By Bob McShaughnammons, CBA Columnist
With spring training in full swing, let’s take a look at 10 Premiere League players that we’ll be watching very closely in 2025, for one reason or another.
ABEL “SUPERMAN” KENNEDY, RF, THUNDERBIRDS. As a third year starter for Arizona, Kennedy had a breakout 2024 season, setting career highs in batting average, slugging percentage, HR, RBI, and OPS while taking home his first Coke Blak Surge trophy. And the scary thing? He’s only 23. With a WAR of 6.8, he’s already one of the most valuable players in the CBA, and he may be getting even better.
VICTOR “DINOSAUR” CASTILLO, 1B, GALE. Chicago stepped up with a six year deal worth nearly $20 million to bring Dinosaur into the fold. He will be vitally important in the middle of the Gale lineup, especially when older vets like Rory Blas and Ernie Reeder, both 35, begin their inevitable declines.
MIKE WATSON, 2B, ROYALS. Acquired in a midseason trade with Boston, Watson hit .356 for Cincy and helped dispel any concerns about his new club being relegated. In his second year as a Royal, the question is simple. Can he do it again? At age 37, his numbers as a Royal represented the best batting average and OPS of his career. He’ll see plenty of pitches to hit, batting ahead of Andy Baca. If he even approaches his second half showing from 2024, he will be a huge factor for CBC.
KEITH BUSH, SP, DEVILS. Bush is the greatest pitcher the CBA has ever had. He holds virtually every single season or career pitching record there is, and has been a mainstay on three great Dallas teams. But this winter, GM Kyle Mefford offered Bush around to anyone that would listen. Approaching the age of 35, it begs the question whether Bush’s best days are behind him. He was his usual dominant self in 2024, with career best marks in ERA, ERA+, and WHIP. But Bush has been roughed up in two spring training starts (8.53 ERA). You have to wonder if it is the beginning of the end for this CBA legend.
JAE-SHIN KIM, SP, WOLVES. Kim showed enough promise that Denver selected him early in the CBA inaugural draft, picturing him as a future ace. But three years in, Kim has not shown that he will ever be one. Despite electric stuff that can reach 101 on the gun, Kim has been hit hard and often. His penchant for surrendering gopher balls has killed him, as he has allowed 22 bombs or more in each of the past three seasons. Blinky Guzman is the undoubted Denver ace, and Law Dog Okuno has been the anchor of the staff. Kim needs to show whether he is anything more than mid-rotation filler.
JEREMY McKINNON, 3B, MOTORS. At just 19 years old, McKinnon was a contributor to Detroit’s second straight CBA tournament championship. The pressure never got to him, as he coolly hit .282 over 45 games at the hot corner. And he was a wrecking ball in the Senior Winter League, with an OPS approaching 1.000 despite being one of the league’s youngest player. If this switch-hitter continues to progress, the Detroit dynasty may not end anytime soon.
NICK PANKOW, SS, GIANTS. The Giants traded far up the board to grab Pankow with the #1 overall selection in the 2024 draft. He was thrown right into the fire, playing 47 games for a top flight, contending club. He held his own (.333 OBP), and he’ll be holding down shortstop for Florida for the long term. A second year breakout season could help propel the Giants’ to the top of the PL.
FABIO WIJKER, CF, PLAINSMEN. Armed with a six year, $24 million free agent deal, the Aruban sensation is being counted on to step in as an immediate starter in CF for Midwest. Two weeks into spring training, sources tell me that the Plainsmen brain trust are concerned that Wijker may not be ready for the bright lights of the Premiere League. The 28 year old with the smooth, left handed stroke simply has not produced, hitting .167 with just one extra base hit thus far. It’s too early to pass judgment, but if the slow start continues, pressure on Wijker will only mount.
ANICETO NAVAS, C, AXEMEN. Navas has yet to play in the majors, but expectations for him are high. A mid-first round selection last year, Navas destroyed pitchers at the Dev-B level (.375 average, 1.182 OPS). With Portland’s incumbent catcher Carlos Bonilla turning 34, Navas will need to contribute sooner rather than later.
ALEX FALLARDO, SP, GOLDEN BEARS. The 24 year old righthander was sensational in 10 Senior Winter League starts for Sacramento, going 5-2 with a 2.13 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a 7-1 strikeouts to walks ratio. With a fresh $33 million deal, Fallardo is practically assured a spot in the Bears’ rotation. With reliable starter Leo Lopez on the shelf for two months with a broken hand, Sacramento will not be afforded the luxury of giving Fallardo much time to mature.
McShaughnammons Spring Training Note of the Day: If you’re at a Denver game and thinking about ordering the Rocky Mountain Oysters, you should be forewarned that you’re not getting seafood.