Tuesday, March 31, 2009
MLB 2009 Season Preview - NL West
NL West Champions - Arizona Diamondbacks
At first glance, this looks like a deep division. All 5 teams have made the playoffs at some point this decade. Upon closer inspection, it’s actually just consistently mediocre. Last season the Dodgers took the division crown with a paltry 84 wins. That total would’ve been good for only 5th place in AL East or NL Central, or 4th place in NL East. With the division basically being a toss up, I think ‘Zona has the best chance of emerging from this year’s pack.
The Snakes are a very young and talented team. Their outfield of Chris Young, Conor Jackson, and Justin Upton has an average age of 24 ½. The infield starts nobody over 30. Their catching platoon of Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero is younger than 30. If everybody continues to progress from the previous couple of seasons, this team will be hitting heavy for years to come. On the pitching side, it’s much of the same story. Other than free agent addition Jon Garland to anchor the back end of the rotation, the staff is loaded with youthful talent. Sinkerballer extraordinaire Brandon Webb and finesse machine Dan Haren make up of the most potent 1-2 combinations in baseball. Young gun Max Scherzer has the makeup of a potential future ace with a devastating fastball paired with a plus-rated changeup and slider. The bullpen is solid with guys like Jon Rach, Tony Pena, Tom “Flash” Gordon, and Yusmerio Petit backing up freshly crowned closer Chad Qualls.
This team definitely has what it takes to make the postseason, however, they might still be a couple of years away from a deep run.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: 20 year-old phenom Jarrod Parker better be as good as advertised. The righty is reminding a lot of scouts of Giants pint-sized ace Tim Lincecum with his combination of velocity and control coming from such a diminutive frame. With his talent, he’ll probably get a shot in the D-Backs’ ‘pen by mid-season with a good shot of becoming a middle-rotation starter over the next couple years. However, Parker is Arizona’s only prospect currently rated in the Top 100 in baseball, so they’d better hope he’s the real deal or else their future may be now.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The “Manny being Manny” show is back for an encore at Chavez Ravine. After last season’s deadline deal with Boston brought the “Dominican Lou Gehrig” into Dodger Blue, Manny Ramirez ignited the team’s offense with a huge bat to carry them into the playoffs. After months of off-again-on-again negotiations finally ended in Manny resigning with L.A., the Dodgers are hopeful that ManRam can carry the team back to the promised land. Flanked by such up-and-coming stars as catcher Russell Martin, first baseman James Loney and rightfielder Andre Eithier, combined with veterans Rafael Furcal at shortstop and newcomer Orlando Husdon at second, this offense will undoubtedly hit a lot of baseballs. The pitching staff is not what it once was, however, with youngsters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley providing the only real promise among the starters. The bullpen could be sneaky good with underrated guys like Hong Chi Kuo and Guillermo Mota supporting young closer Jonathan Broxton. The offense could rank among the game’s best, but with the pitching staff having so many holes, not even Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre should be able pull this team to a playoff berth.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: The Dodgers have a history of developing solid homegrown talent. This year, the organization is a little thin on projects with big time major league potential. The one guy I could see sniffing the big leagues at some point this season would be 2004 draft pick James McDonald. He sports a Zito-esque sick 12-6 curveball that has baffled minor league hitters and projects well enough to be a success pitch at the next level, as well as a plus change piece that he controls well and even sports a bit of late movement. He could eventually become a decent #3 or 4 starter down the road, but for now, it looks like he’ll get a shot as the 5th guy in the rotation after a nice showing out of the bullpen in last year’s playoffs.
