Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cleveland Rockstars Season Preview

Cleveland’s newest Major League baseball franchise starts the season with extremely high expectations. With two perennial cy young candidates in the rotation, and a lineup filled with young power hitters, the possibility of Cleveland’s first professional sports championship in generations has the city buzzing. Position by position, here is the outlook for Season One:

Catcher: Marco Sheldon at 22, is one of the best young hitters in baseball. In his third full year in the majors, Marco’s emergence allowed the Rockstars to trade Jerry Ryan for Lonny Vallarta, who is expected to put up unbelievable power numbers as well. Due to Marco’s lack of range and speed, he is expected to DH, since the presence of the best defensive catcher in baseball, Walt Wells, is behind the plate.

First Base: The last minute signing of 35 year old Enrique Trinidad gives the team an experienced, professional hitter who should still hit around .300 with decent power this year. This team is anxiously anticipating Mendy Shinjo’s progression to the major leagues, but feels he would benefit greatly from another year or two of dominating the minor leagues.

Second Base: This is Yorvit Aquino’s job to lose. A solid contact hitter, and valuable defensive talent, Yorvit was thought to have been the heir apparent at shortstop. However, the inability to sign or trade for a top second baseman has opened this position up for Aquino to firmly establish himself as a quality major league player. He’ll have to be, as help from the minors will not be there, and only role players are on the roster besides him.

Shorstop: Jose Manzinillo will be solid again at shortstop this season. A dynamic fielder who makes unbelievable throws from deep in the hole, Jose has worked on his base stealing, and hopes to steal more than 30 bases again this season. The challenge, with Jose has been to keep the off field distractions to a minimum. The further away he stays from Lindsey Lohan, the better. If not, Rule 5 signee Javier Pujols will step up from quality utility infielder and dugout cheerleader and assume the role.

Third Base: Cleveland said no to several unsolicited offers to Hersh Hartman in the offseason. The 26 year old team leader, and dominant power hitter, took countless ground balls in the offseason and is ready to add gold gloves to his impressive resume. 60 home runs plus is again the goal for this superstar.

Left Field: Lonny Vallarta was one of the major offseason acquisitions which Cleveland made with an eye on the championship, but also an eye on the long term future. Lonny, at 25 is a rookie who appears to be a left handed version of Hersh Hartman. A dangerous hitter against left handers, Lonny dominates right hand pitchers, and is one of the top strongest hitters in all of baseball. Having been an average minor league third baseman, Lonny should be a very good left fielder, and has the speed to be a dangerous base runner. Expect him to be amonst the league leaders in most offensive categories this season. He is backed up by veteran outfielder Randall Holiday, who is on a year deal, and is mostly known for his strong defensive play.

Center Field: The trade of closer prospect Billy Ray O’Donnell for 27 year old rookie Sammy Gomez caused shockwaves throughout the league. Sammy gives Cleveland a legitimate leadoff threat to steal 60 bases, and generally cause havoc on the basepaths in front of their plethora of power hitters. Sammy also has the range and glove to be one of the best center fielders in all of baseball. He is backed up by dangerous pinch runner and excellent defensive outfielder Andres Amezaga, if he is not traded prior to the season. He became expendable with the Gomez trade.

Right Field: Power Hitting prospect Garrett Henley was thought to have been the opening day starter, and likely will be the starter for most of the season. Garrett twisted his knee, but the injury is minor and only required 3 weeks on the sidelines. Power hitters Desi Perez, Junior Raines, and Jake Sullivan will jockey for the position with other utility men options in the interim. Rumor has it out of Cleveland they may make a move for a player, and opt to leave Henley in AAA for another season, but general manager david575 would not confirm nor deny those rumors.

Starting Pitching: Guillermo Salinas and Michael Browning lead this talented rotation. At 28 years old, Salinas is again challenging for the Cy Young and has grown into a leadership role in Cleveland. Browning, at 33, is still a dominant power pitcher who will also contend for the Cy Young and strikeout total, and has been thrilled to see his friend Salinas, whom he mentored, grow into a fellow ace. Free Agency steal Frank Waters, who at 29 brings his worm killing style of pitching and feisty demeanor into an infield stocked with exceptional gloves. 27 year old, highly sought after Donaldo Gutierrez should benefit from Walls exceptional pitch calling and blossom into a solid 4th or 5th starter. The 5th spot is wide open, being fought for by veteran Vinny Lee, top prospect Shane Cook, and a variety of minor leaguers who are trying to catch the attention of Rockstar coaches. At this point, it appears Lee has the edge.

Relief Pitching: Virgil Munoz is still 2 years away from being the next dominant closer in baseball, and Clevleand let two top relief man get away in free agency due to age and salary demands. Eric Hamlin and Jerry Becker are currently fighting for the closer role. Both are solid relief pitchers, while not exceptional. The loser likely becomes a solid setup man. Youngsters Hulk Sheldon and Russell Christenson are likely to make the team, and both figure to be part of a very good bullpen rotation for a long time. Free agent signing Curtis Hall has the tough demeanor of a closer and throws ground balls, but has been inconsistent against right handers and may be best served as a setup man or lefty specialist.
Overall: Cleveland should win at least 90 games, and challenge for the division championship. Finding the right combination of relief personnel, effective pitching out of the back end of the rotation, and solid play out of first base and right field makes could make this team the most dangerous in the league. Presuming they make the playoffs, Salinas, Browning and Waters are a strong enough 3 man rotation to win a championship. If the other pieces fall in place, this year may be the year of the Cleveland

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