The New York-Penn League kicks off its 74th season Monday night with the Hudson Valley Renegades standing as the defending champion after a 13-year drought.
As usual, the short-season circuit is expected to see an influx of top talent from the June Draft as first-rounders Jonathan Crawford (Tigers), Eric Jagielo (Yankees) and Marco Gonzales (Cardinals) as well as Red Sox second-rounder Teddy Stankiewicz are all expected to start their careers in the NYPL.
In State College, the Spikes enter their first year as a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate and have one of the more dynamic rosters taking shape, pairing the likes of 18-year-old prospect and 2012 second-rounder Carson Kelly with the 27-year-old Mitch Harris, who recently completed his five-year active-duty commitment to the United States Navy.
Tigers roar: Four years after filling a void left by a Double-A franchise that left town after 15 seasons, the Connecticut Tigers stand as a testament to the importance of community ties. That commitment will be on full display Aug. 13 when the team plays host to the eighth annual NYPL All Star Game at Dodd Stadium.
With new field renovations and concession upgrades for the upcoming season, the team is poised to bring in an even greater audience in 2013, cementing their foundation in Norwich.
"It's a great showcase for the team and the stadium," team vice president and assistant GM Eric Knighton said of the All-Star Game. "We want to showcase Southeastern Connecticut as well and the Norwich area by tying in unique aspects of the region to the event."
The addition of two new bars to Dodd Stadium, including a retro beer bar sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon, will bring a greater variety of beverage options to consumers, and Norwich's own Philly's Cheesesteaks, voted as having one of the best sandwiches in America by the Travel Channel, will also be featured in the park.
Some other improvements around the stadium include a new warning track and infield to improve the drainage of the field during inclement weather.
"It is a beautiful ballpark, and it truly sells itself," said Knighton. "Once here, people have a great time, and these upgrades will help add to that experience."
The team has opened their gates up to local high school teams, the NEC tourney, UConn and the University of Rhode Island and also signed a 25-year lease to show that they were in it for the long haul.
"We're not going anywhere," said Knighton. "We want to create a long-term relationship with Norwich and the community."
Staten Island's pot of gold: It had been eight years, going back to Ian Kennedy's selection at No. 21 overall, since the New York Yankees had drafted as high as the 26th pick. With that selection in last week's MLB Draft, they grabbed Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo, whom they quickly signed to a $1.8 million contract on June 12.
Jagielo, who hit .338 with nine home runs and 53 RBIs with Notre Dame this spring, will extend his 2013 season as a pro with the Staten Island Yankees.
Prior to the Draft, MLB.com cited Jagielo's strong 2012 Cape League season and noted his "legitimate power from the left side of the plate."
With that in mind, Jagielo may rise to the top of the Yankees Minor League third base depth chart, being a better defender than Dante Bichette Jr. and a bigger bat than David Adams. The Downers Grove, Ill., native gives Staten Island an opportunity to regain past glory. The Baby Bombers have won six of the last 13 league championships, led to their last one -- in 2011 -- by current top prospects Mason Williams and Tyler Austin.
Jagielo could soon be joined by fellow 2013 first-rounder Aaron Judge, a 6-foot-7 power-hitting outfielder out of Fresno State who was selected with the 33rd overall pick.
Affiliate shuffle: The St. Louis Cardinals and the Batavia Muckdogs, who formed a short-season alliance over the last six years that generated a New York-Penn League title in 2008, have parted ways as one of three affiliation changes since last season.
The Cardinals decided to reunite with the State College Spikes, after serving as the Spikes' affiliate in their inaugural season at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in 2006.
"It was sad to see the Cardinals go," said Muckdogs general manager Travis Sick. "They certainly provided us with some great teams and memories, including a league championship in 2008."
The grieving process wasn't a long one -- Batavia had a deal in place with the Miami Marlins on Sept. 28, just 13 days after the 2012 season had ended.
"Through meeting and talking with the Marlins folks, and through hearing from other teams in their Minor League system, I believe the Marlins will be a great fit for us," said Sick. "They are supportive of small-town baseball and are committed to helping us out in whatever way they can.
The Marlins former NYPL affiliate, the Jamestown Jammers, is now part of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, completing the deck of affiliate changes in the offseason.
All systems Margot: Being 45 minutes from Boston, the Lowell Spinners are used to being the first place where Red Sox fans can see future Sox stars on display. As the club's 18th season dawns, the next prospect to turn heads could be 18-year-old center fielder Manuel Margot.
Signed as a free agent for $800,000, the Dominican-born Margot turned shined in the Dominican Summer League last season, racking up 74 hits -- 12 for extra bases -- in 68 games. He slugged four home runs and while hitting .285/.382/.423 to earn him Red Sox Minor League Latin Program Player of the Year.
Margot's tools are highlighted by his exceptional speed, which helped him swipe 33 bases on 42 attempts and lends to great range in the outfield, where he also showcases plus arm strength.
Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett told WEEI.com that, "[Margot's] got a short, compact swing, he can run. Defensively, he's been pretty impressive in center field, and he's got a pretty good feel for the strike zone."
Reviewing the numbers: A quick look back at the 2012 NYPL season through some significant statistics.
52 -- The number of regular-season wins for 2012 league champion Hudson Valley Renegades, the most by any team since 2005.
3 -- The number of games needed for Hudson Valley to win the championship series over Tri-City ValleyCats, the first non-sweep in three seasons.
47 -- The number of RBIs by league leader Chris Serritella of the Williamsport Crosscutters, the second lowest league-leading total of all time (2009, Yan Gomes, Auburn, 44).
.358 -- The batting average of league leader Tyler Heineman of the Tri-City. It was the highest league-leading average since Mahoning Valley's Todd Martin posted a .360 in 2007.
1,701,001 -- The total attendance during the regular season, the 11th straight season the league has eclipsed the 1.7 million mark.
16 -- The number of Canadian players and coaches with NYPL ties who were part of the national team in March's World Baseball Classic, the most for any country.
56 -- The number of former NYPL players who made their Major League debuts in 2012.