>The Vancouver Pornographers were able to make decent improvement from S1’s 76-win team to S2’s 82-win team, thanks largely to solid second-half play. Expectations are higher this season, however, as several young players will make their debuts at Nat Bailey Stadium for a Vancouver team that hopes to make a serious playoff push. Although several key veterans departed via trade and free agency, Vancouver is cautiously optimistic for season 3.
Vancouver has made several major lineup changes since opening day last season. Near the end of S2, Vancouver traded veteran first baseman Mike Higgins and All-Star center fielder Mateo Johnson to the Jackson Juggernauts for two pitchers and a third baseman, primarily to open up spots for younger players. More recently, four key players from the S2 team left via free agency: catcher Tommy Sowders, a defensively challenged prolific slugger who owns the franchise single-season home run record; shortstop Donaldo Sanchez, a defensive specialist; and infielder Adam Governale. Vancouver filled center field, first base, and shortstop internally and turned to the free agent market for a new catcher.
Leading off for Vancouver will be second-year third baseman Davey Borkowski (.303/.362/.489, 46 2B, 21 HR, 64 RBI, 106 RS). Borkowski is an excellent defender (S1 AAA Gold Glove), a versatile hitter, and a strong baserunner. Veteran right fielder Bill Reynolds (.316/.386/.561, 28 HR, 27 SB, 71 RBI) gives the Pornographers a potent 1-2 combination. A switch-hitter with a very balanced skill set, he has good power, speed, and patience.
Borkowski and Reynolds look to offer many RBI opportunities for highly-anticipated 22-year-old rookie Placido Benitez (.395/.475/.866, 56 HR, 154 RBI, 127 RS), a two-time AAA Most Valuable Player and All-Star. The first baseman dominated AAA over the last two seasons, posting an .396/.488/.851 line with 107 home runs, 319 RBI, and a 2:1 BB:K ratio in 230 games. Although somewhat limited defensively, coaches are confident that his exceptional bat will make up for any shortfall with the glove. Following Benitez in the cleanup spot is another rookie, 23-year-old center fielder Benito Espada (.365/.455/.609, 27 HR, 103 RBI, 130 RS). Espada also boasts two All-Star nods, and won a Silver Slugger and Rookie of the Year award last season. Scouts say he’s very strong defensively and a good contact hitter. The third rookie in the Vancouver lineup will hit fifth: shortstop Benito Velazquez (.355/.396/.702, 31 HR, 57 2B, 111 RBI), a two-time AAA All-Star and last season’s Silver Slugger. The 24-year-old Velazquez is an impatient but powerful hitter and a skilled defender.
At second base and the sixth lineup spot, two veterans will share playing time: Omar Fernandez (.286/.350/.427) and Manuel Granados (.305/.339/.451). Fernandez is a better defender but sometimes has trouble against RHP, while Granados is a more balanced hitter but weaker in the field. In left field and hitting seventh for Vancouver is second-year Juan Gomez (.332/.407/.616 AAA; .269/.331/.470 ML). A natural third baseman with a good glove, Gomez should be a dangerous hitter late in the lineup. At the bottom of the lineup is free agent catcher Dario Zhang (.246/.325/.313). A contact hitter with little power, Zhang is mostly on the team for his defense and turning over the lineup.
Vancouver’s bench has some flexibility offensively and defensively. Fernandez or Granados will be able to provide infield depth and a fairly good bat off the bench. Rich Post (.241/.328/.287) is a light-hitting speedster who could see some starts at center or second if he manages to push his OBP north of .350. Matthew Ward (.245/.299/.505, 37 HR, 88 RBI) signed a 2-year contract last year to be Vancouver’s slugger, but he’s been relegated to the bench for his poor performance. Warm bodies filling out the bench include Moe Randall (.307/.387/.456 AAA; .268/.339/.446 ML), with some power, little speed, and a mediocre glove; and backup catcher Luis Crespo (.238/.308/.341), a weak-hitting defensive specialist.
The most significant loss from Vancouver’s pitching staff was veteran starter Todd Gant, an 11-game winner last year and S1 All-Star. Overall, pitching does not look to be the Pornographers’ strength this season, although there are some interesting arms in the rotation and bullpen.
Gabe Lewis (224 IP, 9-14, 1.37 WHIP, 4.58 ERA) and Phil Herrera (217, 12-8, 1.18, 3.35) should be a potent 1-2 combination at the start of the rotation, but Vancouver has been unable to get simultaneous quality seasons from both right-handers. Both pitchers are still under 30, however, and the Pornographers remain hopeful that this is their year.
After Lewis and Herrera, the Pornographers will have to turn to a mixture of aging veterans and unproven youngsters. Of the former, 37-year-old Julio Gonzalez (187, 14-8, 1.26, 4.17) contributed a surprisingly effective season, but expectations are minimal for S3. At 38, Brian Witt (176, 9-13, 1.48, 5.47) is also a possible but unreliable contributor. Free agent Edgardo Mendoza (152, 15-8, 1.58, 5.27) was brought on as an insurance policy for these injury-prone vets.
Younger candidates include last year’s Rule 5 pick Art Douglas (80, 1.74, 5.94), midseason acquisition Aurelio Martin (142, 12-6, 1.44, 4.82 AAA), and up-and-coming rookie Bob Burch (98, 1.29, 4.58 AAA)
Relief ace Trevor Watkins, a S1 All-Star and S2 Fireman of the Year, will return as Vancouver’s closer. He’ll be supported by rubber-armed Ernest Barker (112, 1.60, 4.71), S1 free agent signing Darryl Carson (62, 1.46, 4.48), and S1 Rule 5 pick Archie LaRue (66, 1.65, 5.59).
5 Robin Stoops, 25, AAA (162, 15-6, 1.44, 4.87). Something of a long shot, but could be a major league contributor. ETA now
4 Earl Womack, 20, AAA (55, 1.24, 4.09 AA). A S2 trade acquisition, has a shot at being a decent long reliever or back-rotation starter. ETA 1-2 years
3 Frank Carver, 21, AAA (117, 1.25, 3.44 AAA). Lacks starter stamina, profiles as a solid setup man or long reliever. ETA 1 year
2 Benji Duncan, 25, AAA (30, 29/30 SV, 1.01, 2.64 AAA). While not quite a closer candidate, Duncan should be a quality setup man. ETA 1 year
1 Ozzie Sauveur, 19, LoA (56, 2-2, 1.46, 5.14 Rk). The 12th overall pick last season, Sauveur projects as a true ace. ETA 3+ years
5 Chris Tannehill, 20, AAA (.342/.430/.511, 16 HR, 87 RBI, 88 RS HiA/AA). Another trade acquisition; probably not good enough to take PT away from other CIFs in system. ETA 2-3 years
4 Carlos Benitez, 22, AAA (.285/.373/.496, 27 HR, 90 RBI, 85 RS AA). Better defender than hitter, but should be enough as a 4th OF. ETA 1-2 years
3 Luis Ortiz, 22, AA (.321/.410/.575, 32 HR, 135 RBI, 119 RS LoA). Quality hitter and good defense in right. ETA 2-3 years
2 Clarence Lloyd, 23, AAA (.308/.362/.561, 20 HR, 123 RBI, 109 RS AAA). Excellent defender and good hitter, but may not have a spot in the lineup. ETA 1 year
1 Bobby Jacquez, 21, AA (.338/.395/.595, 30 HR, 53 2B, 129 RBI, 123 RS HiA). Should be a serious contributor in the majors. ETA 1-2 years