After seventeen long and frustrating seasons, the Anteaters punched their first championship card in Capra's most recent World Series by sweeping the Monterrey Campeones. Can they return to the big stage and repeat as champs in S19? Here's a breakdown:
Catcher: This has long been a one course meal for the 'Eaters: all stick or all glove. Last year's combo of leather man Alfredo Gonzalez and bat man Vernon Valdes formed the strongest tandem Anheim has seen behind the plate since the team's early days when All-Star Oleg Miller served as Kip White's clean up man. Not only do Gonzalez and Valdes return this season, but they'll be pushed by a rookie bopper named Bernie Tavarez. Tavarez won't win any gold gloves, but might not have any room for them on his mantle anyways due to a possible bulge of Silver Slugger awards.
First Base: The Franchise, Ismael Maduro is entering his prime at 28. Shame he missed half of last season with a bulging disk in his back. His .350/.470/.620 line would have looked nice stretched across 600 at bats. Maybe in S19.
Second Base: Long a dead spot in the lineup, last season's trade prize of Paul Feng went as well as hoped for. Feng knocked 15, swiped 30+ bases, and earned his 3rd All-Star appearance. The 31 year-old has two more years under contract.
Third Base: Anaheim has done well the last couple of seasons in acquiring veteran shortstops and converting them to third. Danny Carlson won two Gold Gloves and earned an All-Star trip across seasons 16 and 17. Last year it was veteran Julio Martin with 39 knocks and the Gold Glove trophy. This round will see two international youngsters battling for the hot corner: Al Mendoza and Rafael Izqueirdo. The wild card in the lineup.
Shortstop: Backup glove John Morrison finally got his turn last season and won the Gold Glove. But now he's asking for arb money, and the franchise has his leather equal waiting in the wings in young speedster Rico Benitez.
Left Field: Former MVP and three-time All-Star Alfredo Flores is still just 28.
Center Field: Another 28 year-old, Roosevelt Hensley has won two Gold Gloves in center and is averaging 60 stolen bases per.
Right Field: The Captain of the team, Al Perez has been a 20-20 man for all nine seasons of his career.
Bench: Al Cedeno has lost a step at the hot corner and will be relegated to backup corner outfielder. Anthony Clinton can pinch run, back up Feng at second, and slide into left field when needed. Kennie Hamlin will continue to serve as leather insurance @ SS and CF, so long as he doesn't have to bat.
Rotation: Maybe the strongest unit of the Anteaters. Vasco Almonte(18-7, 2.40) won his second Cy Young last season, barely edging Jose Sosa(19-7, 2.65) in his pursuit of a second. Rafael Olivares(12-8, 3.24) is 34, but still collecting quality innings. Former 1st round draft pick Mitch Johnson(12-7, 3.14) is rounding into form at the steep age of 32. Clarence Richardson(6-5, 4.55) will try to nail down the fifth slot in his first full season.
Bullpen: Closer Sid Watson is aiming for his third straight Fireman of the Year plaque, but will be fighting off the advances of HBD aging @ 35. Set-up stud Julian Furcal is looking for a new home via the free agent market, so youngsters Orlando Bonilla and Preston Damon will try to climb into his shoes. Juan Mateo will continue his role as long relief/swingman.
In summary, very little change for the champs. The left side of the infield hosts a trio of unknown youngbloods. But the bigger challenge may be for this squad to stay healthy after a battery of injuries over the last couple seasons.