>The Roughriders entered Season 10 trying to end a 5 year playoff drought by bringing in 3 key free agents to give the squad some veteran leadership and stabilize the pitching and defense. Ninety-two wins, a division title, and a first round bye later, the initial returns were very positive. A playoff ousting at the hands of eventual WS champ Jacksonville shows there is still plenty of work to be done in Season 11, and the expectations are now even higher on the prairie. On to the Season 11 preview!
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Fargo can hit. Once again, Fargo led the league in offense, scoring 1091 runs, almost 200 more than 2nd place Jacksonville. Career seasons by SS Kurt Lewis and C Max Amaro, along with more of the same from Rudy Simms, Larry Flores, and Mac Gray made for a solid lineup top to bottom. Newly acquired 3B Vinny Grainger and CF Danys Ortiz were mild disappointments in their initial season in Fargo, both are expected to rebound this year toward their career norms. This, along with the addition of future HOF catcher Paul Yoshii, should allow Fargo to continue to pound out runs in bunches.
1- 2B Danys Ortiz (34 years old)- Ortiz hit .284 in his first season in Fargo, scored 119 runs, and stole 22 bases. A few more walks (he had 55 for the season) and a .300 average are expected this season, as he transitions from CF to 2B.
2- 3B Vinny Grainger (32)- The prediction here last year was that Grainger could score and drive in 100 runs, which he did (102 runs, 101 RBI). That said, his .269/.347/.426 line left plenty of room for improvement; although his stellar D at 3B did not.
3- CF Kurt Lewis (28)- Lewis moved from CF to SS last season with outstanding results, he set career highs in runs (125), hits (187), doubles (49), HR (27), RBI (106) and OPS (.931), and probably should have been an MVP candidate. Lewis was rewarded with a 5 year deal in the offseason, and will be asked to move back to CF this year to solidify the OF D.
4- 1B Larry Flores (26)- Flores transitioned nicely to 1B for Fargo last season, hitting .343 while scoring and driving in 100 runs. A repeat of last season’s numbers seems to be a reasonable minimum expectation for Year 11.
5- DH Rudy Simms (29)- Rebounded from a somewhat disappointing season 9 with 35 HR, 120 RBI, and a 1.008 OPS. He joined Lewis in getting a 5 year extension this offseason, entering the prime of his career, he’s expected to produce several more 40 HR, 120 RBI seasons for Fargo.
6- LF Mac Gray (25)- Gray began Season 10 slowly, but hit his stride in June, pounding out 36 HR and 88 RBI in the season’s first 90 games. A season ending injury highlights the one thing standing between Gray and superstardom, his propensity for injury. If he can remain healthy enough to get in 500 AB’s, he could easily hit 50 HR and drive in 150 runs.
7- C Paul Yoshii (36)- Holdover C Max Amaro had a fine year, but when future HOF’er Yoshii became available, Fargo jumped at the chance. His defense may have slipped a bit, but his bat will play an important role in keeping the bottom part of the batting order rolling.
8- RF Rex Atkins (28)- Last season, the hope was that he could play solid RF defense and hit a few HR’s from the #8 spot. He delivered on all counts, hitting 31 HR, and very nearly winning the GG in RF as a rookie.
9- SS Bart Fiore (26)- A season after playing the super-utility role for Fargo, his potential Gold Glove will move into the starting SS spot. Anything he can give the team on offense will be a bonus.
The bench will be filled by well rounded CF Daniel Wheeler, slugging 1B/C Wilson May, C Max Amaro, and slugging OF Benito Johnson. With the acquisition of Yoshii, rumors that Amaro is on the trade block have surfaced, time will tell if they are true or not.
With the offense returning basically intact and the defense finishing in the top 5 of the league for the first time ever; the questions (as usual) in Fargo turn to the pitching staff.
