The Class A Advanced California League serves as a breeding ground for elite Major League players. It's produced 12 Hall of Famers, 13 Major League MVPs, 16 Cy Young Award winners and 30 Rookies of the Year in its 66-year history.
If a player excels in the Cal League, he might be on the way to becoming the next Tim Lincecum or Pedro Martinez, the next Evan Longoria or Ken Griffey Jr., all of whom played in the West Coast circuit on their way to big league stardom.
Judging by the talent ready to light up California this year, fans of the 10-team league will get to see several potential Major League All-Stars, as well as a fierce battle for the championship. Among the rising stars to watch are Ethan Martin (RHP, Inland Empire 66ers) and Grant Green (SS, Stockton Ports).
The Cal League will play its 40,000th game sometime in July, with the winning team receiving a commemorative plaque and a spot in league lore.
Here's a team-by-team look at what else to expect in the California League in 2010:
2009 record: 75-65, Wild Card winner
2010 manager: Bill Haselman
What's on deck: The Blaze made the playoffs last year and aim to repeat the feat in 2010. They will field an experienced team that includes 3B Tommy Mendonca, SS Davis Stoneburner, RHP Adalberto Flores, and RHP Justin Miller, all of whom spent part of last year with the Blaze. They'll serve as mentors for RHP Wilfredo Boscan, a 20-year-old control specialist from Venezuela who pitched to a 3.59 ERA and walked only 19 in 105 1/3 innings at Class A Hickory last year. RHP Carlos Pimentel is another 20-year-old moving up to Bakersfield after success at Hickory. He worked as a starter and reliever last summer and had a 2.93 ERA over 123 innings. 1B Jared Bolden is another player to keep an eye on. The 23-year-old struggled at Hickory last year and hit .238/.308/.293 before a six-game promotion to Triple-A. At Oklahoma City, he hit .350/.409/.500 in 20 at-bats.
High Desert Mavericks
2009 record: 83-57, South Division champs
2010 manager: Jim Horner
What's on deck: The Mavericks might be light on big-name players, but they do have talent. RHP Andrew Carraway was 8-0 with a 2.09 ERA over 64 2/3 innings with short-season Everett and Class A Clinton last year. LHP Ryan Feierabend, who spent parts of 2006-08 with the Mariners, joins the Mavericks as he works his way back from elbow surgery. Switch-hitting SS Juan Diaz was a Cal League All-Star last year, when he hit .311 in 84 games. OF Johermyn Chavez showed some power last year in the Blue Jays system, hitting .283 with 21 homers and 89 RBIs. Fun fact: The Mavericks hosted and lost the highest-scoring game in Cal League history last year, 33-18, to Lake Elsinore.
Inland Empire 66ers
2009 record: 59-81
2010 manager: Jeff Carter
What's on deck: The 66ers will unveil a new video board that is the largest in the Cal League. ... On the field, Inland Empire welcomes several elite prospects, including RHP Ethan Martin, MLB.com's No. 49 prospect, and LHP Aaron Miller, a 2009 supplemental first-round Draft pick. Martin struck out 120 batters over 100 innings last year, thanks in part to a devastating curveball. Anchoring the offense will be OF Kyle Russell, who hit 26 homers and slugged .545 for Class A Great Lakes last season.
Lake Elsinore Storm
2009 record: 73-67, Wild Card winner
2010 manager: Carlos Lezcano
What's on deck: The Storm are looking to follow up a successful 2009; the talent on the roster suggests they can. RHP Anthony Bass will anchor the staff along with RHP Erik Davis. Bass was a Midwest League All-Star and Cal League Pitcher of the Week in 2009, when he finished with a 12-3 record and 2.55 ERA. Davis was 16-6 with a 3.64 ERA for Class A Fort Wayne. ... Closer RHP Brad Brach saved 33 games for Fort Wayne and should provide the starters with a security blanket. ... Lake Elsinore's offense will be led by 1B Cody Decker, MLB.com's Short-Season Hitter of the Year after batting .354 with 15 homers and 63 RBIs in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
2009 record: 56-84
2010 manager: Tom Lawless
What's on deck: The JetHawks enter their 15th season and will play their 1,000th home game at Clear Channel Stadium on April 13. Every available ticket to that game will be given away to fans on April 10. To celebrate the club's 15th season, the JetHawks will issue a series of 15 bobbleheads of former players, employees and even one fan. ... OF Jay Austin, considered by some to be the best athlete and best baserunner in the Astros system, should provide some excitement for a team eager to rebound from a last-place finish a season ago. ... The JetHawks should have a solid pitching staff, anchored by former third-round pick RHP Ross Seaton. RHP Leandro Cespedes and LHP Shane Wolf are holdovers from last year's squad.
