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Eastern League throws Altoona curve
Circuit awash in blue chips as first-time champs defend title
04/05/2011 10:00 AM ET
Former first-round pick Tony Sanchez will help Altoona defend its EL title.
Former first-round pick Tony Sanchez will help Altoona defend its EL title. (Carl Kline/MiLB.com)
As the Eastern League kicks off its 74th year (it was known as the New York-Pennsylvania League from 1923-1937) on Thursday, MiLB.com takes a look at the 2011 edition of the 12-team circuit.

The brightest stars will shine in the Eastern League's All-Star Game, hosted by the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Manchester, N.H.'s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on July 13.

Akron Aeros
MLB Parent Club: Cleveland Indians
2010 record: 71-71
2011 manager: Chris Tremie (first season)
Outlook: After reaching the Eastern League Finals in each of the previous five seasons (and winning twice), the Aeros had a relatively down year in 2010, going 71-71 and missing the postseason for just the second time in nine seasons. Manager Chris Tremie, in his sixth year with the Cleveland organization and fifth as a manager, takes over from Joel Skinner after helming the Indians' Arizona Rookie League club in 2010. His pitching staff will rely on right-hander Joe Gardner, who led the system in wins and strikeouts last season, going 13-6 with a 2.75 ERA in 28 starts for Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Kinston. The Carolina League All-Star held opposing hitters to a .197 average in 2010.

Altoona Curve
MLB Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates
2010 record: 82-60; Eastern League champions
2011 manager: P.J. Forbes (first season)
Outlook: A year after winning its first EL title, Altoona looks to reload with an influx of fresh prospects, including former first-round pick Tony Sanchez, speedy outfielder Starling Marte and southpaw Jeff Locke, who led the Pirates organization with 139 strikeouts last season. They'll find a familiar face in the dugout as P.J. Forbes takes over as Curve manager after spending the past two seasons as the Pirates' Class A Advanced skipper, first at Lynchburg in 2009 before helming the Bradenton Marauders last season. Both of those clubs reached the postseason.

Binghamton Mets
MLB Parent Club: New York Mets
2010 record: 66-76
2011 manager: Wally Backman (first season)
Outlook: New manager Wally Backman, who guided Class A Short-Season Brooklyn to a 51-24 mark last season, will bring some fire to the B-Mets dugout in 2011. The former Mets infielder will have to wait to mentor New York's potential second baseman of the future, as former first-round pick Reese Havens is still sidelined by an oblique injury that limited him to just 32 games last season. Left-hander Robert Carson has had a strong spring after struggling in 10 starts with the B-Mets last year, and Binghamton fans may also get to see another former first-rounder, 6-foot-5 slugger Allan Dykstra (no relation to Lenny), whom the Mets recently acquired from San Diego.

Bowie Baysox
MLB Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles
2010 record: 75-67
2011 manager: Gary Kendall (first season)
Outlook: The Baysox will look to extend their streak of four consecutive winning seasons under new manager Gary Kendell, who is in his 12th season in the Orioles system (eighth as a manager). Bowie fans can look forward to seeing speedster Xavier Avery, who ranked second in the organization in stolen bases, back in a Baysox uniform this summer. Second baseman L.J. Hoes, who was born in Bowie, should also be in the Baysox's lineup this summer. The 21-year-old is rated as the third-best prospect in the Baltimore farm system.

Erie SeaWolves
MLB Parent Club: Detroit Tigers
2010 record: 66-76
2011 manager: Chris Cron (first season)
Outlook: The SeaWolves start the season with one of the top pitching prospects in baseball leading their rotation. Right-hander Jacob Turner was the ninth overall pick in the 2009 Draft and posted a 3.28 ERA in 24 outings at West Michigan and Lakeland last season en route to being named MLB.com's No. 15 prospect. Joining him is southpaw Casey Crosby, who was injured last season but won 10 games for West Michigan in 2009. Chance Ruffin, a supplemental first-round pick last June, will come out of the bullpen for manager Cris Cron, who joins the Indians after 16 years in the White Sox and Rockies organizations.


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Harrisburg Senators
MLB Parent Club: Washington Nationals
2010 record: 77-65
2011 manager: Tony Beasley (first season)
Outlook: Tony Beasley, who served as the Pirates' third base coach for the past three seasons, returns to the Minors for his first managerial job since 2005. His pitching staff will be backstopped by Derek Norris, rated the second-best prospect in the Nationals system after posting a .419 on-base percentage for Carolina League-champion Potomac last year. He'll be joined by P-Nats teammate Tyler Moore, the Carolina League's Most Valuable Player. Right-hander Brad Peacock is also slated to return to Harrisburg after going 2-2 in seven starts with the Senators last season.

