The Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers were the two best teams in baseball during the truncated 2020 season. Now they are hours away from lifting the lid on the 2020 World Series.
While each city has already captured a major sports championship this year (Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup and the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title), neither city is affiliated with an Eastern League town. However, that leaves no shortage of connections to this year’s Fall Classic and the 12-team circuit in the Northeast.
Seven Rays toured the Eastern League on their way to the Majors, including three former Curve players, while the Dodgers roster is composed of four such graduates.
Tampa Bay Rays
Yandy Díaz, Akron 2015-16
Yandy Diaz was one of the Eastern League’s best players in 2015 as a Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star for the RubberDucks. During his first year in the EL, he led the league in on-base percentage (.412) and walks (78) while finishing fourth in hitting at .315. He returned to Akron for the start of 2016 before continuing on up the Indians’ developmental chain. As Cleveland’s infield remained crowded, Diaz became a trade chip in December 2018 as part of a five-player deal that moved Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle and Carlos Santana back to Cleveland.
Tyler Glasnow, Altoona 2015-16
Tyler Glasnow is doing something that just one other Curve alum has done: start Game 1 of the World Series. Last year, Gerrit Cole started the first game for the Astros against the eventual-champion Nationals. This former top Pirates prospect was infamously dealt to Tampa along with OF Austin Meadows for RHP Chris Archer in 2018. In parts of two seasons with Altoona, the right-hander held a 2.48 ERA, struck out 93 hitters in 69 innings and limited Eastern League hitters to a .183 batting average.
Aaron Loup, New Hampshire 2012
The 32-year-old lefty departed the Blue Jays organization in a 2018 trade deadline deal with Philadelphia and spent 2019 with San Diego prior to landing in the Rays bullpen. He pitched 37 games in relief out of the Fisher Cats’ bullpen in 2012, but did not face the Curve after being called up by Toronto straight from Double-A and did not return to the Minors for three years.
Manuel Margot, Portland 2015
Originally signed by the Red Sox in 2012, Manuel Margot spent just 64 games at Double-A at the end of the 2015 season with the Portland Sea Dogs. The speedy center fielder thrived and posted 21 doubles and 19 steals to rank within the top 25 of both categories in just under that half season. In an August 2015 series in Altoona, Margot reached base seven times in the three games for Portland. Boston traded Margot and three others prospect to San Diego for RHP Craig Kimbrel in November 2015. After Margot developed into a big-league regular with the Padres, Tampa Bay acquired him in February for RHP Emilio Pagan.
Austin Meadows, Altoona 2015-16
Austin Meadows greeted Curve fans with a late, game-tying home run during the 2015 Eastern League playoffs and went on to set a new franchise record hitting streak of 24 games the following spring. He was well on his way to being an EL All-Star in 2016 but he earned a late-June promotion to Triple-A by hitting safely in 37 of 45 games to start the campaign. All-in-all, Meadows spent just 55 games with the Curve, including the postseason, and hit .324. The former No. 1 Pirates prospect reached the Majors in 2018 and was an American League All-Star with 33 homers during his first full year with the Rays in 2019.
Charlie Morton, Altoona 2013-15*
Okay. Charlie Morton is one of two players on this list that technically doesn’t count as an Eastern League grad, but we’ll include him. The former Pirate was often injured during his tenure in Pittsburgh and pitched on Major League rehab with Altoona on six occasions from 2013-15. Morton came up with the Braves before he was traded to Pittsburgh and even started a 2013 playoff game with the Bucs. However, it was after his departure that he blossomed into a two-time AL All-Star and won the 2017 World Series as a member of the Astros.
Joey Wendle, Akron 2014
Joey Wendle was a Cleveland Indians farmhand before he reached the Majors with Oakland. He played 87 games for Akron in 2014 and posted a .725 OPS. Cleveland dealt him to Oakland for INF Brandon Moss at the 2014 Winter Meetings. Wendle was a big leaguer two years later with the Athletics and was dealt to Tampa Bay in December 2017.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Mookie Betts, Portland 2014-15
The 2018 American League MVP and World Series champ flew up Boston’s system after he opened the 2014 season with Portland. He batted .430 and reached base in every game in April but it still took until June to reach Triple-A Pawtucket. By the time the Curve came up on Portland’s schedule that year, Betts was already a member of the Red Sox. He returned to the Sea Dogs for a rehab assignment in Akron on August 9, 2015, where he homered during a 2-for-4 game. Betts has done it all. Futures Game as a prospect, multiple Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, four-time All-Star, one MVP and a World Series. The blockbuster trade to the Dodgers this past February was made to finally put LA over the top.
Adam Kolarek, Binghamton 2012-2015
Left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek spent four seasons with the Binghamton Mets. He was released after the 2015 season, signed by Baltimore and picked up off waivers by…wouldn’t you believe it: the Tampa Bay Rays. His journey took a slight detour through Atlanta prior to the 2017 season but Kolarek was released after Spring Training and scooped up again by the Rays. He made his big league debut with Tampa Bay in June 2017 and was up-and-down between the big league bullpen and Triple-A until the Dodgers acquired him at the trade deadline in 2019.
Blake Treinen, Harrisburg 2013
Blake Treinen pitched his entire 2013 season with Harrisburg as a member of the Nationals organization. He placed eighth among pitchers in ERA that year with a 3.64 ledger and faced Altoona three times, all on City Island. He was originally an Oakland A’s draft pick in 2011 but was dealt to the Nats as part of a three-team, four-player deal that placed OF Michael Morse, C John Jaso and RHP AJ Cole in new locations. Treinen was traded back to Oakland in August 2017 for RHP Ryan Madson and LHP Sean Doolittle and became an AL All-Star the next year. He cashed in on that success with a free-agent deal with the Dodgers.
Justin Turner, Binghamton 2013*
Justin Turner during his MLB rehab assignment with Binghamton in 2013 (Photo: Kevin Pataky)
We finish up with another asterisk. Justin Turner’s true Double-A team was Chattanooga when he progressed through the Reds system before a trade to Baltimore. During his time with the Mets in 2013, he was sent on a rehab assignment to Binghamton. He appeared in three games at NYSEG Stadium against Richmond before one more in New Britain and returned to the Mets roster shortly after. Turner went 6-for-15 (.400) in those four games.
The Altoona Curve also have a connection to each team’s training staff.
Game 1 is tonight at 8 p.m. in Arlington, Texas and is the first neutral-site World Series in modern history. Click here to view the full schedule.
Remember, this is our last taste of baseball until spring training. Enjoy!
This feature story is presented by Microtel. Plan your stay at one of Altoona’s three Lion Country Lodging locations. Click here to make a reservation today.