Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Los Angeles Cherubs S3 Preview

The Cherubs are a riddle wrapped inside of an enigma, which is then tossed into the trash. Considered strong favorites in S1, they instead started slow but finished strong for a 75-87 second-place finish in the NL West. The club surprised many by starting S2 at a blistering 16-3 pace, but a lethargic offense doomed Los Angeles to finish 50-93 on the way toward a last-place finish. This season, fans and the media alike have no expectations for a somewhat improved Cherubs club that's likely a year away from contention.

LF John Lush appeared overmatched during most of his rookie campaign, notching a paltry .230/.308/.354 line, but management continues to view him as a potentially elite table-setter and future contender for a batting crown.

Underrated 2B Steve Kirwan led the Cherubs in OBP for the second straight season, at .356, and he'll be counted on to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense and step in as the leadoff man should Lush falter again. The steady Kirwan could be the team's lone All Star representative if the Cherubs start slow.

The Cherubs signed veteran Jorge Lee to pair with 1B Felix Hoffman, who has been unable to correct the hole in his swing versus right-handers. "It's a bit unorthodox and risky to expect two guys to contribute in the most important lineup spot, but we felt it was a low-cost, high-upside way to improve a glaring weakness," said GM travisg. "If it works, I'll look like a genius, and if it doesn't, my successor won't be on the hook for much money next season."

3B Craig Blake was somewhat miscast last season as a No. 3 hitter, but he still managed to hit .258/.322/.529 with 38 HR and 80 RBI. The team feels he can be even more productive from the cleanup spot, particularly if he gets more chances to face pitchers throwing from the stretch.

Rookies Dave Blackwell and Billy Jacome form the RF platoon that's expected to protect Blake in the lineup and improve RBI production from the No. 5 spot, which has seen a revolving door of declining veterans try their luck in each of the past two seasons. "Their development might be the key to our success, even more than the Hoffman-Lee battery," travisg said. "I'm excited to see what they can do there."

C Courtney Fox will bat sixth and provide steady stewardship for the pitching staff, but some scouts doubt his arm strength and ability to hit righties. If he falters, the Aussie journeyman Lloyd Thompson will be given a chance to claim the job.

The Mexican SS Carlos Palacios stepped in as the team's starter last season, after only 37 games at AA. He posted a respectable .273/.325/.403 line over 107 games, but durability issues forced him to bench for much of season's last two months. He'll be backed up by a pair of very raw Rule 5 pickups, Trevor Reed and Andres Tejada.

CF Jack Callaway didn't sign until the end of spring training last season, but he paced the Cherubs' fast start from the SS position and played a capable CF even as his bat cooled off at midseason. The decision to pick up his option was an easy one, and he could be signed to an extension if rookie backup Albert Torres struggles or is traded.

A question mark looms over the Los Angeles pitching staff, which is headed by steady veteran Les Mills and a pair of wild fireballers, Jose Martin and D'Angelo Marin. Journeyman Gabe Douglas was signed to provide more consistency than fan favorite Slick Friend, who was not resigned, and the club hopes Davey Ramos can repeat last season's 1.40 WHIP performance as the fifth starter. If anyone falters, ace-in-waiting Norm Ducey could get the call.

The bullpen is a mixed bag, with the unflappable Gary DiFelice closing out games and ably set up by Pedro Mantos, but the talented lefty Matty Lorenzo struggled mightily as a rookie and his relief mates lack his talent, if not his bloated ERA.

Top Prospects: (1) 3B Juan Gonzalez, 20, AA (2) RHP Norman Ducey, 23, AAA (3) OF Earle Wallace, 19, High A (4) LHP Matt Turner, 20, AA (5) LHP Dan Linak, 19, Low A (6) LF Charlie Kelly, 22, AAA (7) LF Pete Wise, 24, AAA (8) RHP Derrick Christensen, 23, AA (9) 3B Davy Beckett, 19, Low A (10) 2B Abdullah Sherman, 21, Low A

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