Friday, March 25, 2011

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