23 Questions to Be Answered During 2023 American Association Season – Part 3
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier provides Part 3 of his 23 questions that will be answered during the 2023 American Association season, looking at the final seven questions today, including who will win the Miles Wolff Cup?.
Time to Answer the Big Questions of Life
We have answered the first 16 questions of this series, providing some insights on what the 2023 American Association season is going to look like. In Part 1, we focused on a lot of questions related to individual efforts, while Part 2 focused more on a lot of team related questions.
Now it is time for the final part, answering the big questions for the American Association this season. That includes who will win the MVP and who will win the Miles Wolff Cup. So, it is time to dive into the final seven.
Who Has the Top Bullpen Entering the Season?
When a team has the top reliever in the league from last season returning, you have to feel pretty good about that group, so the RedHawks have the ninth nailed down as Alex DuBord returns after recording 23 saves last season. However, the rest of this bullpen is a work in progress. Lincoln and Chicago should both be very good but have a few question marks.
The one team that looks incredibly formidable in their bullpen is the Milwaukee Milkmen. They lost last year’s closer to Mexico (Rodrigo Benoit) but reacquired the closer from two seasons ago (Nate Hadley). One of the great benefits of this club is that they have players who clearly understand their roles, which means that most will know when they are going to come in each night. They have a group that is definitely going to make most nights a six inning game.
How Will the Loss of Matt Pobereyko Affect the Sioux City Explorers?
This is a tough call. The passing of right-hander Matt Pobereyko was a shocker to say the least, and there is no doubt that many will call upon the memory of Matt as inspiration for this season. However, it is very difficult to determine how players and coaches will respond when they go out on the field and start recalling moments where they were talking with Matt in the dugout or remembering something funny he said during batting practice.
It is very hard to say how this team is going to respond, even for those who were not part of the Explorers in any of the last three seasons. Pobereyko was almost bigger than life, and it will be a big story this season to see how the club responds to the loss of a dear friend and teammate.
Who Will Be the Top Pitcher?
Last season, fans saw a couple of rookies really make their mark on the league as Kane County Cougars right-handers Westin Muir and Jack Fox had outstanding seasons, and it will not be surprising to see both reach the 10 win mark this year. Kevin McGovern can always be relied upon for 10 or 11 victories, and teammate Tyler Grauer should have another 10+ win season. Luis Ramirez looked great for three months for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, but struggled in August. Look for him to have a big year.
These are just a few of the names, and demonstrate that there is a dearth of pitching talent in the league. It is hard to make a prediction about who will be the best pitcher before the season even gets underway, but we go out on a limb here. This year the top pitcher is going to be Cleburne Railroaders right-hander Kevin Hilton.
Hilton finished last season 10-3 with a 5.47 ERA, allowing 118 hits in 107.0 innings. It was his fifth season of professional baseball, with most of his time spent in the American Association. It was also the most victories he had ever earned in a season. Those statistics may not sound very impressive, but a couple of factors need to be considered. It was a stretch of four starts between July 5-26 that ballooned the right-hander’s ERA, as he gave up 30 runs in 18.1 innings. After the final start of that stretch (July 26), Hilton allowed just 11 runs in his final 42.1 innings. That is the Hilton that American Association fans are going to see in 2023, as he finishes as the top pitcher in the league.
Who Will Win Manager of the Year?
This is a tough call, because there are 12 very good managers in the American Association. A number of factors come into play as well, as some will vote solely on the performance on the field, while others consider the job the Skipper does in player procurement as well. Plus, one has to consider signings, injuries, transfers, and much more. There are a lot of factors that are going to influence voters.
With that being said, the 2023 Manager of the Year is going to be Railroaders Skipper Logan Watkins. Get ready, because you were going to see a theme with this.
The Railroaders went 3-15 to start last season, nearly putting them out of the playoff picture altogether. The club was 6-24 at one point, as Watkins was trying to find the right formula to turn his team around. It was his first off-season in building the club himself, and there were clearly some growing pains, but he did an amazing job from July 1 on, making this the hottest team in the American Association entering the playoffs, and they nearly advanced to the championship series.
This year, Watkins has been making a number of incredible moves. This is a team that is going to make a lot of noise in the East Division, and it is going to earn Watkins the honor of being the league’s top manager.
Who Will Be the American Association MVP?
Let’s continue on with the theme here. The MVP of the 2023 season is going to be Cleburne Railroaders infielder José Sermo.
While there have been a number of incredible signings during the off-season, the two biggest were the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks signing outfielder Dillon Thomas and the Railroaders bringing in Sermo. He is a former MVP (2018) and has put up some huge numbers despite not having any protection behind them. In fact, in 2021, Sermo clubbed 29 homers in 91 games, 13 more than the player with the second most home runs, and his total topped the combined total of the second and third place players on the club.
In this Cleburne lineup, Sermo was going to have the best season of his career. He has a lot of protection around him, and it will not be surprising to see Sermo challenge the home run mark set by Adam Brett Walker two seasons ago.
How Will the Teams Finish in the Divisions?
While my track record for calling who will win the championship has not been great, I must say that I have been right on where 10 of the 12 teams would finish in each of the last two seasons. So, with that lack of modesty, here is how the clubs will finish in 2023, starting with the West division:
- Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks
- Kansas City Monarchs
- Lincoln Saltdogs
- Sioux City Explorers
- Winnipeg Goldeyes
- Sioux Falls Canaries
- Cleburne Railroaders
- Milwaukee Milkmen
- Kane County Cougars
- Lake Country DockHounds
- Gary SouthShore RailCats
- Chicago Dogs
Who Will Win the Miles Wolff Cup?
Instead of just giving you the winner of the Miles Wolff Cup in 2023, I will break down each playoff series, telling you how I expect the entire playoffs to go.
We start in the West. Expect Fargo-Moorhead to choose to play Lincoln in the first round of the playoffs, sending Kansas City to face archrival Sioux City. The RedHawks will win that series in two, and the Explorers will advance to take on Fargo-Moorhead after knocking off Kansas City in three. There, the RedHawks will win in three to advance to the championship series.
In the East, Cleburne will roll over Lake Country, winning both contests. Milwaukee and Kane County will need three games before the Cougars advance. Then it will be a replay of last year’s division semifinals, and the Railroaders will win again, advancing to the championship series.
This will be a battle of two teams that will enter the playoffs with concerns about their bullpens, and that will be the Achilles’ heel for both in this series. However, it will be the starting rotation of the RedHawks that will be the difference, as Fargo-Moorhead wins the championship in the fifth game for the second year in a row, and at Newman Outdoor Field again.
By Robert Pannier