2023 SL Preview

By | 2016-05-01

By Andrew Schupick, Montana Pandas GM

Brooklyn Dodgers
Projected Record: 29-79
Last Year’s Record: 24-84 (In the PL)

How the mighty have fallen. The once proud Brooklyn Dodgers performed the highest profile sell-off that the league has seen and has very little to show for it entering this year. While long-term they will likely be fine and return to their winning ways, this year is going to do nothing to change the now standard losing ways. Their offense should actually be okay with a few of their prospects making an impact and with Thom Wilcox getting moved to an easier league. If Bascombe can return to any kind of the player he used to be, scoring runs shouldn’t be an issue in some games. Preventing runs though is going to be the biggest problem this team faces and against the higher octane offense with Toledo and NoVa it could get very ugly.

The fans of the Dodgers are not going to have much to cheer for this year and they aren’t going to have anything to cheer for in the near future. It would be exceptionally unlikely for Brooklyn to not be in the automatic relegation position, as no other team looks like it is going to be even close to as weak and there are no good candidates for teams that will sell-off whatever assets they have to become worse than the Brooklyn Dodgers. This means that the team that brought you 11 consecutive trophies is going to then be one of the few teams to suffer the fate of double relegation. There is always 2025 Brooklyn Dodger fans.

Grafton Middies
Projected Record: 38-70
Last Year’s Record: 44-64

The #FreeScottyAnderson movement finally won and Scotty Anderson was unleashed on the SL last year. He did not disappoint by running away with the ROY honors and even making a run at MVP of the SL. His sophomore season is sure to impress, but unfortunately there isn’t going to be a lot else to cheer about for the Middies fans. Their GM is taking the long approach to the rebuild and has been doing a fine job of executing that plan, and even ratchetted it up a notch this winter by having one of their largest IFA hauls in years in not only quantity, but also quality of players signed. Their top prospects are still a little bit away from making an impact, but the ML team they have right now isn’t completely devoid of talent either. Resigning Jeff Hale was a huge win for them, and doing it on such a cheap contract was even more impressive.

The fans of the Middies shouldn’t be expecting too much. Not only is the team not very good, but the top half of the SL is particularly good this year with many strong teams. So while the team really isn’t that much worse than last year, repeating the win total for the team is going to be nearly impossible. The increased talent in the SL is going to make it a long year for the Middies. If everything does go right, it is not inconceivable that they could find themselves in the 7th spot at the end of the year to avoid playing in the relegation game, but it is definitely not the most expected result going into the season. On the flip side though, there is almost no chance that they are going to be worse than the Brooklyn Dodgers, so getting automatically relegated to the 3L would seem nearly impossible at this point. Weird things can happen though and you never want to assume anything is a forgone conclusion until the season ends.

Panama City Piranhas
Projected Record: 45-63
Last Year’s Record: 53-55

The Piranhas are the first of three teams that are about all the same, in terms of expected records, but are very different in how they will be achieving these records. PC is expected to achieve this middling record by having an older team that could surprise, but also could disappoint depending on where on the ageing curve the would end up falling. Perry, Talamante, Craig and Romaine are all starters for the team that are 30 or older and could make or break this team depending on how they perform. Der needs to have a bounce back year and Hayes needs to continue to crush SL pitching like h has in the past for this team to do well. The pitching is where things get really hairy though as the top 2 starters are very good, but past that things get very questionable, very fast. The bullpen is made up of players who have over performed their ratings, which could be the sign of regression candidates or an indication that they have incorrect ratings.

Fans of the Piranhas can actually have some positive thoughts going into this year. Last year ended with them actually coming on strong, and while they made no moves during the offseason, if players hit the right part of the aging curve the Piranhas could easily find themselves not in the relegation playoff picture and could be firmly in the middle of the SL. It is unlikely that they challenge for the playoffs this year, but another year in the SL could be huge for them and their finances. The SL’s most interesting team just might hang on for a bit longer, even if their hot tub is a little bit lonelier with Castro tearing everything up in his path in Chicago.

Chicago Hawks
Projected Record: 50-58
Last Year’s Record: 53-55

Chicago’s second team looks to move to the PL to create the ultimate battle of Chicago, but there is going to have to be some questions answered before they can book their ticket to the promised land. Their team is a tale of two cities when it comes to the offense and the pitching. The offense is stacked in the outfield with Roach, Gomez and Wadley, but their infield leaves a lot of question marks with Smith being old, Kluge being really young and a lot of mediocre up the middle. Bailey is a solid backstop though which firmly sets home that tale of two cities feel. The pitching staff is much the same way with the top of the rotation and the best of the bullpen being solid, but the back end of each being pretty questionable overall.

