The Season 2006 Preview – Aftermath of the Hitter Exodus


The morning shines again on the Daly City Empire.  Of course, these days the sun never really sets.  On yet another sunny April in the Gateway to the Peninsula, spring training abounds yet again with the same enthusiasm, determination, and fresh faces.

Coming off yet another World Championship, last year’s team nonetheless fell short with their first sub-.800 season in history, finishing at 125-37, .772.  The falloff was somewhat expected, given the mass departures of team stalwarts such as 3-4 hitters Ho and Tienturier, a .951 OBP SS Mok, and a full ½ of the pitching staff.  If 2005 was any indicator of how Daly City could carry on without many of its star players, 2006 might see even further decline.  The 2005-2006 offseason saw the departures of all-star catcher Sam Lau, Batter of the Year Joey Wong, speedy CF Aubrey Cubilo, and reliever Katie Clayton.  The trio of batters accounted for 337.4 out of the team’s 1083.7 runs created, or 31.1%, and so far none of their replacements seem completely capable of approaching their production levels.

There are new faces, and new roles, however.  Last season’s crop of promising rookies return, and this year sees two new rookies in starting pitcher Whitney Esguerra, who looks to take role of #2 starting pitcher, and catcher Marco Paz, who will likely fill into the backup catcher position.  In the wake of the latest round of retirements, longtime backup catcher/utility outfielder Tina Quach finally gets her chance at the starting catcher position, while longtime benchwarmer Joanna Maung steps into the big shoes left by Joey Wong at third base.  The centerfield position is the biggest question – Tina Quach, having the best CF defensive ability, used to fill in here (21 games in CF in 2005), but with her new role as catcher, Tiffany Ho seems the best candidate (67 out of 100 defensive rating), although her hitting skills are still a bit underdeveloped and her defense is better at the corner outfield positions.  Jason Liu, with a 55 out of 100 CF rating, also seems capable, although again his defensive skills seem much better suited for the corner positions.  On the pitching side, the departure of Clayton has opened up a spot in the bullpen, which no other than 2005’s closer, Zubeda Khan, steps in to fill.  After a tumultuous season filled with blown saves, the closer position for 2006 goes back to a known commodity in Josiah Leong, who despite shaky stats managed a bottom line of 40 saves and only 3 blown saves in 2004.

More than ever, the team seems to rest on the strength of the pitching staff – though still quite formidable, the lineup has taken yet another strong punch this year, and would be hard-pressed to repeat last year’s league high 1085 runs.

Without further ado, the hardened sophomores, old stalwarts, and new faces of Daly City’s 2006 team.

Tina “Experimental Error” Quach, Catcher: After two years as an understudy to retired all-star catcher Sam Lau, Quach finally moves up to take the reins of the catcher position.  Playing in two partial seasons, Quach has shown signs that she can be a capable on-base hitter, with her .381 career OBP, but this season will be a test of how well she can sustain that level of production over the course of an entire season, in addition to handling her defensive responsibilities as catcher and her management of the pitching staff.

Marco Paz, Backup Catcher: Straight from AA ball, Paz is a new recruit who spent part of 2005 in the minor leagues, beginning in AAA where he struggled and then moving onto AA, where he batted .250-.317-.515 in 20 games. While still a bit underdeveloped, the retirement of Lau and the lack of any other viable catcher meant that Paz was needed up with the major league club to serve as a backup.  The 17 year old is projected as a below-average defender, although he has a cannon arm.  His hitting skills are in the below-average range, but as indicated by his short time in AA last year, he projects out to be an average hitter with decent slugging skills.  He’ll be watched closely as the season winds along, making sure he isn’t impossibly challenged at the major league level, in which case someone else, such as emergency catcher Jonathan Chee, would have to fill in.

Derek Lew, First Baseman: After a vigorous offseason of training, Lew bursted into spring training like a vicious Vladimir Guerrero-type swinger.  So far he looks like he’s been more aggressive free-swinging with the bat, meaning even less walks and a bit more strikeouts, but he’s also been doing it with much greater contact and power than last season.  With last year’s disastrous campaign, Lew is looking to come back, and in a big way.  With Joey Wong gone, Lew remains the last of the “Big Four” of hitters of the inaugural 2003 team, and more than ever, the offensive production will rest squarely on his shoulders.

Rudy Puzon, Designated Hitter: Puzon looks to follow up his explosive rookie season with further development, although it might even be fair to say that he had already began hitting like what many hitters projected he would do after he reached his prime. After a solid all-around performance, with no clear weaknesses in his game, nobody knows what to really expect in terms of development for Puzon.

