Play Ball! 22 Questions Will Be Answered During 2022 American Association Season – Part II
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 22 questions that will be answered during the 2022 American Association season as all 12 teams spring into action on Friday. Here is Part II.
Let’s Get Back at It!
With 11 questions answered, it is time to answer 11 more questions.
Are the 2022 Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Better Than 2021?
Fargo-Moorhead was the top hitting team in the American Association last season. They made it all the way to the American Association championship series. The club won 61 games, the third most in the league last year, finishing the season on a five-game winning streak. They were unbelievably impressive last year.
They may actually be better this season. The rotation looks spectacular for this club and, on paper, the RedHawks have the best bullpen in the division. Plus, the lineup should be nearly as good, if not as good as what was seen last season. There are some key losses, but Fargo-Moorhead could be a better all-around club than what we saw last season.
Will the Cleburne Railroaders Be the Surprise Team of 2022?
When their nearest division rivals are over a thousand miles away, they certainly may be the most forgotten team in the division. However, it seems most people are talking about the five Chicago-Milwaukee area teams. That could be a huge mistake.
Logan Watkins has built a great club down in Cleburne. This Railroaders team is a perfect blend of youth and veteran presence. This is a different kind of club as well. The team has three players waiting for visa issues to be resolved. When Oswaldo Arcia, Santiago Rincon, and Engelb Vielma join the club, there is going to be a lot of pop in this lineup. However, in the meantime, expect this to be a speed team that puts a lot of pressure on opponents. Plus, this is going to be the most talented bullpen in the division, closing the door after five innings on most nights.
Answer: This team could very easily win the East Division.
Will the Sioux Falls Canaries See a Dramatic Decrease in Runs Scored at the Bird Cage?
We have all become accustomed to 10-7 games at the Bird Cage. This is a hitter’s park on steroids, as a tough playing surface added to the propensity for high-scoring affairs.
However, this is going to be a different season in Sioux Falls, it looks like. It starts with the fact that this is a great starting staff that Manager Mike Meyer has put together. They could very easily compete with any other staff in the league, and this group is going to make those numbers a lot better than what we have seen in previous seasons. In addition, this group is going to benefit from a resurfaced infield, which should make the infielders better, creating a lot more double-plays and ground outs, while reducing errors.
Answer: Do not be surprised to see the Sioux Falls ERA drop by nearly a run from last season.
Do the Sioux City Explorers Have the Best Pitching Staff?
This is a good question, as a lot of teams could stake claim to this title. It is routine to expect that Manager Steve Montgomery is going to have one of the best pitching staffs in the league. Montgomery and pitching coach Bobby Post have become notorious for putting together spectacular staffs. However, this may be the very best they have ever produced. The question is if they are the best in the American Association.
The truth is that they better be. This is not going to be a potent lineup, so they need spectacular pitching, and it would not be surprising to see this group hold opponents to four runs or fewer in 82 games this season.
Answer: On paper, they very well may be.
Who Will Have a Better Season in 2022 – Ryan Flores or Myles Smith?
The two best starting pitchers in the American Association were both bullpen guys for the vast majority of their careers in the American Association. Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks right-hander Ryan Flores even served in the closer role last season for Fargo.
Myles Smith had served as a closer in Milwaukee, but approached Manager Anthony Barone last season asking to join the rotation. That became one of the most inspiring stories in the league last year, as Smith led the league in victories (13) and in strikeouts (134). He was fifth in ERA (3.48) and was chosen by the American Association as the Pitcher of the Year.
Flores started in the bullpen, even taking over the closer’s role. However, after a couple of tough outings, Manager Chris Coste moved the righty into the rotation, and Flores was spectacular, earning nine victories and finishing second in strikeouts (129) and third in ERA (3.33). He was selected as the PURE Performance Pitcher of the Year.
Can one or both repeat their performance in 2022. Flores has put on some additional weight and muscle, and is one of the more analytical pitchers you are going to find. He has also learned to get off his own back, so it would not be surprising to see him take his mental game to another level this season as well.
Smith has all the confidence in the world in his own abilities. Last season he struggled with walking far too many batters, something that became more of an issue in the final six weeks of the season. He wore down a little bit in his first year as a starter, but look for him to be stronger while cutting down on those walks.
