Midwest League adds two cities04/07/2010 10:00 AM ET
By John Parker / Special to MLB.com
More than a year and a half since the move was announced, Opening Day 2010 involves 16 teams in the Midwest League with the addition of the Bowling Green Hot Rods and Lake County Captains from the South Atlantic League.
The transfer of the clubs addresses concerns both leagues had about travel while providing improved geographical alignments. Lake County had been interested in joining the Midwest League several years ago, but a second team was unavailable to balance the schedule and the Captains ended up in the SAL. With 16 clubs, the Midwest League matches the Triple-A Pacific Coast League as the most expansive circuits in the Minors.
All 16 teams will be in action Thursday, with Bowling Green taking on the defending champion Fort Wayne TinCaps and Lake County hosting the West Michigan Whitecaps.
Here's a team-by-team look at what else to expect in the Midwest League in 2010:
2009 record: 57-83
2010 manager: Nelson Prada
What's on deck: After finishing 13th in the 14-team Midwest League last season, the Snappers hope to improve with products of the Twins' 2009 Draft class. ... The Twins selected SS Brian Dozier in the eighth round last June. He batted .353 and posted a sterling .417 on-base percentage in 53 games with Appalachian League juggernaut Elizabethton. ... Manager Nelson Prada returns for his third campaign with the Snappers.
Bowling Green Hot Rods
2009 record: 64-74 in the South Atlantic League
2010 manager: Brady Williams
What's on deck: The Hot Rods and new manager Brady Williams (son of longtime Major League manager Jimy Williams) join the Midwest League after spending their inaugural season in the SAL. ... Among the youngsters who could spend time in Bowling Green this summer are RHPs Wilking Rodriguez and Zachary Quate. Rodriguez, a 20-year-old from Venezuela, went 1-6 in 13 starts with Princeton last year but posted a 3.21 ERA and held Appy League foes to a .213 average. In 18 relief appearances at short-season Hudson Valley, Quate was dominant, going 1-0 with 13 saves, an 0.35 ERA and a .170 average against.
2009 record: 64-75
2010 manager: Jim Gabella
What's on deck: The Bees are coming off back-to-back Championship Series appearances and will be guided again by manager Jim Gabella, who has been in the dugout five of the previous six seasons. ... Catching prospect Wil Myers slipped to the third round of the 2009 Draft due to signability issues but hit an eye-popping .426 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 18 games at Rookie-level Idaho Falls. ... LHP Claudio Bavera posted a 0.44 ERA and held opponents to a .192 average in 15 relief appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League last season. ... This marks the Bees' 10th straight season as the Royals' Class A affiliate.
Cedar Rapids Kernels
2009 record: 78-60
2010 manager: Bill Mosiello
What's on deck: Manager Bill Mosiello and his staff return to Cedar Rapids after guiding the Kernels to a third straight playoff appearance in 2009. ... The Angels selected a trio of talented youngsters in the first round of last year's Draft, all of whom could see time in Cedar Rapids this summer. LF Randal Grichuk, taken 24th overall, batted .322 with seven homers, 10 triples and 53 RBIs in 53 games in the Arizona League last season. ... OF Mike Trout, the 25th overall pick, batted .360 in Arizona and .267 in five games with the Kernels. ... Supplemental first-rounder Garrett Richards, a University of Oklahoma product, went 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA and did not allow a home run in eight starts for Rookie-level Orem. ... The Kernels will face the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Milwaukee's Miller Park in the annual Border Battle on May 8.
2009 record: 69-68
2010 manager: John Tamargo
What's on deck: The LumberKings welcome an entirely new coaching staff this summer, led by John Tamargo, who spent 2009 with the short-season Everett AquaSox. ... Accompanying Tamargo from the Northwest League could be OF James Jones, a 2009 fourth-round pick who hit .311 in 45 games with the AquaSox last season. ... Vinnie Catricala, a University of Hawaii product taken in the 10th round, batted .301 with eight homers and 40 RBIs in 59 games for Rookie-level Pulaski of the Appalachian League.
2009 record: 59-80
2010 manager: Todd Benzinger
What's on deck: The Dragons have led all Class A teams in attendance each of the last 10 seasons and earned the Larry MacPhail Promotional Trophy for the Midwest League in 2009. ... SS Mariekson "DiDi" Gregorius batted .298 last year between Rookie-level Billings and Class A Advanced Sarasota. He will start 2010 with Dayton. ... Speedy OF Andrew Means is set to return to the Dragons after going a perfect 19-for-19 in stolen base attempts in 53 games last summer. A former football standout at Indiana University, Means batted .262. ... Former big leaguer Todd Benzinger returns for a second campaign as Dayton's manager.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
2009 records: 94-46; Midwest League champs
2010 manager: Jose Flores
What's on deck: It's tough to improve on a championship season that saw the TinCaps post the best record in the Minor Leagues, but Fort Wayne will give it a shot under new manager Jose Flores, who spent the last two seasons with the Padres' Arizona League affiliate. ... LHP Nick Greenwood, a 2009 14th-round pick, made three late-season appearances with the TinCaps after going 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA in the Arizona League and could return to Fort Wayne this spring. ... A pair of slugging 1B also could see time with the TinCaps: Cody Decker hit .354 with 15 homers and 63 RBIs in the Arizona League last summer, while Nathan Freiman clubbed 11 homers and drove in 68 runs with short-season Eugene in the Northwest League. ... Fort Wayne's Parkview Field will host the Midwest League All-Star Game on June 22, with Home Run Derby and the Skills Challenge taking place the night before.
