The American League South has a rich recent history. In 3 of the last 5 seasons, the American League has been represented in the World Series by a team from the AL South. Austin did it twice, appearing in season 12 and wining the World Series in season 13, while Huntington made an appearance last season.
Austin had dominated the South up until very recent history, winning the Division Title four straight times from season 11 to season 14. Mexico City shocked the world in season 15, coming out of nowhere to win the title and last season, Monterrey took the division crown.
Going into season 17, Austin has relocated to Jacksonville, and has been renamed the Sharks. The franchise has been on a downward slide recently but still has 2 time Cy Young award winner Rafeal Gonzalez to trot out there every 5th day. The team was relatively quiet in the off season, choosing to resign veteran SP Ezdra Mendoza add FA RP Willie Carrasco and trade for veteran RP Tony Alonso. The Sharks may not have the offensive fire power to keep pace with some of the other teams in the division.
Mexico City shocked all of baseball in season 15, when diabeticrock took over a struggling fourth place team and ripped off 95 wins on their way to a Handsome Taco AL South Title, but came back to earth a bit last season. The Guapo Tacos were very active in the off season, resigning 3B Juan Maduro, who they had acquired in a trade last season, and bringing on veteran Fas Alex Vargas, Walter Dingman, Herm Jackson & Xavier Vander Wal. Dingman is just 2 seasons removed from a 40 HR, 116 RBI season with Boise and could add some needed runs to the Tacos’ offense. Vander Wal is perhaps the most intriguing acquisition, moving from Monterrey to Mexico City. Although the X-man is climbing the ladder in age, he’s now 37, he had a 1.16 WHIP & 2.93 ERA in 23 starts for Monterrey last season, and is now moving to a much more pitching friendly ballpark. Mexico City is an interesting team to watch, and could surprise some people this season.
Last season, Huntington went on an epic World Series run, disposing of the 118 win NY Bronx Bombers in 4 games on their way to a 6 game showdown with eventually WS Champ, Florida. The Moonshiners finished 1 game out of first place in the South with 94 wins. Former #3 overall pick, 26 year old Alan Flanagan is an absolute beast, coming off a season in which he was an AllStar at 2B, with an OPS of 9.09 and he won the HR Derby for good measure. Flanagan along with 28 year old AllStar & Silver Slugger SS Albert Maduro, 27 year old AllStar & Silver Slugger C Kerry Kile, and 25 year old Sherry Lockwood make up the nucleus of a Moonshiners squad that should be challenging for titles for a long time to come. The Moonshiners brought in a few role player type FAs, including versatile pitcher Julian Romero, but did not make any huge signings. But coming off a World Series appearance, I think they’ll be just fine.
Monterrey finished in first place in the South with 95 wins last season but was knocked out of the playoffs early by Vancouver. Like the Moonshiners, the Carta Blanca Burros have a strong group of young players, to lead them into the future. Season 15 MVP Tom McClung, 3 time AllStar Juan Sosa, and 2 time Cy Young winner Vinny Dong are all under the age of 26 and this season they will be joined by former #3 overall pick Nick Matthews, who hit 3 HRs in 16 Abs for the big league team last season. Monterrey was pretty active in the off season, bringing in Tomas Nieves & Luis Ramirez to compete for their open spot in RF along with veteran RPs Jered Porter & Sam Cole. The team also resigned David Nielsen, who saved 24 games for them last season. The Carta Blanca Burros biggest off season move was acquiring veteran SP Jackie Venafro , who’s won 3 world series rings in a trade. The Burros are a bit long in the tooth at SP, but are built to win now.
Looking ahead to season 17, I think Jacksonville will be in a rebuilding year, finishing in a somewhat distant 4th place, and Mexico City will show some improvement, but not quite enough to compete for 162 games with Huntington & Monterrey. In the end, I think the South comes down to the final day of the season again, but this time the Moonshiners take home the AL South Crown, while the Burros make the playoffs as a wild card.