Wednesday, January 25, 2006

MLB Preview 1: NL West

San Diego Padres

Dave Roberts LF
Vinny Castilla/Geoff Blum 3B
Brian Giles RF
Mike Cameron CF
Ryan Klesko 1B
Doug Mirabelli C
Khalil Greene SS
Josh Barfield/Mark Bellhorn 2B

Jake Peavy
Woody Williams
Chris Young
Chan Ho Park
Tim Stauffer
Clay Hensley
Shawn Estes
Dewon Brazelton

Yeah, I have Vinny Castilla batting second. Wanna fight about it? Actually, I do. This lineup needs two things. One, Greene, Barfield (Jesse's son), or Bellhorn need to step up and hit well enough to fill the number 2 spot. Two, they need Cameron out of the cleanup spot. I had to go righty/lefty there, but I didn't want to. Maybe someone else can step up into the 3rd spot, bumping Giles down to cleanup. Or maybe Giles can put on a fake mustache and bat twice. Bench players for the Padres include Canadian standout Pete Laforest (C), former super-prospect Adrian Gonzalez (1B), and the unfortunately named Bobby Hill.
The Padres rotation lost some good, young talent in Adam Eaton and Brian Lawrence, but they gain some in 6'10 Chris Young. Woody Williams is a solid 2/3 starter, and Estes and Park are serviceable parts. The person to watch here is Brazelton, the troubled former Tampa Bay prospect. In the bullpen, the return of Trevor Hoffman is the big news. Estes will likely start the season in the bullpen, and he's probably the only other San Diego reliever you've heard of before.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Craig Counsell SS
Chad Tracy 3B
Luis Gonzalez LF
Shawn Green RF
Conor Jackson/Tony Clark 1B
Johnny Estrada C
Eric Byrnes CF
Orlando Hudson 2B

Brandon Webb
Orlando Hernandez
Brad Halsey
Russ Ortiz
Miguel Batista
Claudio Vargas
Mike Gosling
Dustin Nippert
Edgar Gonzalez

I'm starting this lineup with four lefties. Sue me; Tracy had a .358 OBP last year. Green had good numbers last season, can he repeat that performance? Barring a huge breakout from Dioner Navarro, Estrada is the best hitting catcher in this division. He'll greatly help the bottom of this lineup. Byrnes and O-Dog bring speed and hustle behind Estrada. The bench features former rookie star Alex Cintron and the versatile Damion Easley.
The rotation is an interesting mix. Arizona has turned out more than its fair share of good, young starters over the past few years. They'll be joined by the experience of Hernandez and Ortiz. Batista reunites with with his World Champion teammates Counsell and Gonzalez after a few years as Toronto's closer. Due to injuries, Arizona's bullpen is full of players with closer experience. That will help "shorten the game." Jose Valverde is listed as the closer on the depth chart, and he'll be joined by Brandon Lyon, Luis Vizcaino, and Claudio Vargas.

San Francisco Giants

Randy Winn CF
Omar Vizquel SS
Barry Bonds LF
Moises Alou RF
Ray Durham 2B
Lance Niekro 1B
Pedro Feliz 3B
Mike Matheny C

Jason Schmidt
Matt Morris
Noah Lowry
Matt Cain
Brad Hennessey
Kevin Correia
Jeff Fassero

