss prospect on O and with that said he should get a chance to make the Big Club out of Spring Training, or at least be in the Bigs during 2011 as he is the best hitter in the organization not name IchiroNew Manager Eric Wedge has his work cut out for him...MLB's worst O in 2010 has numerous areas to improve...His best hope is a 1-2 at the top of the line-up in Ichiro and Chone Figgins hit to their potential...The M's also need Ackley, 1B Justin Smoak, and OF Michael Saunders to begin to hit at the MLB level too...Much will be needed from newcomer Jack Cust...OF Milton Bradley gets his 38th chance to play at the MLB level despite his embarrassing/unacceptable attitude/behaviour...Brendan Ryan will get a shot to play everyday (likely at 2B) and he needs to return to his 2009 form at the plate 

The pitching staff is top-heavy...Felix Hernandez is outstanding...Justin Vargas and Doug Fister appear to be on the rise...After that there is potential for significant drop-off...M's hope Canadian Eric Bedard can rejuvenate his career...Luke French, David Pauley, and Michael Pineda will get chances in the rotation too...The bullpen is slim pickings...Closer David Aardsma and set-up man Brandon League are about all there is to like

Over/Under win total for the 2011 M's...70...UNDER...Smoak, Saunders, and Ackley will all be productive MLB hitters, but perhaps not as soon as 2011...This roster leaves a lot to be desired (especially on O)

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Friday, March 25, 2011

NL East Preview

...Philadelphia Phillies...

IN - SP Cliff Lee

OUT - OF Jayson Werth...SP Jamie Moyer...3B Pedro Feliz

 In the Phillies organization keep an eye on...OF Domonic Brown...wow amazing athlete...great football player...great pitcher...but Brown projects as a great MLB OF...Surely needs to improve on pitch selection (chasing too many balls instead of only swinging at strikes) but this kid has tools...speed, power, hits for average...projects to be a 30/30 left-hand hitting stud
The Phillies were the winners of the Cliff Lee sweepstakes returning the coveted lefty to the City of Brotherly Love...he gets paired with Doc Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt to form an amazing rotation...This group is particularly good at Citizens Bank Park...Joe Blanton figures to be the 5th starter...Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, Jose Contreras, and J.C. Romero will set-up closer Brad Lidge again in 2011 (Lidge will begin the season on the DL)

The pitching was great in 2010, but not good enough to carry the club to the World Series as the O was inconsistent...plagued by injuries all season this group was well below their potential...Gone is Jayson Werth which leaves that much more slack for guys like 1B Ryan Howard, 2B Chase Utley (Utley will start the season injured) SS Jimmy Rollins, 3B Placido Polanco, OF's Raul Ibanez and OF Shane Victorino to pick up...Rookie Dominic Brown will get a shot too...C Carlos Ruiz had a career year in '10 and the Phillies need that type of production to continue...

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Phillies...96.5...The pitching at home should be great, even if the O continues to struggle...High 50's in home wins should be do-able meaning a .500 road record should put this team OVER 96.5 W's...Health will be the #1 concern for this team...Philly has a several year run now of improving on their previous season W total

...Atlanta Braves...

Welcome to Hotlanta - Manager Fredi Gonzalez...RP Scott Linebrink...RP George Sherrill...2B Dan Uggla

OUT - retired great Bobby Cox...OF Melky Cabrera...OF Rick Ankiel...OF Matt Diaz...1B Derrek Lee...RP Billy Wagner...1B Troy Glaus...3B Omar Infante

In the Braves organization keep an eye on...RP Craig Kimbrel (sidearmer)...you can imagine that in an organization as great as Atlanta there are actually several young players to keep an eye on, but Kimbrel gets the billing here based on his MLB debut in 2010...this kid has a 95-97 mph heater with MLB ready Slurve and he was not over-matched as a call-up in 2010, in fact his #'s were gaudy (4-0...1 Save...20.2 IP allowing only 9 hits while striking out an amazing 40 MLB batters)...if Kimbrel can further fine-tune his control then he will be a mainstay on the MLB roster for years to come

For the first time in ages the Braves enter a season without Bobby Cox at the helm...His presence will not be gone though as he lives down the street from new Manager Fredi Gonzalez and the two get together regularly as friends...The one thing that remains the same is that the Braves have a great rotation...Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Tim Hudson provide skill and depth...we will look for youngster Kris Medlan to be the 5th starter, with young Mike Minor at AAA almost ready...George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink were added to the back of the bullpen to go with Kimbrel (with Billy Wagner retiring lets look for Kimbrel to do the closer job)

2010 Braves O was great at getting on base, but only decent at scoring runs...They add 2B Dan Uggla and his 30+ HR bat...Rookie 1B Freddie Freeman is a born hitter...2nd year RF Jason Heyward should be a cinch to improve on his rookie campaign (stud-in-the-making)...OF Martin Prado needs to continue his strong play...Question marks here are what will you get from SS Alex Gonzalez?  What will you get from 3B Chipper Jones?  Will the real Nate McLouth show up in 2011?  C Brian McCann was good in 2010, but they need to return to his 2009 form where he was very very good

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Braves...88.5...UNDER...A lot to like in Hotlanta, but I could see 86-87 as their upside so I will take the under here...IF Freeman and Kimbrel play ahead of their curve then this Braves team could make noise though

...New York Mets...
IN - Manager Terry Collins...

