We are now looking at each team specifically:
Huskies Rouen (roster):
They were the dominating team the past few years. They won four of the last five championships and also had success on the European level, finishing as runner up behind Corendon Kinheim (Netherlands) in the European Cup. But the gap between them and the other clubs was not that big. Their overall batting average of .323 and a team ERA of 2.75 only ranked second in the league. They will not get another title in a walkover.
They replaced Karl Meijholm with “The Bronx is Burning” star and former Cubs minor league pitcher Jason Kosow. They also brought in Keino Perez’ brother Randy, who is an infielder. He is going to get extensive playing time at the start of the season, because Kenji Hagiwara will miss the first two months due to the college season in the United States. Player-coach Dany Scalabrini extended his contract. He and captain Boris Marche led the team with a combined 65 RBI.
They should be on the same high level like last season. Obviously it could be difficult at the beginning with Hagiwara missing and Rouen setting high goals for the European Cup in Grosseto, which could cause some distraction during the early summer months. But even if they are not finish in first place after the regular season. They are certainly capable to march through the playoffs towards a fifth title.
Prediction: Check the last three seasons and you know what to expect.
Templiers Senart (roster):
They tried to challenge Rouen in the finals but fell short, despite impressive performances by number one starter Samuel Meurant. Senart only had reached the postseason in third, but overcame the local rivals Lions in the semi-finals.
Their biggest strength was Meurant (10-2, ERA 1.94, 120.1 IP, 111 SO), who accounted for two thirds of the wins. Overall the Templiers hurlers had an ERA of 3.21 (third in the league) and the offense batted a dismal .248. Their major acquisition was outfielder Gaspard Fessy from Barcelona. But if he alone can reinforce the batting order is questionable. Infielders Lahcéne Benhamida and Sebastian Herve are also new members of the roster.
If they were successful during the Offseason to get some life into the offense, they could be a tough opponent for Rouen and all other clubs. They welcome back Meurant, which is also important for the CEB Cup in Regensburg. Together with the American Evan Blesoff they feature an impressive 1-2 punch in the rotation.
Prediction: They are playoff bound.
Savigny Lions (roster):
They were upset by their local rivals Senart in the semi-finals after finishing second in the regular season, just a game behind Rouen. Savigny featured the best offense (.331) and the best pitching staff (ERA 2.27). Still they were disappointed with the overall result.
The powerful bats of Romain Scott Martinez and Jerome Rousseau will be back in 2008. Outfielder Christophe Goniot in addition to the pitchers Matt Wilpert and Guillaume Gisbert have left the club. They signed UCLA product infielder Nolan Rouse, the Venezuelan pitcher Jeffrys Blanco and pitcher/outfielder Thomas Salado.
The Lions could hold on to most of their best players, acquired some interesting new ones and are definitely talented enough to repeat their performance from last year.
Prediction: They will challenge Senart and Rouen in 2008.
Montpellier Barracudas (roster):
They are the fourth playoff participant from last season. Montpellier finished two games over .500 during the regular season and had no chance against the Huskies in the semis.
Their Offseason went not that well. They lost their best player, Brett Erickson (.443, 21 R, 28 RBI) and failed to sign an adequate replacement. They were interested in Mike Griffin of the Czech club Arrows Ostrava but could not reach an agreement. One of their starters, Nathanial French, also left the club. Andy Pitcher is going to be their new outfielder. They have to acquire another hurler during the season if they want a shot at the postseason.
Montpellier didn’t get better in the winter months transaction wise. It’s not going to be easy to reach the playoffs again.
Prediction: They will miss the playoffs.
Stade Toulouse (roster):
The finalist of 2006 had a disappointing 2007 season, missing the playoffs with a 12-12 record in fifth place. Obviously they are poised for a rebound.
But Toulouse didn’t do much in the winter to indicate a better season. They are a team in a transition period. Maxime Leblanc and Yanael Delpech retired; Kelly Villalta and Thibault Conduzorgue left the club too. They signed only Thomas Medina of the promoted club Clermont-Ferrand and rely mostly on a new wave of youth players. They will have four 17-year-old and three 19-year-old players on a 14-person-roster. Only head coach and catcher Jamal Boutagara and outfielder Frederic Rouge are older than 30.
It is difficult to say, what we can expect, especially with the young pitching staff. We have to wait for the first games. However due to the falling Montpellier they could have a chance for the fourth berth.
Prediction: Stade is surprising the league with their fresh play and clinch the fourth playoff spot.
Hawks La Guerche (roster):
They have to be happy that they not finished last in 2007. They won just three games. Like Toulouse the Hawks, with new pitcher-coach Mathieu Beauchamp, have a young roster, with only four players born in the 1970’s. The only other signing is pitcher Gaetan Le Poupon, who returns from Savigny. Together with Beauchamp and national team hurler Anthony Piquet they could have stabilized the staff. Nevertheless they didn’t do anything to strengthen the offense (.205 batting average), which barely made it over the Mendoza line last season.
La Guerche needs a big raise in the progression of their prospects if they want to be competitive.
Prediction: La Guerche stays in the lower third of the standings, though winning more than three games.
Paris University Club (roster)
They are a 23-time French champion, but haven’t won a title since 2000. They hit rock bottom last year, managing just two victories and finishing last.
Manager Fred Mouchet does have one of the deepest roster of the league. The question only is, how much talent is in it. They signed the Venezuelan catcher Douglas Rodriguez and UCLA pitcher/batter/coach Tim Stewart. Both will help, making a big step towards the upper parts of the standings.
Prediction: They may overtake La Guerche and climb some spots in the standings, but will miss the playoffs.
Arvernes de Clermont-Ferrand (roster):
They are the promoted club, going through Montigny to win the second division in France. Clermont-Ferrand misses just one piece of last season, as Thomas Medina joined Toulouse. They bring in the two Canadians infielders/pitchers Brett Murray and Doug Grant, who are forming the front end of the rotation together with Ariel Sanchez.
They are having a balanced roster from young, rough talent and veteran leadership. Manager Martin Picard and his team could surprise some teams, if they adjust fast to the elite level. The two Canadians certainly will help.
Prediction: They will stay in the league, moving towards La Guerche and Paris.
We recommend French-speaking readers to check out the fantastic media guide for the 2008 season of the Huskies Rouen (pdf-file).