Triple-A is well known as the nearest stepping stone to the Major Leagues for obvious reasons. Indeed, about a dozen of MLB.com's Top 100 prospects are expected to start the year in the International League with a handful surely to follow from the lower levels of the Minor Leagues as the season moves on.
But there are always those who make a more permanent home at the Minors' top level. As MiLB.com looks forward at the upcoming 2013 season, we look at a team that's finally set up shop in its old/new home, one that's simply changed its affiliate, some of the league's newest skippers and one player who could be on the verge of some history.
Welcome the RailRiders: After a season of playing completely on the road and being unofficially called the "Empire State Yankees," the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise is back in its rightful northeastern Pennsylvania home and with a new identity to boot.
The RailRiders beat out Blast, Black Diamond Bears, Fireflies, Porcupines and Trolley Frogs in an online contest to become the new nickname of the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate, replacing the name shared by the parent club. The moniker represents the region's historic claim as the birthplace of the electric streetcar.
"We have a big trolley barn on our property in left field, and fans can take the trolley in to the game," Scranton/Wilkes-Barre president Rob Crain told MiLB.com. "RailRiders ties right in with that, and I think that the fans found that very appealing."
The transformation goes beyond just a name. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's new logo features a porcupine clutching the tracks as a nod to the nickname that appeared the most in the online contest. (RailRiders took top prize because it received themost first-place votes.) The team also adopted cardinal red and gold as the new colors as opposed to the classic Yankees colors.
The changes coincide with the conclusion of a massive $40-million renovation project at PNC Field that kept the team from competing at its usual home in 2012. But the work, which touched almost every inch of the stadium, has been completed just in time for the RailRiders to open their "new" complex against Pawtucket on Thursday. And they'll do so in style; Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson will be in attendance and throw out the first pitch.
Hey there, neighbor: The Buffalo Bisons announced back in September that they would be switching affiliations, and there was perhaps no better partner than the Blue Jays. Buffalo's Coca-Cola Field is just a 90-minute drive from Toronto's Rogers Centre, a fact that improves the situations of both clubs.
The Blue Jays move their affiliates from far-off Las Vegas to the city located just around the bend of Lake Ontario. That means emergency callups will happen more quickly and that those in the front office will have a much easier chance to look at some of the team's prospects at the Triple-A level.
Similarly, the Bisons will be able to piggyback off the regional support for the Blue Jays that could see an uptick given the big club's impressive offseason acquisitions. Unfortunately for Toronto, those same deals also had an adverse effect on the Toronto farm system. Top 10 prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Adeiny Hechavarria -- both of whom would have likely started the year at Buffalo -- now reside in the Mets and Marlins systems respectively. Noah Syndergaard (Mets), Jake Marisnick (Marlins) and Justin Nicolino (Marlins) still have some time before they reach the Triple-A level, but after the R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes-Josh Johnson-Mark Buerhle deals, they won't be Bisons anytime soon.
Instead, the Blue Jays will stock their first club in Buffalo with veteran organizational depth. Speedster Anthony Gose, who swiped 49 bags between Triple-A Las Vegas and Toronto last season, will spark the top of the lineup while Andy LaRoche, Moises Sierra and Luis Jimenez help fill out the rest. A member of the Bisons in 2010, Ramon Ortiz will lead the rotation once more after going 13-6 with a 3.45 ERA last season.
A new six-pack: Almost half of the 14 IL franchises will welcome a new skipper in 2014. The most noteworthy fresh face isn't exactly fresh at all. Jim Riggleman -- former Padres, Cubs, Mariners and Nationals manager -- will take over in Louisville, where he'll have the fastest man in baseball, Billy Hamilton, at his disposal.
A New England native, Gary DiSarcina might find himself with the most pressure as he returns close to home in Pawtucket. The former Angels shortstop will try to lead the PawSox to a repeat title after the team captured its first Governors Cup since 1984 last fall. With Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Bryce Brentz and potentially even top prospect Xander Bogaerts on the roster down the line, the squad should stand a fighting chance.
Chris Tremie will attempt a personal back-to-back when he takes over Columbus. He led Double-A Erie to a 2012 Eastern League championship. Dave Brundage (Lehigh Valley), Randy Ready (Gwinnett) and Marty Brown (Buffalo) fill out the remaining managers in new locales.
That's so Corky: Corky Miller's days as a prospect were numbered long ago, but 2013 could be a good season to watch his numbers. The 37-year-old catcher enters the season 70 games short of matching Louisville's franchise record for games played and needs 45 hits and just eight doubles to take over the top spot in each of those categories. Miller batted .235 (57 hits in 243 at-bats) with eight doubles in 89 games for the Bats last season. Since his first pro season in 1998, he has also played Triple-A ball for Rochester, Pawtucket, Charlotte, Richmond (formerly of the Braves in the IL) and Tacoma in the PCL.
Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the International League.
- Last season's championship: Pawtucket over Charlotte in three games MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last back-to-back champion: Columbus Clippers, 2010-11
- Last no-hitter: Justin Wilson, Indianapolis vs. Charlotte, Aug. 9, 2012 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last perfect game: Justin Germano, Columbus vs. Syracuse, July 26, 2011 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Jim Rooker, Toledo, 1968
- Last cycle: Jason Donald, Columbus vs. Charlotte, June 19, 2012 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last three-homer game: Conor Jackson, Charlotte vs. Columbus, June 21, 2012 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last 30-homer hitter: Jorge Vazquez, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 2011