OUT - SP John Maine...P Kelvim Escobar...OF Chris Carter...RP Pedro Feliciano

In the Mets organization keep an eye on...OF Cory Vaughn (son of former MLB star Greg Vaughn) and P Juan Urbina (son of former MLB great Ugeth Urbina)...both are very young...both have MLB pedigrees...both have done better than expected since becoming pro players in the Mets organization...Vaughn hit poorly in College, but very well in his first pro-season in 2010 (Class A)...Urbina has nice/smooth mechanics to go with his 93 mph heater

New Skipper Terry Collins may be taking over at the perfect time as I cannot recall a season in years with such low expectations for the New York Mets...Also new to the Mets is GM Sandy Alderson aka Mr Moneyball...Alderson has already been busy cutting guys like 2B Luis Castillo and SP Oliver Perez despite money being owed to those players...At 2B we will look at guys like Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, and Rule 5 Brad Emaus (Emaus will be returned to the Jays by rule if he does not make the MLB club) to get a good chance...IB Ike Davis and C Josh Thole will get their chance to show they can be everyday players along with 3B David Wright...other Mets like OF Jason Bay, SS Jose Reyes, and OF Carlos Beltran need a return to health and steady production...

The rotation is of course led by Johan Santana, but his most recent surgery (rotator cuff) has him out likely at least 1/2 the season...That leaves a lot of slack and pressure for guys like R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, and Mike Pelfrey...Could we see veteran Chris Young get a chance in NY too?...The bullpen has Francisco Rodriquez and Bobby Parnell returning to the squad, but on the mend...D.J. Carrasco should get a lot of work...Manny Acosta and Chris Capuano (potential starter) could see a lot of action too

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Mets...77.5...OVER...low expectations should allow this team to focus on the 9-inning game at hand each day...There still is potential in the batting order, and once Johan returns the pitching staff gets that much better too


...Florida Marlins...

Taking their talents to South Beach - LeBron James...Chris Bo(wait a minute...my bad)...let's try that again...IN - C John Buck...SP Javier Vasquez...3B Omar Infante...RP Edward Mujica...RP Randy Choate

OUT - OF Cameron Maybin...2B Dan Uggla...RP Jorge Sosa

In the Marlins organization keep an eye on...SS Ozzie Martinez...the Marlins (as usual) have a ton of young studs on their MLB roster getting their careers started...Martinez may be the next stud-in-the-making in Florida...he had a brief stint in 2010 with the big club and we saw his potential on display...above-average middle-infield skills on D...above average hitter too - not for power per se, but a very good hitter

Edwin Rodriquez is on a precarious 1-year deal to Manage this club...His long term future depends on can he become BFF with the temperamental SS Hanley Ramirez...Hanley is a MVP talent and he needs to step us as a leader for this organization...new C John Buck and new SP Javier Vazquez should provide #'s and leadership too...OF Mike Stanton (stud-in-the-making) needs to continue his development in '11...Omar Infante and Emilio Bonifacio will likely get playing time in the IF in 2011...For the Marlins to compete in 2011 for the NL East crown they will surely need the likes of 1B Gaby Sanchez, and OF's Logan Morrison and Chris Coghlan to perform (at least 2 of those 3 anyway)...

The rotation is top-heavy with Cy Young caliber at the top in Josh Johnson...Ricky Nolasco is a solid top-of-the-rotation guy too, as is Vazquez...Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad need to step up their games in 2011 for FLA...The bullpen has several quality arms in closer Leo Nunez, and set-up men like Edward Mujica, Clay Hensley, Brian Sanches, Randy Choate, and Ryan Webb

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Marlins...81.5...OVER...I see a solid squad here...some guys with huge upside potential...

                            ...Washington Nationals...

IN - OF Jayson Werth...OF Matt Stairs...OF Rick Ankiel...RP Todd Coffey

OUT - OF Adam Dunn...RP Miguel Batista...OF Josh Willingham...OF Nyjer Morgan

In the Nationals organization keep an eye on...Bryce Harper...massive hype for Harper...6'3" 225 pounder...looks like a can't miss stud at the plate...he wisely chose a College in 2010 that plays in a league that uses wooden bats - College of Southern Nevada of the Scenic West Athletic Conference (SWAC) - he won the SWAC Player of the Year award...his team's previous record for HR's was 12, Harper belted 31

I am in the majority in believing that the monster 7 years $127 million contract to sign Jayson Werth was a tactical error...I would have sat on that dough and waited at least one more season before spending crazy dough on a FA...Werth benefited in Philly from a great hitters ballpark and enough talent around him in the lineup to give him protection...Washington provides none of that...At every position I am underwhelmed...OF has guys like Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel, Matt Stairs, and Werth...not a lot there to like...The IF has Ryan Zimmerman, and young potential like Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa will surely get their chance to show that they can play the middle-IF every day...An aging Ivan Rodriguez does the catching...

The pitching staff is without injured ace Stephen Strasburg and there is not much here to like...Jordan Zimmerman could be good, but that is about it...I am underwhelmed with guys like Tom Gorzelanny, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Ross Detwiler, and John Lannan...The bullpen actually shows potential...Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard,  Todd Coffey, Collin Balester, Sean Burnett, Doug Slaton, and Henry Rodriguez are some of the lively arms in the Nationals 'pen...veteran Chad Gaudin is in the organization too

Over/Under win total for the 2011 Nationals...71.5...UNDER...This team needs Strasburg and Harper asap...

Check out the other MLB Previews too...also follow me on twitter @craigballard77

NL Central Preview

...Cincinnati Reds...

