'96 was also the first year we were recreating the MLB season in terms of length, although we picked the dubious 144 game year to start with.
Once again the franchise went with pitching, taking Maddux, Pete Schourek, and David Wells with our first 3 picks. After taking franchise favorite Jay Buhner in the 4th round, we surprised ourselves and took Tony Fossas (eventual 14 game winner out of the pen), who slid too far for the Zima to pass up. We also stuck with defense, landing both Brad Ausmus (8+5) and Dan Wilson (8+5), which later allowed the Zima to swing an important trade.
The infield was Galarraga, Bret Boone, Gary DiSarcina, and Matt Williams. The outfield was Buhner in right, Kirby Pucket in left in his final SL season, and Griffey playing half the time in center. Devo was the backup, with 23rd round draft pick and diamond in the rough John Cangelosi getting a few games in the field, while normally DHing. Canseco provided more power to the lineup, while Tim Naehring and Mike Bordick got plenty of PT behind the J-2s at their respective positions.
This team turned out to be the toughest juggling act I've ever had, as Williams, Griffey, DiSarcina and Cangelosi were all part-timers. I had two lineups created, one around Griffey and the other around Williams, that each would be used roughly half the time. Griffey had an extended injury early, 15+ games. This forced me to play the Williams lineup a lot, which was the Canseco lineup. Jose generally was going to platoon with Cangelosi, though not exactly. Well, Griffey finally came back, and since they had sat so much the lineup played often. With the new lineup in place, the team started clicking. Sometime after the all star break, the Zima completed an important trade, one that I feel was one of the fairer trades in SL history. The Zima sent Brad Ausmus (6th round pick), Bret Boone (7th), and Tony Tarasco (20th) to John Bryant's Keystone Keggers for Craig Biggio (4th), Chris Hoiles (19th), and I think a 6 pack of PBR. The trade allowed Yuma to drop Puckett from 2nd in the order to 6th, and Biggio's presence meshed seamlessly with Cangelosi, and the team caught fire. After sweeping division rival Ken Klein's Cape Hatteras Hanrahans near midseason, the Zima pulled away from the pack to take their division and the best regular season record.
Now, I won't dwell too long on the fact, but allowing 4 of 7 teams in the playoffs is way too much. Also, 5 game series allow luck more than anything to be the determining factor of the result. Anyways, the Zima were shocked by barely playoff entrant Evanston Vedders, who went on to win the World Series. I'll end this discussion about as smoothly as I stomped down the hill after that series.
The '96 season was a big step, our first recreation of a MLB length season, though only 144 games. This allowed better player usage, getting away from the J ratings. Its the season that began the modern era of the Summer League, though it still had some warts.