2041: Year in Review HL Edition

With the playoffs just hours away and yet another CBL regular season in the books, let’s take a look back at the year that was. In Part 1 today, we will look at the Heartland League.

Austin Bats Live Up to Their Nickname

The Bats logo may be the mammal, but there’s little doubt it should be the metal power up bat from the Backyard Baseball PC games. The team hit 325 home runs this season. Elton Hedgecock’s overall offensive numbers fell to .228/.285/.507 this year after hitting .306/.356/.596 in 2040, but the power continues to show up. Hedgecock finished the season with 48 home runs in 150 games, and has now hit 40 home runs or more in 7 of his 8 CBL seasons. The one year he failed to reach the 40 mark, he hit 34. Raul Martinez, Tim Eulberg, Dave Van Tatenhove and Alfredo Tirre all reached the 40 home run mark this season as well.

Yes, the team’s home stadium is hitter friendly, and players hit on average 16% more home runs there than a neutral environment, but the numbers are still unbelievable, and they play 81 games away from Dell Diamond, which has been dubbed Playstation Park for it’s video game type numbers. This lineup puts fear in every pitcher in the league; they even managed to win 2 out of 3 games against Pitching Robot Joe Busam.

No Busam in October Yet Again

Speaking of Joe Busam, the 26-year-old super ace finished the 2041 season with a 14-6 record, and a new CBL record 1.38 ERA. He struck out 380 hitters in just 182 2/3 innings, and allowed just 76 hits. All of these ridiculous numbers led to Busam finishing with an astonishing and league best 11.1 WAR this year. Despite his pure dominance, Tabasco finished in 7th place in the HL and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Baseball fans won’t get to see the dominance of Busam up close this October, but assuming Tabasco continues to improve their pitching outside of Busam, they should be able to get back to the postseason in the near future.

In Busam’s 31 starts for the year, he struck out at least 10 batters in 25 of them, a ridiculous 81% of the time. He gave up 5 hits in just two starts, and that was the most hits he gave up in any game all year. As dominating as he was, Busam could’ve been even better, as he threw 100 pitches or more in just 11 of his starts. If he takes on a full work load next season, he could single handedly carry Tabasco’s roster to the postseason.

He also could be dangled in trade talks after his dominating season, and could at least in theory allow Tabasco to rebuild their pitching staff with several high level pitchers acquired in a Busam deal. But the most likely scenario continues to be that Tabasco tries their best to improve their pitching around Busam, and he’s their opening day ace for the 2042 season as well.

China Grove’s Re-Tooled Roster Tops in HL

The league’s most active team on the trade market over the last few seasons, the uber-talented China Grove roster finally paid dividends, as they finished with the best record in the Heartland League for the first time since the 2029 season. The team is making their first playoff appearance since 2035.

The Samurai boast arguably the league’s deepest all around roster. With ace Augusto Altagracia and highly paid Luis Brisita to follow, the Samurai have a talented and experienced 1-2 combination at the top of their rotation, CL Jose Hernandez is coming off of a great season as the team’s closer, and the lineup boasts some of the league’s best hitters. Michael Jordan, one of the CBL’s greatest all-time players, continues to patrol center field like a young man and hits 7th in the incredibly deep lineup. This team may be better built for the postseason than the regular season, which is saying a lot since they were the HL’s best regular season team.

The Quiet Stars

Manchester is always in the race for the HL’s best record every year, but despite their constant greatness, most of their players tend to fly under the radar. Jesus Perez is one of the league’s best defensive center fielders, despite a down year (for him) on that side, but he’s an above average hitter and his 4.5 WAR was well worth the monetary investment. Hector Ramos finished the season with 125 RBI.

Noel Hafey and Tony Hernandez are much more well known around the league, and at least on paper give Manchester one of the most talented 1-2 punches in the postseason. However, both pitchers struggled throughout the year, with Hafey posting a less than dominant 3.81 ERA and Tony Hernandez somehow posting a 4.78 ERA and leading the league in walks despite otherworldly talent.

Despite the down years, Manchester continued it’s dominance, finishing third in the HL with an 87 win season, thanks to depth and a well rounded roster.

The Philadelphia Phenomenon

For most of the season, the Philadelphia Liberty appeared destined for a postseason berth, before a late season swoon. On September 22, with just 9 games remaining, the Liberty were 5 games back of the final playoff spot, and it seemed as if there season was going to end without that postseason. The Liberty shocked everyone, however, by going 7-2 over those 9 games, including a season ending 5 game winning streak that forced a 1-game playoff with the collapsing Chicago Dogs. The Liberty won that game, too, and now have the chance to shock baseball by defeating the HL’s top team this postseason.

With a combination of young up and coming stars and veterans, as well as an incredibly hot team overall, the Liberty should be an interesting team to watch this postseason. Frank Gallagher, likely the HL Jose Arvizu Winner, had an absolutely remarkable season. He hit .316/.410/.615 with 44 HR in 154 games, posting an impressive 7.7 WAR. The Liberty will be relying on him to continue that dominance if they can make any kind of run this fall.

Dog Days of September

Despite the Chicago Dogs heartbreaking late season collapse, they played some of the best baseball in the league during the second half of the season. Jonathan Pontecorvo had a great season, hitting 38 home runs, and continues to be a great free agent acquisition for the franchise. It will be interesting to see if the organization is able to sign him to an extension, or if he will once again hit the market.

26-year old catcher Brit Sosalla had another solid season as well, and looks poised to be one of the league’s best two way catchers for the next few seasons. Bernard Campbell, the team’s other 26-year-old catcher, also had a very good season, and could be used as trade bait this off-season to try and bring back some help for the big league club. But it’s definitely nice to have two very good CBL catchers just entering their prime when most teams are scrambling to field even one usable catcher.

Scrappers Fall Short, Future Looks Bright

Mahoning Valley just narrowly missed qualifying for the playoffs, finishing in 5th place with an 80-82 record. Despite the team’s failed late season charge, the Scrappers seem well positioned for next season.

Rob Ackerson hit .309/.389/.617 in 156 games and should anchor this lineup for years to come. 21-year-old third baseman Cal Rought is the league’s youngest star, after hitting .308/.389/.525 in 148 games, and looks set to be a batting champion in the very near future. The Scrappers will have an interesting decision to make on long-time CBL great Lucio Aguilar, who has a team option worth just under $12 million for next season. He hit .228/.296/.473, but added 35 home runs and remained a capable defender in the outfield. It seems likely the organization will want Aguilar back for at least one more season, but it’s something to follow in what might be an unusually deep free agent class.

At Least We Have Dan King

The Colorado Gold Sox finished with the HL’s second most runs scored this year, a very impressive 784 runs. Unfortunately their pitching was so bad that they still finished with the league’s worst record, and earned the #2 overall pick in next June’s amateur draft.

23-year-old Dan King, however, looks like a future Jose Arvizu Award Winner. He hit .300/.381/.540 with 31 home runs in 148 games this season. Some scouts feel he will need to move to first base in the next season or two because he’s quickly becoming a defensive liability at second, but the bat is extremely talented and he’s a base stealing threat as well. He could develop into one of the last 40-40 talents in the league if given the opportunity, and is a great player for this franchise to build around as they try to get back to respectability over the next few seasons.

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Tim Imasa

Big fan of Dan King! Dude batted over .300 in his first two seasons in CBL.

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