Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: NL West

It's very, very early in the year to be talking about predictions for the 2007 MLB season, and there are still a lot of things for teams to work out before rosters are set and whatnot - position battles to be fought out in Spring Training, late signings, emerging rookies, a trade or two. Nevertheless, a substantial amount of the work has been done already this off-season, and we know the basic shape of each MLB team. As a result, it's time to make some ridiculously early pre-pre-season predictions.

Over the next six Mondays (leading up to the Twins first pitchers & catchers workout on Monday, Feb. 19), I'll be posting my predictions for each division in baseball, starting in the National League and culminating with the AL Central on February 12. Ten months from now, when my predictions have been proved to be woefully wrong, you can all make fun of me mercilessly. The actual predictions are at the bottom of this post, beneath the capsule summaries of each team.

Here's the schedule for the posts:

January 8 - NL West
January 15 - NL East
January 22 - NL Central
January 29 - AL West
February 5 - AL East
February 12 - AL Central

And now - the Main Event:

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected Rotation
1.) Brandon Webb
2.) Randy Johnson
3.) Livan Hernandez
4.) Doug Davis
5.) Edgar Gonzalez

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Jose Valverde
2.) Brandon Medders
3.) Brandon Lyon
4.) Jorge Julio
5.) Juan Cruz

Position Players
C - Chris Snyder
1B - Conor Jackson
2B - Orlando Hudson
3B - Chad Tracy
SS - Steven Drew
LF - Scott Hairston / Jeff DaVanon
CF - Eric Byrnes
RF - Carlos Quentin

Of course, the Randy Johnson trade is the big splash of the moment for the Diamondbacks, but the addition of Doug Davis in exchange for catcher Johnny Estrada bolstered their pitching staff earlier this winter. The starting pitching is now potentially very good, with Cy Young winner Brandon Webb at the top of the rotation along with Johnson, and two solid second-tier starters in Livan Hernandez and Davis. The bullpen is nothing more than ok - Valverde will need to do better than his 5.84 ERA from last season if he wants to keep the closer job.

As for the lineup - there are some exciting players, such as Steven Drew and Conor Jackson who will play everyday, but it's a young lineup that will probably struggle significantly at times. If the pitching delivers, this team has an excellent shot to go for 86-88 wins, and in this division that makes them a serious contender.

Colorado Rockies
Projected Rotation
1.) Jeff Francis
2.) Aaron Cook
3.) Josh Fogg
4.) Byung-Hyun Kim
5.) Taylor Buchholz

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Brian Fuentes
2.) Jeremy Affeldt
3.) Ramon Ramirez
4.) LaTroy Hawkins
5.) Manny Corpas

Position Players
C - Yorvit Torrealba / Chris Iannetta
1B - Todd Helton
2B - Jamey Carroll
3B - Garrett Atkins
SS - Clint Barmes / Troy Tulowitzki / Kaz Matsui
LF - Matt Holliday
CF - Willy Taveras
RF - Brad Hawpe

The Rockies could look a bit different when the start of the season rolls around, as 1B Todd Helton is rumoured to be on the trading block. Whether or not the Rockies pull the string and deal their biggest superstar will depend on whether anyone is willing to take the majority of his prodigious salary, and if the Rox can get a decent return on him. There are some very exciting young players on this roster, including All-Star Matt Holliday and 3B Garrett Atkins - if nothing else, the Rockies should be fun to watch.

Trading away ace Jason Jennings gave the Rockies a couple of young pitchers in Buchholz and Jason Hirsh, but for now expect only one of them in the rotation. By the end of the season, that will probably not be the case - Byung-Hyun Kim is not exactly a reliable starter, and there should be opportunities for youth to come up.

The bullpen is a concern. Brian Fuentes is an All-Star closer, but after him the Rockies will be relying on LaTroy Hawkins and Jeremy Affeldt - and that could be dangerous. If they can find a bridge from the starters to Fuentes, though, this team could win some ball games.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Rotation

1.) Jason Schmidt
2.) Derek Lowe
3.) Brad Penny
4.) Randy Wolf
5.) Chad Billingsley

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Takashi Saito
2.) Yhency Brazoban
3.) Joe Beimel
4.) Jonathan Broxton
5.) Elmer Dessens

Position Players
C - Russ Martin
1B - Nomar Garciaparra
2B - Jeff Kent
3B - Wilson Betemit
SS - Rafael Furcal
LF - Luis Gonzalez
CF - Juan Pierre
RF - Andre Ethier

The Dodgers made some significant additions this off-season, but they probably overspent on some players (*cough* Juan Pierre *cough*). Nevertheless, on paper they look like a formidable team that is likely to be at the top of the division when October rolls around. The starting rotation, led by Schmidt and Lowe, will be solid. If Randy Wolf returns to form, he could be a great signing.