Cristian Ortiz, Second Baseman: The defensive wizard surprised everyone last year as he turned in a strong statistical season, most especially on the basepaths.  Despite being deemed Daly City’s “breakout” player of the year, many of the league’s scouts still rate Ortiz as simply average in almost all categories, and put strong doubt on whether Ortiz can replicate his 2005 numbers.  2006 will be the year Ortiz proves that his ‘breakout’ performance was no fluke.

Joanna Maung, Saung-gah Basewoman: After three years coming in from the bench, Daly City’s most prolific pinch hitter steps into her first starting role.  With only limited playing time over three seasons, Maung has shown decent OBP ability and virtually no power skills, although it’s anyone’s guess what kind of hitter Maung will actually be in her 4th year and 1st full season.  On the defensive side, Maung has been training hard, and has built herself up to a very respectable 61 defensive rating at 3B. She certainly won’t be an MVP Joey Wong (or will she?) but in terms of sheer love for the game and enthusiasm at finally getting the coveted starting third basewoman role, she may yet turn out to be the Wiggin to the now-retired Wong’s Bean.

Henry “Mr.” Nghe, Shortstop: Reigning Rookie of the Year and oldest player at the same time, Henry Nghe returns for his sophomore campaign hoping to continue on his first-year success.  Surprisingly, like Ortiz many scouts still have doubts over Nghe’s ability, believing he far exceeded performance expectations last year.  Without a dedicated middle infield backup in Kelvin Chang (since retired back to AAA), both Nghe and Ortiz will test their endurance and look to gut out all 162 games on their own out in the middle this year.

Jonathan “The Cheet” Chee, Leftfielder: Daly City’s “comeback” player of the year, Chee looks to continue his tremendous success into 2006, this time going the distance to play in a whole season (last year, he played in only 119 games and had 446 at bats).  Chee’s slated to be in either of the 1-2 leadoff positions, where he’ll set the table for the more powerful hitters with his team-high career .392 OBP.  Having come ever so close to the 50 hit by pitch mark (he had 49 HBP last year), Chee looks to make another run, this time possibly getting there with a full season.

Tiffany Ho, Centerfielder: Taking over the reins from longtime incumbent Aubrey Cubilo, the rookie Tiffany Ho, who had an unremarkable rookie year (.279-.305-.361), is one of the biggest question marks.  While she’s still one of the more promising hitters in terms of skill, she hasn’t demonstrated the ability to hit well yet.  Although originally a corner outfielder, with Quach at catcher, Ho is the best fielder left at the center position, although her 67 CF rating lags behind her 77 rating at the LF and RF positions.  Nonetheless, she’ll be thrown out of the frying pan and into the fryer, starting centerfield on opening day in baseball’s biggest small-town stage.

Francis Chen, Rightfielder: The enigma Francis Chen returneth once again.  Afer enduring a horrendous 2005, Francis was dropped from a starting role, replaced by slugger Jason Liu, and at times, utility player Tina Quach.  After toiling away all during the regular season, however, Chen seemed to catch on fire in the postseason, batting .244-.404-.805 in 41 at bats.  Despite all this, he was about to be dumped back to the bench, or even back to the minors for more conditioning, before the Daly City fans emerged.  All winter long they picketed and protested the stadium and front office with a grass-roots “Bring Francis Back” campaign, ultimately succeeding when management gave in to demand.  So by popular demand, the oft-inconsistent and fleetingly brilliant Chen is back to his role in RF, ready to take a backseat manage whenever Yan is on the mound, albeit with a tighter hook than ever.  He’ll have to jump out of the April gates full blast if he hopes to establish any security at the RF position.

Jason Liu, Backup outfielder: For the third straight year, Jason Liu finds himself starting the season on the bench, despite consistently demonstrating his skills at the plate, and in the field.  After a breakout rookie campaign in 2004 and a strong 2005 followup, Liu was all set to become the starting rightfielder, before the “Bring Francis Back” campaign derailed the club’s plans.  For now, Liu remains on the bench, his pure strength and raw power ready to pounce the second Chen begins inevitably slipping at rightfield.

The Pitching Staff

Nathan Yan, #1 Starter: After a record-shattering 2005 campaign, in which he went 30-2 yet again, with a 0.98 ERA and 0.48 WHIP, the staff ace and three-time reigning Pitcher of the Year returns with his overpowering arsenal of stuff.  Virtually unrivaled anywhere in the league, at this point it’s pretty much just a guess of what record highs he’ll accomplish next.  Zero-loss season?  A 500-K campaign?  30 complete games?  In any case, Yan is on track to surpass 1000 career innings, 1500 K’s, and 100 wins, and 100 complete games and 50 shutouts is not out of the question either.