The fans of the Hawks are likely in for a rough season, sadly, because the holes they have are going to be made even more important by the fact there are many more complete teams in the SL this year that look to be ahead of them. The Hawks are far from a bad team, but many teams have less holes and have more depth in case of injuries or to make trades from. If the Hawks would completely empty out their farm system they may be able to make a move to be a fringe playoff contender, but the most likely result would still be falling short. On the positive side though is that sliding into the relegation playoffs also seems exceedingly unlikely as they have enough power that they should stay afloat. A bad rash of injuries to the wrong players though could sink this team.

Phoenix Hotspur
Projected Record: 50-58
Last Year’s Record: 26-82 (In the PL)

The Hotspur are the Wizarding of the SL, except they made a few moves this offseason in hopes of making their team stronger with a few less question marks. Everything still rides on the backs of their super prospects though and whether they are going to be able to overcome the weaker pitching staff that the club has to offer. Martinez, Perez, Padilla and Rehling are all young position players are are going to need to make a huge impact this year, but being rookies, this huge impact is obviously far from guaranteed. The starting pitching for the Hostpurs looks to be decent, but thin and the bullpen has a lot of question. It wasn’t the greatest against the PL competition, but against SL competition there is a lot of question about how much better it can be. The good thing for the hotspur is they added a few pieces in the offseason in hopes of balancing out some youth with some experience with adding Robles and Knight.

The fans of the Hotspurs are going to finally see the fruit of waiting so many years for the team to really have a strong future. While the team is still very young and there are more prospects that still will be coming through the system in the next few years, the first round of super prospects are finally going to be gracing the Arizona crowds with their presence. If everything goes right for this team then they could be a fringe playoff contender as they have a lot of unknowns, but the projected record for them assumes that they aren’t going to come out like Scotty Anderson did and that there might be a larger learning curve for the team. Either way, next year for this team is sure to be better than this year will be and it will likely be in the SL once again, which isn’t the worst thing for the team overall. Fans can rejoice that the long years of suffering are finally looking to come to an end and the Hotspurs might finally be headed to regaining their relevance.

Oakland Oaks
Projected Record: 57-51
Last Year’s Record: 72-36 (In the 3L)

Last year’s 3L champions are going to hope for a repeat of what they did last year in building a big early lead and then holding on from a hard charging Thunder Bay team to secure promotion and the ToC bid. This year is going to be a tricky one for the Oaks as they could be excellent, but also could fall short of expectations. The pitching staff is a solid collection of veterans and young players who burst onto the scene in the last few years. The largest question surrounding this part of the team is how Reyna is going to bounce back from his injury. He was by far the best pitcher on the Oakland team and one of the best in the 3L last year before going down. If he can return to that form in the SL, then the Oaks are going to be very strong, but if he slips, then it is a hit to the team. The offense is where the biggest concerns lie though as there is a weird collection of solid young guys and vets that overperformed expectations last year. With very few moves made during the offseason to answer these question it is something that could come back to haunt for the Oaks, or it could be a complete non-issue.

The fans of the Oaks are going to be flying into this season completely blind, because they are depending on a whole mess of players that have never seen anything but the 3L. This doesn’t mean the team is destined to not perform up to the highest standard, but it creates a very large question about what the ceiling and floor for a team is. This is a team that could easily win many more games than the projection, but winning less is also very possible, so the overall projection tends to be a bit more conservative. This team making a run at the playoffs though and even getting into the promotion playoff wouldn’t be surprising though and provides a lot of hope for the team. When you combine this with the fact that the minor leagues are stacked with future players and trade chips, the chance for the team to make a move if needed if there.

Thunder Bay Northern Lions
Projected Record: 60-48
Last Year’s Record: 68-40 (In the 3L)

Normally when you think of this team, you think of an old team, but the truth of the matter is that the Thunder Bay Northern Lions are actually a rather young team with a few older veterans to round out the roster. When you look at their team, you don’t see a lot of holes, but you also don’t see a lot of stars, with the exception of Smith who keeps getting injured. While this approach could work very well, it also provides a bit more of a question in a lot of people’s minds. Many think that you need tsars to win in the USBA, but other think that a good solid team can do just as well. Thunder Bay is testing this narrative by assembling a team that doesn’t have stars, but doesn’t have bad players either. They are likely to suffer from the same problems that Oakland does though in that they are going to be entering a new league and the question about how players will adjust to the harder competition will come front and center for this team.