The bullpen is very deep, but the question is whether Saito can maintain his closer position this year, or whether he'll be figured out by the league. Also, can the Dodgers avoid the pitching injuries that have plagued them in recent years?

The lineup could turn into a weakness quickly - Nomar, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez - none of these guys are spring chickens, and they will be expected to play significant roles for the Dodgers. If they start playing their age, then the Dodgers will be in big trouble. Juan Pierre should get on base and get a lot of steals, but he'll need someone behind him to drive him in. The Dodgers do have some exciting young outfielders who will be competing for playing time. If the youngsters contribute and Father Time plays nice, the Dodgers should be fine on offense.

San Diego Padres
Projected Rotation

1.) Jake Peavy
2.) Greg Maddux
3.) Chris Young
4.) Clay Hensley
5.) Mike Thompson / David Wells?

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Trevor Hoffman
2.) Scott Linebrink
3.) Cla Meredith
4.) Scott Cassidy
5.) Doug Brocail

Position Players
C - Josh Bard
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
2B - Marcus Giles
3B - Kevin Kouzmanoff
SS - Khalil Greene
LF - Termell Sledge
CF - Mike Cameron
RF - Brian Giles

If David Wells signs with the Padres, they will have a very solid mix of veterans (Maddux, Wells) and young studs (Peavy, Young) - and a rotation that can compete with any other in their division. The bullpen, led by Hoffman and Linebrink, is also a significant positive for the Padres. In other words, the Padres shouldn't have to worry too much about pitching. If they don't sign Wells, however, they will have a bit of a dubious back-end of their rotation - but what team doesn't?

The lineup should be solid, led by veterans Giles (both of them) and Cameron, as well as by the very exciting Adrian Gonzalez, who showed flashes of his great potential last season. They are relying on youngster Kouzmanoff to develop quickly into a Major League ready 3B, and the decision to have Termell Sledge as the starter in left field seems dubious at best and will probably be remedied before the season starts.

San Francisco Giants
Projected Rotation

1.) Barry Zito
2.) Matt Cain
3.) Matt Morris
4.) Noah Lowry
5.) Brad Hennessey

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Armando Benitez
2.) Tim Worrell
3.) Kevin Correia
4.) Vinnie Chulk
5.) Brian Wilson

Position Players
C - Bengie Molina
1B - Rich Aurilia / Ryan Klesko
2B - Ray Durham
3B - Pedro Feliz
SS - Omar Vizquel
LF - Barry Bonds
CF - Dave Roberts
RF - Randy Winn

So - let's get this straight. The Giants just spent $126 million on Zito . . . oh, wait, wrong story. Zito is here, and he's the ace of the staff now that Jason Schmidt is gone. Of course, that just means the Giants are treading water with the Zito signing, and maybe not quite - Schmidt is, or at least was, a better pitcher than Zito. Matt Cain and Noah Lowry are interesting young pitchers, and Morris is a solid veteran. The rotation is at least close to on par with the rest of the division.

The bullpen, however, is another story. Benitez is still a good closer, and Vinnie Chulk had an ok year last year. As for the rest of the bullpen . . . well, unless somebody steps up, this is going to be a weakness for the Giants.

Then, there are the position players, who . . . well . . . let's just say they're a wee bit long on experience. Ray Durham and Omar Vizquel had great years last year, but how much longer can they keep it up? And why, oh why, would you sign Rich Aurilia to be your starting first baseman - or, at best, to a platoon with Ryan Klesko. Ryan Klesko! Then there's Barry - and you just never know when he's finally going to fall apart. When he does, I don't think it's going to be pretty. I actually like the idea of giving Dave Roberts a chance to be a starting center fielder (most of the commentators seem to think this is a bad idea, and admittedly the guy is old and has always been a role player, but he deserves a shot). Ultimately, I'd be very concerned about age if I were a Giants fan.

1.) San Diego Padres - 91-71
2.) Los Angeles Dodgers - 89-73
3.) Arizona Diamondbacks - 86-76
4.) San Francisco Giants - 80-82
5.) Colorado Rockies - 78-84

The race is going to be close, but I think the Padres are going to sign Wells and get some great production out of Gonzalez and Kouzmanoff. I think this is going to be a great battle between the top three teams in this division, and honestly wouldn't be surprised to see any of them win the division. Ultimately, I just think the Padres pitching is going to be too strong for the competition.



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