The wonderful world of the Carolina League is full of players with a year or so of pro experience under their belts, advanced draftees trying to jump on the fast track, pioneering executives and championship-winning managers. Here's a look at 10 names to know in the Class A Advanced Carolina League.
Neil Walker, C, Lynchburg Hillcats
The local kid (in Pittsburgh) moves up one level. The Hillcats got a glimpse of Walker's skills late in 2005 for the playoffs. Now they'll get a longer look. Walker was one of the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. This could be the year that determines whether the 2004 first-rounder is a catcher of the future.
Bien Figueroa, MGR, Frederick Keys
After piloting the Keys to their first Carolina League title in 15 years, Figueroa is back to try to duplicate the feat. Perhaps motivating his efforts will be the fact that he's the only Carolina League skipper returning for the 2006 season. All seven other clubs will have new faces in the dugout.
Shari Massengill, GM, Kinston Indians
Not only is Massengill a great example of promotion from within, she also serves as a wonderful role model. Shari started with the K-Tribe in 1995 as an office assistant, and when the GM position opened up she was the only candidate interviewed by the club. She'll be the only female GM in the Carolina League and the second woman to hold the post in Kinston's history. During the 2005 season, there were only four female general managers in all of Minor League Baseball.
Lance Broadway, RHP, Winston-Salem Warthogs
Perhaps the biggest late climber in the 2005 draft, the TCU product moved all the way up to No. 15 overall, thanks to allowing just two runs over his last 48 IP. Warthogs fans got a glimpse of Broadway after he signed. Now they'll get a look -- though perhaps brief -- at a much better rested right-hander.
Jimmy Barthmaier, RHP, Salem Avalanche
Avalanche fans should be used to seeing top-notch pitching prospects by now. Fernando Nieve came through in 2004, Troy Patton stopped by last year. Now it's Barthmaier's turn, and he'll be part of a great rotation that should also include first-round pick Brian Bogusevic. With a low-90s fastball and plus, plus curve, Barthmaier may not stay for long, so get out to see him early.
Clint Everts, RHP, Potomac Nationals
Had everything gone according to plan, Everts probably would've joined his old high school buddy Scott Kazmir in the bigs by now. But Tommy John surgery in September 2004 derailed that possibility. On the plus side, he added height and weight during his time off and came back last summer ahead of schedule. If he regains velocity this year, he won't be in Potomac for long.
Garrett Olson, LHP, Frederick Keys
Figueroa owes a big thank you to Olson for getting him that championship ring last year. The 2005 draftee began the summer in Aberdeen, then jumped to Frederick for the playoffs, and to say he didn't disappoint would be a gross understatement. The lefty out of Cal Poly tossed 10 shutout innings over three outings -- one start -- allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out 10.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Wilmington Blue Rocks
Ellsbury was the first of five Red Sox 2005 draft picks taken before the second round, and it's been a while since Boston had a prospect with game-changing speed. He uses it both offensively (he finished second in the New-York Penn League with 23 steals, getting caught just three times) and defensively in center. He may move just as quickly up the ladder, so head out to Wilmington early in the year to see him.
Stephen Head, 1B, Kinston Indians
Sure, there are quite a few talented first base types in the Indians system, but Head's debut after being taken in the second round of last year's draft has put him near the top of the depth chart. He got 200 ABs with Kinston last year, so check him out for another handful before he gets shipped off to Akron.
Yunel Escobar, SS, Myrtle Beach Pelicans
The Cuban defector went in the second round of the 2005 draft and quickly showed that the South Atlantic League wouldn't be much of a problem, offensively or defensively. With Elvis Andrus coming right behind him, Escobar should have no trouble finding motivation to continue to perform at a high level.