JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Suns have a rich tradition of sending talented players to the major leagues. This season several former Suns will continue to play beyond the regular season, as the MLB postseason begins in earnest tonight, with the National League Divisional Series starting followed by the American League Divisional Series on Friday. After the National and American League Championship Series, the World Series will begin on Wed., Oct. 23.
Below is a guide to watching former Suns in the postseason, and be sure to check Jacksonville's Facebook and Twitter pages to keep up with how these former Suns do as baseball moves along in October.
Boston Red Sox
Shane Victorino (2002-04) Victorino enjoyed three seasons in Jacksonville, playing for the Suns during the final year of Wolfson Park (2002) and then as a member of the group that helped open the new Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in 2003. Victorino also saw time with Jacksonville in 2004, a year before he became a major league regular with the Philadelphia Phillies.
This season, Victorino has spent the entire year with the Boston Red Sox, champions of the American League Eastern Division. Victorino played in 122 games in 2013, hitting .294 with 15 home runs and 61 RBI, serving as the primary right fielder for Boston.
The Red Sox had the best record in the American League this season, and will host the Wild Card winner (either Tampa Bay, Texas, or Cleveland) in the ALDS beginning on Friday at Fenway Park.
David Ross (2001) Ross was on the Suns during the organizations first season as a Dodgers' affiliate in 2001. In 74 contests, Ross ranked fourth in home runs (11), sixth in RBI (45) and seventh in doubles (13).
Ross made his Major League debut with the Dodgers on June 29, 2002. He played at least 40 games for the Dodgers during the next three seasons before being moved to the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres. After playing the last four seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Ross signed with the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2013 season. This season, he has four home runs and five doubles, while throwing out 13 runners in 19 chances in 36 games for Boston.
Jose Alvarez (2011-12) After beginning his career as a Red Sox farmhand, Alvarez was acquired by the Marlins in the Jeremy Hermida trade in 2009 and made his first appearance as a Sun two years later. Alvarez went 2-6 with a 5.35 ERA in 12 starts for the Suns in 2011 before being a mainstay in the Jacksonville rotation in 2012. With the Suns in 2012 he went 6-9 with a 4.22 ERA in 24 starts.
The Tigers signed Alvarez as a free agent last offseason, and he began the year in Triple-A with the Toledo Mud Hens. He made his major league debut on June 9, picking up a win against the Cleveland Indians after tossing six strong innings. Alvarez joined the Tigers for good in mid-August, going back-and-forth in-between the bullpen and starting rotation. Overall, Alvarez with Detroit was 1-5 with a 5.82 ERA in six starts and 14 games pitched.
The Tigers won the American League Central Division title, and will face the A.L. West Champion Oakland A's in the ALDS starting Friday in Oakland.
Darin Downs (2011) After bouncing around the minors (including stints in the Southern League with the Tennessee Smokies and Montgomery Biscuits) for eight years, Downs landed with the Marlins organization in 2011. Downs spent most of the season with Jacksonville, mixing in bullpen work along with 13 starts. Downs with the Suns was 2-5 with a 4.83 ERA before he was transferred to New Orleans late in the year.
The Tigers signed him as a free agent the following offseason, and Downs made his major league debut with Detroit in 2012 as the Tigers also won the A.L. Central title. Downs was not on the 2012 Tigers postseason roster as Detroit won the American League pennant. This year Downs spent most of the season in Detroit, appearing in 29 games out of the bullpen. Downs went 0-2 with a 4.84 ERA in his 35 and a third innings on the mound, finishing eight games for Detroit.
Anibal Sanchez (2009) Sanchez began his career in the Boston Red Sox system before being traded to the Marlins in a deal that sent big pieces Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Fenway Park in the post-2005 offeseason. Sanchez made pitched in the Southern League in 2006 with the Carolina Mudcats while they were a Marlins affiliate, going 3-6 with a 3.15 ERA in 15 starts. Sanchez joined the big league Marlins later that season, tossing a no-hitter on September 6, 2006 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Sanchez would see time in a Suns uniform in 2009, making two rehab starts with Jacksonville during the first year of the Suns/Marlins affiliation.
Sanchez was traded to the Tigers on July 23, 2012 and finished the year as a member of the Detroit rotation. Sanchez pitched through the postseason for Detroit, going 1-2 with a 1.77 ERA and his most notable performance was a seven-inning three hit shutout performance against the New York Yankees in Game Two of the 2012 ALCS. This year Sanchez has set a career-high in victories with 14 as he's gone 14-8 with a career-best 2.57 ERA in 29 starts.
No former Jacksonville Suns are on the A's postseason roster.
No former Jacksonville Suns are on the Indians' postseason roster.
Tampa Bay Rays
James Loney (2004-05) Originally a 2002 First Round pick out of high school by the Dodgers, Loney made his way to Jacksonville as a top prospect in 2004. He played in 104 games that year, hitting .238 with four homers and 35 RBI. A year later he was back in a Suns uniform as a member of the 2005 Southern League Champion Jacksonville Suns, a club regarded by some as the best in franchise history. Loney led Jacksonville in hits and total bases that year, hitting .284 with 11 homers and 65 RBI.
