Minor League Baseball kicks off the season Wednesday and leading up to Opening Day, MiLB.com will be taking a close look at what the year might bring for each league. Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect in the Florida State League in 2009:
The Florida State League always features some of the top raw talent in baseball, and this year keeps that tradition alive. Outfielders Caleb Gindl (Brewers) and Dominic Brown (Phillies), right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner (Cubs) and catcher Jesus Montero (Yankees) are all likely to spend time here sharpening their already impressive skills.
Two managers, Luis Sojo and Ernie Whitt, are coming to the Florida State League hot off the World Baseball Classic.
This season also brings a new team to the Sunshine State, as the Rays organization moves its affiliate from Vero Beach to Port Charlotte. The Stone Crabs had already sold out their home opener by mid-March and are looking forward to an exciting inaugural season.
Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect in the Florida State League in 2009:
Brevard County Manatees
2008 Results: 66-72
2009 Manager: Mike Guerrero
What's on deck: Guerrero is back for his second season with the Manatees and 14th in the Brewers organization. Hitting coach Corey Hart returns for a second go-around, and pitching coach Fred Dabney enters his fifth year with Brevard County. ... OF Caleb Gindl, who knocked in 81 runs in the Midwest League last year, is a likely candidate to patrol right field at Space Coast Stadium in 2009. ... Having hit .295 and stole 34 bases in the South Atlantic League in 2008, OF Lee Haydel stands to play next to Gindl in center. ... RHP Amaury Rivas, who won nine games -- including one for Brevard County -- last season, probably will be at the front end of the rotation. ... INF Brent Brewer will be back at shortstop after playing in 76 games for the Manatees in 2008. ... Power-hitting catching prospect Brett Lawrie probably won't be in the Florida State League by Opening Day, but look for the youngster to break in at some point.
Charlotte Stone Crabs
2008 Results: N/A
2009 Manager: Jim Morrison
What's on deck: This year is guaranteed to be better than last for Port Charlotte area baseball fans, given that it marks the Stone Crabs' inaugural season. ... Part-owner Cal Ripken Jr. is scheduled to attend Opening Day, but the presence of several of the most highly appraised youngsters in the Rays system will keep the park packed all summer. ... Skipper Jim Morrison managed the Stone Crabs' predecessor, the Vero Beach Rays, in 2008 and led the Class A Columbus Catfish to a South Atlantic League Championship the year before that. Morrison's staff will include pitching coach Bill Maloney, who's in his third season in the Rays system, and hitting coach Joe Szekely, who will spend his fifth year in the organization. ... LF Desmond Jennings and RF Reid Fronk are expected to bring talent to the outfield. ... RHP Alex Cobb is poised to be one of the aces in the Stone Crabs rotation.
|10 PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Here's a look at 10 Florida State League prospects who you should keep an eye on in 2009:
- Yonder Alonso, 1B -- Sarasota
Big things are expected of 2008's No. 7 overall pick, who will start in the Florida State League, but will likely be in Chattanooga soon.
- Ike Davis, 1B -- St. Lucie
Davis was the Mets' top choice in 2008, and he's looking for more plate presence after hitting .256 in 58 games with short-season Brooklyn last year.
- Matt Dominguez, 3B -- Jupiter
Dominguez could be the regular third basement for the Marlins before long. The 19-year-old hit .296 and drove in 70 in 88 games in Class A in 2008.
- Caleb Gindl, OF -- Brevard County
One of the top 20 prospects in the Brewers system, the outfielder hit .307 and stole 14 bases in 19 attempts in the South Atlantic League last year.
- Pete Kozma, SS -- Palm Beach
The shortstop hit .284 in 99 Midwest League games last year. He struggled in a brief stint in the Florida State League, but four of his 10 hits were doubles.
- Jesus Montero, C -- Tampa
The slugging catcher batted .326 with 87 RBIs and 86 runs scored in Class A last year and should continue to impress this season.
- Ben Revere, OF -- Fort Myers
One of the Twins' top prospects, the outfielder complements his hot bat with speed. He hit .379 and stole 44 bases in the Midwest League in 2008.
- Mike Stanton, OF -- Jupiter
The power-hitting outfielder finished tied for second in the Minors with 39 homers in 2008, his first full season. He hit .293 and drove in 97 runs.
- Nick Additon -- Palm Beach
After going 9-5 in the Midwest League, the left-hander put up a 0.50 ERA and a 2-0 record in three Florida State League starts last season.
- Dellin Betances, RHP -- Tampa
The hard-throwing righty is one of the top pitching prospects in the Yankees system, having struck out 141 and walked 62 across two levels in 2008.
