Thursday, February 18, 2010

MLB Previews #1
National League West

Once again, we kick off the MLB preview with the NL West. Teams are ordered by their CHONE projected standings from

Los Angeles Dodgers

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Rafael Furcal SS
Matt Kemp CF
Andre Ethier RF
Manny Ramirez LF
James Loney 1B
Casey Blake 3B
Ronnie Belliard 2B
Russell Martin C

Clayton Kershaw
Chad Billingsley
Hiroki Kuroda
Vincente Padilla
James McDonald
Eric Stults
Charlie Haeger

This is how you put together a lineup: start with homegrown talent (Kemp, Ethier, Loney, Martin), and fill in the holes with talented veterans. Nothing to complain about here, except maybe the continued employment of Ronnie Belliard. But then again it's hard to complain about a middle infielder who's consistently put up an OPS around .750.

If Belliard doesn't perform, Blake DeWitt is once again waiting in the wings. As is new acquisition Jamey Carroll, who quietly gets on base and plays solid infield defense. Fellow new acquisitions Brad Ausmus and Reed Johnson help fill out the bench and increase the team's scrappy white guy quotient. Ausmus will tutor Russ Martin and a relatively young pitching staff, while Johnson will back up all three outfield positions.

The top of the Dodgers rotation is set with Kershaw, Billingsley, and Kuroda. But with all LA has done to improve their lineup, one has to wonder whether they'll pick up another starting pitcher this season to take their team to the next level. Unless, of course, Padilla, Haeger, and Stults make that unnecessary.

Jonathan Broxton returns as the Dodgers closer, aided by Hong-Chih Kuo, former Orioles George Sherrill, and presumably whichever talented youngsters not in the rotation.

Colorado Rockies

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Dexter Fowler CF
Carlos Gonzalez LF
Todd Helton 1B
Troy Tulowitzki SS
Bradley Hawpe RF
Ian Stewart 3B
Chris Iannetta C
Clint Barmes 2B

Ubaldo Jimenez
Aaron Cook
Jeff Francis
Jorge De La Rosa
Jason Hammel
Franklin Morales

Fear not, Rockies fans: CHONE predicts the Rockies to at least tie the Dodgers for first in the West. But they'll be doing it in a different way. Gone are the Blake Street Bombers of old, and here are a new mixture of speed, power, and contact in Colorado. The centerpiece of this team is Troy Tulowitzki, well on his way to becoming a household name. He's joined by speed at the top in Fowler and Gonzalez, power at the bottom in Hawpe, Stewart, and Iannetta, and the machine that is Todd Helton. Helton's power may be gone these days, but he still gets on base like no one else.

Colorado has filled its bench with players who are too old for everyday jobs, but who have a chance to shine in more limited roles. Jason Giambi is back as a left-handed pinch hitter, Melvin Mora is essentially the new utility man, and Miguel Olivo is a serviceable veteran backstop.

As strange as it may sound, Colorado's strength may be its starting rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez is, like Troy Tulowitzki, on path to become a star. He's helped out by Aaron Cook and the return of Jeff Francis. Francis missed all of 2009 with an injury, but prior to Jimenez' arrival, it was he who was the Rockies ace-in-training. And then there's Franklin Morales, who hopes to be the next prospect to make the ace reliever-to-ace starter transition.

If Morales can't hack it as a starter (and he probably can), he'll join a talented cast in the bullpen. The Rockies got an established closer in Huston Street, albeit one with consistency issues. But they also surrounded him with talented veteran setup men like Manny Corpas and Rafael Betancourt. All-in-all, this is a very balanced team.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Kelly Johnson 2B
Stephen Drew SS
Justin Upton RF
Mark Reynolds 3B
Adam LaRoche 1B
Miguel Montero C
Conor Jackson LF
Chris Young CF

Dan Haren
Brandon Webb
Edwin Jackson
Billy Buckner
Ian Kennedy
Kevin Mulvey
Bryan Augenstein

Third place looks appropriate for this team. They're still young, and still seem to favor power over getting on base. That tendency for power over contact seems to be reflected in the acquisition of Adam LaRoche. Offsetting that to some extent though is the signing of Kelly Johnson, a good all-around player.