Whitney Esguerra, #2 Starter: After a year of demonstrating her skills in the minors, rookie Whitney Esguerra makes her way to the big leagues in a surprise move, taking over Josiah Leong’s spot in the rotation.  The young right-hander comes in fully polished already, with a 93-96mph fastball, good control and movement pitches, and dominating stuff.  Her Stuff-Control-Movement rating is 101-77-70, with a talent potential of 124-78-96.  Spending nearly a full season in the minors in 2005, Esguerra pitched 29 games, dominating with a 27-0 record, 2.01 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 341 K’s in 246 innings (that’s 12.48 K’s per 9, and 8.48 innings per start!

Terrence Zhao, #3 Starter: Daly City’s unexpected staff ace continues to flourish.  A year after a breakout 2004 campaign, Zhao found himself with yet another breakout beyond all expectations.  There doesn’t seem any stopping Zhao, who worked hard to improve his control, his one point of slight weakness, this offseason.  Zhao looks to continue his winning ways and dominating stuff, although he once again finds himself sitting pat behind the #2 spot for the second straight year.

Sean Wade, #4 Starter: Daly City’s other star rookie is back for a sophomore season.  Wade was a breakout success in his rookie year, and despite not having spectacular stuff, cruised by on sheer consistency to earn himself a 3.00 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.  All signs point to Wade repeating his rookie success, although his second-half dropoff in performance could be some cause for reservation.

Samantha Chin, #5 Starter: Chin finds herself in the not-so-enviable role of being the best #5 pitcher in the league, by a far margin.  With at times dominating stuff, Chin floundered with a bit of inconsistency in 2005, with a 4.06 ERA.  Her 3.23 CERA, however, indicates that she can do a lot better, and much like Zhao breaking out in 2004, after a shaky 2003 that was brimming with potential, many scouts believe Chin will break out into one of the league’s most dominating pitchers this seasons.

Miguel Pardo, #6 Starter: Daly City’s #6 returns to round out the DC6, the only rotation in the majors consisting of 6-man rotation.  Pardo has improved in some aspects – his 2005 season certainly saw significant improvement over his past seasons, although the second-half Pardo looked much more like Miguel at his worst.  It’s perhaps time to see if Pardo can work his fleeting magic once again, and it might be his last chance to do so, with new rookie Alfred Vong breathing down his neck for the #6 slot.

Alfred Vong, long reliever: The oft-forgotten rookie pitcher, Vong spent much of 2005 as the long reliever, a role in which he was, in a word, inconsistent.  While clearly displaying good all-around talent, consistency has been a bit of a problem, which is why Vong once again finds himself back in the bullpen.  With a little more time to develop, however, Vong looks to become a solid pitcher, and could look to dislodge Pardo from his coveted #6 starting spot soon.

Helen Yamamoto, mopup reliever: After the worst season in recorded history, Yamamoto returns in 2006 with her 2005 numbers not leaving much to hope for: 9.35 ERA and 2.54 WHIP, and an opponent’s line of .379-.475-.672.  The upcoming season will probably be make-or-break for Yamamoto, as the reliever, especially the mopup kind, seems to be a dying breed in the Daly City system.

Angel Poon, middle reliever: Once again, Poon finds herself in the middle relief role, although the increasingly better pitching staff and increasingly closer games may mean even fewer innings than ever.  While her ERA has been erratic – 4.15, 2.88 3.75, Poon has shown consistency in her WHIP (1.14, 1.14, 1.19), and she looks to fill in a few, although likely not many innings, in middle relief.

Zubeda Khan, middle reliever: Once the team’s great hope at closer, a season marred by blown saves and stretches of downright atrocity have left her out of the running, despite averaging out to a decent 3.47 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 2005.  She joins the regular bullpen, although like Poon she doesn’t expect to see many innings this year, especially with the development of Vong at long relief, the introduction of Esguerra, and the movement of starter Leon to the closer role.

Alvina Chu, setup reliever: Perhaps the most maddening member of the bullpen in 2005, Chu put it down with one of the league’s best 1.70 ERA and 0.91 WHIP, yet at the same time blew wins and saves like no other.  Still, over the past two years (102 innings, 2.03 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 95 K’s), she’s been Daly City’s most dominant reliever by far, and she once again earns her spot as the team’s setup woman.  Forever the bridesmaid, never the bride, I guess….

Josiah Leong, closer: After an unsuccessful try at turning rookie Zubeda Khan into closer material, it was an offseason back to the drawing board, and at this point, the best Daly City has turns out to be none other than their 2004 closer, Josiah Leong. Partly driven by his prior experience, and partly by his abysmal track record as a starter, 2006 will bring Leong back to the bullpen, where he pitched 58 1/3 innings with a 3.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 40 saves in 2004.  All signs point to things being more of the same for Leong, who still hasn’t quite gotten a handle on his control issues, but many still hold out hope for a Gagne-like conversion (without the Gagne-like injury flameout)

On a closing note, everyone’s contract ends after the 2006 season, so it’s time to rework those $1/year salaries.  That’s right: Contract year for everyone.

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