Great Lakes Loons
2009 record: 81-59
2010 manager: Juan Bustabad
What's on deck: Veteran manager Juan Bustabad will return for a third season with the Loons after guiding them to the third-best record in the Midwest League last year. ... Key Loons this season include 2009 Draft picks OF Brian Cavazos-Galvez and C Jeremy Wise. Cavazos-Galvez, a 12th-rounder, was the Pioneer League MVP last season after batting .322 with 18 homers, 63 RBIs and 17 stolen bases for Ogden. Wise, taken in the eighth round, hit .338 with eight homers in 39 games with the Raptors.
Kane County Cougars
2009 record: 76-54; first-half West Division champs
2010 manager: Aaron Nieckula
What's on deck: Aaron Nieckula, who managed the Cougars from 2006-08, returns in 2010 after one season with the California League's Stockton Ports. ... Kane County is a likely destination for several of the A's 2009 Draft picks, including fourth-rounder C Max Stassi. An outstanding defensive prospect, he hit .280 in 14 games in a brief pro debut with short-season Vancouver. ... OF Myrio Richard, a ninth-round pick, was the SWAC Player of the Year at Prairie View A&M as a sophomore and is an agile defensive whiz with speed. He batted .255 in 53 games with Vancouver last season.
Lake County Captains
2009 record: 71-66 in the South Atlantic League
2010 manager: Ted Kubiak
What's on deck: After seven seasons in the SAL, the Captains and new manager Ted Kubiak join the Midwest League. Among the players who could be enjoying slightly shorter bus rides this year is Indians second-rounder OF Jason Kipnis. Kipnis batted .306 with a homer and 19 RBIs in 29 games for short-season Mahoning Valley last year after flashing big-time power in his final two seasons at Arizona State.
2009 record: 54-84
2010 manager: Sal Fasano
What's on deck: Sal Fasano, a catching veteran of 11 Major League seasons who played for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2009, makes his managerial debut with the Lugnuts. ... Toronto's top pick in last year's Draft, RHP Chad Jenkins, will join the Lugnuts for his professional debut. ... Fifth-round pick 2B Ryan Schimpf, an LSU product, heads to Lansing after batting .287 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 34 games at short-season Auburn last summer. ... Schimpf will be joined by former LSU and Doubledays teammate C Sean Ochinko, who made the New York-Penn League All-Star team while batting .324.
2009 record: 81-57; second-half West Division champs
2010 manager: Casey Kopitzke
What's on deck: After making his managerial debut with Boise in the Northwest League last summer, former catcher Casey Kopitzke takes the reins in Peoria. He served as the Cubs' Minor League catching coordinator from 2007-08. ... LHP Chris Rusin could follow his skipper to Peoria after posting a 3.48 ERA in eight starts with Boise last year. He was the Cubs' fourth-round pick last June. ... RHP Kenneth McNutt, a 32nd-round pick, posted even gaudier numbers, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA and a .132 average against in seven Northwest League appearances (two starts).
Quad Cities River Bandits
2009 record: 61-78
2010 manager: Johnny Rodriguez
What's on deck: The River Bandits have an entirely new field staff in 2010, led by veteran coach Johnny Rodriguez in his managerial debut. Rodriguez, who spent last year as hitting coach at Rookie-level Johnson City, is the father of Tampa Bay Rays IF Sean Rodriguez. ... First-round pick RHP Shelby Miller pitched three innings for the Bandits last summer and figures to return to Quad Cities to start the season. ... OF Kyle Conley, a seventh-rounder, batted .385 with eight homers and 23 RBIs in 29 games at short-season Batavia and twice was named New York-Penn League Player of the Week. He struggled in 15 Midwest League games last summer but should return with renewed confidence. Slippery Rock product 1B Matt Adams batted .355 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs in 63 games with Johnson City and Batavia in 2009.
South Bend Silver Hawks
2009 record: 59-78
2010 manager: Mark Haley
What's on deck: Having guided the Silver Hawks to five Midwest League playoff berths in as many seasons, manager Mark Haley returns to South Bend in 2010. He holds the club record for regular-season wins (361) and postseason victories (14). ... Possible Silver Hawks include Arizona's top pick in last year's Draft, 3B Bobby Borchering, who batted .241 with Rookie-level Missoula. ... Supplemental first-rounder 1B Michael Belfiore also was a closer at Boston College but started 11 games for Missoula last summer, going 2-2 with a 2.17 ERA and 55 strikeouts over 58 innings. The 21-year-old's best pitch is a heavy sinking fastball, but he also throws a slider, curve and changeup.
West Michigan Whitecaps
2009 record: 81-59
2010 manager: Joe DePastino
What's on deck: Joe DePastino returns for his third season with the Whitecaps, having guided them to a pair of playoff appearances. ... West Michigan has reached the postseason in 13 of its 16 years in the Midwest League -- including the last six seasons -- and won five league titles, most recently in 2007. ... Tigers first-round pick RHP Jacob Turner, a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher, will make his pro debut with West Michigan. Selected ninth overall, he'll become only the fourth first-rounder to play his first pro game in a Whitecaps uniform, joining Cameron Maybin (2006), Kenny Baugh (2001) and Eric Munson (1999).. ... Also on the West Michigan staff will be RHP Melvin Mercedes, who led the Gulf Coast League with 16 saves while posting a 1.82 ERA as an 18-year-old.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
2009 record: 58-81
2010 manager: Jeff Isom
What's on deck: Manager Jeff Isom is back for a second straight year and fourth in the Brewers system. ... A pair of right-handed first-round Draft picks could anchor the Rattlers staff. Eric Arnett (26th overall) and Kyle Heckathorn (47th) both pitched for Rookie-level Helena last summer, primarily as starters. ... OF Kentrail Davis signed late last year. The 39th overall selection in 2009, he has great speed and raw power potential. ... The Timber Rattlers will face Cedar Rapids at Milwaukee's Miller Park in the annual Border Battle on May 8.