Monday, March 16, 2009

Part 2 of Ben's Uber Baseball Preview 2009

The AL East is the best division in baseball.

You can attempt to debate this, but if you do, you are a moron. There is no questioning this simple fact. 3 of the 5 best teams in the Majors reside in the AL East. A fourth team is the a threat to win 90 games and should win at least 85, and would run away with 3 other divisions and would likely win a 4th. And the Orioles. Yeah...

If any team other than an AL East team is the AL Wildcard, I will be at a loss for words in utter shock.

All AL East Team:
C- Dioner Navarro, TB (keeping this spot warm for Wieters)
1B- Mark Teixeira , NYY
2B- Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3B- Alex Rodriguez, NYY (go ahead, I dare you to justify anybody as better)
SS- Derek Jeter, NYY
OF- BJ Upton, TB
OF- JD Drew, BOS
OF- Nick Markakis, BAL
DH- David Ortiz, BOS
SP- Josh Beckett, BOS
SP- CC Sabathia, NYY
SP- Scott Kazmir, TB
SP- Roy Halladay, TOR
SP- Jon Lester, BOS
CP- Jonathan Papelbon, BOS

On to the team previews!

Boston Red Sox:
The Red Sox have entered the same zone as the Yankees were in during the late 1990s: build from within, purchase a few superstar free agents, and make some really smart mid-level free agent pickups. This was another offseason doing just that, as the BoSox didn't spend or make any splashes like their Bronx-based rivals, but improved just as much and made some very intelligent pickups. Once again, the Red Sox are loaded and anything less than a deep playoff run should be considered a disappointment.

There are All-Stars and former All-Stars (and maybe a future All-Star or two) all around the Boston field. Their weakest position is catcher, where Jason Varitek is a shell of his former self. Varitek has lost nearly all of his bat speed and doesn't move as well behind the plate as he used to. To make matters worse, there doesn't seem to be a suitable replacement on the horizon, as backup Josh Bard is nothing more than that, and top catching prospect Mark Wagner is an asset defensively but doesn't hit that well. Still, Varitek should be servicable along with Bard and Wagner and their bats can be hidden in that awesome lineup. The corner spots should be set even with Mike Lowell's health in question. Lowell missed 49 games and played in only 2 postseason games thanks to a hip injury. If Lowell's healthy, he's a good defensive 3rd baseman with a very solid bat whose skills are in decline. If Lowell can't go or his skills have dimished too much, Kevin Youkilis can play third. Youk is an above-average 1st bagger and an average 3rd baseman, but his bat plays out anywhere on the diamond. A legitimate MVP threat, Youkilis hits for power and average and has one of the most patient and discerning batting eyes in baseball. If Lowell can't go and Youkilis is forced over to third, expect top prospect Lars Anderson to step in. Anderson is a ideal Billy Beane/Theo Epstein player: big, powerful, and patient. Only 21 years old, Anderson is probably ready for the bigs this year, but may start the year at AAA. The middle infield is anchored by last year's MVP, Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia is a 5-tool player. He does a little bit of everything well and there should be no drop off from last year at all. At shortstop, with Julio Lugo hurt and likely to have major surgery, the job is Jed Lowrie's. Lowrie was pretty good in his first half-season in the bigs and showed himself to be a great fielder with a developing offensive game. The outfield should once again be a strong point for the team. JD Drew missed 53 games due to injury, but when he was healthy he was very effective. Hitting 19 homeruns with a .408 OBP and a .519 SLG in 109 games, Drew is a four and a half tool player who doesn't run as well as he used to, but does everything well. Jason Bay played very well down the stretch after coming over in the Manny Ramirez deal, and should continue to do so. Bay has hit at least 30 HRs, with a .370+ OBP and a .520+ SLG every year with 500+ ABs in his career except for 2007 to go with above average defense. Jacoby Ellsbury didn't live up to the hype created by his 2007 postseason but was still quite good. Ellsbury could become a legitimate star in the bigs if his power game continues to develop, but otherwise, his ceiling looks to be that of a very good player and maybe even an All-Star who fields well and steals a butt-load of bases. David Ortiz is the DH. A terrifying hitter when he's on and healthy, Ortiz has been banged up recently and some wonder if his bat is starting to slow down. Even if that is the case, he's too good a hitter to be kept out of the lineup and should once again hit 35+ homeruns and drive in over 100. The bench is very good with players like Bard, Rocco Baldelli (an All-Star if it weren't for his medical condition), and Mark Kotsay.