What's on deck:
The Threshers' new skipper, Ernie Whitt, comes to Clearwater fresh off managing the Canadian team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. ... Clearwater's pitching staff could include RHP Kyle Drabek
, RHP Julian Sampson
, RHP Mike Stutes
, RHP Mike Cisco
and RHP Vance Worley
. Drabek may move to Double-A Reading after a string of successful starts, but odds are he'll spend at least a couple months in Clearwater. Sampson was 11-4 in 25 starts in the South Atlantic League in 2008. Worley put together a 2.48 ERA in 69 innings across two levels last season and is ready for his first full season. Stutes also seeks to prove he can handle a full summer of work, having gone 7-2 with a 1.42 ERA between the South Atlantic League and the New York-Penn League last year. Cisco is most likely going to work in relief, but could work his way into the rotation. He was formidable in both the South Atlantic League and the New York-Penn League in 2008, posting a 0.99 ERA and striking out 52 in 54 1/3 innings. ... Offensively, the Threshers should see help from OF Dominic Brown
, a top prospect in the Phillies system, and SS Freddy Galvis
. After Brown hit .291 and stole 22 bases in 29 attempts for Lakewood in the South Atlantic League last summer, he terrorized pitching prospects in Hawaii Winter Baseball, hitting .389 and amassing more walks than strikeouts. Galvis has two years of professional experience and won't turn 20 until November. ... The Threshers will be celebrating 25 years of Minor League Baseball in Clearwater this year.
2008 Results: 73-59, League champion
2009 Manager: Buddy Bailey
What's on deck: Bailey managed the Double-A Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League last year, but he's not new to Daytona fans; he helmed the Class A Advanced Cubs to a 36-31 second-half record as interim manager in 2006. Richie Zisk, a 12-year Major League veteran, is back for a fourth straight year as Daytona's hitting coach, and Tom Pratt, who's been working in the Cubs organization since 1999, will be the pitching coach. ... 3B Josh Vitters, the top prospect in the Cubs system, won't start the year in Daytona but could see time here at some point. ... RHP Andrew Cashner and SS Ryan Flaherty stand to play in the Florida State League, but how much time they spend at this level is yet to be seen. ... 1B Jovan Rosa paid his dues by playing a full season last year in the Class A Midwest League, hitting .293 and leading the league with 43 doubles, so he'll probably spend the summer with Daytona. ... RHP Chris Carpenter may start the year in the rotation here. The 2008 third-round pick pitched in 11 games of Rookie-level ball last summer.
Dunedin Blue Jays
2008 Results: 85-53
2009 Manager: Omar Malave
What's on deck: Malave, the 2008 Florida State League Manager of the Year, returns to Dunedin alongside pitching coach Darold Knowles. They'll welcome new hitting coach Al LeBoeuf, who has worked in the same role in the Royals and Mets systems. ... IF/OF Adam Loewen, who made it to the Majors as a pitcher in 2006, is working his way back as a position player after a stress fracture in his pitching arm. He'll spend the season in Dunedin, seeing time at first base and in the outfield. ... The Blue Jays are excited to move young shortstop prospect Justin Jackson through the ranks, but he projects to spend the entire 2009 season in Dunedin. After hitting .238 in the Midwest League last year, Jackson will look to develop at the plate before being promoted. ... Jackson's Lansing teammate 3B Kevin Ahrens is likely to spend the season in Dunedin. ... It's likely left field will be home to OF Eric Eiland, who stole 23 bases in 24 attempts for Lansing in 2008. RHP Andrew Liebel, who throws a fastball in the low-90s with strong movement, stands to be a starter for Dunedin at some point. ... RHP Daniel Farquhar pitched in 13 games between the New York-Penn League and the Midwest League in 2008, allowing seven earned runs over 32 1/3 innings, and he's poised to work out of the Dunedin bullpen.
Fort Myers Miracle
2008 Results: 77-59, First-half division champs
2009 Manager: Jeff Smith
What's on deck: Smith returns after leading the Miracle to the playoffs last year. Hitting coach Jim Dwyer will be back for a fourth year. Steve Mintz takes over pitching coach. ... OF Ben Revere, who led all full-season Minor Leaguers last year with a .379 batting average, also has speed; he swiped 44 bags in 57 attempts. Miracle fans can look forward to Revere spending the season in Fort Myers. ... Joining Revere in the outfield will be prized left-field prospect Joe Benson. ... RHP Carlos Gutierrez, who went 3-1 with a 2.10 ERA over 16 appearances with Fort Myers in 2008, may return and work as a starter this year. ... RHP David Bromberg is ready for to be a key component in a Florida State League rotation after making 27 starts in the Midwest League last season. RHP Michael McCardell and RHP Deolis Guerra probably will join him. McCardell went 9-4 with a 2.86 ERA in the Midwest League last year, and Guerra made 25 starts for Fort Myers, throwing a shutout and earning 11 wins along the way. ... Hammond Stadium will host the 2009 Florida State League All-Star Game on June 20. ... There's one more exciting new name in Fort Myers baseball; Julio Osegueda, who received national attention after asking President Barack Obama a question during a televised town hall meeting, will serve as the Miracle's color broadcaster during their home opener April 10.
