A scan of the numbers says about what you’d expect of a 71-win team playing in a park that kills most bats. It’s 666 runs were the worst of any Frick League team not in Vancouver, and it’s 4.73 ERA and 845 runs allowed were a bit more respectable, but nearly still bottom-third.
In other words, this is a team with a big upside…or at least a long way to go.
THE BATS: INFIELD
Of course, part of the problem with looking at last year’s numbers is that they wind up discounting the arrival of Yunosuke Terada, a 23-year-old who broke on the scene and blasted 31 homers in 74 games before losing the rest of the season with a torn calf muscle. If he plays the rest of the season, you can add another 30 homers to the Spud register and a Gillstrom to the trophy case. He’s back at first base this year (where his glove is also Diamond quality, and he’s looking healthy.
Second base will likely be Dave Wilfer, who at 33 is going to have to prove his last two seasons aren’t the oracle saying “seriously, Dude, you’re done.” He’s a fan fave, though, and he came on a cheap 1-season deal. And the Spuds have 24-year-old LHB George Helton looking ready to play, too. Don’t be shocked if we see a platoon system there, and a platoon that could be at least serviceable if you squint hard enough. We also wonder if ex-Nine prospect Tony Loftis might take over for Dave Dave Wilfer Wilfer on the short side of the platoon before the year is over.
Hector Flores or Shu-yaan Goei will roam the shortstop slot. They’re essentially the same guy—hoovers in the field and automatic outs at the plate. If there’s ever a ballpark these guys don’t want to play in, F. Nephi Grigg Memorial Stadium is it. They are both, however, pitcher’s best friends.
25-year-old Pedro Nava will be at third. He can hit lefties a little, but he’s already struggling in the spring.
Young catcher Claudio Perez had a tough 64-game debut at the plate but a solid one behind it. He should be better in 2037, and if he is that will raise the spirits in the stands a bit. Look for him to provide a little more power this year. A similar story can be told about 23-year-old Jose Rivera, who got 130 games with Boise as a 21 year old in 2035 and another 29 games last year, but seemed to prove he couldn’t really hit or field. It’s hard to say his .226 career average is due to competence, the park, or being rushed to the bigs too fast. Answering these kinds of things is the task set before Big Al this season.
Overall, the infield is less-than-inspiring, though Godzilla is prime beef, and either shortstop can play defense with the elite. If Perez of Rivera can hit behind the plate, that would be a plus. But a lot of the rating of this infield probably depends on whether the crew at second base can provide above average offense, which we’re guessing is a “no,” but we’re not betting the house. It feels like a stop-gap
THE BATS: OUTFIELD/DH:
The big buzz around the team is focused on last year’s #1 overall pick, center fielder Dennis French. Will he make the jump from A-ball to the bigs, or will be he returned to the minors. It looks like he can handle to position defensively, and his spring performance says he can probably play with the bat, though it’s got a little way to go. He’s clearly the center fielder of the future in Boise, and that future is not far away, no matter what. The club is already arranging PR in the form of a youth group named the “French Fries” to be seated in the center field bleachers.
Then, of course, comes the semi-controversial signing of Carlos Gonzalez to play, most likely, right field. Some pundits have noted that CarGo might find time in center, and that this could be a bit of a disaster. But teams do what they need to do in the interim, and the bat is so good that we don’t see any Hindenburgs happening. Cargo was pricey, but the deal is relatively short, and front loaded. And there’s no question the team needed left-handed bats to be able to play on the road. At 32, he’s coming off a 4.2 WAR season. We like him a lot.
In left, Ken Gerhart III is one of those up and down guys. He’s defensively reasonable. If the team get’s one of his 2.5 WAR seasons, that’s good. If they get a replacement season, well…that’s not so good.
RHB Carlos Munoz filled in for Godzilla last season, and did a solid enough job, drilling 20 homers and registering 1.9 WAR in 77 games. We suspect he’ll be the team’s DH, and he’ll be a solid one.
Bottom line here is that the addition of Gonzalez, and the pending arrival of French are major plusses for the Spuds. With Munoz getting a full season, you could see a major bump in the Boise offensive production.
SLINGING THE HOT POTATO: ROTATION
Big Al would certainly like 2035 first round pick Pancho German to be ready, but then, we all want things we can’t have. This means the team’s #1/#2 are probably Marcos Sanchez and Chris Rios, guys who are probably solid #3 kinds of arms (though Sanchez is only 22, and could still come on). Jorge Baez (26) had a solid enough year, though he walks over 6 a game, so one has to worry about him outside the Tater grounds. That said, he’s got the San Fernando vibe all over him, and that vibe has worked before. At 30, Maxence Mace has never really managed to be what folks wanted him to be. He had a solid season last year (14-13, 3.95) while throwing 255 innings. Is he a late bloomer? 34 year-old Jorge Ortiz comes over from Valencia to lend some more veteran presence. I like that signing for Boise because he’s a solid back of the rotation guy, and maybe he can teach Baez how to find the plate.
The bottom line is that this looks more like your basic serviceable staff than it does a real playoff contender—though in this park, it could be good enough. It’s a rotation that keeps the ball on the ground and mostly in the park. If the Spud’s defense was major-league elite, this would thrill me more.
SLINGING THE HOT POTATO: BULLPEN
I think there’s some reason to get excited about the Boise bullpen. You can find five or six pretty good arms down there, and most of them are really quite young.
Lefty Bill Piddock returns to the closer role. At age 23, he’s a two-season veteran who registered 25 saves last season. Put him on a winning team and that goes up. Antonio Sanchez (22) and Dave Walsh (20) look like they should be able to hold their own as a righty-lefty combo, and they combine with RHP veteran Caleb Benavides to give the team four semi-reliable guys. If Tomas Chavez (22) can return from a torn labrum, you’ve got a little talent back there.
Beyond that, however, the cupboard is bare. That goes for the minors, too, where the team is waiting with crossed fingers that 18 year-old Naomichi Harada is as good as advertised.
The good news for the team is that most of its talent on the mound is young, so that means it should continue to get better as time marches on. Right now, things look, well, okay.
MASHING THE SPUDS
When you put it all together, you can see why people get confused. Assuming injuries don’t devastate the Spuds, the team certainly will be “better” than it was last year. The addition of Gonzalez, a full season of Godzilla would have to pretty much ensure that. Add in French, whenever that happens, and you’ve got a triad of new blood that is all prime quality. Beyond that, the Spuds are young, and young teams should just grow naturally. If these guys do what their peak projections say they can, that’s maybe a 10-12 win bump.
But, even counting the growth of youth, the pitching is just so-so and the ballpark con go only so far in masking that fact.
Finally, we come to that 71-win total. Yes, the Spuds should get better, but was 71-wins real? Or did they just happen to stumble on a division that was worse than bad and pick up a few extra wins that way? (Add standard disclaimers here, your mileage may vary, check with local dealers for availability near you). The bottom line is that I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. We’ll see what Big Al can fry up.
I’m going to plant my flag on 75 wins, though. Things are never as easy as they seem.