The pitching staff may be more impressive than the lineup. The 1-2 punch of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester might be the best in the game. Beckett is an ace in every sense of the word. At 6'5", he gets excellent downward action on his pitches and works off his impressive heat to strike out a lot of hitters (172 in 174 innings last year). Lester blossomed into one of the game's top pitchers last year, even throwing a no-hitter. Lester doesn't strike out as many as Beckett, but he uses an arsenal of pitches to baffle hitters. Daisuke Matsuzaka is a lock in the third rotation spot. He had a fantastic season last year and would be the ace on many staffs. Dice-K has about a million and a half pitches and uses all of them to confuse hitters to no end. The back end of the rotation is a little unsettled, but in a good way. Clay Buchholz was long considered the better prospect than Lester and has excellent stuff, good enough to no-hit the Orioles in just his second career big-league start. If Buchholz has his head on straight, he should become, at absolute worst, a solid mid-of-the-rotation starter. Other candidates for the rotation include Ol' Rubber Arm Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny, Junichi Tazawa, John Smoltz, and Michael Bowden. Everybody knows exactly what to expect from Wakefield and his knuckleball. He can fill in anywhere he's needed. Tazawa and Bowden are young guns with high ceilings. Bowden has dominated every minor leage stop he's been and it shouldn't be long before he forces himself onto the roster as either a starter or reliever. Tazawa comes over from Japan but shouldn't be ready immediately despite having good stuff. Tazawa could be only a few months away or two years away, but whenever he does make the big club, he should be an impact pitcher. Penny and Smoltz are both coming off of injuries. Penny, just two years removed from starting the All-Star game has been bothered with shoulder problems but has had an excellent spring and at worst should provide some solid innings. Smoltz won't be ready until June because of his injuries, but when he is healthy, Smoltz is one of the gutsiest and prolific pitchers of the past 25 years. The kind of pitcher who can thrive in any situation, Smoltz should be a wonderful shot-in-the-arm for the team mid-season. The bullpen is loaded. Led by Jonathan Papelbon, the best closer in the game, pitchers like former closer Takashi Saito, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Javier Lopez, Justin Masterson, and young flamer-thrower Daniel Bard should prove to be a tough code to crack for any hitters to create some late-inning drama.

Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays had one of the biggest turns around in history last season. But it was no fluke. Years of smartly drafting and building from within finally paid off and the Rays should only continue to be exceedingly competive, especially as their market and fan base continues to grow.

