Questions abound as the NL North enters its lucky 13th season in Capra. Does Tacoma successfully defend the division title and take its 4th straight pennant? Can Minnesota get over the 90-win hump for the first time since S8 (and will that be enough)? How long is the Ketchum Plan going to take to return the Yanks to annual hundred-win seasons? Will Toronto lose more games than it did last season (like it did the last 2 years), or will the Beavers give Walt Cashman a reason to celebrate in what could be the future Hall-of-Famer's last season?
We'll start finding out in 4 cycles. Which, by the way, is the over/under for cycles in Capra this year. I'm taking the under.
To take a look at these franchises, here are their projected opening-day starters based on depth charts provided by whatifsports.com. We compared them, position-by-position to see who's got the edge (and could have divisional bragging rights come September.) Players are listed from Minnesota, then New York, Tacoma, and Toronto, which is alphabetical by location.
Ugueth Cruz and Alex Brito are Minnesota's platoon because Brito flat-out can't hit left-handers. Hit 15 HRs as the starboard-swinger while managing a pretty decent pitching staff to a 4.47 ERA. Won S12 Gold Glove. Cruz is more of the all-around hitter but he's got pressure behind him at AAA to succeed; otherwise, he'll quickly be using his last option year.
Back-to-back 30-homer seasons are the highlight of the resume of Francisco Reyes. His pop is about all he's got, though, with a career .250 average and .312 on-base percentage.
Omar Camacho will get more games behind the plate this week than he's had in his career (2). Camacho's return to the NL North after Minnesota raised him from Low A to AAA in seasons 1 to 4 ought to turn some heads. The class of the catchers offensively, Camacho probably can rake .310/.390/.570 but it's anyone's guess what he'll do behind the dish.
Henry O'Neill doesn't really live up to his raw potential in the game. Seems like he ought to be able to hit for power and do pretty well against lefties, but for some reason the sim didn't like him much in seasons 11 or 12. He ought to rebound.
Rudy Lombardi is a good player. He's won Gold Gloves in both leagues and has won Silver Sluggers playing 3 different positions (though one was in the minors). Seems like he's due for something of a dropoff, but at least he's got a lofty position to glide gracefully from.
Trenidad Prieto is a remnant of the Woodchippers' championship clubs who was traded to Cleveland but came home this season. He's everything you'd want in a slugger, hitting for average (.315 career) and power (69 extra-base hits last year) while drawing walks. His only downside is doing the math on his Mexican birth certificate, first issued in Season -22.
Kazuhiro Matsui seems like he should be a catcher, but he's listed as the best overall first baseman for Typhoon. He's probably not the best option for the slot since a lot of meatheads can slug .450 and play first.
A very solid career is being carved out by Russ Russell at Rogers Centre. In 4 of his last 5 seasons, Russell has had over 30 doubles and hit over .290. He just had his best campaign last year, when he hit .345 with 41 doubles and 29 home runs.
Dmitri Stafford was a bit disappointing in his first full season in the big leagues.
At 23, he's got time to get better, but this former 11th-overall pick is going to have to get better if he is to keep playing every day.
Oddly enough, John Clayton was also an 11th-overall pick and he has turned out fine. He hits for average and power and is okay defensively.
AAA success hasn't yet translated for Patrick Martin either. Coming off the bench a lot in S12 for his bat, he didn't really deliver. Martin gets another chance this year, possibly in an expanded role since he's the only primary second baseman listed along with 5 other guys who can play there.
Hugh Brennan is a Baby Beaver who gives fans a reason to hope. Decent defensively, Brennan is a more well-rounded version of Clayton but with less pop. He's still got room to improve and could be more selective at the plate, but he's no slouch.
Advantage: New York
Seems like Don Wilson is average in almost everything. All his defensive ratings are close to ML average, and his blue numbers are about as vanilla as it gets. So, what's he do? About average for a third baseman. He's right around .300/.340/.460 career (only a season's worth of ABs over 2 seasons) and steals some bases.
Buzz Lewis doesn't have a lot of experience, either. He starred at Rookie, High A, and AA before 160 at-bats in AAA and a baptism by fire this season in The Show. He did get some valuable experience on the way and did hit quite a few doubles and some homers. But this 23-year-old ought to improve as he becomes less raw.
The elder statesman third-sacker is consistent. Manny Jenkins hit .313 with 103 RBI...each of the last two seasons. Weird. He's also got a total of 62 doubles and 59 home runs in that span.
