2008 Season Preview – the Big Leap

Team Review

2008 April 1 – After a dominant season following a successful infusion of the large rookie class, the Montis bring in more fresh blood  and set their sights on some ambitious – some would say audacious – goals for 2008.

Alan Wong, Catcher: Another recruit from the Berkeley Independent League, the 21-year-old Wong is a versatile 5-star prospect who wields a sledgehammer; scouts are already rating him at a 91 for power, which would put him at 3rd behind only Francis Chen (94) and Ted Kwong (102) among Daly City hitters. Though his strike zone judgement skills are below average, Wong has also demonstrated a cannon of an arm from behind the plate, and looks to inject himself into the already hotly-contested starting catcher position

Marco Paz, Backup Catcher: Over the course of a breakout 2007 season, Paz unexpectedly played himself into the starting role at catcher, catching 115 games and putting up decent numbers – .295-.351-.457 over 501 plate appearances. With the drafting of prospect Alan Wong, however, Paz will have to prove himself all over again to garner enough playing time.  He’ll likely spell Wong at catcher and steal  some plate appearances in at DH.

Tina Quach, Super Utility: Quach’s gift – a wide-ranging defensive competence at catcher, corner infield, and outfield –  has also been her curse, as she’s been constantly shuffled everywhere on the field during the course of her career, either to substitute in for slumps or injuries, or simply because she was the convenient person to move when a hot new prospect emerged. 2008 looks to be a harrowing year for Quach, who doesn’t look as though she’ll have a primary position – she’ll fill a super utility role backing up catcher, 1st, 3rd, and the outfield, all positions that already have starters and designated backups. It’s a tough assignment, as Quach tries to concentrate on rebounding offensively after a 2007 filled with career lows in nearly every category.

Derek Lew, First Baseman: Daly City’s stalwart at 1st returns once again, though he’s getting increasingly marginalized as his development seems to have plateau’d (albeit at a high level), while other hitters and new prospects continue to rise and take up the higher positions in the batting order. For the season, he’ll start 6th in the lineup, and hope to build on a 2007 when he set a career high for walks and OBP, the only missing element in his game. Lew also has a major landmark coming up – he’s 6 hits away from becoming the first Daly City player ever to reach 1,000 career hits.

Cristian Ortiz, Second Baseman: Many eyes will be on the 5-tool Ortiz this season, after he emerged in 2007 as not just a one-trick racehorse, but a powerful force with the bat as well. Will he continue his development as a hitter? What about strike zone patience and that OBP? And how high, exactly, will he set his stolen base record heights, especially with the now-established Jessica Kuo giving him a very serious threat to his just-established steals record.

Henry Nghe, Shortstop: Nghe ended the season on a sour note, missing nearly the entire month of September after tearing a hamstring muscle. He’ll return to a younger team that looks like it’s ready to put the 30-year old to pasture, with sophomore middle infielder Wissmath hungry for playing time (though she’ll probably find most of it at 3rd). It may be a make-or-break season for Nghe, who has declined across the board for two straight seasons after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2005.

Salgu Wissmath, Third Basewoman: Though it’s not her natural position, the steady production of Wissmath in her utility role last season, and the weak results of starting Maung full-time at third, have led Wissmath to the hot corner.  After hitting for good average and getting on-base at a decent clip last season, the team’s excited to see her production (and an observed increase in power over spring training) extrapolated to a full season.

Joanna Maung, Backup Saung-gah-basewoman: After a year and a half of starts at third base and mediocre results, Maung returns back to a backup role, where she’ll hope to concentrate some of that magic clutch performance into the fewer spot starts and pinch appearances she’ll have.

Ted Kwong, Leftfielder: The reigning Batter of the Year returns, and after posting one of the best offensive seasons in Monti baseball history, he’s looking to set his own marks and blow away some of former LF Norman Ho’s hallowed records – notably the .375 AVG, .467 OBP, 10.95 RC/27 and 165.53 RC by Ho in 2003, and the 166 RBI’s by Ho in 2004. Neck-and-neck with RF Chen in the homerun race until injuries sidelined him at the end of the season, Kwong’s looking forward to challenging him and 2007’s 53-homerun mark as well.

Jessica Kuo, Centerfielder: After giving Ortiz a literal run for his money last season, the speedy Kuo returns again to roam centerfield, where she’ll find an uncontested starting position and start a full slate of games. Last season, she started only 116 games and had just 558 plate appearances (getting on base only 213 times), compared to 160 games, 777 plate appearances, and 305 on-base chances for Ortiz. It’ll be interesting to see whether Kuo’s extremely high BABiP – .392 – will hold over a second season.