The Rays have young talent every where on the diamond. Much like the Red Sox, their biggest weakness is probably at catcher. Dioner Navarro, a former top prospect in the Yankee and Dodger systems, plays good defense and has a slightly above-average bat for a backstop. While still fairly young at 25, Navarro's ceiling probably isn't much higher than where he is now, but given the team's strength elsewhere, that isn't really a huge issue. Backup Shawn Riggans is solid, if unspectacular. The corner tandem is probably the second best in the bigs (after the Yankees') with Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria. Pena is a force in the power department at 1st base. You can pretty much be assured of 30+ homeruns from the former Rangers' uber-prospect. Evan Longoria was last year's Rookie of the Year and is a legitimate superstar-in-the-making. He does everything well; a great fielder, he possesses a patient and powerful bat and, while he's not the fastest guy out there, is a smart baserunner. The middle infield lacks power but does everything else well. Jason Bartlett was somewhat of an afterthought in the Garza-Young trade of last offseason, but he turned out to be an invaluable piece of the puzzle, providing slick fielding, good speed on the bases, and just enough with the stick, including 25 doubles. His time as the starter may be up soon though as top prospect Reid Brignac is just on the horizon and last year's top draft pick, Tim Beckham, is just behind Brignac. Akinori Iwamura is like Bartlett on steroids (hmmm...nah). He does a little bit of everything and should continue to be solid though he too is a candidate to be replaced by Brignac or Beckham in the future. Should either Bartlett or Iwamura falter and neither Brignac nor Beckham are ready, look for super-sub Willy Aybar, a similar player, or former Angel and Cardinal Adam Kennedy to step in. The outfield/DH situation should be even better this year than last. BJ Upton has blossomed since moving to centerfield. He has a cannon for an arm, runs down tons of balls in the outfield, and can do absolutely everything on the offensive side. As his plate discipline improves, he should become even more dangerous, a scary thought. Carl Crawford is the greatest Ray of all-time. He's been a little banged up the last few years, but he's still a good outfield who can run and has good bat speed. Expect a return to form this season. The third outfield spot will be filled by a combination of the Gabes (Gross and Kapler) and Matt Joyce. Gross and Kapler are solid players with pretty good athleticism and decent skills. Joyce, acquired in the offseason for Edwin Jackson, has the potential to be quite a pickup. Joyce hit 12 HRs in what amounts to essentially half a season as a backup in Detroit. That power potential is enough that the Rays may give him a starting job out of spring training, hoping that a full-time job will allow him to improve. The DH spot should be filled by, arguably, the best acquisition for money of the offseason, Pat Burrell. Burrell, a key part of the Phillies' World Series team that defeated the Rays last season, is a big dude who just hacks away. He strikes out a lot and can't play a lick of defense, but he draws a lot of walks (106 last season) and has great power (33 doubles, 33 homeruns, .507 SLG last year). He was never fully appreciate in Philadelphia, but they'll find out very soon how big an asset he was. The bench is deep and a big asset with players like Riggans, Aybar, Kennedy, Gross, Kapler, Morgan Ensberg, and Ben Zobrist, another super-sub type.

The pitching staff was the biggest key to the team's turnaround last season, and their continued development will help cement the Rays atop baseball. The rotation was healthy and consistent last year, and the top four all return and should be just as good. Scott Kazmir, who has seemingly been 25 for 87 years, is perhaps a bit undersized at just 6', but few have better stuff. Kazmir is one of the best strike out artists in the game (783 in 723 career innings) and he continues to make the Mets look stupid for trading him for Victor Zambrano. James Shields had a second straight season as an All-Star caliber pitcher. Shields gives up his fair share of hits, but walks almost nobody (only 40 in 215 innings last year) and does a great job of stranding runners. Matt Garza, acquired last offseason for Delmon Young, lived up to the hype he'd faced as a Twins prospect. He has great stuff and is a threat to go the distance any time he takes the hill, he should only continue to develop in Tampa Bay. Andy Sonnanstine is the least talented of the four, but he's probably the most consistent. Sonnanstine doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he doesn't walk many and works the edges of the plate very well. His ceiling isn't much higher than his current level, but he should be a solid long-term option for the Rays. The 5th starter should be the supremely talented David Price, last season's postseason darling. Price, the top draft pick of 2007, is a big lefty who can really hum it in there with 3 strong pitches. He should be absolutely dynamic in his rookie season. Another potential starter, and certainly one for the future, is top prospect Wade Davis. Davis, like Price, has three plus pitches and only a little ways off from making an impact. The bullpen is loaded with talented arms. Veteran Troy Percival leads the group. His stuff isn't nearly what it used to be, but he's a good leader and gets by with pinpoint control and guile. Other arms include Lance Cormier, JP Howell, Dan Wheeler, submariner Chad "The Chadford" Bradford, and flame thrower Grant Balfour. Two arms worth watching are veteran Jason Isringhausen and youngster Jacob McGee. Isringhausen has dealt with arm issues the past few years but is a highly accomplished former closer who could be a big asset if he's healthy. McGee has been a highly touted prospect since day one. Not quite the level of Price and Davis, he still has good stuff and should make a solid impact.

