03/27/2008 10:00 AM ET
Eastern League preview
Double-A circuit's 12 teams will battle with promotions, bats
By Michael Echan / Special to MLB.com
As the saying goes, a little friendly competition never hurt anyone. Indeed, the Eastern League certainly won't suffer any ill effects from a promotional rivalry between the Reading Phillies and Altoona Curve.
While Reading honors one of its greatest all-time players and his famous facial hair, Altoona pokes fun at some coaches who are remembered less fondly with the teams they left high and dry. The Curve will throw a few hundred dollars and free food at a major film star, while the Phillies defy baseball tradition by banning a standard ballpark favorite. The back-and-forth exchange dates back to when Curve general manager Todd Parnell was employed by the Phillies.
"A few years ago, [Parnell] used to work for Reading," said Matt Hoover, Altoona's director of promotions. "He had a good run there and made some friends. He's become friends with [Reading general manager Scott Hunsicker], and that's probably a reason why they try to one-up each other. It's all in good fun."
That doesn't mean promotional creativity is limited to these two Pennsylvania-based clubs. Plus, the action on the field will be just as entertaining, with many of Minor League Baseball's top talents sharpening their skills in the 12-team circuit.
Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect in the Eastern League in 2008:
2007 Results: 80-61; Southern Division Wild Card winner; lost to Trenton in league championship
2008 Manager: Mike Sarbaugh
Things to look forward to: Though he spent most of last year with Akron, Chuck Lofgren again may see a few more starts with the Aeros before reaching either Triple-A Buffalo or the big leagues. The 22-year-old left-hander led the Aeros in wins (12) and strikeouts (123) in 2007, but the Indians would like to see his command improve. ... Infielder Beau Mills, Cleveland's first-round selection in last year's draft, could make a midseason appearance in Akron. Mills set the Lewis-Clark State College single-season home run record last year with 38 long balls. ... Every Monday in May, the Aeros will be giving away free tickets without limitations or restrictions, so fans could be sitting right behind home plate at no cost at all.
2007 Results: 73-68
2008 Manager: Tim Leiper
Things to look forward to: Left-hander Daniel Moskos is expected to be a fast climber in Pittsburgh's system. The Pirates made the hard-throwing Clemson reliever their top selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, and while he'll start the season at Class A Advanced Lynchburg, he could make it to Altoona in short order. ... Jamie Romak will bring his powerful bat and arm to Blair County Ballpark's right field this season. ... Prior to the June 3 game against New Britain, Altoona will "honor" Rich Rodriguez, Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino -- football coaches who failed to honor their own contracts -- as part of its Salute to Quitters Night. One fan in attendance will receive a free back door. ... Awful Night IV is in the works for July 7. Among the awful promotions last year were free pictures of the general manager's gall bladder and a Spam-eating contest. ... With the promise of $700 and a free Curve Burger, Altoona hopes to entice comedian Will Ferrell to attend Please Come to Altoona, Will Ferrell! Night on July 21. ... The Aug. 6 game against Akron will be Train Wreck Night: Ode to Fallen Stars. Promotions involving Britney Spears, Nick Nolte and David Hasselhoff will be included.
2007 Results: 61-81
2008 Manager: Max Oliveras
Things to look forward to: Outfielder Fernando Martinez, the Mets' top prospect, should return to upstate New York in 2008. Martinez batted .271 with 16 extra-base hits in 60 games for the B-Mets before a hand injury shut him down. ... Right-hander Eddie Kunz is a rare side-armer with a legit mid-90s fastball and hard slider. The Mets' top draft pick in 2007 (first supplemental round) will be pushed aggressively through the system, and a stop in Binghamton is likely. ... April 23 will be Farewell to the Yankees Day as the Trenton Thunder play their last game of 2008 at NYSEG Stadium. The event will also celebrate Yankees Minor League history in the area, as the old Binghamton Triplets -- a Yankees affiliate -- played in nearby Johnson City until 1968.
2007 Results: 72-68
2008 Manager: Brad Komminsk
Things to look forward to: Outfielder Nolan Reimold is already familiar with Bowie, but he's hoping he can leave on better terms this time. Baltimore's top power-hitting prospect has battled injuries over the years, slugging 11 home runs and 15 doubles in 50 games with Bowie last year before a strained oblique muscle ended his season. ... Maryland native Chorye Spoone will likely spend time in Bowie this year. He led the Carolina League in complete games (three) and held opponents to a .200 average while pitching for Frederick in 2007. ... As the Olympics approach, the Baysox will give Maryland residents a glimpse of what is to come in Beijing. The USA Olympic softball team will take on the Washington Glory in an exhibition game on May 10. ... May 24 will be Baysox World Record Night. The first 3,000 fans to register will be given kazoos to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
2007 Results: 63-78
2008 Manager: Bien Figueroa
Things to look forward to: Hopefully, the Defenders will end the season with the same manager they started with. Dave Machemer guided the team for the first three-plus months before stepping down in late July. Shane Turner took over for the remainder of the season. Bien Figueroa will lead Connecticut in 2008. ... Travis Denker will bring his gritty play to the Northeast for the first time in his career. The 22-year-old second baseman batted .480 with San Jose in the California League playoffs despite playing with a strained quadriceps muscle. ... Prior to the July 25 game against New Britain, the Defenders will hold a Home Run Derby featuring local media members and celebrities.
