03/19/2008 10:00 AM ET
South Atlantic League preview
Unique promotions, recent top draft picks on deck in Class A circuit
By Tim Leonard / Special to MLB.com
Minor League Baseball kicks off the season on April 3 and leading up to Opening Day, MiLB.com will be taking a close look at what the year might bring for each league. Here's a team-by-team analysis of what you might find in the South Atlantic League.
Creativity is definitely not lacking in the South Atlantic League. The lower levels of the Minor Leagues tend to find different ways to sell the game and attract new fans and a look around the SAL shows that spirit and ingenuity is alive and well.
Sure, there are plenty of top prospects at the beginning of their development. These are some of the guys you'll be watching on network television in three or four years. For now though, they toil in relative obscurity as they refine their skills and prepare for the next level.
But before they get to the Major Leagues, where a keychain is considered a good giveaway, they'll spend some time here ... where some interesting tactics are used to fill the seats.
The promotions include midget wrestling, dogs coming to the ballpark, sombreros, two sets of NFL cheerleaders, game shows, race cars, cereal bowls, soap opera stars, lots of bobbleheads and enough fireworks to light up the night sky all the way to the All-Star break. On the serious end, the South Atlantic League will be honoring John Henry Moss, who stepped down as president after 50 years following the 2007 season, all year long.
Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect in the South Atlantic League in 2008:
2007 Results: 80-58
2008 Manager: Joe Mikulik
Things to look forward to: Asheville manager Joe Mikulik is 39 wins away from No. 600 on his career. Mikulik gained some notoriety two seasons ago for a rather animated disagreement with umpires that featured what might have been the best spike of a water bottle in pro sports history. ... For the first time in the 84-year history of the franchise, all of the team's 140 games will be broadcast on the radio after the Tourists reached a three-year agreement with WRES-FM. ... As part of a league-wide, season-long tribute, the Tourists will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on June 7.
2007 Results: 89-51; First-half Southern Division title
2008 Manager: Andy Skeels
Things to look forward to: Much ballyhooed 17-year-old sensation Angel Villalona, one of the top young talents in the Giants organization is expected to play for Augusta and also to make the switch to first base. ... Three first-rounders from the 2007 First-Year Player Draft also could be on the Opening Day roster. Right-hander Madison Bumgarner, the Giants top overall pick, could be joined by Nick Noonan and Charlie Culberson. ... The GreenJackets will celebrate their 20th season in 2008 and will be remembering the past 20 years of baseball all season. ... On May 3, a bobblehead of pitching coach and former Major Leaguer Ross Grimsley will be given to fans. The bobblehead will even come with Grimsley's signature handlebar moustache. Not coincidentally, it's also 70s Night. ... The club will have a Bark in the Park Night, where fans can bring their dogs to the game. ... The GreenJackets will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on July 19.
2007 Results: 78-62
2008 Manager: Torre Tyson
Things to look forward to: The RiverDogs have had a winning record in each of the last five seasons, the longest such streak in the league. ... Dave Matthews Band is doing a summer tour and will play a concert at Joe Riley Park on July 4. The band is expected to play songs from an as-yet released studio recording. Tickets to the show will be priced at $65 plus service charges. ... The RiverDogs were named "Best Pro Sports Team" in the Charleston area by the Charleston City Paper in 2007. ... Charleston certainly has some of the more creatively named promotions in the league. Among them are "Go Back to Ohio Night," "Salute to Yankees Facial Hair Policy," "The Writers Strike Back" and "Pope on a Rope." "Go Back to Ohio Night" will poke fun at the large number of people who have moved from Ohio to the Charleston area. ... The club will once again play host to Midget Wrestling on Aug. 21. The annual event quickly has become one of the team's more popular promotions. ... The RiverDogs will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on June 13.