Answer: Flores has a great season, but Smith is the ace of the Milkmen staff. Look for him to lead the league in victories for the second straight season.
What Will the Kane County Cougars Do in their Second Season in the League?
One thing for sure, they are going to lead the American Association in attendance for the second straight season. This crowd in the Geneva area is fantastic, and they really came out to support these Cougars. Look for them to be even more fervent for their team this year.
As for the product on the field, Manager George Tsamis had an entire off-season to work on building his club. He added a couple of big-time players from the Twins organization that should boost this lineup and the starting staff should be pretty good. One thing Kane County fans are going to learn – you are always going to be in the thick of things with Tsamis as your manager.
Answer: Year 2 will be even more fun than year 1.
How Many Homers Will the “Lords of Legends Field” Hit for the Kansas City Monarchs?
The only question as to whether the Kansas City lineup will be better this season than it was last year is whether this group stays together. Former Major Leaguer Matt Adams is almost assured of returning back to affiliate ball. The holdovers from last season – Gabriel Guerrero, Jan Hernandez, Darnell Sweeney, and Casey Gillaspie – should produce 80+ home runs on their own. When you add David Thompson, Adams, and Pete Kozma this lineup looks like it will be even better.
Answer: The Lords of Legends Field are going to give away a lot of souvenirs this year. Look for them to break the team homerun mark (147) they set last season.
Who Will Have a Huge Rebound/Comeback Season?
There are a few players who had an off year last season, but no one had a more disappointing campaign than Sioux City Explorers shortstop Nate Samson. Samson joined St. Paul after the 2020 season got underway, and only hit .257 in 48 games. Last season, he was just getting his swing back, hitting .259 through 31 games, when an injury wiped out the last 69 games of the year.
The shortstop enters this season with a huge chip on his shoulder, looking to cast aside any doubt about his abilities. Not only should you expect an outstanding season out of Samson, look for him to have his name in the MVP chatter.
Answer: Nate Samson, Sioux City Explorers
Who Will Win the League MVP?
Three seasons ago, Chicago Dogs first baseman Keon Barnum set an American Association record for home runs in a season on his way to the MVP title. During the Covid-19 shortened 2020 season, Milwaukee Milkmen outfielder Adam Brett Walker II led the American Association in homeruns, earning his first MVP. Last season he broke Barnum’s single-season record for home runs, earning the MVP trophy for the second straight season.
This year there will be a blending of the last three years. Look for Barnum to earn his second MVP trophy, but not with the Chicago Dogs. This season he is playing for the Milwaukee Milkmen, and will give the team their third straight league MVP in a row.
While Walker put up a spectacular numbers, rarely did he have this kind of depth behind him in the lineup. Barnum is going to have a lot of protection with Will Kengor, Correlle Prime, or Mason Davis hitting directly behind him. That homerun mark could fall again in this season.
Josh Altmann should also have a spectacular season, but I do not expect him to be around for long. If he has 10 home runs by the end of June and is hitting over .300, it seems improbable that he will still be with the Saltdogs. Monarchs outfielder Gabriel Guerrero and Winnipeg first baseman David Washington will also be in this discussion.
Answer: Keon Barnum, Milwaukee Milkmen.
How Will the 12 Teams Finish in the 2022 American Association Season?
Now the moment that no team in the American Association wants to see. Clubs jokingly mock my predictions, feeling like they are the kiss of death for their success. While I will admit that my championship picks have not been great, I have been quite accurate on rankings within the division, as eight of the 12 teams finished as I predicted before last season.
(I had Fargo-Moorhead finishing ahead of Chicago. The Dogs finished ahead of them. I also had Kane County finishing above Winnipeg, but they switched places.) So, here are my picks:
- Milwaukee Milkmen
- Cleburne Railroaders
- Chicago Dogs
- Lake Country DockHounds
- Kane County Cougars
- Gary SouthShore RailCats
- Kansas City Monarchs
- Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks
- Winnipeg Goldeyes
- Lincoln Saltdogs
- Sioux City Explorers
- Sioux Falls Canaries
Who Will Win the 2022 American Association Championship?
In the East, the Milwaukee Milkmen will advance to the playoffs and reach the American Association championship series. The Kansas City Monarchs will do so in the West. This will be a great championship series, but Kansas City will repeat as league champions, winning the series in five.
By Robert Pannier