New York Yankees:
The Bronx Bombers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995 last season. Obviously, this was unacceptable for the most storied and proud franchise in baseball. So what did they do? Spent. And spent. And spent. In theory, it should work. By signing CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees acquired the three best players available this offseason and spent over $400 million in the process. But with issues with age, pitching depth, and now Alex Rodriguez being injured, it may be tough for the team to keep up in the super-competitive AL East.

Once again, the Yankees should score a lot of runs. And once again, the weakest position is arguably catcher. Jorge Posada suffered a shoulder injury, played in only 51 games, and left the Yanks scrambling for a suitable replacement. Posada is old and clearly starting to break down. A borderline Hall-of-Famer, it is unlikely he'll be able to replicate what he was in his prime, but he could probably be a decent option for a contending team such as the Yankees. Backup Jose Molina is terrible. There is some good news looking forward though, as two of the better prospects in the Yankee system are catchers, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. However, both are likely 2 or more years away. On paper, you'd be hard pressed to find a better corner tandem in history than Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Teixeira, the biggest signing of the offseason, is a true switch hitter who has great power. In addition, he is a great fielder, one of the best in the league. While he may start slowly and draw the ire of the Yankee faithful, he should prove to be one of the smarter investments the team has ever made. ARod, despite all the talk of PEDs, despite the pussy-footing, despite Cousin Yuri, despite the "playoff woes", despite the lip gloss, despite allegedly having an affair with Skeletor's uglier cousin, is one of the greatest players to ever step on a baseball field. He is still a 5 tool player. ARod's worst season ever was his second season where he had a line of .300, 23 HRs, .350 OBP, .496 SLG, 40 doubles, and 29 SBs, plus Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop. You're right, he's a douchebag who should be kept out of the Hall of Fame. I have nothing more to say on this subject except that the Yankees are royally screwed now that he's had hip surgery and won't be available until May. Candidates for a "replacement" include Angel Berroa, Cody Ransom, and Shelley Duncan. Let's put it this way, if you combine the best performances of those three players into one, you might have a guy who could take a big ol' whiff of ARod's jockstrap. This is like trying to replace Marlon Brando in the Godfather with a three man rotation of Steven Seagal, Hayden Christensen, and Paul Walker. Up the middle, the Yankees should be solid. Derek Jeter continues to be Derek Jeter: overrated in some places, underrated in others. He's still one of the top shortstops in the game and would be an asset to any team. Where did you go, Robinson Cano? Cano took a huge step backwards last season after receiving a hefty extension. Every single number got worse for Cano. If he can bounce back, he's one of the better 2nd basemen in baseball; if he can't, he'll just be another overpayed Yankee. The outfield/DH situation is old and rapidly becoming less productive. Hideki Matsui was hurt most of last year and, combined with his age, he's lost a step and some bat speed. Still, he could be productive in a slightly reduced role. Johnny Damon is another aging veteran who can't really play defense anymore and but is still pretty effective with the stick. However, his speed, one of his biggest assets, is in the decline. Xavier Nady is probably the most sure-thing of the OF/DH guys. Acquired at mid-season from the Pirates, Nady is a solid fielder with good power and patient eye. Certainly not a star, Nady is the kind of lunchpail player the Yankees used to gobble up. Nick Swisher could either be a steal or continue to suck. Swisher did hit 24 homeruns last year for the White Sox, but that was about it. Swisher's star was once bright out in Oakland, but it looks as though Billy Beane once again bought low and sold high. If (when?) any of these players falter or get hurt, the top replacements are youngsters Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. Cabrera was miserable last year, even been sent back to the minors for a time. Is he as bad as he was last year? Is he as good as he was in 2006? Probably not, he's probably at his 2007 level: a solid 4th outfielder. Gardner didn't play particularly well during his brief stint last year but he does project pretty well and as a player who could be a third outfielder on a contender. One to watch for is Austin Jackson, the Yankees' top prospect. A 5-tool stud, he could be ready by mid-season, which would be a boon for the Yankees.