2007 Results: 82-53; 2007 SAL champions
2008 Manager: Matt Quatraro
Things to look forward to: The Catfish begin the season on a five-game winning streak after sweeping their way through the South Atlantic League playoffs in 2007. ... The Catfish are expected to once again have some of Tampa Bay's top prospects. Included in that group are catcher Michael Reid, left-hander David Newman and outfielders Emeel Salem and Reid Fronk. ... The club will honor American soldiers on Military Appreciation Day on June 21. Soldiers from Fort Benning will receive free admission to the game against Charleston. ... On May 2, the Catfish will have Dos de Mayo Sombrero Night, where the first 500 fans will receive a free sombrero. ... The Catfish will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on May 17.
2007 Results: 68-68
2008 Manager: Gary Kendall
Things to look forward to: The Shorebirds don't want a repeat of last season when they face Lake County on Apr. 8-10. The Captains threw two no-hitters against Delmarva last season. ... Delmarva will have 19 Fireworks Nights. There will be three instances during the season where the team has fireworks on back-to-back nights. ... Several national acts will be coming to Arthur Perdue Stadium. Those include Dora the Explorer, The Bucket Boys and Sergeant Slaughter among others. ... The team will have an NFL Night on Aug. 15, which will feature the immensely popular and talented Washington Redskins cheerleaders. ... he Shorebirds will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on July 10.
2007 Results: 71-69
2008 Manager: Edwin Rodriguez
Things to look forward to: Greensboro will be the site of the 2008 South Atlantic League All-Star Game on June 17. ... Greensboro drew a franchise-record 441,109 fans last season, the third time the club attracted at least 400,000 fans. Attendance has gone up in each of the three years at the ballpark, which was renamed NewBridge Bank Park in November. ... The Grasshoppers expect to have Florida Marlins' 2007 first-round draft pick Matt Dominguez in their lineup. Another top prospect, Michael Stanton, is also expected to be on the roster. ... Deal or No Deal will be played in a daily between-innings promotion. The Grasshoppers won't be attempting to give away $1 million, but they do promise that they will have women holding the cases just like the TV show. ... While the team is away on June 30, the ballpark will still be open, playing host to the Shaggin Fun Beach Music Festival. Beach music will be played all day and fans can dance on the infield. ... The Grasshoppers will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on June 17.
2007 Results: 58-81
2008 Manager: Kevin Boles
Things to look forward to: The name of the stadium has been changed. Formerly known as West End Field, it will now be called "Fluor Field at the West End" after the Drive and Fluor Corporation. The move was announced in late February and the new stadium sign will be in place by Opening Day. ... Oscar Tejeda is a big-time shortstop prospect and is expected to spend time on the Drive's roster. Tejeda played much of the 2007 season in the Gulf Coast League before being moved up to Class A Short-Season Lowell. Tejeda had nearly identical statistics at both stops. ... Fluor Field will host several Division I college baseball games this season. Michigan State and Quinnipiac (CT) kicked off the schedule on Mar. 14. Other teams who will play there during the season include Furman, Tennessee, South Carolina and Clemson. Also, Team USA will face Chinese-Taipei on June 25. ... The Drive will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on July 17.
2007 Results: 55-81
2008 Manager: Darnell Coles
Things to look forward to: Hagerstown could be home to several of the Nationals' top prospects this season. Southpaws Josh Smoker, Jack McGeary and Glenn Gibson could be in the rotation along with right-hander Colton Willems. Power-hitting outfielder Michael Burgess and wunderkind Esmailyn Gonzalez are expected to lead the offense. ... The Suns will see what it looks like at the starting line on Opening Day, as the team will play host to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 car on Apr. 11, presented by the Maryland Army National Guard. It will be the West Virginia Air National Guard's turn on July 26, when the Suns give away 1,000 camouflage hats. ... The Tourists will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on May 30.
