New Year, New Division … and New Championship ?

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Updated: February 11, 2015

Spring Training Preview

March 8th, 2021

2020 might have been one of London’s best ever years but now in 2021 the world of the Underground has all changed. The PEBA has merged with The LRS only to see a new LRS spring up to fill the void in Japan and the Underground will leave the Pan Atlantic division, the only home we’ve ever known, and compete in the newly formed Intercontinental division. They’ll play alongside the West Virginia Alleghenies (formally of the IL Dixie), the Havana Leones (the LRS’s Edo Battousai relocated to Cuba), the Dayton Flyers (formally the LRS team Fushigi Yugi Celestial Warriors now relocated to mainland America) and our former PA rivals the Connecticut Nutmeggers now relocated to become the PEBA’s second ever European franchise, the Amsterdam Lions.

Nathan Carter – All Leather (2B), All Star and Royal Raker winner 2020

 

It’s not really the scenario London wanted as they bagged their third straight Pan Atlantic division title in 2020 with their highest win total (99) while taking possession of both the Royal Raker & Golden Arm awards for the first time in their history.  Nathan Carter, now developing into one of the best middle infielders in the IL, grabbed the Royal Raker just two years after Tuo-zhou Yang and PEBA debutant Kata Nakamura put his six years of LRS experience to good use winning London’s first Golden Arm award for ten years. With London also boasting the IL’s best defence you could be forgiven for thinking that everything’s rosy in the garden but you could be wrong. After four successive postseason appearances the Underground have just one Planetary Extreme Championship appearance to show for it, 2018, the year they won it all. 2021 needs to be the year London steps up and adds to that total. Almost half the regular 25-man are 28 or over, the window of opportunity for their golden generation is closing fast. It won’t be easy though to even win the first ever intercontinental division title let alone the biggest prize in PEBA baseball. Amsterdam apart from wanting European bragging rights are coming off two consecutive 90-win seasons in their former home of Connecticut where they won it all in 2019 and both the former LRS teams will be out to prove that their former league was not a poor relation to the PEBA. Even West Virginia while not a top, top PEBA side hold some danger for London as in recent years they have often been a bogey side for the Underground.

 

Questions are also waiting to be answered about important cogs on the London roster too. Leonard Carver, once expected to be the ace to replace Hiroyuki Nii, had a disappointing season coming off his second torn rotator cuff and managed just a 2-5 record in his 15 starts with an ERA north of four. He was dropped from the rotation for the playoffs and got just one outing from the ‘pen, he will have to return to his best form. The top two of Nakamura & Nii are heading well into their 30’s and will also have to show they have still got it. While most of the infield rates amongst the best in the IL the question mark remains over the hot corner. Scott Morris just wasn’t producing enough to justify another $10 million contract and his groomed replacement Christian O’Rorke will have to improve on his rookie season to prove he is the long term solution there. The other major worry, as it has been for several seasons, is the Outfield. Many have been  tried there and many have failed; 33-yr-old Dennis Carter has once more been released and this time will not be coming back, his lack of power, average and defence no longer justifying even the $1 million contract he now commands. A lot of players came & went in 2020 trying to fill the centrefield role before Carter was shoehorned into it while Lorenzo Valenzuela & Robert Jacobs appear to, after several years of trying, have installed themselves in the outfield corners. Still once more there will be a plethora of outfielders in training camp all sensing one good month could net them a PEBA roster spot. While PEBA debutant at 30, Víctor Martínez, appears to have locked up the starting catcher role with an All Leather winning season London are only one injury away from a complete disaster behind the plate. 33-yr-old Luis Cruz appears to be the best alternative but in eight years at Triple-A and above has failed to win a single shot at the #1 slot.

 

Dennis Carter & Scott Morris were the only two high profile departures and there has been few real major arrivals. Outfielder Shinsui Hoshino  was selected from the former LRS side Shin Seiki Evas in the Rule 5 draft while another outfielder Ju-chan Na was signed from the free agent market on a three-year contract worth $7.5 million. Hoshino has had nine years experience in the LRS and is expected to be the number one contender in Spring Training for the centrefield spot while Na, a South Korean with no major league experience, is expected to challenge Jacobs for the rightfield job. 25-yr-old middle infielder Jorge Murillo was signed on a one year deal with a second year vesting option to challenge for a back-up role as Bailey Rohr hits 32 and while London really like Alfredo Noriega’s speed on the base paths last year’s attempt to teach him to play shortstop at Worcester seems to have failed. Without that Noriega is unlikely to get a roster spot as just a second baseman as he’s not going to displace Nathan Carter anytime soon.

 

Tony Cuevas, hit .316 at Maui in his first pro season

Apart from the other 40-man roster members in Spring Camp this year the Underground are extending invites to several of their top prospects and fringe 40-man’ers to give them a look at the start of Spring. Most of those are expected to return to their minor league camps at the end of the first week though. One of the tryouts will be 28-yr-old third baseman Ramón Rodríguez who a couple of years ago was the #12 prospect in the San Juan Winter League, he will earn a major league contract if he breaks camp with London. Former first choice catcher when they won the PEC in 2018 now no longer on the 40-man, Dave York, will be in camp. Minor league free agent signee Hiroya Yano who has bounced around the Japanese minors since being a third round draft pick of the Evas in 2014. He won a Minarai Doumei Gold Glove at 3B in 2019 and will be in the race for the London hot corner job. 25-yr-old starter Dan Hudson will make the journey from Montreal as one of the few non-40 man invite pitchers as London’s pitching staff is more or less set, another will be top prospect, 22-yr-old Scott Miner. He missed four months with shoulder inflammation last year after being drafted in the first round in 2019 and will probably get a start or two before being returned to Dover . Also up from the Underground’s A ball team is shortstop Tony Cuevas, their first rounder in 2020, and outfielder Ric Whitney the third rounder in 2020. While all their stays in the big league camp may be very brief it will whet their appetite for more and they just might show they deserve a faster track to the big time.