Look at that lineup. If everyone can stay healthy, and I can basically guarantee that won't happen, that is an amazing lineup. I like the idea of batting Ray Durham fifth, as he often did last year. After the #1 hitter, the position in the batting order that leads off the most innings is the #5 hitter. Why not put a leadoff-style hitter in that spot? What makes this lineup great is the bottom half. As you know, there's essentially one less spot in a National League lineup than there is in an AL lineup. Most #7 hitters in the AL are good hitters. But, most #7 hitters in the NL wouldn't be #7 hitters in the AL; they'd be #8 hitters. Pedro Feliz may be one of the few exceptions. Before him is Lance Niekro, who spent most of 2005 batting third. One good judge of a batting order is how good the "heart of the order" is. The normal heart is considered to be the 3-5 spots. For San Diego, it's 3-5. For Arizona, it's 3-4. For the Giants, it's 3-7. That's a good lineup. The Giants have a solid bench as well. Steve Finley will back up all outfield positions (and hopefully not start over Winn in center), and Jose Vizcaino will back up all infield positions. Mark Sweeney and Jason Ellison, who both had solid 2005 seasons, are also on the depth chart.
Morris is a huge pickup for San Fran. He may be the help that Jason Schmidt has needed all these years. Of course, after these two, there's not much. Noah Lowry is decent, but you still need more than three starters. Fortunately, the bullpen is solid... until the playoffs, at least. Armando Benitez will be set up by Steve Kline, Jeff Fassero, and Tim Worrell.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenny Lofton CF
Rafael Furcal/Cesar Izturis SS
JD Drew RF
Jeff Kent 2B
Nomar Garciaparra 1B
Jose Cruz, Jr. LF
Bill Mueller 3B
Dioner Navarro C

Derek Lowe
Brad Penny
Odalis Perez
Brett Tomko
DJ Houlton

Nine players for eight positions. That's the kind of problem a manager wants to have... until ego gets in the way. Furcal will start at short and Kent at second until Izturis returns from injury. When he does, he will likely take over at second and move Kent to first. Both Furcal and Izturis have experience at short and second, and Izturis has a Gold Glove there, but that's not my decision to make. Surprisingly, I think Lofton leading off and Furcal second is the right way to go. Lofton had an OBP close to .400 last year. Furcal's was much lower, but he has more pop. Drew and Cruz have decent speed. Put them together with Lofton, Furcal, and Izturis when he comes back, and opposing outfielders will become very familiar with the spacious gaps of Chavez Ravine. Ideally, this lineup's "heart" stretches all the way from 2-8. Realistically, it's probably closer to 3-6. The bench features outfielders Ricky Ledee, Jason Repko, and Jayson Werth, all of whom had the talent to start last year. Hee-Seop Choi, Olmedo Saenz, and Willy Aybar also have starter-level talent. Navarro's backup is Sandy Alomar, who is possibly the best mentor the young catcher could have.
LA's rotation looks set as well. The top five are all proven starters. Eric Gagne will be supported by two former AllStarClosersasterisk. Danys Baez and Lance Carter both made the Mid-Summer Classic as Tampa Bay's obligatory selection, but that should take nothing away from their skills as relievers, especially when they're out of the closer's spotlight.

Colorado Rockies

Clint Barmes SS
Luis A Gonzalez 2B
Matt Holliday LF
Todd Helton 1B
Garrett Adkins 3B
Brad Hawpe RF
Cory Sullivan CF
Yorvit Torrealba/JD Closser/Danny Ardoin C

Jason Jennings
Aaron Cook
Jeff Francis
Byung-Hyun Kim
Zach Day
Sunny Kim
Mike Esposito

Pop quiz: What's type of hitter is best suited for Coors Field? If you answered a power hitter, you may be wrong. Coors has a giant outfield, so it may in fact be better suited for guys who can hit the gaps and run. That's what this team can do. This group of nobodies all got on base at least once in every three plate appearances last year. That being said, who are these guys? Barmes broke out last year before a freak injury. This Luis Gonzalez is doing well for a Rule V draftee (out of Cleveland). Holliday's 2005 numbers remind me of what the young Cleveland stars did right before they broke out. And Helton is Helton. But still, Yorvit Torrealba is the big offseason position player acquisition? If you've never heard of the starters, you surely haven't heard of the bench players. Except, pehaps, for Raphael Desepition "Choo" Freeman.
The rotation features a few bright spots. Cook went 7-2 last year. Francis is the token "young talent who would be great if he ever got out of Colorado." Day is known for having one great pitch: his sinker. Great... except for the fact that the high altitude greatly reduces break on pitches. So, now Day's best pitch is a belt-high BP fastball. Good good. Brian Fuentes, who had 31 saves in 34 opportunities last year, returns as Colorado's closer. He'll be supported by big name free agent acquisitions Ray King and... drumroll please... Jose Mesa. Chiropractors in the Denver area are drooling over the chance to treat Mesa's repeated neck injuries this coming season.