The pitching staff was pretty miserable last year. So what to do? Sign big name free agents. There was no bigger name (or belly) than CC Sabathia. A true ace, Sabathia is a big (BIG) lefty who has thrown more innings than anyone the past few years. He almost single-handedly got the Brewers into the playoffs last year with a string of clutch performances down the stretch. While his contract may have been a bit excessive, if any pitcher has earned it over the past few years, it has been Sabathia. The other big signing was AJ Burnett. Probably not worth the sizeable contract he received, Burnett has been very erratic over his career. His stuff is undeniable and when he's on and focused, he's almost untouchable. But that doesn't always happen. If the Yankees can keep him focused and healthy, he'll be a huge asset to the team. If not, he could be the second coming of his former Florida teammate, Carl Pavano. The rest of the rotation should be filled by some of last year's suspects. Chien-Ming Wang was injured for much of last year and it really hurt the Yankees. Wang has been consistently near the top of league pitchers since his arrival from Taiwan. He has great sinking action on his pitches that produce a lot of ground ball outs. Fireballer Joba Chamberlain was pretty darn good as a starter and again damn-near-unhittable as a reliever. Manager Joe Girardi wants to keep Chamberlain in the rotation this season and while he probably won't be quite as dominant, he should provide a bunch of quality innings and assloads of strikeouts. Andy Pettitte will probably be the number 5. Pettitte has had a long and illustrious career but his stuff is starting to flatten out and he's losing some velocity. Still, he should be an effective pitcher for another year or so and isn't a bad option at all for a 5th starter. If any injuries should occur, youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy will be ready to step in. Both failed miserably last season and were routinely shelled. But both have a lot of talent and should at least become league-average, with Hughes projecting quite well in most circles. The bullpen is deep albeit a little mysterious. Closer Mariano Rivera continues to dazzle and will once again be one of the best in the business. Other arms include Damaso Marte, acquired from the Pirates along with Nady, Brian Bruney, Edwar Ramirez, Phil Coke, and perhaps Kei Igawa

Toronto Blue Jays:
What to do for the Jays? They had a season last year that most would consider successful but they missed the playoffs. They spent heavily but didn't get quite the intended results. It will continue to be difficult to succeed in the AL East, but the Blue Jays seem to have the lineup that could be a contender if enough piece fall into place.

Rod Barajas does the catching for the Jays. Barajas has some skills including some decent pop in his bat, but otherwise he's a pretty average catcher. His immediate backup should be veteran Michael Barrett, a fiery competitor who can start in a pinch. Both appear to be keeping the seat warm for top prospect JP Arencibia. Arencibia, a Tennessee product, has good power and is pretty good with the glove but he's probably still a year of season or two away from making an impact. At the corners, the tandem of Lyle Overbay and Scott Rolen is a solid veteran duo. Overbay had another Overbay-type season last year, providing 15-20 homeruns, a .275-.300 average, and solid defense. Expect more of the same. Rolen was hurt again last season, missing almost 50 games. Injuries have derailed what was once thought of as a Hall-of-Fame career path. Still, Rolen is a pretty good fielder and is still very capable at the plate, so if he's healthy, he should be an asset. Aaron Hill played in only 55 games last year after having played in no fewer than 155 the previous two. Predictably, his numbers were down across the board, but if he returns to his 2007 form, he should be one of the better 2nd basemen in baseball, providing good power and a solid glove. The Blue Jays quickly realized that David Eckstein sucks and sent him packing last year (I told you so!). So now they rely on the tandem of Marco Scutaro and John McDonald. Neither is particularly impressive but both can contribute. Scutaro has a decent bat while McDonald provides very good defense. The outfield and DH spots should once again be a strong point for the Jays. Alex Rios started off very slowly but caught fire toward the end of the season to reassure the Blue Jays of his immense talent. Rios is a very good fielder with an excellent arm who hits for good average and pretty good power. He's also very capable of stealing some bases (32 last year). But Rios is robbed by his lack of patience at the plate, walking only 44 times last season and garnering a paltry .337 OBP. His neighbor in center is Vernon Wells, who bounced back after a dismal 2007, surpassing all his numbers despite playing in 41 fewer games. If Wells is healthy, he's one of the better all-around outfielders in the AL. The new addition will be super-prospect Travis Snider. Snider isn't much with a glove and doesn't run all that well but the boy can mash. Only 20 years old when he debuted last season, Snider projects to be a mainstay of the Jays outfield for many years to come. Because of Snider's emergence, Adam Lind gets moved to DH. Lind is a solid hitter who spent time hurt last year. Should he be healthy, expect 20 or so homeruns and the ability to fill in for any outfielder. The bench, a strength for the team last year, should be solid again with players like Barrett, Jose Bautista, Joe Inglett, and Kevin Millar.

