|It’s the dawn of a new baseball
season in Alaska
It’s finally here. In a mere two days the Pilots and Bucs will open the season with an exhibition doubleheader at Mulcahy Stadium, and after that the other teams will spring into action. Before the next weekend is out, every team will have started playing games that count in the league standings and the season will finally be in full swing.
Tonight I’d like to do something that will hopefully become an annual tradition at 49th State Hardball.We’re going to summarize each team, including their performance in 2009, their opening and key games throughout the season, and how they look for 2010.
2009 Record: 16-26 (.381) league, 18-27 overall
2009 Finish: 6th Place – 10.5 GB
2010 Openers: Sunday, June 13 at Oilers (road), Wednesday, June 23 vs. Goldpanners (home)
Notable games: July 4th two-way doubleheader w/ Oilers & Panners
2010 Prognosis: Will the Fire climb out of the basement this year? On the surface, they don’t seem to be flush with eye-popping prospects, but they have a few players who could be real stand-outs, such as Helms and Bozeman. And I would definitely hesitate to count this team out any season; this is the club that set the standard for going from underdogs to completely destroying everything in their path in 2007. They might not look stacked on paper, but the rest of the league will have to watch their backs.
Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks
2009 Record: 19-23 (.452) league, 22-28 overall
2009 Finish: 4th Place – 8 GB
2010 Openers: Friday June 11 at Oilers (road), Friday June 18 vs. Adult A.S. (home ex.), Tuesday June 22 vs. Fire (home league)
Notable Games: “Midnight Sun Game” Monday June 21 vs Heroes of the Diamond military all-stars
2010 Prognosis: Last year’s Midnight Sun Goldpanners “road warrior” team which barnstormed through the US and Canada is going to pay several dividends this year. The MSG squad served as a sort of unofficial farm team for the Panners, and several of the best players from that team are joining the ABL Goldpanners this year. Not only that, but the tour gave the team an opportunity to travel around the country scouting out some players from other leagues to snatch up. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the team gets back Jim Dietz, one of the most legendary skippers in the history of the Alaska League. Not surprisingly, in light of all this, the Goldpanners have assembled a very formidable squad this year and will be contenders for the league title.
2009 Record: 26-19 (.578) league, 31-21-1 overall
2009 Finish: 2nd Place, 2 GB
2010 Openers: Sunday June 6 vs Pilots (exhibition home/away doubleheader), Wednesday June 9 vs. Oilers (home league)
Notable Games: June 12, 13, 17 and 18 vs. Heroes of the Diamond, July 4 home/away DH against Pilots, August 1-3 Mayor’s Cup series against Pilots.
2010 Prognosis: From what I can see, the Anchorage Bucs look like they’re loaded with good bats. They were one of the first teams to release their 2010 rosters, and although there have been plenty of transactions over the course of the offseason, they’ve kept a lot of the big hitters that we’ve been profiling this year. But they also have question marks, and a big one is first-year skipper TJ Bruce. He’s a young guy out of Long Beach State who played college ball there and went on to become assistant coach. Compared to some of the other skips around this league, he’s still pretty wet behind the ears, but the Bucs have full confidence in him, and if he’s got what it takes he can do a lot with this team. They’ll be in the race to the finish for sure.
Anchorage Glacier Pilots
2009 Record: 25-20 (.556) league, 27-24 overall
2009 Finish: 3rd Place – 3 GB
2010 Openers: Sunday June 6 vs. Bucs (home/away exhibition), Thursday June 10 vs. Bucs (home league)
Notable Games: July 4 home/away DH against Bucs; August 1-3 Mayor’s Cup series against Bucs.
2010 Prognosis: The Pilots have returned a solid core of second-year players. Some of those, especially pitchers such as Ben Mount and Charlie Robertson, were fantastic last year and look like they are poised for a repeat performance. On the other hand, some of the guys out of that group — Alex Keudell and Trevor Hairgrove, for example — have a lot of potential but didn’t quite live up to it in 2009. These guys might be make-or-break players for the Pilots. The other thing to consider is the tremendous shadow cast by Drew Heid last year. Heid, who will not return for the Glacier Pilots, was far and away the most productive batter in the league and those are some pretty big shoes to fill. There’s a lot of pressure on these guys, and it’s going to take everyone pulling their share of the weight to make it happen, but if they can get into a groove and really fire on all cylinders they will make a run at the league title.
2009 Record: 28-17 (.622) league, 31-17 overall
2009 Finish: 1st Place, 0 GB
2010 Openers: Monday June 7 vs Pilots (home exhibition), Thursday June 10 vs Bucs (home league)
Notable Games: Friday July 30 doubleheader vs. Panners
2010 Prognosis: Not much is known about the 2010 Miners; they’re the only team to have not released a roster. It’s getting to the point where I’ll be at the ballpark to write it myself here pretty soon, so no worries, but for our purposes today all I’ve really got to go on is their reputation. Which is a pretty good one. In the past three years, no team in the league has won more games than the Mat-Su Miners, who are the defending league champs. Based on that alone, I could take a fairly confident shot in the dark and guess that they’ll be a top contender again this year. The only reservation I have about that is the fact that GM Pete Christopher has stated that they had a lot of recruits fall through due to injuries or whatever. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have no idea how they’ll fare and we’ll just have to see.
2009 Record: 18-27 (.400) league, 21-30-1 overall
2009 Finish: 5th Place – 10 GB
2010 Openers: Wednesday June 9 at Bucs (road), Friday June 11 vs Panners (home)
Notable Games: June 14 exhibition vs Heroes of the Diamond, July 4 three-way doubleheader vs. Fire & Panners
2010 Prognosis: For those who fear that this year will be another one like last, think again, because this team looks pretty stacked. You couldn’t ask for much better pitching from this team last year, but their offense had trouble getting things going except in fits and starts, and it’s no surprise that they lost a lot of close games. For 2010, the Oilers have assembled another solid pitching staff including two of the studs of their starting rotation — Kyle Barraclough and Cody Kendall — but have some pretty fearsome hitters as well. I can’t say enough about Garrett Wittels, whose star i
s really rising as he draws ever closer to breaking the NCAA DI hitting streak record. Even if the Oilers flop (and I’ll eat my hat if they do), there’s at least one star to make it worth the price of admission (did I mention the team has a ton of free admission nights?)
Here comes the part where I make a few semi-bold predictions, just for fun. What would be the fun of writing all this up if I didn’t go out on a few flimsy limbs for which you all can rake me over the coals for later? Unfortunately, I’m finding few limbs to go out on here. Maybe I’m the eternal optimist, always spinning things for the positive (even in my own mind), but this is going to be a tooth-and-nail battle to the finish. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to weasel out of making my predictions, so here’s one: the spread between first and last place will be eight games or less. I’ll go a step further, and say that the spread between the top three teams will be three games or less.
I think the Oilers will be vastly improved this year. They’ll finish above .500 and will be in the top three. But who will take the top spot? I’ll preface this by saying that I can honestly see any team winning it and if I’m going to make a prediction it will be pretty much a craps shoot. But just for giggles, I will pick a team. I think the Goldpanners will take first place this year. I really like their team, they seem really versatile and have a lot of returning players. But like I said, they’re far from a lock and I went back and forth on this one. If I wasn’t a glutton for punishment I wouldn’t touch this one with a thirty foot pole, but there you have it. Goldpanners in first place.
Do YOU have any bold predictions? Who do you think will take the ABL crown in 2010? Be sure to leave me a comment and let me know. I want to hear what you fine folks think.Your comments are the main reward I reap from this work, so if you’ve got something to add I would love to hear it.