Case in point: Columbus has an early lead in the West Division race thanks to one of the best prospects in baseball, along with one of the best veteran players in the IL.
The prospect is catcher Carlos Santana, who ranks among the league leaders in home runs (five) and RBIs (16). The offense isn't unexpected from Santana, as he was the Double-A Eastern League's MVP last season after leading Akron to the league title with 23 home runs and 97 RBIs, one season after earning MVP kudos in the Class A Advanced California League by batting .323 with 96 RBIs in just 99 games.
The 24-year-old Santana is expected to become Cleveland's everyday catcher -- perhaps by season's end -- but is still fine-tuning his game in Triple-A in preparation for a move to the Majors.
"The bat is the one thing that has been there each and every year [with Santana]," Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh said. "But it's also good for him to be around guys who have been in the Major Leagues to learn how to prepare for a game, how to look for tendencies from pitchers and from hitters [when he is catching].
"We've tried to emphasize communication and confidence. We've talked about talking to pitchers between innings and when he goes to the mound -- the responsibilities of being a catcher. He's got a plus arm, and he's made some strides defensively from last year to this year."
The veteran is outfielder Shelley Duncan, who in January signed with Cleveland as a six-year free agent. Duncan, who begins this week tied for the IL lead with 17 RBIs, was the league's MVP last season after leading the circuit with 30 home runs and 99 RBIs. He also was an IL Postseason All-Star in 2007 when he had 25 home runs and 79 RBIs.
But Sarbaugh said Duncan's value to the Clippers goes beyond his numbers.
"It's good to have guys like Shelley in the clubhouse," Sarbaugh said. "He's a guy with experience who can help the younger guys. He's a hard worker and a quality guy.
"The thing that impressed me most in the short time we've been together is his work habits. He's one of the first guys to get to the ballpark and one of the last to leave. He takes extra BP and does early work. He has a passion for the game, and that makes him a great guy for this ballclub."
Columbus begins the week in first place in the IL West, a far cry from last season when the Clippers, in the first year of an affiliation agreement with Cleveland, posted a miserable 57-85 record that was nearly the league's worst.
Sarbaugh said the Indians are committed to placing a successful team in Columbus, but the team isn't burdened with the pressure of trying to make up for the failures of last year's club.
"You'll hear people talk about last year's team in passing, but in Minor League Baseball, every year is different," said Sarbaugh, who is in his first season with the Clippers after managing at Akron last year. "This is a whole new group of guys and a whole new coaching staff. I'm sure there's a different feel to this year.
"There's nothing I can do about the past. All I can do is make sure these guys are ready to go every day and try to make sure these guys get better so they can help our big league club. If we put the time in and have them prepared, I believe that good things will happen."
Pops gets popped: Syracuse's train engineer mascot, Pops, had a tough night on April 22. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Jon Weber lost the grip on his bat after taking a swing, which sent the club helicoptering into the stands. The bat struck the baseball-shaped head of the mascot. Nelson Lebron, who was inside the Pops suit, suffered a bruised shoulder.
No mas: Charlotte has seen enough of Durham, having lost all four games the two teams have played so far this year by a combined score of 38-9. But here's the bad news for the Knights: they have 17 more games against the Bulls this year.
Much better: Buffalo enters this week with a 9-7 record, good for second place in the IL North Division. Not bad, and certainly better than last year, when the Bisons won only two of their first 19 games. Last year's team didn't claim its ninth victory until May 15.
Wildcats gone wild: Toledo's Fifth Third Field may have been confused for the University of Arizona on April 24. The 2-3-4 hitters for Columbus that day -- Jason Donald, Trevor Crowe and Shelley Duncan -- are former Wildcats, as was Toledo reliever Daniel Schlereth. Schlereth hit Donald with a pitch and struck out Duncan but never faced Crowe, who was ejected before the Mud Hens reliever entered the game.