IN - P Dontrelle Willis...SS Edgar Renteria

OUT - SS Orlando Cabrera...SP Aaron Harang...RP Arthur Rhodes

In the Reds organization keep an eye on...Aroldis Chapman...Jays tried very hard to land Chapman, but were runners-up to the Reds...he pitched at the MLB level in 2010 and the "Cuban Missile" certainly impressed as a rookie...he had most of the top 10 fastest pitches in MLB in '10 getting as high as 105 mph on the radar gun...in his rookie season the Reds used him as a 6th, 7th, or 8th inning reliever, but we may see him converted to a starting pitcher in 2011

The Reds have a nice starting staff, young too...Bronson Arroyo is the veteran with young talent like Johnny Cueto, Travis Wood, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey in the rotation (Leake may be in the bullpen, and Bailey will begin 2011 on DL)...At some point the Reds hope Edison Volquez can contribute like he has in the past, but a surgery and a MLB imposed 50 game suspension for using a performance enhancing substance has him starting the season on the sidelines...Chapman should prove to be a sick set-up man, especially if he gets his control in order...Nick Masset and Bill Bray also help set-up closer Francisco Cordero

The O is good...Led by Canadian Joey Votto (NL MVP) this team adds SS Edgar Renteria and OF Fred Lewis, and they need/get production from guys like Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce, and Jonny Gomes, plus veteran Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips...potential question marks are SS Paul Janish (he may get a chance to play over E-Rent early on) and C's Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan...OF Chris Heisey will likely get a shot to contribute too

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Reds is...85.5...Lots of potential on O, and a young high-upside pitching staff

...St. Louis Cardinals...

IN - OF Lance Berkman...P Brian Tallet...2B Ryan Theriot...C Gerald Laird

OUT - SS Brendan Ryan...SP Jeff Suppan...3B Aaron Miles

In the Cards organization keep an eye on...Zack Cox...Albert Pujols may or may not be in St. Louis after 2011, but if he stays he is going to love having Cox as a teammate...Cox is a pure hitter and is sure to be so on the MLB level some day soon...This kid has the kind of upside at the plate that can provide legit O to support Pujols

The Albert Pujols contract situation took all the press in the off-season, but I like the move they made bringing in Berkman...that makes Matt Holliday and Berkman in the last few years as additions to surround Phat Albert...More will be needed from CF Colby Rasmus...Someone needs to step up as a legit lead-off and/or #2 hitter to set the table in St Lou...Theriot is potentially an offensive upgrade at SS...that leaves 2B Skip Schumaker, 3B David Friese, and C Yadier Molina as the question marks in St Louis

The pitching staff was dealt a major blow late Feb when it lost 2010 Cy Young runner-up Adam Wainwright, likely for the season...The last few years have been great for Wainwright and he has elevated to the #1 on the staff (Top 5 in the NL)...His loss means more will be needed from guys like Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, and Jaime Garcia...Garcia will be interesting to watch as he has major upside, but had a horrible Spring Training...Closer Ryan Franklin wasn't as dominant in 2010 as he was in 2009, but very good none the less...Ex-Jays Trevor Miller and Brian Tallet, plus guys like Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan bridge the game from starter to closer

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Cardinals is...83.5...UNDER...I like the addition of Berkman and I like the O as a whole to improve, but the loss of Wainwright is big big big IMO

...Milwaukee Brewers...

I hope you like Bratwurst - SP Zack Greinke...SS Yuniesky Betancourt...SP Shaun Marcum...OF Nyjer Morgan

OUT - OF Lorenzo Cain...SS Alcides Escobar...RP Trevor Hoffman...C Gregg Zaun...RP Carlos Villanueva...SP Dave Bush...RP Todd Coffey

In the Brewers organization keep an eye on...2B Scooter Gennett...the Brew Crew traded numerous top prospects this off-season to acquire SP's Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum...there still is skill in the organization, but mostly pitchers...Gennett is a position player that should get a real good look now as by default he has risen the charts...just 20 years old

I have both eyes on this team in 2011...I think they could certainly be in line to take this Division...A lot of their success will hinge on how well new Manager Ron Roenicke does...The long time right-hand man for several teams is now getting his chance to run the show...Certainly the addition of Greinke and Marcum bolster that starting rotation (a rotation that was one one the absolute worst in baseball in 2009, and again putrid in 2010)...Yovani Gallardo should be a great #3 there too...their is potential drop-off after that at #4 and #5 with Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson...I personally think Wolf will be replaced at some point...All of those guys are innings-eaters...Some good arms in the bullpen for the Brew Crew...LaTroy Hawkins (currently rehabbing but he should be able to contribute soon), Takashi Saito, Zach Braddock, Manny Parra, and Cameron Loe provide depth in the 'pen

The O has Don potential...They have the makings of a line-up that can run things...Middle of the line-up features guys like Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee, Richie Weeks, and Corey Hart...wow...plus they add Betancourt at SS and he has pop in his bat too...that leaves C Jonathan Lucroy (plus playing time may be available for Scarborough ON's own George Kottaras and newcomer Will Nieves) and CF Chris Gomez as the question marks here (newly acquired Nyjer Morgan will get a shot to be everyday CF)

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Brew Crew is...85.5...improved pitching plus major potential in the batting line-up says OVER to me

...Chicago Cubs...