Outside of Augie Ojeda, Arizona's bench is, like its lineup, a young one. Chris Snyder returns as a backup catcher after losing his job to Miguel Montero. Tony Abreu and Ryan Roberts will fight for a backup infield job. Gerardo Parra will fill in at all three outfield positions as the team continues to groom him for the future.

The Diamondbacks made a curious move early in the offseason when they traded two of their top prospects for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. Critics were confused, and quickly grapsed for explanations. Maybe the D-backs are trying to win it all now? Maybe they know something about the prospects that they're not letting on? That all remains to be seen. Edwin Jackson's 2008 looked like a fluke, but then he backed it up in 2009. The 1-2-3 rotation spots on every team in this division are loaded with talent, and if Jackson can repeat his success in 2010, Arizona will be as good as any of its rivals.

Arizona's bullpen is a Who's Who of journeyman NL relievers, featuring Chad Qualls at closer and Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman setting him up. Moustached American of the Year Clay Zavada will also be working relief for the Diamondbacks this year.

San Diego Padres

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Everth Cabrera SS
David Eckstein 2B
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Chase Headley 3B
Nick Hundley C
Kyle Blanks LF
Scott Hairston CF
Will Venable RF

Chris Young
Kevin Correia
Jon Garland
Clayton Richard
Mat Latos
Wade LeBlanc
Tim Stauffer
Edward Mujica
Cesar Carrillo
Cesar Ramos

This is still a rebuilding team. But Adrian Gonzalez will keep 'em coming to the ballpark, as will heir apparent Kyle Blanks. Chase Headley will continue to grow as well. The big question here, of course, is whether the Friars will hold on to Gonzalez or trade him for prospects who can replace the aging placeholders in the lineup.

San Diego signed NL West Yorvit Torrealba as the backup catcher. Scott Hairston's brother Jerry is slated to be the utility infielder. And Tony Gwynn, Jr. will once again try to earn a reserve spot on the team that made his dad famous.

There are glimmers of hope in the Padres rotation. Young talents like Clayton Richard, Mat Latos, and Wade LeBlanc look to join steady veterans like Chris Young and Jon Garland. Of course, playing in the best pitchers' park in the league will certainly help their numbers, if not their development.

Heath Bell returns as one of the best closers in the game. He has to be, because he doesn't have much in the way of help. Bell is another player whose time may be short in San Diego; I'm sure many are suprised that he hasn't been traded yet.

San Francisco Giants

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Aaron Rowand CF
Edgar Renteria SS
Pablo Sandoval 3B
Bengie Molina C
Aubrey Huff 1B
Mark DeRosa LF
Freddy Sanchez 2B
Nate Schierholtz RF

Tim Lincecum
Matt Cain
Barry Zito
Jonathan Sanchez
Madison Bumgarner
Joe Martinez

What do you get when you combine a lineup built for 2005 with a rotation built for 2012? A team that crashes back down to earth following a suprise run at the playoffs. So it goes with this year's Giants. San Francisco added Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff and brought back Bengie Molina. DeRosa is a great complementary player on a playoff team, and I'm sure that's why the Giants brought him in. But this probably isn't a playoff team. Meanwhile, Huff and Molina's offensive value has all but vanished with age, as has Sanchez and Rowand's (assuming Rowand had any to begin with). The saving grace of this lineup is Kung Fu Panda Sandoval.

Another saving grace of this team is catcher Buster Posey. In an ideal world, Bengie Molina is only keeping the tools of ignorance warm until Posey takes them over. Of course, this is far from an ideal world.

A Cy Young winner, another guy in the race, and one of the top pitching prospects in baseball - all under the age of 26. Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner again have their work cut out for them. They'll have help from guys like Jonathan Sanchez, but how much help the offense can give remains to be seen.

Brian Wilson returns as the Giants closer. He's joined by Jeremy Affeldt and a cast of young nobodies.