2007 Results: 81-59; Southern Division champs; lost in first round of playoffs
2008 Manager: Tom Brookens
Things to look forward to: Add Erie as another possible destination for Rick Porcello's anticipated whirlwind tour of the Minor Leagues. Detroit feels Porcello already has the arsenal and aptitude to challenge Major League hitters and will push him aggressively through its system. ... Wilkin Ramirez began his career as a third baseman but has improved greatly since a shift to the outfield. Ramirez set career highs in batting average (.273) and stolen bases (28) in 88 games with Class A Advanced Lakeland last year. ... It may not be the Fathead he's been hoping for, but new manager Tom Brookens can look forward to gracing another bobblehead. June 27 will have a Brookens Bobblehead Giveaway the same night as Mustache Night (a look Brookens already sports).
2007 Results: 55-86
2008 Manager: John Stearns
Things to look forward to: Southpaw Ross Detwiler will begin his first full pro season with Harrisburg. The sixth overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft has three potential plus pitches, including a lively fastball that reaches the upper 90s. ... Justin Maxwell had the brains for Harvard, but he went to Maryland and pursued a baseball career instead. The athletic center fielder projects as a Mike Cameron-type player with a blend of speed, power and defense. ... Manager John Stearns returns to central Pennsylvania after spending 2007 with Triple-A Columbus. The second overall pick in the 1973 draft and former defensive back at the University of Colorado was the Senators' manager in 2006.
New Britain Rock Cats
2007 Results: 69-72
2008 Manager: Bobby Cuellar
Things to look forward to: Right-hander Anthony Swarzak had a productive half-season with New Britain in 2007. His fastball is "only" in the low 90s, but his curveball is one of the best in Minnesota's system. The Twins hope he can develop a consistent third pitch. ... Jeff Manship is similar to Swarzak in that they both have above-average fastballs and tremendous curves. Manship differs in that he also features a changeup and a slider. ... Both hurlers should listen closely whenever new manager Bobby Cuellar speaks up. The changeup guru has taught the art of the off-speed pitch to the likes of Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
2007 Results: 70-73
2008 Manager: Gary Catchcart
Things to look forward to: The Fisher Cats have a new look this year. New Hampshire changed its colors to light green, gold and black, and the logo features a gray fisher cat peering over the team's name with a paw on either side. Underneath is a gray tail holding a baseball. ... Hilton Garden Inn Hotel visitors are lucky the hotel is built behind left-center field instead of right-center. That is where many home runs by incoming outfielder Travis Snider may land. Toronto's top hitting prospect led the Midwest League in extra-base hits (58), RBIs (93) and slugging percentage (.525) as a 19-year-old with Lansing. ... If all goes well, Snider could be playing in the Eastern League All-Star Game on July 16 at MerchantsAuto.com Stadium. Hopefully, this year's game will not suffer the same fate as last year's, which lasted only two innings due to thick fog.
Portland Sea Dogs
2007 Results: 71-72; Northern Division Wild Card winner; lost in first round of playoffs
2008 Manager: Arnie Beyeler
Things to look forward to: His stay lasted just eight starts in the California League, but right-hander Michael Bowden dominated the hitter-friendly circuit. Bowden went 2-0 and posted a 1.37 ERA while striking out 46 in 46 innings. After spending the second half of 2007 with Portland, he will likely start 2008 with the Sea Dogs. ... Surprisingly, no one in California League history had hit four home runs in a game until first baseman Aaron Bates did it last season. Bates will start the season at Portland's Hadlock Field in 2008. ... The Sea Dogs will hold two promotions in May to help combat cancer. On Mothers' Day, May 11, they will sponsor a 5K road race to benefit the Maine Cancer Foundation. May 23 will be "All the Hair You Can Spare" Night, giving fans a chance to shave their scalps in order to create wigs for cancer patients who lost their own hair.
2007 Results: 70-71
2008 Manager: P.J. Forbes
Things to look forward to: Right-hander Carlos Carrasco may return for a second stint with Reading after going 6-4 with a 4.86 ERA there during the second half of 2007. ... Joining Carrasco in the rotation will be fellow righty Drew Carpenter, who tied for the Minor League lead in wins with 17 and tossed a seven-inning perfect game with Clearwater last year. ... In one of the many offbeat promotions offered by Reading, the May 16 game against Akron will be a Food Allergy, Peanut-Free Game, where no peanut products will be sold and an entire section of the ballpark will be reserved just for fans with peanut allergies. ... Monty Python lovers will rejoice on June 20 as the R-Phils hold a pregame Spam Carving Competition before facing Akron. ... On Aug. 5 against Portland, Reading will honor two '80s icons: Mike Schmidt -- or Michael Jack Schmidt to Phillies fans -- and the mustache. A Michael Jack Schmidt-in-the-box will be given away to the first 2,500 fans on Tribute to the Mustache Night.
2007 Results: 83-59; Eastern League Champions
2008 Manager: Tony Franklin
Things to look forward to: 2008 will be the first season the Thunder will defend a title. Trenton won its first-ever Eastern League crown last year, defeating Akron three games to one. ... Jose Tabata continues his ascent up the New York Yankees' ladder as the 19-year-old outfielder heads to New Jersey. Tabata had just five home runs and 16 doubles last year with Class A Advanced Tampa, but the drop in power could be attributed to a lingering wrist injury. ... George Kontos will try to put together a healthy full season with Trenton. Kontos fanned 101 Florida State League batters in 94 innings with Tampa. ... Gone is Trenton's thunder-god logo of old; in comes an ominous dark-blue thunder cloud that wields a thunderbolt like a bat.
Michael Echan 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.