IN - 1B Carlos Pena...welcome back RP Kerry Wood...SP Matt Garza 

OUT - 1B Xavier Nady

In the Cubs organization keep an eye on...Chris Archer...he was once a prospect in the Indians organization, but he was a nightmare there...change of scenery has Archer back on the scene as a legit MLB prospect again...mid-90's fastball with MLB-ready slider and good changeup...Cubbies need him to improve his command, if he does we may see him at the MLB level as soon as 2011

3B Coach Mike Quade takes over as Manager for the Cubbies...he Managed the club for the final 37 games of 2010, winning 24 of them...impressive...But winning nearly twice as many games as you lose in a full season of course is a different animal all together...Quade has question marks in his starting rotation...Carlos Zambrano can be as amazing as he can be brutal...what will the 2011 Cubs get from those 2?...Canadian Ryan Dempster can be consistent, especially at home, the jury may still be out on Randy Wells...They do add Matt Garza and he has the potential to be great...In the bullpen it is "welcome back" for Kerry Wood...he will set up closer Carlos Marmol...Marmol is great, perhaps a tad underrated...Big Sean Marshall does a great job for the Cubs 'pen too

The O was middle-of-the-pack or worse for all categories in '10...There is potential here though...OF is deep with Alfonso Soriano, Tyler Colvin, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukodome, and IF has guys with big pasts like Pena and 3B Aramis Ramirez...all of the above have talent and potential, and all did something well in 2010, but none even came close to putting together the type of complete season at the plate that they are capable of...C is potentially a question mark with C Geovany Soto (good 2010, but Cubs likely need him to be very good)...Double-play duo of SS Starlin Castro and 2B Blake DeWitt need to improve their D, and contribute on O too (Castro just turned 21 and he has mega-upside)

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Cubbies is...82...I see a lot of potential on O, but I see too many combustible parts in the starting rotation to make me very confident in this 2011 Cubs team...UNDER

...Houston Astros...

IN - 2B Bill Hall...2B Clint Barmes...SP Ryan Rowland-Smith

OUT - 1B Geoff Blum...RP Matt Lindstrom

In the Astros organization keep an eye on...OF Ariel Ovando...very interesting kid...Astros gave him a ton of $$$ to sign the 16 year old...Ovando clearly has a ways to go to get to the MLB level, but at 16 the left-handed hitting stud is being compared to Fred McGriff and Jason Heyward at that age

Youth movement time in Houston...2010 saw veterans Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman dealt for prospects as this team looks to the future...I like their path as I like Manger Brad Mills and his ability to work with, and develop, young players...A disastrous start in 2010 gave way to a great finish over the final 60% of the season...The starting rotation is perhaps underwhelming...Veteran Brett Myers leads the staff and has youngsters Wandy Rodriquez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ to round out #1 through 4...the 5th starter may be newly signed lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith, or perhaps Aneury Rodriguez  or Lance Pendleton (both Rule 5 players so they have to remain on the MLB roster or be returned to the teams they came from)...The closer will likely be Brandon Lyon again...not a lot of depth in the Astros bullpen

The O was terrible in 2010...The 2011 Astros will give plenty of playing time to  youngsters like C Jason Castro, 3B Chris Johnson, and 1B Brett Wallace...A bounce back season will be required from Carlos Lee, while fellow OF Michael Bourn needs to improve...Houston would be thrilled if the other OF, Hunter Pence, continues his consistently strong play (last 3 years 25,25,25 HR's for Pence)...The IF is young and has plenty of new faces...the double-play duo is brand new as SS Clint Barmes returns to SS (from 2B with Colorado) and Bill Hall  will play 2B...The 2010 Astors hit an amazingly low 9 HR's combined from the SS and 2B positions...that will surely triple/quadruple in 2011

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Astros is...72...UNDER...We see some down-the-road potential in Houston, but 2011 will likely be more of a rebuild than an attack

...Pittsburgh Pirates...

IN - 1B Garrett Atkins...1B Lyle Overbay...OF Matt Diaz...3B Josh Fields...SP Kevin Correia

OUT - SP Zach Duke...OF Lastings Milledge...OF Delwyn Young

In the Pirates organization keep an eye on...Jameson Taillon...18 year old already has about $6.5 million in his bank account thanks to the Pirates contract, but they believe they will get their money's worth with this 6'7" stud-in-the-making...Taillon has very good command of his mid-90's fastball, and has a MLB-ready curveball...

18 straight years of losing seasons in Pittsburgh...18...you would think that would have produced top draft pick after top draft pick and the organization would be about ready to explode with talent at the MLB level and be able to put that putrid streak in their rear-view mirror...uhmmm...not so...STILL not a lot to like for the Pirates and new Manager Clint Hurdle...let's take a look...

Pitt was one of MLB's worst O's in 2010, and was the worst staff...Management did spend some cash this off-season and brought in veterans like OF Matt Diaz, 1B Lyle Overbay, plus 3B's Andy Marte and Josh Fields (Marte and Fields could end up in the Minors to at least start the season)...The pitching could be bolstered by addition of vets Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen
Correia an Olsen join Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf in the rotation...James McDonald will get a shot in the rotation too, as will Brad Lincoln and Charlie Morton...not a whole lot to get excited about here...In the 'pen Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan are the late inning guys...again, not a lot there...

On O the Pirates need steps forward in 2011 from guys like 3B Pedro Alvarez, 2B Neil Walker, and OF's Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones (Jones may platoon with newcomer Diaz), and Andrew McCutchen...A major question mark for the 2011 Pirates is the C position...Will it be newcomer Chris Snyder, or will Ryan Doumit rebound from poor 2010 to retain his spot behind the plate?!?!

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Pirates is...67.5...UNDER...we see some position players that could be MLB quality players for years to come, but likely not in 2011...Plus there is really not much to like as far as pitching skill or depth

Check out the other MLB Previews...and follow me on twitter @craigballard77


NL West Preview

...San Francisco Giants...