Cesar Torres is there to crush baseballs, and so he does. He'll strike out almost as often as he hits, but he's also very likely to give pitchers whiplash following his tape-measure shots out of the dome.
A.J. Daniels is a decent fielder with obvious pop, but he can't get his average to .250 in a world that's predominantly right-handed. He also strikes out too much, but that's acceptable when a player at an important defensive position can club 49 home runs and 100 RBI hitting mostly in the 6, 7, and 8 spots.
Duke Rooney isn't the prototype shortstop, but he's the kind of prospect that results from a team that picked 32nd for the better part of a decade. He's still got time to prove himself.
I obviously don't understand how ratings work, since Wesley Smith currently is below ML guidelines in his glove, arm, and accuracy. He's also got ratings in the 60s on two vital blue categories, but somehow he rates as a 93 according to scouts. This seems like a high overall rating, but there's no doubting that Smith is special and a five-tool player. Oh, and he plays every day, too.
Julio Martin is above-average defensively and has both a Gold Glove and All-Star Game MVP in his trophy case from S9. He's also got a thunder stick: 208 round-trippers in his 5 full ML seasons. Too bad he's not picky about what he swings at.
Brad Smith is another highly-touted prospect that didn't pay dividends in his first season. He lost his starting spot about two-thirds the way through the season, but it's basically his to lose versus Ringo Weston, who's been asked to learn a fourth position (he probably won't get 500 games under his belt in left like the other three, though). It says something about Smith when .293 in 151 games is a disappointment, though.
It seems like Edgar Sierra is underachieving. His performance in S12 gave him about the same number of hits, doubles, and home runs but in 100 fewer ABs, which is technically a step in the right direction.
Claude Long is a masher. If the last 8 seasons mean anything, he'll hit 40 HR, drive in 100, score 100, and hit .300. He's making a very strong case for enshrinement, but he's only 28. Which leads us to...
The man, the legend, Walt Cashman. He's anxious to show he's still got something left in the tank. But, he struck out a (tied) career high 65 times and had career lows in games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, walks, stolen bases, OBP, SLG, and even caught stealing. That's almost every offensive category.
Doc Munson had his best all-around season in S12, with just 6 errors and a great stat line for a tablesetter. His downside was and always has been his lack of range.
Jose Trevino is another Yank prospect who hasn't had enough time yet for the sim to realize he can hit. But, he still brought speed on the basepaths and in center to the club while it waits for a return on its investment.
Carl Herndon has had ups and downs in his 8 ML seasons. Regardless, it seems like he can get on base at a decent clip and hit for an acceptable average. He's shown he can hit .300 but he hasn't shown he can play center.
Alex Beck has also been inconsistent in his big-league career and hasn't simmed as well as he should. Beck raised his average 33 points over two seasons ago, but that still only brought him to .267. He's very good when he's on, and he was on last year, but nobody can find the circuit breaker to control the switch.
Santos Flores had his best season last year. He played every day and traded in a few of his stolen bases for more home runs, which equated to his first 30/30 season. He also plugged 50 doubles hitting in front of Lombardi, who helped him score 100 runs for the 5th straight season.
Tomas Pena was a huge international prize for Cleveland and is now yet another good prospect learning the ropes at the bigs for the Yanks. Hit 24 homers and 38 doubles in his first full season.
Geraldo Picasso is making the club for the first time out of camp. He can hit doubles for sure, but he's the least proven player who projects to start for an NL North team.
Juan Valentin looks like the mold they made Flores out of. Doubles, triples, homers, stolen bases, average, you name it. On the downside, he just had the worst year of his career. I can't figure out why.
Aces: Yamakazi, Grace, Oliver, Neal. Old as he is, Yamakazi still has skill.
Stud Seconds: Garciaparra, Fordham, Milton, Chang. “Hey, we've got Cy Young winners here!”
Thrilling Thirds: Grim, Shaw, McGowan, Linebrink. A bunch of newbies and the Grim Reaper.
Fair Fourths: Barrios, McCartney, Wallace, Holt. Hard to judge except for Barrios, and he's shown he can pitch.
Final Fifths: Martin, Flores, Wood, Lopez. It's amazing that Martin's Tacoma's worst starter, but it might be true.
Bullpens: New York, Minnesota, Toronto, Tacoma
Here's the final count.
New York: 2
Gents, we have our work cut out for us if we are to overcome Tacoma. They've got advantages over all of us put together in eight of fourteen important categories. Break up the Typhoon!