Loney made his major league debut a year later with Los Angeles, and remained with the Dodgers until midway through the 2012 season when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox.
Loney signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays prior to this year, and was a constant presence in the lineup playing in 158 games and hitting .299 with 13 homers, 75 RBI and a .348 on-base percentage.
Wesley Wright (2006-07) Wright spent parts of two seasons with the Suns during their Dodgers tenure. In 2007, Wright posted a 6-2 mark with an 2.49 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 61.1 innings as the Suns finish a game back of the Montgomery Biscuits for the second half title.
Later that year, Wright was taken by the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 Draft and made his Major League debut on Opening Day of the 2008 season. He spent the next six seasons with the Astros before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in August 2013. With the Rays, he fanned 15 batters in 12.1 innings of work over 16 appearances. He fanned three batters in a scoreless frame at Toronto on Sept. 28.
No former Jacksonville Suns are on the Braves' postseason roster.
St. Louis Cardinals
No former Jacksonville Suns are on the Cardinals' postseason roster.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw (2007-08) A first round selection (sixth overall) by the Dodgers in 2006, Kershaw rose quickly throughout the L.A. system reaching Double-A Jacksonville just a year later in 2007. That season Kershaw made five starts for the Suns, going 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA. In 2008 Kershaw began the season as the Suns' ace, going 2-3 with a 1.91 ERA in 13 games and 11 starts in a Jacksonville uniform. Kershaw earned his first call-up to the big leagues on May 28 before being sent back Jacksonville, then he joined the Dodgers for good on July 22, 2008.
Since that point, Kershaw has been a three-time National League All-Star (2011-13), the 2011 N.L. Cy Young Award Winner, a two-time N.L. strikeout champion (2011, 2013), and three-time N.L. ERA champion (2011-13). This season Kershaw went 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA in 33 starts and 236 innings for the Dodgers, helping Los Angeles win the National League West Division Title. He will likely win his second N.L. Cy Young Award with the league's lowest ERA (1.93).
The Dodgers will face the Atlanta Braves in the National League Divisional Series, starting Thursday night at Turner Field.
A.J. Ellis (2006-07): Kershaw's catcher in the big leagues also saw time in Jacksonville during the mid-2000s in Ellis. He was selected by L.A. in the 18th round of the 2003 draft out of Austin Peay. The first action for Ellis in a Suns uniform came in 2006, playing in 82 games and hitting .250 with 21 RBI and no homers. A year later he was back in Jacksonville, spending the entire year with the Suns. That season saw Ellis raise his batting average to .269 with eight homers and 57 RBI.
Ellis made it to the big leagues first in 2008 with the Dodgers, but developed into the role of regular L.A. catcher last season in 2012. This season Ellis was also the regular starter, hitting .256 with 52 RBI and 10 homers, one of which clinched the National League West title for the Dodgers on September 19.
Matt Kemp (2006) A sixth round selection by the Dodgers in 2004, Matt Kemp made the jump to Double-A in 2006 with the Suns. Beginning the year with Jacksonville, Kemp put up solid numbers, hitting .327 with seven homers and 34 RBI in 48 games before his first call-up to Los Angels on May 28, 2006. That would be Kemp's only time with the Suns, and he became a major league regular in 2008.
Kemp has been a two-time National League All-Star, led the National League in RBI in 2011 and has also won a pair of Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.
This season "The Bison" has battled injuries, playing in only 73 games where he hit .270 with six homers and 33 RBI. Fans won't get to see Kemp in the postseason with the Dodgers, with an ankle injury forcing him to stay on the disabled list.
Russell Martin (2005) Three years after he was drafted by the Dodgers in the 17thround, Martin made his Jacksonville debut on the 2005 Suns, a club that would capture the Southern League championship. Martin would be a Southern League Midseason All-Star, playing in 129 games and hitting .311 with nine homers and 61 RBI as he was also a Baseball America 2nd Team Minor League All-Star.
Martin made his way to the Dodgers a year later, getting the starting catcher's job in Los Angeles. Martin would play with the Dodgers from 2006-2010, having a breakout season in 2007 as he won a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and Tip O'Neill Award.
After two seasons with the New York Yankees, Martin joined the Pirates prior to the 2013 season and despite his .226 average he hit 15 homers and drove in 55 runs. Martin homered twice for Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, helping the Pirates beat the Reds 6-2 in the NL Wild Card game for the first postseason victory in Pirates history since 1992.
The Pirates begin play in the National League Divisional Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night at Busch Stadium.
For the latest Suns news this offseason, fans are encouraged to visit www.jaxsuns.comand can keep up with the Jacksonville Suns on the club's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media platforms, as well as the "Tales from Bragan Field" blog:www.sunsradio.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.