Thursday, January 12, 2017

NL South Preview: Season 24

This entry marks the fourth of a series of previews by division for the young 24th season of Upper Deck.  A run down of each team will be followed by an overall analysis of the division.  We will continue with the NL South.

Key additions: 3B William Gourley

Key losses: None.

Since season 15, the Colt 45’s have had only one season above .500.  Despite that, the team has had only one fourth place finish in that span.  The trend held last season: Houston finished third place with 75 wins, despite a pitching staff that featured a sub-4.00 era and the only defense in the division that rated as significantly above average.

Due to the recent woes, Houston finds itself deep within a rebuild.  The rebuild has yielded some incredibly exciting prospects, including last season’s 9th overall pick RF Rob Hayes and 2B Napoleon Bloomquist, who seems to be knocking on the ML club’s door.

One does not suddenly change directions after committing to such an extensive rebuild, of course.  Thus, general manager andyr104 made little news this offseason.  The team lost few players that rated significantly above replacement level last season, and added only William Gourley, who should add some pop off of the bench.

Ultimately, though, Houston and its fans need not look too far down the line to envision what a playoff team may look like.  Young SPs Don Lo, Homer Simpkins, Dayan Morales, and Lorenzo Lee may form a fierce foursome for years to come, while 1B Crash Slusarski is one appealing core player on the offensive side of things.  For the Colt 45’s, their patience should soon be rewarded.

Like division rival Houston, the Generals are deep within a rebuild, not having had more than 80 wins since season 14.  Last season, they sported the lowest OPS in the league and league average pitching and defensive units.  Unlike their rival, however, Jackson took a more aggressive approach this offseason.

The team let Vic Arenado, a productive bench bat who started nearly 70 times at second base last season, and outfielder Ichiro Wang walk.  The club also traded starter Steve Holden, in the second year of a three-year term, for shortstop prospect Yorvit Escobar, a defensive stud with what could be an above average bat.  The club also felt regular 2B Carlos Aparicio for a pair of prospects.

Jackson was fortunate enough to grab 2B Doc Spivey in the Rule 5 draft, and he has replaced the production at second, and then some.  Alfredo Pujols was acquired in exchange for season 22 first rounder SP Ahmed Olmos and is set to take on a versatile bench role.  Other young players acquired throughout the rebuild include RF Mac Riefenhauser, recently promoted LF Jorge Guerrero, and current number 1 SP Horace Marzilli.

In a more minor move, the retention of 12-year veteran C Rod Beamon will take the burden off of starting catcher Bengie Chavez, and may help ease a young rotation.

Since GM Feamster took over, the Illegal Ancient Aliens have steadily improved over five seasons.  In season 23, they captured their second consecutive second place finish, despite a disappointing offense that triple slashed .246/.309/.407, and pitching that was only marginally better than average.

In order to help their anemic offense, Feamster signed long time Indianapolis DH Gary Patrick, owner of nearly 375 career home runs, as well as T.J. St. Clair, who carries an .895 OPS in nearly 7,000 plate appearances over his career.  They should replace the production of powerful bench bat Jordan Stark, who himself is just two seasons removed from hitting 24 home runs.  As far as the pitching staff goes, long time Alien Bob Keefe was signed away, though his spot in the bullpen was quickly filled by stud Roberto Nieves.

Aside from those moves, many of the pieces on this season’s team remain the same.  However, Mexico City clearly values its core players, doling out five-year extensions to ace SP Glenn Thurman and stud LF Brennan Sturdevant.  These extensions give the Illegal Ancient Aliens, who may currently be only a few moves away from a serious contender, a long window to make their move in the NL South.

Over the years, the Richmond Brewers have developed a reputation as having one of the best pitching staffs in the league.  In season 23, their strength on the hill allowed them to overcome a stagnant offense to win their ninth consecutive division title.  And, given the traditional focus on pitching, it is no surprise that it once again captivated the Brewers this offseason.

Richmond lost a variety of its supporting cast this offseason, but added relievers Jeurys Bastardo and Malcolm Baez to pick up some of those innings.  The club also acquired groundballer Emmanuel Gibson in a trade with New Britain, thus far to stellar results.  One key loss to the rotation was starter Austin Sanders being signed away by Indianapolis.  While those innings may be difficult to replace, the team hopes that waiver claim Brad Malloy may provide the solution.  The team also lost bit players Chico Ugueto and Lorenzo Guillen, and hope that the production will be replaced by CF Ichiro Wang and 3B Hades Hermanson.

Importantly, extensions to closer Slim McGowan and offensive bright spot Shaggy Eickhoff allow the club to build its offense and bullpen around two young, reliable players, giving stability to a team whose presence in the playoffs is as sure a thing as almost anything.

NL South Analysis

While the Colt 45’s have done little to improve their current situation, they currently host a bright core of young players and may only be a few pieces from contention.  Fortunately for them, those few pieces are rapidly rising through the ranks and should be able to make an impact soon, though they may not contend this season.  Similarly, division rival Jackson should soon feel the impact of its rebuild, though a more aggressive offseason may make them the most improved in the division this season.

Richmond is still the team to beat, though they may find themselves looking for help in the back end of their rotation and/or bullpen should they feel the offseason acquisitions insufficiently plug the holes they were intended to fill.  Mexico City, meanwhile, certainly has the core to compete, and filled its offseason needs rather well, but also may find itself buying at the deadline if it finds itself within striking range of a postseason berth at the deadline.

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