The rotation last year was decimated by injuries, but good organizational depth provide a bright future. Still, it will be tough to replace AJ Burnett and his 18 wins. Roy Halladay continues to toil away up north. Halladay has been one of the most consistently excellent pitchers in the majors since 2001 and he won 20 games for the second time in his career last season. At 6'6", Halladay gets a great downward plane on his pitches, but he doesn't strike out as many as one would expect, relying rather on groundballs to generate outs. He should be penciled in for yet another terrific season. Behind him are lots of question marks but a fair amount of talent. Top starters Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and Casey Janssen all went down with injuries last year. Marcum and McGowan are both expected to miss significant time this year as well. If Janssen is healthy, he's a junk-balling lefty who happens to be right-handed and quite effective. Jesse Litsch and David Purcey stepped up to fill the void last season. Litsch is a youngster who doesn't strike out many but has pretty good control and good breaking stuff to get hitters out. Purcey showed flashes last season and if he can properly utilize his big frame, he could be a solid starter. The rest of the rotation will be filled with a collection of journeymen and prospects, with youngster Brad Mills and former Cub Matt Clement having the inside track. Keep an eye out for former Maryland star Brett Cecil, a big, hard-throwing lefty with a great slider. The bullpen looks to be pretty deep. BJ Ryan made a very successful return from Tommy John surgery to reclaim his spot as one of the better closers in baseball. In addition to any players who miss out on the rotation, you can expect to see a medly of effective pitchers like Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, Jesse Carlson (who can also start if need be), Jason Frasor, and Brandon League.

Baltimore Orioles:
Well the Orioles are going to be bad again. But there is geniune hope. General Manager Andy McPhail has been quietly assembling a solid collection of young talent through the draft and trades. The team has little-to-no hope of competing this year, but if development goes according to plan, contention in 2011 and 2012 won't be that farfetched. That being said, it's the Orioles and, just to spite me, they'll mess it up somehow.