2007 Results: 70-66; Won second-half Northern Division title
2008 Manager: Gary Green
Things to look forward to: The pitching rotation could feature the Pirates' last two No. 1 draft picks. Brad Lincoln, their top pick in 2006, is coming back from Tommy John surgery and could start the season in Hickory. Also, 2007 No. 4 overall pick Daniel Moskos could also be ticketed to Hickory as the Pirates look to convert him from a reliever to a starter. ... Other highly regarded prospects expected to be on the roster include pitcher Duke Welker, shortstop Brian Friday, catcher Andrew Walker and first baseman Justin Byler. ... Crawdads hitters have a bit of a reputation to live up to in 2008 -- a hickory player has led the SAL in RBIs in each of the past two seasons. ... The team's annual Christian concert will take place on Aug. 2 and be headlined by multi-Dove award nominee Matthew West. ... The Crawdads will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on June 27.
2007 Results: 69-70
2008 Manager: Chris Jones
Things to look forward to: The Intimidators will have Fieldcrest Cannon Reunion Night. The promotion is an unusual one because its motivation was the mill shutting down five years ago in what was the biggest layoff in North Carolina history. Former employees of the company credited with building the town of Kannapolis, will be admitted for free and are coming back to reminisce with their co-workers. There will be displays with artifacts and pictures all around the stadium concourse. The employees will be recognized throughout the game. ... Kannapolis will also have a Going Green Night where fans will be urged to help the earth and be made aware of what the stadium is doing to be more environmentally aware. ... A BBQ Bash will also be held, with 30 cook teams already having signed up for the event. Chicken, ribs, pork butts are on the menu. Winners will be determined in each class, along with an overall Fans' Choice. ... The Intimidators will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on May 10.
Lake County Captains
2007 Results: 64-74
2008 Manager: Aaron Holbert
Things to look forward to: The Captains were more like Admirals against Delmarva, tossing two no-hitters against the Shorebirds last season. The two teams meet for the first time on Apr. 8. ... The Captains will face the Akron Aeros, Cleveland's Double-A affiliate, in an exhibition game on Apr. 1. The game will take place at 6 p.m. ET at Classic Park. The teams also played last season, an event which proved to be very successful. ... Lake County has a team-record 20 fireworks shows scheduled. ... Plaques for pitcher Aaron Laffey and outfielder Ben Francisco will be unveiled on the Captains' Walk of Fame on Opening Day. They will be the seventh and eighth players to be enshrined. ... The Captains will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on May 23.
2007 Results: 69-65
2008 Manager: Steve Roadcap
Things to look forward to: The BlueClaws are loaded with some of the most promising talent in the Philadelphia Phillies system. At the top of the list is 18-year-old Freddy Galvis, a dazzling shortstop already renowned for his glove work. Third baseman Travis Mattair and outfielder Dominic Brown are both projected to put up big power numbers. ... The Concert Ticket Extravaganza will be held twice, once on May 22 for summer concerts and again on Aug. 28 for fall concerts. Fans receive raffle tickets as they enter and can place as many of those tickets into a drawing for each of the concerts represented. ... There will be several promotions recognizing former BlueClaws who made it to the Phillies last season. Bobbleheads featuring Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Ruiz and Mike Zagurski will be given away. The team will also give away a poster commemorating all of the BlueClaws who have made it to the Major Leagues. ... Cameron Mathison, the star of All My Children and Dancing with the Stars, will make an appearance on June 8. ... There is also a Mystery Promotion on May 17. It's so secret that even the club's public relations people don't know what it is. But whatever it is, it promises to be very big. The only clue we could get was "They're Coming." Hmm, could it be The Osmonds? Naah, probably not. ... The BlueClaws will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on July 8.