Last season, the team spent over $35M to bring in KFBL star Felipe Matos to anchor its’ rotation. Matos did nothing to disappoint, helping to anchor a pitching staff that finished 9th in the league in ERA, following 9 seasons in the bottom half of this category. Several secondary members of the pitching staff moved on in the offseason, opening up spots for a few bright young rookies to fill. This means Fargo’s Opening Day pitching staff will be as follows:
SP1- Felipe Matos (39)- Last year, the hope was Matos would solidify the staff, and at best, potentially contend for the Cy Young. Matos was able to handle the pressure, finishing 17-6 with a 4.18 ERA, an All-Star berth, and a top 5 Cy Young finish. Fargo would be thrilled with a repeat of the same this season.
SP2- Luis Melendez (25)- Was a little over his head his rookie season as the de facto #1 SP; last season, he settled in nicely in the #2 spot, becoming the first Roughrider to ever win 20 games in a season, while striking out 175 batters.
SP3- Randall O’Keefe (28)- O’Keefe continues to be an enigma, he’s solid and durable, logging 38 starts last season, with a fine 1.36 WHIP, but his 4.81 ERA and 11-15 record leave something to be desired. A 15-5 type season is within reach if he can live up to his potential.
SP4- Juan Goya (23)- Last year’s #1 prospect moves into the spot vacated by departing FA Mac Goldstein. Where Goldstein was a filler, Goya is a potential dominating force. While not expected to be the teams ace this season, he will be counted on to learn from the veteran Matos, in hopes that he can step into the #1 spot when Matos retires in a season or two.
SP5- Larry Howard (25)- The 2nd of 4 rookies on this seasons staff, Howard will be asked to fill the spot starter/long reliever role that Chris Chang filled last year.
Closer- Willie Lee (30)- Former Boston closer Lee came over mid-season last year and filled in admirably as Fargo’s closer down the stretch. His acquisition has solidified the bullpen structure for season 11.
Setup- Norm Johnson (25), Lance Clark (27) and Travis Biddle (28)- the move to get Lee allowed Johnson to move to a high leverage SU role, where he excelled in the 2nd half of last season. Clark is a talented rookie, Biddle an able vet in his prime; they should do fine in the 7th/8th inning setting up Lee and Johnson.
Long Relief- Phillip Sanford (28), Pedro Crespo (28), Harry Witt (27)- Witt is a rookie with outstanding stuff, he will be complimented by Sanford and Crespo; who have both shown the ability to eat innings and keep the team in the game until the offense can score enough runs to win games.
With 1 top prospect graduating to the majors this season (Goya) and another (Sterns) dealt last season, the Fargo top ten minor league list has seen a few changes. Overall, the system still boasts a few top notch prospects as well as some decent depth:
1- LF Junior Kwon- The top hitting prospect in the system, he is on the fast track to the RF spot in Season 12.
2- SP Frank House- he will move up to AAA this season, leaving Goya’s side for the first time. He will likely rejoin his pal in the ML rotation a season from now, as a future #2 SP.
3- 1B Victor Carrasco- Carrasco put up very nice #’s for the AAA team, he is only waiting for a spot to play to begin a very solid ML career.
4- CF Edgardo Sivilla- His bat is almost ready, with another year of development, his glove could push Lewis to 2B or 3B as soon as Season 12.
5- LF Morrie Hall- Keeps improving as he progresses up the ladder, he could move Gray to 2B and join a Kwon/Sivilla/Hall OF in Season 12.
6- 2B- Sadie Washington- Last season, he looked like a decent future 2B. In retrospect, he should be a very good hitter at the ML level, and might create a logjam at 2B soon.
7- Victor Martin- With Lee blocking him at the ML level, he’ll have to settle for pairing with Johnson to form a rock solid setup tandem next season.
8- Harry Machado- solid young RF prospect, will hit for power and a decent average as a ML regular.
9- SS Luis Martinez- The future at SS for Fargo, great glove, adequate bat.
10- RP Carlos Romero- Lefty specialist could see ML time by Year 12.
As mentioned above, last year’s return to the top of the ultra-competitive AL North was a nice start, but further improvement is expected by everyone in the organization. While a World Series title might be overly aggressive, a return to the ALCS for the first time since season 3 will be the goal the team will be working toward.