Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tour of NL South: Little Rock Radioactive Reindeer

At a Glance
owner: eclipse33 - 36 seasons, .481 win %, 13 playoffs, 1 WS title (Columbus Crush, Gibson)
team history: eclipse33's 9th season at the helm, 2 division titles (seasons 10-11)
last season: 89-73, NL South Champions, Lost 3-2 in Divisional Play-In Round to Richmond
top hitter: LF Greg Quantrill, (.303, .409, .537, .946) (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS)
top starting pitcher: Eugene Nicholson (9-7, 1.30 WHIP, 4.00 ERA)

Notable Departures
J.P. Oropesa: The Reindeer return their nucleus remarkably intact from last season's division championship team - welcoming back every regular on the field and all but one member from last season's starting rotation: the veteran Oropesa. The 37 year-old righty made 32 starts for Little Rock last season, and compiled a respectable 8-5 record with a 4.43. The soft-tosser 10 wins short of an even 100 for his career remains in the FA pool looking for work after spending his last 7 seasons with the Reindeer.
Charles Zhang: The 22 year-old hard-throwing righty was a surprise omission from Little Rock's 40-man roster and was plucked with the 1st pick of the Rule V draft by the Boston Red Sox. Zhang, who seemed destined for a spot in the Reindeer Rotation, had a stellar season 11 in AA, compiling a sterling 14-6 record with a 2.65 ERA in 156 innings. Although stunned by his omission from the 40-man, Zhang welcomes an opportunity in the big leagues with Boston.

Notable Newcomers
None. The Reindeer were quiet in the offseason - making no trades and signing no notable free agents on the market other than resigning Quantrill to a 5-year 33 million dollar deal.

Prospect to Watch
Kevin Ellis: The 24 year-old righty is next in line to get the call to the Bigs. The number 1 overall selection in the season 6 amateur draft, Ellis harnesses sharp control and command of two plus pitches, a fastball and a slider. With his arsenal, Ellis should be a mainstay in a ML rotation, though some of the luster has come off the once can't-miss prospect.

There's a lot to be said for stability - and Little Rock screams it. The staff is anchored by its shutdown bullpen, headlined by the dynamite closer Don Davis. In the field, shortstop Hunter Hunt is nearing his prime and should lead a good though not great lineup surrounded by the likes of LF Quantrill, 2B Sherman Graham and slugging 1B Karim Almanza. This group will go as far as its starting pitching can carry it - and thereinlies the biggest question mark. Aside from Nicholson, the Reindeer lack strong complementary pieces. Tomas Concepcion is great in stretches, though he could hardly be counted on for more than 120 innings or so. Given the question marks in the rotation, signs point to another season between 80 and 88 wins.

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