IN for the defending Champs - SS Miquel Tejada

OUT - SS Edgar Renteria...IF Juan Uribe

In the Giants organization keep an eye on...P Zack Wheeler...major blister issues derailed his 2010 progress, but this kid throws in the mid-90's with a curveball too...#6 overall pick in 2009 Draft

2010 World Series winners SF have a manager in Bruce Bochy that is as responsible for their success as the killer starting pitching or Brian Wilson II (Brian Wilson II is what we should call Brian Wilson's beard...that thing has a life of its own)...last season this group perhaps overachieved...they surely hit the hot button at the right time...The pitching was amazing, and the offense snuck up on people, especially with timely hits...Now, however, they are on the map...what that means going forward is every team will be prepared to bring their A game vs SF as it is known that is what's needed...Let's see Bochy's boys react to a target on their back...

SP's Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain combine to provide a phenomenal top of the rotation...Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito are a rare lefty-lefty 4-5 and they provide a solid back-end to the rotation...The season will likely start without great closer Brain Wilson...he feels he will be ready for Day 1, but time will tell how his strained oblique muscle in his left side responds to the rehab

The O will get a boost from the addition of SS Miguel Tejada and rookie 1B  Brandon Belt, plus the continued development of 2nd year C Buster Posey...The OF has potential with guys like Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Andres Torres, Mark DeRosa, and Nate Schierholtz ...a lot of depth there...for me a guy to watch is 3B Pablo Sandoval...For SF to repeat as Champs they will surely need Pablo to rebound from a poor 2010...he is slimmer these days and SF needs him back to his 2009 production at the plate...Another key for the Giants will be 2B Freddy Sanchez...He caught fire late-August onward last season, but he underwent his second surgery on his  left shoulder in less than a year in December

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Giants is...88...SF is so damn solid in the rotation, and at the back of the bullpen, that 90+ W's seems do-able to me so I like the OVER here...some nice everyday players too, and Bochy has shown he can make a good team into a Championship team

...LA Dodgers...

IN -SP Jon Garland...RP Matt Guerrier...IF Juan Uribe...C Dioner Navarro

OUT - C Russell Martin...RP George Sherrill...2B Ryan Theriot

In the Dodgers organization keep an eye on...P Kenley Jansen...former C turned into pitcher as he cannot hit, but has a cannon for an arm...mid 90's fastball with movement...already a solid change-up too...raw stuff, but good enough to perhaps play a role in the LA bullpen as early as 2011

Don Mattingly makes the transition from Hitting Coach to Manager in 2011...Trey Hillman (former KC Manager) will be his right-hand man...GM Nick Colletti was busy busy busy in the off-season...New 2B Juan Uribe will add a needed bat...SP's Jon Garland (Free Agent) and re-signing Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda will add depth to the starting staff, while Matt Guerrier was brought in to add depth to the 'pen

LA has a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsly...in the bullpen 2010 saw closer Jonathan Broxton lose his confidence, and by the way lose mph's off his heater...the set-up men have great potential with Hong-Chih Kuo, Guerrier, and Jansen...Catching this staff will be a combo of Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro, and A.J. Ellis

On O Mattingly needs to get Matt Kemp hitting to his potential...without that this O could again struggle in 2011...Consistency will be required from the likes of Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, and James Loney, while 100% health is required for Rafael Furcal...LF is a ? ...John Gibbons and Tony Gwynn jr will likely be the LF's in the early going, but GM Coletti has seen the Giants adjust their 2010 team on the fly to build a Championship team and he will surely be looking for upgrades during the season and LF likely chief amongst them

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Dodgers is...83.5...I like the OVER here...I really like the starting rotation potential (all the names listed above, plus Vicente Padilla as a 6th starter too) and the back of the bullpen potential...If Broxton gets back on track, or Jansen steps in to closer role then this LA team will compete most games

...Colorado Rockies...

IN - RP Matt Lindstrom...3B Jose Lopez...1B Ty Wigginton

OUT - 2B Clint Barmes...RP Octavio Dotel...3B Melvin Mora...SP Jeff Francis

In the Rockies organization keep an eye on...P Tyler Matzek...lefty stud-of-the-future in Colorado...just getting his pro career started...raw stuff...needs to hone his command...#11 overall in 2009 Draft

The last several years Colorado has made late season pushes to qualify for the post-season aka Rocktober, but 2010 was the complete opposite...With a few weeks left the Rockies were right there in the race (1 game back), but went a putrid 1-13 in the seasons final 14 games to get buried in the race when it was all said and done...

Colorado is an organization that develops its own talent very well...most of the contributors to this 2011 team have been raised as Rockies...The 2011 team has potential...let's take a look...

Like most of the teams in the NL West this Colorado club has deep pitching...Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin, and Jorge De La Rosa at the top of the rotation, with Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel (or perhaps Felipe Paulino and his heater) bringing up the back-end of the rotation...The bullpen is deep and solid, especially at the back with Huston Street, Matt Lindstrom, Matt Reynolds, and Rafael Betancourt (plus Paulino)

The O is the source of concern for the Rockies...not at home of course (the Rockies traditionally bang at home) but on the road...The #1 area of improvement for the 2011 Rockies has to be the way they hit on the road...this team was miserable on the road in 2010 (31-50...yikes) and the O was to blame...New Hitting Coach Carney Lansford will be trying to get guys like Ian Stewart, Chris Iannetta, Todd Helton, Seth Smith going, and try to get them to be consistent...Colorado has studs in this lineup like Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, plus newcomers Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton will get numerous opportunities to produce for this club

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Rockies is...86.5...tough one here...I will take the OVER as I do like Jim Tracy and believe in his ability to produce a winning 2011 and 87 wins seems do-able for this team

...San Diego Padres...

