Parity Looks to Be the Word for the 2023 American Association Season
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 looks at how no manager looks like they have created a “superteam” for the 2023 season, quite likely making this the year of parity in the American Association.
They Were Who We Thought They Would Be
When the 2022 American Association season got underway it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Kansas City Monarchs were going to be the top team in the league with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks right behind. These two teams looked like they had clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack, and they lived up to expectations, as the Monarchs finished with the best record in the league, while Fargo-Moorhead finished with the second-best record and won the championship.
The year before, it seemed that Kansas City was the team to beat before spring training even got underway. They delivered, winning the championship while finishing with the top record (69-31).
Kansas City not only had the best record in the league last year, but set an American Association record for homeruns in a season (165) and finished first in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage, and ERA. The RedHawks were right behind them in many of those categories. It seemed like a foregone conclusion when the season began that one of these two teams was going to win the title.
Not So Fast in 2023
If you are a fan of great teams that blow the competition away, then the last two years definitely delivered. While the Milwaukee Milkmen gave the RedHawks everything they could handle in the championship series, few gave Milwaukee a chance to win that series when it began, and the Milkmen nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in American Association history.
What it meant was that several teams were fighting simply to say they made the playoffs. There is no denying that anything can happen once the postseason gets underway, but few gave teams like the Lincoln Saltdogs or the Cleburne Railroaders much of a chance to win it all.
That is not going to be the case in 2023. Realistically, all 12 teams have a chance of earning one of the eighth playoff spots, and it would not be surprising to see any one of those 12 make it to the championship series. This is definitely the year of parity in the league.
Go West Young Man
Let’s start in the West, the division where the last two American Association champions reside – the Kansas City Monarchs and Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. Fargo has the best chance of being the dominant team in this league, as of right now. They are going to have their two aces at the top of the rotation (Kevin McGovern and Tyler Grauer), and Peyton Wigginton and Davis Feldman will return as well. Both right-handers came out of the bullpen to become outstanding starters last year, and this should be the deepest rotation in the league.
The RedHawks return Leobaldo Pina, Sam Dexter, Manuel Boscan, and Evan Alexander but, at this point, the team still waits to see if John Silviano will return. They have reacquired Correlle Prime, who battled for the batting title two seasons ago, but the loss of Christian Correa may make this staff a little worse than they were a year ago. Correa was one of the best catchers in the league, and his retirement is a huge loss for this team.
The Sioux City Explorers will be going with a completely revamped lineup, and may have more power than we have seen in recent seasons thanks to Jake Sanford and Malek Bolin. However, this is going to be a completely revamped pitching staff, with only three or four, at most, returning from last year’s staff. One has to put some trust in Manager Steve Montgomery, who knows how to win, but it will be interesting to see how long it takes for this team to gel and for Montgomery and pitching coach Bobby Post to determine how the roles for the staff work out.
The Lincoln Saltdogs should do a much better job of reaching base this season. The trade for Will Kengor and the acquisition of Aaron Takacs should give the team two great table setters. However, they need a big bat in the middle of that lineup. The bullpen should be very good, always helping to keep a team in games. The return of Greg Minier would definitely boost the spirits of this club.
The Winnipeg Goldeyes are going to be one of the most interesting teams this season. With Greg Tagert returning to the American Association to take over the club, one should expect that this is going to be a highly motivated, fundamentally sound team. The team returns league MVP Max Murphy and has their ace from last year staff (Luis Ramirez) ready to rebound after a tough August. The bullpen looks very good, but this team is going to need to determine how the backend is going to materialize. Runs should be scored in Winnipeg. Now it is just a matter of whether the pitching staff can hold opponents down.
The Sioux Falls Canaries are one of the most interesting teams this off-season. Usually, by this point, Manager Mike Meyer has 22 or 23 of his players signed, leaving four or five openings for late releases from spring training. That was not the formula that Meyer used this year, as he is officially at 19 at the time this article was written. The outfield for this team is going to be spectacular and the addition of Jordan Barth and Trevor Achenbach should make this a formidable lineup. The bullpen also looks like it should be good, but the starting rotation is always the question mark in Sioux Falls. There are a lot of live arms here, but no one looks like a standout for this rotation…yet.