New Britain Rock Cats
MLB Parent Club: Minnesota Twins
2010 record: 44-98
2011 manager: Jeff Smith (second season)
Outlook: The Rock Cats are expected to start the season with several players returning from last year's squad, which posted the worst record in the Minor Leagues at 44-98. Former second-round pick Joe Benson clubbed 23 homers in 102 games for New Britain last season while former first-rounder Chris Parmelee batted .275. Australian-born right-hander Liam Hendriks was dominant in Class A before an emergency appendectomy cut his 2010 season short. Two other highly touted top picks, right-hander Alex Wimmers and outfielder Aaron Hicks are slated to begin the campaign with Class A Advanced Fort Myers, but could wind up in New Britain soon.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats
MLB Parent Club: Toronto Blue Jays
2010 record: 79-62
2011 manager: Sal Fasano (first season)
Outlook: Former big league catcher Sal Fasano takes over the reins for the Fisher Cats after guiding Class A Lansing to a winning record in his managerial debut last season. He'll have the chance to mentor top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, a 21-year-old former first-round pick who is already considered the best receiver in the Blue Jays system. Cuban émigré Adeiny Hechavarria has the glove to play Major League shortstop, but will likely return to New Hampshire to work on his hitting. The Cats should be powered by first baseman Mike McDade, who led the Florida State League with 21 homers last year, while speedster Anthony Gose, who has 121 steals over his last two seasons, provides the spark.

Portland Sea Dogs
MLB Parent Club: Boston Red Sox
2010 record: 70-71
2011 manager: Kevin Boles (first season)
Outlook: New manager Kevin Boles, who led Salem to the second-best record in the Carolina League last season, should have plenty of talent to work with in Portland this summer. Precocious shortstop Oscar Tejeda batted .307 for Salem in 2010 and hit .360 in Major League Spring Training this year, while catcher Ryan Lavarnway and third baseman Will Middlebrooks will provide some pop. Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel, 21, will anchor the Sea Dogs' rotation after leading Salem with 102 strikeouts last year.

Reading Phillies
MLB Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies
2010 record: 69-72
2011 manager: Mark Parent (first season)
Outlook: Former Major Leaguer Mark Parent joins the R-Phils this season after leading Class A Lakewood to a first-half division title, second-half title and Sally League championship -- the first time that had ever been accomplished. His new club starts the season with several key players sidelined with injuries. Outfielder Tyson Gillies had a monster season with High Desert in 2009, but has struggled with a hamstring problem for nearly a year. Second baseman Albert Cartwright also begins the season on the disabled list. On the bright side, the R-Phils' bullpen is stacked with a rejuvenated Phillippe Aumont, who had an outstanding spring, and Justin De Fratus, who posted a 1.94 ERA in 49 outings last year. Leading the rotation will be right-hander J.C. Ramirez, who was acquired (along with Aumont and Gillies) from Seattle in last year's Cliff Lee deal.

Richmond Flying Squirrels
MLB Parent Club: San Francisco Giants
2010 record: 68-73
2011 manager: Dave Machemer (first season)
Outlook: This season marks Dave Machemer's 22nd year as a Minor League manager and seventh in the Giants system. San Francisco first baseman Brandon Belt began his remarkable 2010 season in Richmond, and the Flying Squirrels have a few players looking to duplicate his accomplishment this year. Second baseman Charlie Culberson hit .290 with 16 homers and 25 stolen bases for California League-champion San Jose last year. Teammate Francisco Peguero batted .329 with 40 steals. Anchoring the Richmond staff will be returning starter Clayton Tanner, who posted a 3.68 ERA in 27 starts for the Squirrels last season. Left-hander Ryan Verdugo joins the Squirrels after going 8-1 with a sterling 1.87 ERA in 44 outings for Augusta and San Jose in 2010. Then he went 4-1 with a 2.45 mark in the elite Arizona Fall League.

Trenton Thunder
MLB Parent Club: New York Yankees
2010 record: 83-59; Eastern League runner-up
2011 manager: Tony Franklin (fifth season)
Outlook: Manager Tony Franklin returns to Trenton having guided the Thunder to the Eastern League's best record in three of the previous four years. His 2011 squad will be similarly talented, with two top pitching prospects, southpaw Manny Banuelos and 6-foot-8 right-hander Dellin Betances. Both hurlers made late-season appearances with Trenton last year. MLB.com's No. 35 prospect struck out 85 in 64 2/3 innings last year, while Betances went 8-1 with a 2.11 ERA and 108 strikeouts over 85 1/3 frames. The two will start the season pitching to Austin Romine, who is the victim of a catching logjam in the Yankees system. Romine drove in 69 runs in 115 games with the Thunder last year. Trenton will also feature last year's Florida State League MVP, outfielder Melky Mesa and ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte.

John Parker 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.
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