IN - SS Jason Bartlett...2B Orlando Hudson...OF Cameron Maybin...1B Brad Hawpe

OUT - 1B Adrian Gonzalez...SP Kevin Correia...SP Jon Garland...SS Miquel Tejada...RP Matt Mujica...OF Matt Stairs...

In the Padres organization keep an eye on...Cory Luebke...Padres lost Kevin Correia and Jon Garland in the off-season which likely provides an opportunity for the 26 year old Luebke to finally have an everyday MLB job...he had a couple of starts in 2010 and was decent enough to warrant another look at the MLB level...solid command of fastball, changeup, and slider

SD and Manager Bud Black spent 148 days as the #1 team in the NL West in 2010, only to collapse in the final weeks of the season...

The team lost stud 1B Adrian Gonzalez in the off-season, and took hits to the rotation too...Aaron Harang (FA) will get a chance to be with Mat Latos and Clayton Richards at the top of the rotation, with Tim Stauffer (nice emergence in 2010 for this team) and Luebke...Latos is the gem here...he certainly shrivelled down the stretch last season, but once he gets the ability to stretch out innings naturally he should be guns-blazing from April through September

The back of the bullpen was as good as their was in MLB in 2010...lively arms like Mujica and Webb are gone (Cameron Maybin trade), but plenty of talent remains in guys like Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, and Heath Bell

Only 3B Chase Hedley returns to the infield from the '10 squad...new SS is Bartlett...new 2B is the O-Dawg...new 1B is Brad Hawpe...even former Jay Jarrett Hoffpauir is new...Black looking for production and solid play from those veterans to go with another newcomer CF Cameron Maybin...My question to you is what Maybin way of thinking are you?!?!  Are you concerned that the 23 year old "can't miss" stud has been traded twice already...or...do you believe in his upside potential and thus can see him be a great CF in spacious Petco...SD will need major production form Maybin, and fellow OF's Ryan Ludwick and Will Venable

All-in-all we see a lot new faces in SD, but do we see a replacement for Adrian Gonzalez?  Doubt it...

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 Padres is...75.5...too many great rotations in the NL West for SD to be able to compete in a 162 game schedule with such a young rotation...no clear replacement for the vacated O from A-Gon...UNDER

...Arizona Diamondbacks...

Welcome to the desert - SP Zach Duke...3B Melvin Mora...RP J.J. Putz...

Peace, see ya later - P Aaron Heilman...1B Adam LaRoche...SP Brandon Webb...

In the D-Backs organization keep an eye on...P Jarrod Parker...Tommy John surgery ended his 2010 season, but the 2010 MLB All-Star game had 10 pitchers who have survived and thrived following Tommy John surgery so certainly no need to panic for Parker...he possesses a 96-97 mph fastball, and an above average slider and changeup

Looks to me like Manager Kirk Gibson has his hands full in the desert...Some players to like, sure, but mostly a lot of young players and holes to fill...let's take a look...

There could be a nice 1-2 punch atop the D-Backs rotation with Joe Saunders and Daniel Hudson (kudos to GM Kevin Towers for trading for both of those young starters), and Ian Kennedy looks like he is getting better and better at #3, but some question marks at the #4 and #5 with Barry Enright and Zach Duke...It has been a few years now since Arizona was not in last place in the NL West and to end that this rotation will have to pitch well above their potential (decent staff...but decent is not good in comparison to the other NL West staff's)...The bullpen has ???, but certainly potential...new arms like David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio will help set-up for new closer J.J. Putz...Towers and Gibby really hoping Putz works out as this team has had multiple closers the past few seasons and they crave consistency from the role

On O the strikeout king 3B Mark Reynolds is gone (he has the 3 highest K season's in the history of MLB...yikes)...What is needed in Arizona is Justin Upton playing to his potential (good luck Gibby...that may be harder than when you hit a World Series game winning HR on one leg vs Eckersley)...Then you hope to get production from newcomer Xavier Nady, plus talent like Chris Young, Stephen Drew, and Kelly Johnson...Could FA pick-up 3B Melvin Mora regain his stroke and contribute consistently too?!?!  With Reynolds and LaRoche gone there goes about 60 HR's, but there also goes about 400 K's...This should allow 'Zona to improve on their .325 On Base Percentage from 2010

The Over/Under win total for the 2011 D-Backs is...72.5...UNDER...too many good teams in this Division for the D-Backs to win consistently...the unbalanced schedule means facing the great pitching in this Division too many times for the D-Backs to finish any better than 4th in 2011 (likely 5th)

Check out the other MLB Previews too...plus you can follow me on twitter @craigballard77


Monday, March 14, 2011

Southeast Region - NCAA Tourney

The Southeast Region features a ton of teams who are certainly good, but who disapointed recently in their Conference Tourney's...it also features public fav's Gonzaga and Butler...7 Conference Champs here...let's take a look...