Only 2 years ago, this team stunned the baseball world on a stampede through the National League playoffs before finally running out of gas against Boston in the ’07 World Series. The bad news for Rox fans is that the catalyst of that season’s surprise run, an MVP-runner-up performance by Matt Holiday, will not be making an encore appearance this time around. Holiday was shipped off to Oakland in the offseason for a package of prospects including the highly rated Carlos Gonzalez along with closer Houston Street, so the Rockies’ bats may be in a world of trouble in ’09. Past-his-prime former All-Star first baseman Todd Helton, along with outfielder Brad Hawpe, third baseman Garrett Atkins, and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are essentially the only major league quality hitters in their lineup. Though Holiday didn’t contribute in the department, the pitching isn’t exactly in the best shape either. One-time ace Jeff Francis is already out for the entire 2009 season after having arthroscopic surgery in the offseason to help alleviate left shoulder problems that plagued him throughout most of the ’08 schedule and contributed to a paltry 4-10 record. Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales, and Jason Hirsch all have pretty good upside as young starters…but Jason Marquis? Closers Street and Manny Corpas, plus late reliever Taylor Buchholz can all really throw, but that’s all they’ve got worth a crap. The only thing keeping this squad from the cellar is that there just so happens to be two really bad teams already basement-dwelling in this division.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Holiday was one of the best all-around players during his time in Denver. Hopefully, young stud Dexter Fowler can help pick up a little slack. Even with the “Coors Effect”, the offense will be awful unless this kid loves up to the expectations as a similar version of a young Andruw Jones. It shouldn’t be too difficult for him to take over a starting outfield spot from the likes of Ryan Spilborghs or Seth Smith, maybe even before Opening Day.
San Fran Giants
Tim Lincecum. That’s all about all I have to say about this team. At every position, they’re either too old, too young, or just plain not good. Lincecum is fresh off a Cy Young award from 2008, and, at only 24, the little dynamo looks like he could have a shelf full of them when it’s all said and done. Behind Timmy, the rotation actually isn’t terrible. Newcomer Randy Johnson, while not having much left in the tank, will undoubtedly seal his Hall of Fame bid with his 300th win at some point this season. Matt Cain along with lefties Jonathan Sanchez and Noah Lowry have all shown various shades of promise. (Ed Note: There is also a certain overpaid former Cy Young winner in the group that I’m not mentioning for the sake of all the Giants fans out there. I’d like to keep them from pulling all their hair out just seeing his name in print.)
The lineup, on the other hand, leaves a LOT to be desired. When Aaron Rowand, one of the 5 most overrated players in the game, is your best player, you are not a good ball club. Former All-Stars Edgar Renteria and Randy Winn can still from time to time. Thirdbaseman/catcher Pablo Sandoval has some potential down the road. Brian Wilson is a halfway decent closer. But when the rest of the roster leaves even a guy like me to say, “Uh…who?”, you are likely not fielding a competitive major league baseball team.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Well, now for the good news. San Fran has, by my count, 3 players that have potential to be special talents. Left-handed starter Madison Bumgarner is only 19, and already has one of the best fastballs in the minors (Top 20 prospect in all baseball). Angel Villalona is considered by many scouts to be the best Dominican hitting prospect in a decade. Catcher Buster Posey was the college player of the year his senior season at Florida State, and since then has blown through the minors on a fast track to taking the backstop duties from Bengie Molina very soon. All three of these guys are probably at least a year away, but at least they can help transform this Giants franchise desperate for some optimism.
San Diego Padres
What a way to celebrate the Padres 40th anniversary in San Diego! Last year, the team lost 99 ball games, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they broke the triple digit loss mark this time around. This team is awful. Don’t get me wrong, they have some nice players. Pitcher Jake Peavy is a true ace and still one of the best in the game. Newly minted closer Heath Bell was one of the best setup men in the league before taking the closer’s job following the departure of future Hall of Famer and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is one of the single most underrated big time players in baseball. And, if he can regain his 2007 All-Star form, starter Chris Young is a real top-rotation pitcher. Outside this short list, the Pads are a putrid bunch. David Eckstein and Brian Giles are both past their primes and were overrated to begin with. Cla Meredith is an above average reliever, but he’s one of only 3 guys currently on the roster (as of March 31) backing up Bell in the ‘pen. Besides Gonzalez and highly touted rookie Chase Headley (more on him to come), the batting order can be best described with a “dismissive wank motion”. At least the weather is perfect in SD, so the fans have something better to focus on all summer long.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: After brief call ups in each of the ’07 and ’08 seasons, Padres top prospect Chase Headley is slated to start the ’09 year as the starting left fielder. As valedictorian of his high school class, and an Academic All-American while in college at the University of Tennessee, Padres brass is confident this kid has the mental makeup to go along with real major league ability enough to produce a standout player both on and off the field.