2008 Results: 74-64
2009 Manager: Tim Leiper
What's on deck: Leiper comes to Jupiter from the Double-A Altoona Curve of the Eastern League, where he managed from 2006-'08. His staff will be made up of pitching coach John Duffy and hitting coach Anthony Iapoce. ... 3B Matt Dominguez, probably the best Minor League third baseman in the Marlins organization, will bring his bat to the Hammerheads for the 2009 season. Last year, he tore up the South Atlantic League, hitting .296 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs. ... Dominguez's 2008 teammate OF Mike Stanton led the Sally League with 39 homers, 68 extra base hits and a .611 slugging percentage, and he will also be making the leap to Class A Advanced.
Lakeland Flying Tigers
2008 Results: 67-70
2009 Manager: Andy Barkett
What's on deck: Barkett takes the reins in Lakeland for the third straight year, and pitching coach Joe Coleman and hitting coach Larry Herndon will also return. ... Southpaw prospect Casey Crosby underwent reconstructive surgery in his left arm and threw in only three games in the Gulf Coast League in 2008, so he'll look to make a strong impression this season, possibly with the Flying Tigers. ... RHP Brett Jacobson is likely to begin the season with Crosby on Lakeland's pitching staff, but may make the jump to Double-A if things go well. ... Tigers' 2008 third-rounder RHP Scott Green probably will round out the rotation.
Palm Beach Cardinals
2008 Results: 75-62
2009 Manager: Tom Spencer
What's on deck: The Cardinals are bringing veteran Minor League manager Tom Spencer to the Florida State League. Spencer spent last season as the organization's roving outfield and baserunning coach. ... Hitting coach Jeff Albert will join Spencer. ... Pitching coach Dennis Martinez will return for his second year. ... RHP Adam Reifer, who was the closer for the New York-Penn League champion Batavia Muckdogs in 2008, may be promoted all the way to Class A Advanced ball this year. ... SS Pete Kozma should be excited to come back to Palm Beach and make a stronger showing in 2009 after hitting just .130 in 24 Florida State League games last year. ... LHP Nick Additon, who combined to win 11 games between two levels last year, will spend the season in the Palm Beach rotation.
2008 Results: 60-78
2009 Manager: Joe Ayrault
What's on deck: Not only is skipper Joe Ayrault returning for the 2009 season, but so is pitching coach Tom Brown. They'll welcome former Major Leaguer Jorge Orta, who's taking over as hitting coach. ... Yonder Alonso, considered by many the top prospect in the Reds system, begins his first full season of professional ball in Sarasota. The slugging first baseman had six hits and worked five walks in six Florida State League games to post an on-base percentage of .440 last season. ... Right-hander Rafael Gonzalez, who went 5-12 with a 6.44 ERA over 22 starts last year for Sarasota, returns, hoping to show the Reds he has what it takes to move up the ladder. ... Three talented catchers -- Todd Waller, Justin Tordi and Jake Long -- will compete for playing time at the Class A Advanced level. They each had some Florida State League experience in 2008. ... RHP Kyle Lotzkar posted a 3.58 ERA last year over 10 starts for Dayton in 2008, and could move up this year.
St. Lucie Mets
2008 Results: 53-81
2009 Manager: Tim Teufel
What's on deck: Teufel will once again take the helm in Port St. Lucie. ... RHP Jenrry Mejia, one of the most exciting pitching prospects in the Mets system, could end up at Tradition Field in 2009, having put up a 2.89 ERA over 14 starts across two levels last season. ... The Mets' 2008 first-round Draft pick OF Reese Havens may end up in St. Lucie for his first full season of professional ball. ... 2B Greg Veloz should be back, but the other half of the St. Lucie double-play combo, SS Ruben Tejada, seems to have moved on. ... 1B Ike Davis, son of former Major League pitcher Ron Davis, stands to be a regular in the lineup. ... The pitching staff should include RHP Edgar Ramirez, RHP Brant Rustich, RHP Scott Moviel and RHP Scott Shaw. C Francisco Pena probably will be here too.
2008 Results: 72-65
2009 Manager: Luis Sojo
What's on deck: Sojo is back for a fourth year as the Tampa Yankees manager, coming off managing the Venezuelan team into a third-place finish in the World Baseball Classic. ... Nineteen-year-old CJesus Montero, who already has Yankees fans excited for the day he arrives as a regular in the Bronx, should start the 2009 season here. He may be promoted quickly if he performs as expected. ... C Austin Romine, who hit .300 and knocked 10 home runs last year in the South Atlantic League, is worthy of taking over when Montero moves on. ... 3B Bradley Suttle, a fourth-round selection from 2007, should be in Tampa for most of the season. ... LHP Jeremy Bleich, the Yankees' sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the 2008 Draft, will probably be a top starter here, having posted a 1.77 ERA in Hawaii Winter Baseball. ... RHP Andrew Brackman, who made eight starts in the South Atlantic League in 2008, will join Bleich in the rotation, as will his former Charleston RiverDogs teammate RHP Dellin Betances. ... RHP Jairo Heredia and LHP Wilkins De La Rossa are also likely to make starts in the Florida State League.
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MLB.com.