Francis Chen, Rightfielder: While Francis built up his power numbers last season and became Daly City’s all-time homerun champion when he set the record at 53, he was still streaky and played only 142 games, despite not being injured much. In order to take his hitting to the next level, he’ll need to improve on his contact, which was a still-abysmal .237 last season.

Tiffany Ho, Backup Outfielder: It looks like it may be a sad end for Ho, who after playing her heart out the past two seasons in various outfield positions and improving every year, now finds herself as the 4th outfielder, with the starting roles firmly entrenched in players who have far surpassed her, hitting-wise. On the bright side, she is now the only backup outfielder on the team, with Reid firmly entrenched in the DH role, and Quach taking over at 3rd.

Skyler Reid, Designated Hitter: After putting together a solid hitting season that far exceeded even his own expectations, Reid returns again in the designated hitter role, though for now he’ll start in a platoon against right-handed pitching (he hit .339-.391-.527 against them last season).

Nathan Yan, #1 Starting Pitcher: After dominating the league for 5 years and setting even greater heights in 2007, Yan is looking to spend a season revolutionizing the concept of the starting pitcher. While Daly City has always run a conservative 6-man rotation in an era when nearly every team runs a 5-man, Yan will put himself on the equivalent of a 4-man rotation, taking only 3 days’ rest between each start. If he can make it through the grind of such a season, he could easily end up with over 50 starts and set counting stats into a different universe. In terms of the recordbooks, Yan’s on the cusp of a few – he’s just 551 K’s away from 3,000, 47 Wins away from 200, and 14 shutouts away from Anthony Rakestraw’s all-time mark of 76. All of those, especially in light of his grueling start schedule, look like they might fall in 2008, Yan’s age-20 season.

Whitney Esguerra, #2 Starting Pitcher: In just 2 short seasons, Esguerra has quickly developed into one of the most fearsome starters in the league. She had near-perfect consistency last season, throwing 28 quality starts in 30 games, and the sky looks like the limit for Esguerra.

Samantha Chin, #3 Starting Pitcher: Chin’s stock keeps rising higher and higher, and if her career continues to parallel Terrence Zhao’s as she has been, 2008 could be the year that Chin emerges as not just a great, but an utterly dominating starting pitcher.

Terrence Zhao, #4 Starting Pitcher: Questions abound for Zhao, the other five-year starter on the team aside from Yan, who seems to be idling entering his 6th year. It’s not that Zhao is bad – over the past two season’s he’s 32-11, with a 3.04 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 10.05 K/9 – but being just decent these days will only buy Zhao the #4 spot in the rotation.

Alfred Vong, #5 Starting Pitcher: Vong got a taste of the starting role last season, starting 21 games and relieving 2 more, and caught both hot and cold streaks. While he’ll remain #5 starter, Vong could see his start schedule diminished to that of a #6 spot starter, as Yan begins to pitch more games.

Sean Wade, Mopup Reliever: Though he entered in the same rookie class as Samantha Chin, and was even the more promising prospect that first year, Wade has taken the opposite career path, regressing a bit each season and performing abysmally even in the #6 starter role last season. With Yan taking an aggressive 3-days rest schedule, the team won’t need even need a number #6 starter anymore, so Wade will find himself playing out the string in the bullpen, where he still projects as the team’s worst pitcher and mopup reliever. Perhaps in the low-pressure relief role, Wade can re-focus on the fundamentals that made him so promising in 2005.

Kelley Cox, Long Reliever: The durable Cox returns in her long relief role, where she performed admirably last season. Though she got 2 starts in last year (including the postseason), they’ll likely be harder to come by, with the aggressive start schedule and former starter Sean Wade waiting in the bullpen.

Bernadette Dugtong, Middle Reliever: Dugtong continues her middle relief role, where she was one of the team’s few league-average pitchers last year. She’ll need to reign in the propensity for easy contact – her 0.274 opponent AVG last year was the 5th-worst in Monti Baseball history.

Connie Chen, Setup Reliever: The other rookie of the 2007 class, 19-year-old Connie Chen has a simple fastball-changeup-sinker repertoire, and a talent for control. With an 84 control rating, scouts already think she has the best pitch placement among the bullpen relievers. She slots into the setup role for the retired Alvina Chu, where she’ll be a stark contrast to often wild closer Leong.

Josiah Leong, Closer: Despite his continued utter lack of control (his 34 walks accounted for 0.53 of his 1.14 WHIP last season), the inconsistent Leong delivered when it counted, allowing only a 2.09 ERA, with a reasonable 3 blown saves across 26 opportunities. Leong has stated his goal of getting back into a rotation, though (a spot where he performed horridly in 2003 and 2005) – something that will require long-term consistency and limiting his walks by 2 or even three-fold.

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