#1 seed - Pittsburgh Panthers...27-5...Big East...6-4  vs ranked opponents...Pitt plays in the Big East where only men need apply...this squad has very good Senior leadership with guys like G Brad Wanamaker, F Gilbert Brown, and F Gary McGhee...Junior F Nasir Robinson plus Junior G Ashton Gibbs give the Panthers a lot of balanced scoring (Gibbs likely the best Offensive weapon on the squad)...Sophomore F Dante Taylor provides a spark for this club off the bench...4 of their 5 losses came on road/neutral site games...Pitt has had a very strong season...their 5 losses were by a combined 18 points, and their last 3 losses by a combined 6 points...Head Coach Jamie Dixon does a great job of having his team prepared every night...excellent rebounding squad...very good defensive squad...Pitt is great at passing the basketball too...Pitt has a Top 10 RPI ranking...current NBA players from Pitt include Sam Young, DeJuan Blair, and Aaron Gray

#2 seed - Florida Gators...26-7...SEC...4-3  vs ranked opponents...Head Coach Billy Donovan's Gators laid an egg in the SEC Title game vs Kentucky, yet come away with a #2 seed...good for them...that will likely allow them a nice path to the Sweet 16, but I do not expect a whole lot from this team in this Tourney...Florida only goes about 5-6 deep IMO...This team is led by Senior F's Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin, and Alex Tyus...The Guards - Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are good (but perhaps a tad undersized)...The season was very up and down for FLA...they opened the season as a Top 10 ranked team, then bumbled all the way out of the Top 25, then climbed the charts the last part of the season all the way to a NCAA Tourney #2 seed...FLA was 12-4 in road/neutral site games this season...current NBA players that were once Gators include Joakim Noah, Matt Bonner, Corey Brewer, Mike Miller, David Lee, Udonis Haslem, and Al Horford

#3 seed BYU Cougars...30-4...Mountain West Conference...3-1 vs ranked opponents...Head Coach Dave Rose's team has had extremes at good and bad...The bad of course was Sophomore F Brandon Davies was dismissed from the team for the remainder of the season for a violation of the school's honor code (engaging in pre-marital sex...BYU players sign a Honor Code contract and that is on there)...The Cougars lost their leading rebounder in the process...also lost double-digit scoring...of course at BYU the scoring is held down by one man...Jimmer Fredette was born to score the basketball...no one at the College level does it any better (52 a few days ago in a Mountain West Tourney game)...The loss of Davies means more will be needed from Senior G Jackson Emery, and Junior F's Charles Abouo and Noah Hartsock...Freshman G Kyle Collinsworth has been called on to contribute more lately too...The loss of Davies will be felt IMO, but this BYU team can surely score the basketball...3 of BYU's 4 losses this season came on road/neutral site games...NBA alumni from BYU include Danny Ainge and Rafael Araujo

#4 seed...Wisconsin Badgers...23-8...Big Ten...4-3 vs ranked opponents...Bo Ryan has a pretty damn good team...Wisc is one of the rare NCAA teams that offer a terrific scoring Guard, and terrific inside scorer...Junior G Jordan Taylor plus Senior F Jon Leuer (damn good) lead the squad...Senior F Keaton Nankivil provides leadership and a 3rd scorer...all 8 of Wisconsin's L's this season came on road/neutral site games...Kudos to this team as they were un-ranked for much of the season, so to finish so strong as to earn a #4 seed is impressive...This could be a hungry team too as their last 2 games were complete swings and misses...2 straight brutal efforts so Ryan's team likely looking to perform significantly better...Michael Finley and Devin Harris are former Badgers

Other teams worth a look...

#8 seed - Butler Bulldogs...23-9...Horizon...0-1 vs ranked opponents...Last years Cinderella Bulldogs are baaaack...2010 runner-up...a dozen 20+ win seasons in last 14 years...a team that plays some great old-school team first b-ball that they call "The Butler Way"...4th year Head Coach Brad Stevens is the next hot up-and-coming coach...another deep run in this Tourney would solidify Stevens on the list of elite NCAA coaches...Butler enters the Tourney on fire, similar to last season where they went all the way to the Finals and had a 3-ball from Gordan Hayward in the air to win the NCAA Title (it missed...Duke wins!)...7 of Butler's 9 losses this season came on road/neutral site games...Senior F Matt Howard and Junior G Shelvin Mack provide the leadership and scoring for this team with help from Sophomore C Andrew Smith and Senior G Shawn Vanzant...Stevens will play several different combinations, even start different combos, but the 4 players mentioned above are the keys for any Butler W

#11 seed - Gonzaga Bulldogs...24-9...WCC...1-4  vs ranked opponents...Amazing that the Zags are in the Tourney for the 13th straight season...They losy Matt Bouldin (damn good) to graduation, but guys like Steven Gray (Senior), Robert Sacre (Junior - Can-Con as Sacre is from North Vancouver, BC...actually 7-footer Kelly Olynyk is also from our amazing country - Kamloops, BC), and Elias Harris (Sophomore) are keeping this Gonzaga team deep and talented...Very good defensive squad...The last 10 times Few's Zags have battled a Top 25 team they have won just once

!!! #5 vs #12 ALERT !!! ...20 of the last 22 years a #12 has defeated a #5 in the opening round...actually #5's only beat #12's about 68% of the time so please do look for a 12-5 upset...in the Southeast we have a great #5 seed in Kansas State, but the #12 seed is Utah State...The Aggies from Utah State won their Conference, and they play as good a team D as there is in the Tourney...30-3 record for the Aggies

#14 seed Wofford could give #3 BYU a better game than expected in the opening round...

Check out the other Region blogs...follow me on twitter @craigballard77


West Region - NCAA Tourney

The West Region has the defending Champs...Legendary Coaches...Bill Cosby's fav school...an amazing 8 Conference Champs...let's have a look...