The fans of the Northern Lions should be pretty excited, because their team could be a major force if everything clicks for them. This could be further submitted if David Smith plays even half a season for them, which has been pretty hard for him over the past couple of years. Smith is an otherworldly talent that sadly is made out of glass. He has played nearly full seasons before, so hoping that he can put it together this year might not be unreasonable. If all those good things do happen, then I would expect them to win enough games to make a playoff push, but banking on the health of David Smith might just be a bit too much for us to do right now in the preview.

Toledo Titans
Projected Record: 65-43
Last Year’s Record: 57-51

One of the most prolific trading GMs has made a return to the USBA and he wasted no time getting back into that habit by making 4 quick trades to attempt to improve a team that surprised many last years by hanging around in the playoff picture for nearly the whole season. While 1st and 2nd order wins say they were exceptionally lucky to be in that position, they were still not terrible either way. Adding Bowen, Dunn, Burns, Lee and Houston through trades should help solidify a team that did well last year into a serious playoff contender this year. There are still holes on the team with the starting pitching being very young and fairly inexperienced, the outfield being a whole bunch of questions and the bullpen starting to show their age, but those questions might also be mitigated by other factors. If West can stay healthy and Lee can reproduce his 4.0 WAR season from last year, then the outfield should be fine. It’s still a lot to be hoping for though and creates some serious question for the team.

Fans of the Titans should be pretty excited for the year though, because the most glaring needs from a team that did well last year were met and despite the lingering questions they now have a Gm who is not afraid to make some moves and get his teams into contention. The Titans have a fairly decent minor league system that can provide future talent or trade pieces if they want to win now. The only thing hamstringing the team right now is a lack of cap room. This lack of cap room might nudge the team into more of a win-now mindset and if that is true, then we could see some large trades from Reed. Either way, this is going to be a fun team to watch this year, and they are odds on favorites to nab that second promotion playoff spot.

New Amsterdam Republics
Projected Record: 70-38
Last Year’s Record; 61-47

If there is a more tortured fan base in all the USBA I don’t know who they are. New Amsterdam has been good, but not quite great enough for many years now. Last year’s 4th place finish was the first time in 4 years they have not been in the SL promotion playoffs and just added to the near misses that the team has suffered. While they made very few moves in the offseason, 1st and 2nd order wins say they should have been much better last year and their young pitchers get another year to mature and get better. It is also unlikely that Riley has another subpar year as he is still young and has a track record of pitching great. If you want to find a flaw with this team it would be the age of many of their players on the offensive side of the ball. Anderson, Sanu, Ingram, Maldanado and Munoz are all over 30, with many of those players actually approaching or surpassing 35 years old. While we can’t predict if this will be the year that some of them hit that magical USBA wall of age, it is a worry that the team will have to hold their breathe with the entire year.

The fans of the Republics are likely to suffer from another year that they are going to have to sweat out the promotion playoffs once again. This team should easily be in the playoff promotion, but if Northern Virginia performs up to what they are capable of, NA will likely not have quite enough to catch them. That doesn’t mean this is a bad team though and they are clearly a step above whoever is going to be finishing 3rd in the SL. Once the playoffs start though that is where NA will really have to try to shake off their demons from year’s past, but getting there is a lot of the battle. Hopefully father time can leave this team be for at least one more year so the Republics can get a taste of the elusive PL cake.

Northern Virginia Retrievers
Projected Record: 76-32
Last Year’s Record 62-47

NoVa was already a very competitive team and this offseason has only solidified that more with them answers whatever questions still lingered about their team with an emphatic exclamation point. They added former Boston Patriot great Chad Armstrong, international superstar Teruo Nakayama and added some nice pieces to make the team deeper in David Martinez and Francisco Ornelas. The last of these additions will come in handy if the Salazar brothers continue to have injury problems in the outfield. These additions only add to an already potent offense and a capable pitching staff that is deep, but not spectacular. The team is surprisingly young despite not having made any major trades for young players or going through a massive rebuild at any point. They are the picture of a franchise that has slowly improved year over year and climbed the ranks of the USBA. They are hoping to continue on Vancouver’s trajectory of doing the same thing.

Fans of NoVa should be pretty excited about this upcoming year. No team should really challenge them for the top spot, short of injuries ravaging the team. If there was a trade to be made, it would be for a starting pitcher to either fill in this year or to slot in in the future. This team is built to win right now and for the next 3-5 years. Once that time is up, there might be a vacuum, but considering the window will be open for that long, there isn’t much to worry about overall. Expect big things from this team, and an upset in the first round of the ToC’s would not be completely unreasonable to see.