2009 record: 75-65, Wild Card winner
2010 manager: Jerry Weinstein
What's on deck: The Nuts boast a pair of 2009 first-round picks as they look to build on last year's run to the playoffs. ... OF Tim Wheeler hit .256 with five homers, 35 RBIs and 10 steals at short-season Tri-City. LHP Rex Brothers pitched to a 3.38 ERA in 17 relief appearances across two levels last summer. ... Look for C Jordan Pacheco, who batted .322 with 13 homers and 79 RBIs at Class A Asheville last year, to open some eyes behind the plate. Also moving up from the Tourists is OF Scott Robinson, who batted .309 and stole 46 bases. ... More than half of OF David Christensen's 101 hits last season went for extra bases. ... RHP Juan Nicasio (9-3 with a 2.41 ERA at Asheville) will join Brothers as the anchors of a solid pitching staff.
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
2009 record: 61-79, Wild Card winner
2010 manager: Keith Johnson
What's on deck: Major Leaguer LHP Scott Kazmir is scheduled to start Friday for the Quakes as he rehabs a hamstring injury. ... RHP Tyler Chatwood, a 2008 second-round Draft pick, was a Midwest League All-Star last season en route to going 8-7 with a 4.02 ERA. ... 1B Dillon Baird could be a breakout star offensively. The former 11th-round pick hit .372/.452/.567 in 57 games for Rookie-level Orem in 2009.
San Jose Giants
2009 record: 93-47, California League champs
2010 manager: Brian Harper
What's on deck: The Giants are coming off their third Cal League championship in five years. That success on the field led to success at the box office as San Jose set a franchise record for attendance (211,054) by surpassing the 200,000 mark for the first time. ... Starting the season with the Giants is OF Francisco Peguero, who batted .353 with 22 steals across two levels and was the Most Outstanding Player in last year's Cal League Championship Series. ... Highly touted SS Ehire Adrianza has struggled with injuries but is still just 20 years old. ... Northwest League MVP Drew Biery moves up after driving in 48 runs in 59 games for Salem-Keizer. ... LHP Eric Surkamp anchors the pitching staff after setting a club playoff record with 12 strikeouts in the title-clinching victory last September.
2009 record: 61-79
2010 manager: Steve Scarsone
What's on deck: The Ports enter 2010 with a chance to reach the 5 million mark for attendance in franchise history. They need to draw 205,930 fans, which shouldn't be a problem because Stockton has averaged 211,089 per year since 2005, when Banner Island Ballpark opened. ... Highly touted SS Grant Green will get his first extended taste of pro ball after the A's selected him 13th overall in last year's Draft. ... LHP Anthony Capra led all A's Minor Leaguers with 170 strikeouts last season. He was 2-2 with a 3.12 ERA in nine starts for the Ports.
2009 record: 64-76
2010 manager: Audo Vicente
What's on deck: The Rawhide are coming off a year in which Recreation Ballpark was nominated for Best Ballpark Renovation by Ballpark Digest. ... Visalia needs 56 wins to reach the 4,000 mark in team history. It should get there with ease because it returns most of its rotation from the end of 2009, including All-Stars RHP Josh Collmenter and LHP Pat McAnaney. Collmenter twice was named Cal League Pitcher of the Week and led the circuit with 152 strikeouts. ... The Rawhide also welcome back 3B Kyle Greene, who led the club with 77 RBIs. ... A pair of first basemen with serious hitting credentials should be interesting to watch: Ryan Wheeler is known as a disciplined hitter who batted .361 in 72 games last year, while Paul Goldschmidt dominated with Pioneer League with a .334 average, 18 homers and 64 RBIs at Missoula.