The Orioles look to be thin at catcher. Greg Zaun is fine as a backup but is stretched as a starter and will turn 38 this season. Behind him, backups like Guillermo Quiroz and Robby Hammock don't provide much beyond third catcher talent. There also seems to be nothing on the horizon. Nothing whatsoever. A complete wasteland for talent...oh wait...there is this one prospect...MATT FANCYSAUCE WIETERS! Seriously, I know I have a huge man crush on the dude and he has yet to play a game above AA, but have you seen him play? If you haven't, I'll help you out and do a quick survey of anybody who has ever seen him play. In a word: greatness. Still don't believe me, Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus used his EqA stat (which is an adjust value per out statistic, similar scale to batting average, but league-average changes per position, the average catcher, is somewhere just south of .270) on Wieters and all catchers in a projection for 2009. Brian McCann of Atlanta got a .299, a very excellent number, especially for a catcher. That was good for second in the league. Wieters was projected to have a .319 EqA. I'll let my love for Wieters subside for now, but just know that when he gets called up in late May or early June (so as to add an extra year of contractual control), the boy is going to tear things up. At the corners, the Orioles are old but steady. At first, Aubrey Huff had his best season in years and arguably the best season of his career, swatting 32 HRs with a .360 OBP and a .552 SLG. While that same production is unlikely this year, 25 HRs with a .350 OBP and a .490 SLG is perfectly reasonable and quite solid. Over at third, Melvin Mora has lost some bat speed and doesn't field as well as he once did, but he's still very useful and a good stopgap while some prospects, such as Billy Rowell, develop. Mora can realistically be expected to hit about 15-18 HRs with a .340-.350 OBP. Huff and Mora are currently just holding spots until top hitting prospects Brandon Snyder and Billy Rowell develop. Both are professional hitters who should be ready either next year or the year afterwards. At second base, Brian Roberts has been a mainstay in Baltimore and one of the better cornerstones in baseball since 2003, his first full season. Roberts is lightning fast and a great fielder who possess great doubles power (an astounding 51 doubles last year). His new double play partner is Cesar Izturis. After a revolving door/bottomless pit at short last year, Izturis should provide some stability. Izturis is a whiz with the glove but, predictibly, isn't much with the bat. Still, despite his abysmal .299 career OBP, he's a career .260 hitter capable of stealing 20+ bases and there's no way he could be worse than the shortstops of last year (or could he?). The outfield looks to be a team strength again this year. Nick Markakis has established himself as one of the best all-around players in the bigs. He is an excellent fielder with one of the best arms in baseball. He also has legitimate 20+ HRs power that will only develop and should routinely hit .300 with a .400 OBP and around a .500 SLG. In center, Adam Jones, the centerpiece of the Erik Bedard trade, had his growing pains but also showed flashes of his 5-tool potential. He looks to be a real keeper and should be a mainstay for years as he develops. Left should belong to Felix Pie, an offseason acquisition from the Cubs. Once Chicago's top prospect, Pie was buried by notorious rookie-hater Lou Pinella. Now in Baltimore, he should get the chance to play every day and have the opportunity to realize his immense potential. He should also give the Orioles by far the best defensive outfield in baseball. The DH should be Luke Scott, who also can play outfield and 1st in a pinch. Scott was a great pickup last year when he was acquired along with prospects for Miguel Tejada, hitting 23 HRs and slugging .472 while playing good defense. Scott has probably reached his ceiling as a player, but a lot worse could be done and he should be a good stop gap while Nolan Reimold, who projects as a rich man's Scott, develops. The bench should be very deep with players like Ty Wigginton, super-sub Ryan Freel, Lou Montanez, Chris Gomez, and Scott Moore providing great part-time abilities.

The pitching staff has long been Baltimore's bane and that likely won't change for now. There's a bevy of talented arms in the system, but not many are big-league ready. Pretty much the only sure thing in the rotation is Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles' best pitcher the past two years. Guthrie is probably best suited to be a 4th or 5th starter, but is the de facto ace because of his consistency. Behind Guthrie, who knows? Rich Hill figures heavily into the equation. A former Cubs prospect, Hill started his career strongly, but has faltered recently. Hill has kind of soft stuff and relies on his control, which, if off, can betray him. Japanese import Koji Uehara is a potential starter. He was far superior as a reliever in Japan, however, and probably will end up there for Baltimore at some point. Other candidates include veteran Adam Eaton as purely an innings eater, the horrendous Dannys Baez who is returning from major surgery, the super-tall Mark Hendrickson, and prospects Hayden Penn, David Pauley, and super-awesome-nice-guy Radhames Liz. None have particularly high ceilings, but Liz has good stuff and could be a middle-of-the-rotation guy or a very good reliever. Again, these guys are all stop-gaps for the big four in the minors: Chris Tillman (acquired with Jones and George Sherrill for Bedard), Brian Matusz (last year's top draft pick), Jake Arrieta, and Brandon Erbe. All four project to be big league starters, with Tillman and Matusz projecting as aces, Arrieta projecting as a number 2 and Erbe as a back of the rotation guy. All four are at least a year away but do give hope to the Orioles faithful (aka me). The bullpen should be deep. George Sherrill was solid as the closer last year. He doesn't have great stuff, but works hitters well, not really giving them anything to hit. Sherrill's predecessor, Chris Ray, is back from Tommy John surgery. If he can return to form, he'll be a lights out late-inning pitcher. The rest of the bullpen will be filled by those who miss out on rotation spots amongst others such as veteran Jamie Walker and youngsters Jim Hoey, Jim Johnson, Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, and Chorye Spoone.


Jimmy Piersal said...

This is excellent stuff. Do you think the Red Sox should sign Ivan Rodriguez?

Anonymous said...

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