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Cal Preview: Nuts look to end dry spell04/05/2013 10:00 AM ET
By Robert Emrich / Special to MLB.com
2012 was another exciting year in the California League.
The Lancaster JetHawks won the first title in their 17-year history. Billy Hamilton made headlines in Bakersfield, collecting 104 of his record-breaking 155 stolen bases in 82 games with the Blaze prior to his promotion to Double-A Pensacola. And C.J. Cron tied an Inland Empire franchise record with 123 RBIs, falling just one short of the league record in the process.
With that in mind, here are some of the top storylines heading into the new season.
Can Tourists end the Nuts' dry spell? With a large contingent of players from Asheville's 2012 title team moving up to the Cal League, it will be interesting to see if top prospects such as Tyler Anderson, Trevor Story and Wil Swanner can help Modesto take the next step.
The Nuts, who were swept by Lancaster in the Championship Series in 2012, have reached the playoffs each of the past six years but have fallen short in their bid to win their first title since 2004.
Meanwhile, down in Class A, Story tied for the South Atlantic League playoff lead with two homers while driving in six runs. Anderson won both of his playoff starts, allowing just one run over 13 innings. Add in Swanner, who struggled in the playoffs but was a big contributor during the regular season, and you have the potential for an explosive team that has been through the pressures of the playoffs.
Story believes the new Nuts have the magic to do it again.
"We're a very confident group, and we feel we can compete just as well as we did last year," he said. "That's the goal, and we'll see if we can do it."
Vegetables and baseball, together at last: Just when you thought you'd seen it all, the Stockton Ports unveiled their new alternate logo commemorating the city's history with a certain vegetable.
The logo stars 5 O'clock Dock, a new character, holding a spear of asparagus, celebrating Stockton's place as the Asparagus Capital of the World. The Ports will feature the logo on their alternate uniforms, which will be worn for all Friday home games.
That's not all that's new for Stockton fans. The club has released the official Stockton Ports Tapgift app. The app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, allows fans to gift food and merchandise to those in attendance and connect and chat with other fans at the ballpark, among other uses.
First-rounders galore: Top picks joining the Cal League this year include Mike Foltynewicz (Astros 2010), Story (Rockies 2011), Anderson (Rockies 2011), Archie Bradley (D-backs 2011), Kyle Crick (Giants 2011) and Addison Russell (A's 2012). Joining them will be Delino DeShields, returning to Lancaster after a 24-game appearance with the JetHawks last year.
Russell is the biggest story, of course. Selected 11th overall last year, the 19-year-old shortstop did not disappoint in his debut season. He made three stops, ending 2012 with Burlington in the Midwest League, and batted .369 with a 1.027 OPS and 16 stolen bases in 55 Minor League games. While there was some expectation he might begin the year back in Burlington, the A's will challenge Russell by sending him to Stockton.
Old is the new new: Only one team, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, will see a new skipper at the helm for 2013. Carlos Subero will take over the team after spending the last three seasons with Double-A Chattanooga.
Subero isn't exactly a stranger to the league, however, having managed Bakersfield in 2006 and 2007 when the club was an affiliate of the Rangers. He also led Inland Empire in 2009, when that club was part of the Dodgers organization. Subero has a .484 lifetime winning percentage in 12 Minor League seasons as a manger and led the Lookouts to the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, stalwarts such as Andy Skeels (San Jose), Webster Garrison (Stockton) and Ken Griffey (Bakersfield) will continue their runs as managers of their respective clubs.
Last Things Last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Cal League.