Appalachian League preview

D-Braves seek repeat as league expands playoff format

Returning manager Paul Runge led Danville to the title in 2006 and 2009. (Tom Priddy/

By Bob Sutton / Special to | June 18, 2010 6:54 AM ET

An extra round has been added to the Appalachian League postseason, meaning four of the 10 teams will compete in the playoffs in 2010. Another postseason layer could make it more difficult for defending champion Danville Braves to repeat.

The expanded playoffs could also result in divisional rivals meeting for the Championship, something that wasn't possible under the previous setup. With division champions facing the runners-up from the opposite division in the first round, it's possible that neighboring rivals like Greenville and Johnson City or Danville and Burlington could meet in the Finals.

Action begins Tuesday across the league as the teams start their 68-game regular-season schedules, though there will be games for some teams prior to the openers. For instance, Burlington and Johnson City have exhibitions scheduled for Sunday night against summer teams of college players.

Here's a team-by-team look for 2010 as rosters begin to take shape around the league:

Bluefield Orioles (Baltimore Orioles)
2009 Results: 36-31, second in East Division
Manager: Einar Diaz
The Orioles will aim for more offensive production this year after suffering through a season with low production at the plate. Diaz returns as manager, and there could be a roster in place bolstered by the recent draft. Pitcher Sam Taveras returns to club after making 20 appearances out of the 'pen in 2009.

Bristol Sox (Chicago White Sox)
2009 Results: 27-39, fourth in West Division
Manager: Ryan Newman
Bristol's roster is littered with players from the recent Draft, including pitchers Jamaal Hollis and Ethan Icard, outfielders John Spatola and Jordan Keegan and first baseman Michael Schwartz. Keegan is out of the College of Southern Nevada and a former teammate of Bryce Harper, the first overall pick in 2010 by the Washington Nationals. Hollis and Spatola played in the Atlantic Coast Conference for Miami and Boston College, respectively.

Burlington Royals (Kansas City Royals)
2009 Results: 24-44, fifth in East Division
Manager: Nelson Liriano
The Royals welcome about a dozen players from extended spring training. That group includes returning outfielders Derek Rodriguez and Gabe MacDougal, the latter of whom began the 2009 season with the team until a wrist injury cut short his stint just a couple of weeks into his first professional season. Liriano is in his second season directing the team, which a year ago finished with the worst record in the league.

Danville Braves (Atlanta Braves)
2009 Results: 47-21, first in East Division (League Champions)
Manager: Paul Runge
Danville returns its coaching staff, led by manager Runge in his sixth season in that capacity. He guided the team to championships in 2006 and 2009. He's again joined by hitting coach Carlos Mendez and Derrick Lewis. Along with some 2010 draftees, the Braves will welcome reliever Dalton Acord from Class A Rome and Tyler Stovall, a former second-rounder who made 12 starts for the D-Braves last season.

Elizabethton Twins (Minnesota Twins)
2009 Results: 45-23, first in West Division
Manager: Ray Smith
Smith is the league's all-time winningest manager with 665 victories. The parent Twins club usually give its affiliate a well-stocked roster, and Smith knows how to mold the team quickly into a smooth-running group. The E-Twins often field a team with a core of players holding some professional experience and this year welcome catcher Stewart Munroe, who hit .263 during a brief stint with Class A Beloit in 2009.

Greeneville Astros (Houston Astros)
2009 Results: 27-40, fifth in West Division
Manager: Ed Romero
Early assignments for the Astros include first baseman Marcus Nidiffer, catcher Chris Wallace and shortstop Jonathan Merritt. The Astros could be well-stocked at catcher, with returnees Bubby Williams and Luis Alvarez. This could set a solid foundation for a team that will need to correct some of its defensive woes from last season.

Johnson City Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals)
2009 Results: 37-30, second in West Division
Manager: Mike Shildt
Shildt's team remained in playoff contention a year ago, and similar results this year under the revised playoff format would put the team squarely in the postseason mix. The Cardinals sending many of their Draft picks to their rookie-league affiliate, so the makeup of the team could be intriguing. Hurler Zach Russell should see action after posting a 1.89 ERA in six games with the Cards last season.

Kingsport Mets (New York Mets)
2009 Results: 30-25, third in West Division
Manager: Mike DiFelice
The Mets will wait to see who emerges with the big bats this year after several players made significant contributions a year ago. DiFelice, a former catcher, is returning in his role as manager. The Mets went through some dry stretches at the plate last season, and they'll look to avoid those this time around. Shortstop Ryan Mollica is expected to return to the team after hitting .287 in 30 games last year.

Princeton Rays (Tampa Bay Rays)
2009 Results: 36-31, second in East Division
Manager: Michael Johns
Johns takes over managerial duties for a team that should be talented, despite the parent club steadily dropping in the Draft over recent years. Princeton went through spans of offensive lulls last season, and they would like to eliminate those. Former seventh-rounder Cody Rogers is expected to reappear on the P-Rays roster after hitting .303 in 52 contests last season.

Pulaski Mariners (Seattle Mariners)
2009 Results: 28-36, fourth in the East Division
Manager: Eddie Menchaca
The Mariners may be the recipient of some of their parent club's top Draft choices, according to some projections. For now, Pulaski has been assigned a handful players from this year's Draft, including former college pitchers Ryan Kiel (Marshall), Tim Griffin (Rollins) and Matt Bisschaff (Purdue) and shortstop Derek Poppert (University of San Francisco).

Bob Sutton is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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