2007 Results: 59-81
2008 Manager: Gregg Langbehn
Things to look forward to: Catcher Max Sapp is one of the most promising prospects in the Houston Astros system. Sapp is expected to be joined by second baseman Matthew Cusick, outfielder Collin DeLome, outfielder Steve Brown, pitcher Jason Dominguez and pitcher Victor Garate, all of whom were All-Stars in the New York-Penn League last season. ... Kids will want to hit the ballpark for opening weekend, Apr. 11-13. The first 250 kids will receive a free Transformers figurine. And, yes, you can get one each day. Parents who bring their kids on Saturday get a free pass to Keeneland Race Track. ... The club will hold Education Day in the middle of May. Schools are invited to come to the ballpark for a field trip. Baseball-related curriculum will be made available. ... Intern Survivor will be back. The Legends' full-time interns will engage in four days of competitions and challenges with the last one standing winning a prize. ... Lexington is expected to be without a player named Clemens on the roster for the first time since 2005. ... The Legends will have a new radio voice in Rob Gidel, who replaced original play-by-play man Larry Glover. Gidel formerly was the voice of the professional arena football Louisville Fire. ... The Legends will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on June 20.
2007 Results: 66-74
2008 Manager: Randy Ingle
Things to look forward to: The Braves will give away a car on May 30. Well, it's a used car, but someone will be driving it home after the game. Bring gas money. ... Another unusual giveaway will see the first 1,000 fans receive a cereal bowl on June 20. The following night will feature an appearance by Reggie the Purple Party Dude. ... A different 1,000 fans will receive a Christmas ornament on July 11 as part of the Christmas in July promotion and another 1,000 fans will receive a free Rome Braves Football during a giveaway on Aug. 15. ... There are plenty of theme days in Rome. Sundae Sundays will feature ice cream specials. Money Monday will see fans have a chance to win some greenbacks. Two-fer Tuesday allows fans to buy one box-level seat and get the second one free. Wednesday is YMCA Wednesday and Thursday is Dollar Drinks Night. ... The Braves have added All-you-can-eat seats for the 2008 season. ... The Braves will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on Apr. 18-19.
Savannah Sand Gnats
2007 Results: 41-94
2008 Manager: Donovan Mitchell
Things to look forward to: This will be Mitchell's first year as a manager at the full-season Class A level. He spent the past two seasons at the helm of the Rookie-level Kingsport Mets, compiling a 69-66 record. ... The Sand Gnats will retire Lou Brissie's No. 3 jersey at a ceremony on April 29, marking the first time in Savannah history that a jersey number has been retired. Brissie, who went on to play with the Philadelphia Athletics, was the last 20-game winner for Savannah. ... The club will host a 5K Home Run Trot on May 17. The race begins at 8:15 a.m. ET, with registration beginning at 7 a.m. on the day of the race. ... The Sand Gnats will get their fans involved in activities other than baseball. There is a Season Ticket Road Trip to Charleston on June 24 and a Sand Gnats Golf Classic on July 15. ... Grayson Stadium has a new playing surface. The project involved removing the old sod and installing a new irrigation system. Layers of crushed rock, sand and clay were placed on the field before new sod was laid down. New light poles also were installed and a weight training facility and indoor batting cage are supposed to be coming soon. ... The Sand Gnats will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on July 26.
West Virginia Power
2007 Results: 82-54; Won first-half Northern Division title; advanced to the championship series
2008 Manager: Jeff Isom
Things to look forward to: After making their first league championship appearance in 15 years, the Power could be poised to make it two in a row. West Virginia will have Andrew Lefave, who won the league batting title with a .345 average. Caleb Gindl is expected to give the Power another strong bat. Gindl won the Pioneer League batting title with an eye-catching .372 batting average in 2007. Infielder Eric Farris and infielder Steffan Wilson are two more potent bats in the lineup. ... The team likely will have to order a few more kegs for Old School Night on Apr. 24. Local sororities and fraternities are being invited to enjoy a college-themed night dedicated to the movie Old School. But, please, no streaking. ... The Power will have a football night at a baseball game on Aug. 9. It will be NFL Night and fans will be encouraged to wear their favorite football jersey to the game. There will also be a visit from the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Rah-Rah! ... The Power will honor SAL President Emeritus John Henry Moss on Aug. 2.
Tim Leonard is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.