#1 seed - Duke Blue Devils...29-4...ACC...5-1 vs ranked opponents...Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski leads one of the best programs in College Sports...an amazing 11 times he has led the Blue Devils to the Final Four...4 of those times he emerged as National Champion including 2010...extremely impressive in ACC Title game beatdown over rival North Carolina...Although all 4 of their 2011 losses were road blowouts, this is a program built to thrive in Tourney scenarios...one of, if not the best scoring team in the NCAA Tourney...Top-heavy scoring with the likes of Senior's Nolan Smith (damn good) and Kyle Singlar (damn good)...Duke also gets production from Seth Curry (son of Dell Curry and brother of Stephen Curry), Ryan Kelly, and the Plumlee brothers Mason (6'10") and Miles (6'10"...plus their younger brother Marshall is currently at 7-feet tall still in High School) and Sophomore Andre Dawkins...Duke is a very strong rebounding club too...current NBA Alumni include Grant Hill, Josh McRoberts, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, JJ Redick, Dahntay Jones, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng to name a few...

#2 seed - San Diego State Aztecs...32-2...Mountain West...2-2 vs ranked opponents...Head Coach Steve Fisher is back in the Tourney as a fav...we remember he was the Head Coach of the Fab 5 Michigan teams that were National runner-ups both years the 5 were together...there was a ton of hype and attention for those Michigan teams, not so much these days with a SDST program that plays in the Mountain West Conference...This Aztecs squad was un-ranked to open the season, but have played so well they are all the way to #6 Nationally, and #2 NCAA Tourney seed...impressive...SDST plays great team D...The team is led by Seniors F's Malcolm Thomas and Billy White, plus Senior G D.J. Gay...Sophomore F Kawhi Leonard does a great job for this team, as does fellow Soph's Chase Tapley and James Rahon...a lot of depth in the frontcourt and backcourt for Fisher to work with...only 1 time all season did SDST lose a road/neutral site game

# 3 seed - Connecticut Huskies...Big East...9-6  vs ranked opponents...UCONN makes the 2011 NCAA Tourney as an Automatic Bid having won the Big East Tourney...amazing feat...to win the NCAA Tourney you need to win 6 games (the first 2 perhaps not even that grueling) in 3 weeks...to win the Big East Title UCONN had to win 5 games in 5 days...and by the way the competition for that was TOUGH...The Big East is sicker and deeper in 2011 than it usually already is making this a remarkable accomplishment for UCONN...tough to handicap this Huskies squad though...they limped into the Big East Tourney losers of 4 of their last 5 games, but then proceed to knock off DePaul, then 4 straight Top 25 teams in Georgetown, Syracuse, Pitt, and Louisville...UCONN is of course led by Head Coach Jim Calhoun who has guided the program to the Final Four 3 times, twice emerging as National Champions...Calhoun certainly came under fire this past year as he was cited by the NCAA for failure to create an atmosphere of compliance for his Assistant Coaches and his program...UCONN opened the season un-ranked and won the Maui Invitational...7 of their 9 losses have come on road/neutral site games...we know they are led by stud Kemba Walker (Future Raptor?!?!) who was born to score the basketball...Freshman Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Roscoe Smith - plus Sophomore's Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Alex Oriakhi give UCONN depth this season, and provide an extremely bright outlook for the future of this program...I like this teams ability to rebound as that skill will translate to any court and give the Huskies a chance to compete every night...Over Calhoun's 25+ years at UCONN he has produced some NBA greats...Rip Hamilton, Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon, Ray Allen aka Jesus Shuttleworth, Caron Butler, Emeka Okafor, Clifford Robinson, Donyell Marshall, Charlie V to name a few...

#4 seed - Texas Longhorns...27-7...Big 12...6-3  vs ranked opponents...Head Coach Rick Barnes is in his 13th season at the helm in Texas, and it is the 13th time he has Texas in the NCAA Tourney...Barnes has coached NBA players like Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford, and D.J. Augustine at Texas...5 of this teams 7 2011 losses came on road/neutral site games...the O is led by Sophomore Jordan Hamilton (damn good), but this group gets very balanced scoring from F's Tristan Thompson (Freshman needs to stay out of foul trouble) and Gary Johnson, plus G's Cory Joseph and J'Covan Brown...Seniors Dogus Balbay and Matt Hill also contribute to this team...Texas is an outstanding rebounding club, and an outstanding D squad as well...“We’re a good team. We can beat anybody,” - Rick Barnes

Other teams worth a look...

#7 seed - Temple Owls...24-6...Atlantic 10...1-2 vs ranked opponents...Head Coach Fran Dunphy was the victim of the annual 12-5 upset last year when his #5 Owls fell in the opening round to #12 Cornell...they are back this season as a #7 seed...a lot to like here...very balanced scoring...The team gets Senior Leadership from F Lavoy Allen, plus underclassmen like Ramone Moore, Scootie Randall, Juan Fernandez, and Khalif Wyatt

#13 seed - Oakland Golgen Grizzles...25-9...Summit League...1-4 vs ranked opponents...Senior C Keith Benson and Junior G Reggie Hamilton give the Grizz a rare inside-outside combo threat...Seniors Will Hudson and Larry Wright provide scoring too...This team won a Conference record 20 straight Conference games...Texas is their opening round opponent so the Committee did them no favors, but take a good look at this squad...

!!! #5 vs #12 ALERT !!!  ...20 of the last 22 years a #12 has upset a #5 in the opening round...in the West he have #5 Arizona vs #12 Memphis...Head Coach Josh Pastner has the Memphis Tigers back in the Big Dance...they did go 0-2 vs ranked opponents, but Arizona was worse at 0-3...Freshman G Will Barton leads a very deep squad...8 Tigers average at least 7 points per game...

Check out the other Region blogs too...follow me on twitter @craigballard77