Repeating as league champions in the Minors isn't easy. Heck, you could make an argument that "repeating" doesn't exactly cover it, anyways. There is so much roster turnover, especially in the lower levels, from one year to the next that only in rare cases are there individual players going for their second straight ring.
What a Minor League club needs to repeat is a parent organization with a conveyor belt of talent, a farm system so stacked that each new group of players is as good, if not better, than the last.
When you put it that way, the Daytona Cubs actually might be the Minor League team most primed to repeat as champions when they defend their 2013 Florida State League title this season.
With 2013 early-season stars Javier Baez and Jorge Soler as well as postseason performers Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black moving up through the ranks, the D-Cubs have stocked up for 2014 with Cubs No. 3 prospect Albert Almora, No. 9 prospect Jeimer Candelario, No. 10 prospect Dan Voglebach and 2013 second-rounder Rob Zastryzny.
Of the 26 players on the Daytona Opening Day roster, only 10 -- including first baseman Vogelbach, who joined in mid-August -- played for the Cubs' Class A Advanced affiliate last year. Still, the team's skipper Dave Keller, who also returns, believes pride plays a big role for a club that has had the same parent organization since 1993 -- no simple feat in the world of rotating affiliations.
"If this was a club that changed affiliates a lot, I don't think anyone would care so much," Keller said. "But the thing that makes Daytona special is that a lot of good players have gone through here in the many years it's been with the Cubs. In the last 13 years, five [2013, 2011, 2008, 2004, 2000] of those teams have won championships. So everyone who comes here thinks one thing -- we're all Cubs, and now it's our turn to live up to that."
Almora, in particular, is the most likely individual to carry that torch from the start.
The sixth overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Almora made his full-season debut with Class A Kane County in 2003, hitting .329/.376/.466 with 24 extra-base hits in 61 games. He was limited due to myriad injuries, which included a broken hamate bone in his left hand that kept him out until May 22.
The center fielder, who turns 20 on April 16, made up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League, where he put up a .307/.342/.480 slash line with a homer, two triples, six doubles and 12 RBIs in 21 games against prospects much older than he.
Thanks to his advanced hitting and fielding tools, Almora enters the season as MLB.com's No. 18 overall prospect, and as such, everyone has taken notice. But in the case of his new skipper, it's his off-the-field demeanor that's carried the most weight thus far.
"It was the same with Baez and Soler last year," Keller said. "There's a lotta hype, a lotta media attention, because he's got the reputation of being a great player. I've only got to see him for a short time, but what stands out to me is he's a first-class person. He leads by example with his personality, and that's an unbelievably special value to have. His ability should take care of itself."
If Almora can live up to the promise of his tools early on in the FSL, he could very well follow the path of Baez, who moved up to Double-A Tennessee halfway through last season. Before then though, he could help Daytona to ab FSL North Division first-half title. From there, it'd be another chance at the postseason, where anything is possible, for a new set of D-Cubs.
In other words, next up on the conveyor belt.
"See, I'm in the difficult position where I want him to do so well here but also that he stays in Daytona all year long," Keller said. "But if it means he moves, he moves. That's the way it goes."
Plenty of K's in Glasnow
Though Almora should be the position player to watch, Pirates No. 3 prospect Tyler Glasnow should undoubtedly be the FSL pitcher most likely to succeed in 2014 when he joins Bradenton.
The Bucs selected the 6-foot-7 right-hander in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft and then let him pitch only 38 1/3 innings between the Gulf Coast League and New York-Penn League in 2012. He made his full-season debut with Class A West Virginia last year, and that's when everything took off.
Glasnow posted a 2.18 ERA and held opposing South Atlantic League batters to a .142 average across 111 1/3 innings for the Power. But his most impressive stat, by far, came in the strikeout department. The 20-year-old was fourth in the Minors with 164 strikeouts while his rate of 13.3 K/9 led all Minor League hurlers.
The big right-hander will utilize a fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and rates a 70 on the scouting scale along with a curveball (55) and changeup (50) for secondary stuff. Although 13.3 K/9 may be unrealistic given the jump in level and competition, Glasnow should continue to rack up the strikeouts and is next in line after Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon among promising young Pirate pitchers.
- Glasnow will provide plenty of power when he takes his turn in the Marauders rotation, but in terms of a more everyday impact, keep an eye on MLB.com's No. 84 overall prospect Josh Bell. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .279/.353/.453 with 13 homers, two triples, 37 doubles and 76 RBIs in Class A ball last year. He should add even more power in 2014 as he steps another year farther from a torn meniscus that limited him to only 15 games in 2012.
- On the whole, however, don't expect much offense in the FSL this season. According to Ashley Marshall's research, the circuit has put up the fewest runs per game in the Minors since 2008. Space Coast Stadium (Brevard County) and Roger Dean Stadium (shared by Jupiter and Palm Beach) are particularly pitcher-friendly.
- The FSL will have its inaugural Jackie Robinson Celebration Game on April 15 when Brevard County plays Lakeland at Dodgertown, where the legendary second baseman played in Spring Training. The contest may become an annual tradition in the Sunshine State. "We are certainly glad to again play a Florida State League game in Historic Dodgertown," FSL president Chuck Murphy said in January. "I sincerely hope we can continue this practice in years to come. I applaud our two teams for making this event happen, along with Historic Dodgertown."
Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Florida State League.
- Last season's championship: Daytona Cubs defeated Charlotte Stone Crabs 3-1 Coverage »
- Last back-to-back champion: Tampa Yankees, 2009-10
- Last perfect game: Chris Corrigan, Palm Beach Cardinals vs. Charlotte Stone Crabs, Aug. 29, 2012 Coverage »
- Last no-hitter: Matt Loosen, Dayton Cubs vs. Dunedin Blue Jays, July 8, 2013 Coverage »
- Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Trevor May (208), Clearwater Threshers, 2011
- Last three-homer game: Javier Baez, Daytona Cubs, June 10, 2013 (four homers) Coverage »
- Last cycle: Gustavo Pierre, Dunedin Blue Jays, Aug. 10, 2013 Coverage »