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PCL Preview: No shortage of studs
d'Arnaud, Profar, Hultzen ready to shine on Triple-A stage
04/03/2013 10:00 AM ET
Travis d'Arnaud played for Las Vegas last year when it was a Toronto affiliate.
Travis d'Arnaud played for Las Vegas last year when it was a Toronto affiliate. (David J. Phillip/AP)

The Pacific Coast League is the place to be this season if you're looking to catch some of baseball's top young talent.

Six of MLB.com's Top 10 prospects will start the year there, including three of the top four hitters, the No. 1 left-handed pitcher and the Minors' top-rated battery.

From affiliation changes and managerial moves, MiLB.com takes a look at what the PCL has to offer in 2013.

Go west, young Mets: The biggest change to the PCL landscape in 2013 is the affiliation change of the Las Vegas 51s.

Since 2009, the 51s had been the Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays. That ended last September when the Mets announced a two-year player development contract with the 51s and the Blue Jays partnered with the Buffalo Bisons.

The change, a necessity once Buffalo declined to renew its partnership with the Mets, means New York's top prospects will be roughly 2,000 miles west of where they were last year.

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While Travis d'Arnaud should flourish in his second go-round at hitter-friendly Cashman Field, pitching prospects like Zack Wheeler may see a spike in their ERAs in the new environment.

No shortage of tools: Baseball's top prospect, Jurickson Profar, will start the year in Round Rock. He played nine games with the Rangers as a September callup but has not played above Double-A in the Minors.

Scouts rave about his glove work, his baseball IQ and his in-game instincts, but he has a good enough bat as a switch-hitter to hit for average and power. Profar put up similar numbers in Frisco in 2012 as he did a year earlier in Hickory, despite skipping Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach.

Here's a look at his 2011 and 2012 stats:

  • 2011: .286, 123 hits, 12 homers, 65 RBIs, 23 steals, 65 walks, 63 strikeouts in 115 games.
  • 2012: .281, 135 hits, 14 homers, 62 RBIs, 16 steals, 66 walks, 79 strikeouts in 126 games.

Profar's batting average barely dipped (the difference was three base hits in 480 at-bats), while his power and run production were comparable, considering he went from L.P. Frans Stadium -- a park that favors hitters -- to Dr Pepper Ballpark, which is widely considered a pitchers' park.

While his strikeout-to-walk rate increased marginally, his K rate per at-bat barely moved and, even though he attempted 12 fewer steals in 2012, he was successful 80 percent of the time (16-for-20) compared with 72 percent (23-for-32) the year before.

A battle of aces: Tacoma and Las Vegas will meet 16 times before the Triple-A All-Star break, giving fans of both teams chances to catch one of the Minors' best pitching matchups before one -- or both -- earn a promotion to the Majors.

With Taijuan Walker and Wheeler both starting at Triple-A, fireworks could be in store when Seattle's ace squares off with the Mets' future stalwart.

Walker, MLB.com's No. 5 prospect, won seven games and struck out 188 batters at Double-A Jackson last year, while Wheeler -- ranked eighth -- went 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA between Double-A Binghamton and Buffalo.

Power outage in the desert: The Reno Aces conquered all comers in 2012, recording more hits (1,507), runs (856) and steals (155) than any other club.

But everything's new in Reno this year. Adam Eaton, who won the PCL batting crown with a .381 average and led the league with 38 steals, likely will rehab his sprained left knee ligament and head to the Majors, while veteran Mike Jacobs left via free agency.

Ryan Wheeler was traded to the Rockies, Cole Gillespie signed with the Giants and Randy Ruiz and Josh Bell latched on with the White Sox this spring. All five Aces who hit double-digit homers (and combined for 344 RBIs) in 2012 are gone.

This little piggy went to Oklahoma City: The Astros announced last week that the RedHawks will use tandem starting pitching in 2013, with GM Jeff Luhnow speculating it could be a first at the Triple-A level.

The Houston Chronicle reported that Jordan Lyles, John Ely, Jarred Cosart, Rudy Owens, Paul Clemens, Brett Oberholtzer, Dallas Keuchel and Jose Cisnero will be paired up, with each starter throwing five innings or 75 pitches before turning it over to his "piggyback" partner, who will go up to four innings or 60 pitches. Five days later, the roles will be reversed.

Managerial moves: In January, the Cubs announced that Marty Pevey will be Iowa's new manager and the 29th man to lead the franchise since Triple-A baseball came to Des Moines in 1969.

Pevey, the I-Cubs' seventh manager in seven seasons, had served as the Cubs catching coordinator for the past three seasons.

On the same day Chicago announced its Minor League field staffs, Oakland named seven-year big league veteran Steve Scarsone the fifth manager in River Cats history.

Scarsone managed Class A Kane County in 2009, Class A Advanced Stockton in 2010 and Double-A Midland the past two seasons.

Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Pacific Coast League.

  • Last season's Championship Series: Lynchburg over Winston-Salem in four games MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last perfect game: Keith Ramsey, Kinston vs. Myrtle Beach, Sept. 6, 2004
  • Last perfect game: Brandon Hynick, seven innings, Colorado Springs vs. Portland, June 30, 2009 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last no-hitter: Jhoulys Chacin, Joel Peralta, Juan Rincon and Randy Flores, Colorado Springs vs. Oklahoma City, Aug. 18, 2009 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Juan Berenguer (220), Tacoma, 1979
  • Last cycle: Caleb Gindl, Nashville vs. Albuquerque, July 10, 2011 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last three-homer game: Ricardo Nanita, Las Vegas vs. Sacramento, Aug. 18, 2012 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last 30-homer hitter: Mike Hessman (35), Oklahoma City, 2012

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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