That leaves the Kansas City Monarchs, who are going to have a very different team than what fans have seen over the last two years. At this point, it looks like no more than 10 players will return from last year’s roster, and only Gio Brusa, who was acquired late in the season from Lake Country, was in last year’s starting lineup as well. Manager Joe Calfapietra has always found a way to build outstanding clubs, and no one should expect this team to be any different. However, this team is going to be different, at least from what fans have seen over the last two seasons. At this point, this team does not look like they are going to put up the same types of numbers that the club has recorded in recent history.
Is the East the Beast?
It looks like Fargo-Moorhead may have the best chance of winning the West Division. If one was a betting man or woman, it would probably be -300 that this team comes out as the division champions, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.
However, the East is an entirely different story. The Milwaukee Milkmen have built an outstanding club, acquiring Drew Ward from Fargo-Moorhead, and they re-signed Miguel Gomez, Bryan Torres, and Aaron Hill. They have also added Michael Crouse, Justin Williams, Reggie Pruitt, and Roy Morales, who may be the biggest acquisition of all. This pitching staff is solid, and the bullpen is going to be lights out. Morales has a reputation of getting the very best out of the pitching staff, so Milwaukee likely enters this season as the prohibitive favorites in the division (-300).
However, there are six very good teams in this East Division. No manager proved his worth more last season than Cleburne Railroaders skipper Logan Watkins. His team was 26 games under .500 at one point, but battled back to an even record and the final playoff spot in the East. They even made it to the second round of the playoffs, and look like they have the most formidable lineup in the league. The signing of José Sermo is a huge one, especially if he can deliver on his numbers from 2021 (.298, 29 HR, 86 RBI). The question for Cleburne will be their pitching staff, as their bullpen was very good last season, but it took the starters three months to get into form. Three months may be too long this year.
The Gary SouthShore RailCats are the most intriguing team in this division. Their former manager is with Winnipeg, but Lamarr Rogers is proving to be the real deal. He signed many of the same players that were on the team last year, sprinkling in a few huge bats that should make this team a consistent run producer. The bullpen wore down last year, and it is likely that Rogers has learned from his first year as the team’s skipper. The return of Adam Heidenfelder would clearly make this team a playoff contender.
The Chicago Dogs looked like they were on their way to the East Division crown, but a terrible August swoon left this team battling to hold the top spot. They were able to do that, but Manager Butch Hobson realized he needed to make some changes with the club. There is going to be a dramatic change to this offense, as several of the big power hitters are gone, including Grant Kay and his son, K.C. Hobson. Josh Altmann was acquired from Lincoln and Ryan Lidge returns. There are six position players yet to fill for this team, including three starting infielders, so this team will most likely dramatically improve their odds by May 3.
As of today, the Kane County Cougars are the team with the fewest number of players signed (10). That is officially signed, should we say. No doubt that manager George Tsamis has several players who are ready to ink a deal, but there is going to be some dramatic changes in Kane County this season as well. The backend of their bullpen looks great, and the two young guns (Westin Muir and Jack Fox) return as well. As of this date, Tsamis has not signed any outfielders or catchers, and still needs a first baseman. If history is any indication, the Cougars are going to be fine, but they have a lot of work to do to matchup against the other teams in this division.
Another team that should be quite exciting this season is the Lake Country DockHounds. Manager Jim Bennett has had a full year now of building his own team, and looks like he has learned some valuable lessons. That starts with the fact that he may have the best rotation in this division. Alex McRae returns and the signing of Tyler Pike was a huge addition. It will all be a question of how well the backend of this bullpen delivers, a primary reason why this team had prolonged losing streaks last year. There are several AAA and MLB players on this team, so this may be the surprise team of the American Association this season.
Three Weeks Until We Hear “Play Ball!”
What one can see is that this is going to be quite a year in the league. Any one of these 12 teams is capable of making the playoffs, and any one of these 12 is capable of not making the playoffs. Only one or two look like they are a level above the rest, but none looks like that “superteam” that American Association fans have become accustomed to.
Now, it should be said that there is still a lot of work to be done for the Kane County Cougars, Winnipeg Goldeyes, Sioux Falls Canaries, Chicago Dogs and Sioux City Explorers, so they could tip the odds their way. However, at this point, this looks like the 2023 American Association season is going to be a wide-open affair.
By Robert Pannier