The Eastern League kicks off the season on Wednesday and leading up to Opening Day, MiLB.com will be taking a close look at what the year might bring for each team.
Why mess with a good thing?
That may as well be the Eastern League's motto in 2009, as the venerable circuit is going into the season virtually unchanged from the year before. There are no new ballparks awaiting gala grand openings. No club switched affiliations. Even all the club logos and team names remain the same. Everything is pretty much par for the course (to borrow terminology from another sport that revolves around the movement of a small white ball).
In the ever-changing world of Minor League Baseball, such stability is rare -- and should be savored. In 2009, all of the storylines will be taking place on the field. And that can only be a good thing.
Here's a team-by-team look at what to expect in the Eastern League in 2009:
2008 record: 80-62; South Division Wild-Card winners
2009 manager: Mike Sarbaugh
What's on deck: Perhaps the third time is the charm for the Aeros, who have been defeated by the Trenton Thunder in the Eastern League Finals in each of the past two seasons. If they do get over the hump in 2009, there's a good chance that a couple of recent first-round Draft picks will have something to do with it. 1B/3B Beau Mills, selected 13th overall in 2007, earned Carolina League MVP honors last season and should be more than ready to make the jump to Double-A. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, the 29th overall pick in 2008, could join him by season's end. ... RHP Hector Rondon is expected to anchor the starting rotation after recording 145 strikeouts over as many innings last season. His batterymate, at least early in the season, should be sweet-swinging C Carlos Santana.
2008 record: 65-77
2009 manager: Matt Walbeck
What's on deck: After spending the 2008 season as third-base coach of the Texas Rangers, Walbeck returns to the Minor Leagues. (He managed in the Detroit Tigers system from 2004-07). The former backstop will have the chance to work with a variety of highly touted prospects. Two of the pitchers who might see time in Altoona are RHP Bryan Morris and fellow first-rounder LHP Daniel Moskos. Morris, a 2006 first-round pick who was acquired in the Jason Bay trade, lost much of the past two seasons to injury but is healthy now. And Moskos is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2008 campaign. ... OF Jose Tabata, mired in controversy during Spring Training due to the actions of his wife, could return to Altoona, where he hit .348 over 22 games in 2008. ... Highly touted 2008 first-round pick 3B Pedro Alvarez probably will spend some time in Altoona after beginning the year with Lynchburg.
|10 PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Here's a look at 10 Eastern League prospects who you should keep an eye on in 2009:
What's on deck:
The B-Mets could have a very strong starting rotation to begin the season. LHP Mike Antonini
logged a 2.77 ERA over three Minor League levels last year, including a late-season stop in Binghamton. ... RHP Dillon Gee
impressed in Spring Training with the Mets after compiling a 2.92 ERA in a year that also ended in Binghamton. ... Not to be forgotten is RHP Dylan Owen
, who won Most Valuable Pitcher honors in the Florida State League last season. ... Charged with handling that hot shot trio will be C Josh Thole
, who hit .300 last season and while leading FSL catchers in fielding percentage. ... It will be interesting to see if well-regarded players like RHP Brad Holt
and SS Reese Havens
can make it to Binghamton by season's end.
2008 record: 84-58, Southern Division champions
2009 manager: Brad Komminsk
What's on deck: OF Kieron Pope suffered through an injury-marred campaign at Class A Delmarva in 2008, hitting 12 homers over 107 games. If he's healthy, Bowie fans could get the chance to see him knocking balls out of Prince George's Stadium. ... 1B Brandon Snyder had a great all-around season at Class A Advanced Frederick (.315, 13HR, 80RBIs), and could soon be with the Baysox. ... RHP Jake Arrieta plowed his way through the Carolina League in 2008, compiling a 2.87 ERA while holding opponents to a .199 average. He could become a prime component of Bowie's starting rotation. ... RHP Brandon Erbe also could end up figuring into the starting rotation after striking out 151 batters over 150 innings at Frederick last season.
2008 record: 68-73
2009 manager: Steve Decker
What's on deck: More like what's on "Decker," as the former big league backstop will be piloting the club in 2009. ... However, the biggest story surrounding the Defenders is the fact that this very well might be their last in Connecticut. While not yet official, a plan is in place to move the club to Richmond in time for the 2010 campaign. That drama shouldn't translate to the field though. ... C Buster Posey, who's starting the year in San Jose, is one of the most highly touted prospects in the game and could be on the East Coast before long. ... Meanwhile, RHP Tim Alderson could join the starting rotation after beginning the year back with San Jose.
2008 record: 68-74
2009 manager: Tom Brookens
What's on deck: 1B Ryan Strieby tore up the pitcher-friendly Florida State League last season, bashing 29 homers and driving in 94 runs. He should get a chance to continue his tear with the SeaWolves. ... SS Cale Iorg, another Florida League All-Star, also should spend time in Erie. ... At 6-foot-6, OF Brennan Boesch could make the jump to the Eastern League after knocking in 64 runs in the FSL. ... Hard-throwing RHP Robbie Weinhardt could be an asset out of the bullpen. The 23-year-old went 3-1 with a 2.04 ERA at Class A Advanced Lakeland, where he held opponents to a .179 average.
2008 record: 73-69
2009 manager: John Stearns
What's on deck: Commerce Bank Park, long fabled for the steady stream of electrocuted Mayflies that rain down on fans during the game, is undergoing extensive renovations. But that won't affect the action on the field, which is sure to include some of the Nationals' top prospects. After going 9-0 at Class A Advanced Potomac last season, RHP Adrian Alaniz may again see some time in Harrisburg at some point. ... LHP Ross Detwiler, who played in the Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars Showcase, looks to rise further with Harrisburg on the heels of a 114-strikeout performance (seventh-best in the league) last year with the P-Nats. ... Speedster OF Boomer Whiting has stolen 84 bases over his first two pro seasons and could wreak havoc on Eastern League basepaths.
New Britain Rock Cats
2008 record: 64-77
2009 manager: Tom Nieto
What's on deck: It's going to be tough to break into the Twins' young, homegrown starting rotation, but RHP Carlos Gutierrez is going to give it his best shot. The 2008 first-round pick did well in a brief stint at Class A Advanced Fort Myers last season and figures to be a part of the Rock Cats rotation at some point this season. ... Similarly, it will be a long time before anyone is able to unseat Joe Mauer behind the plate in Minnesota, but C Wilson Ramos' strong performance at Fort Myers (.288, 13HR, 78RBIs) has made him one to watch. ... Fans will be in for a treat if OF Ben Revere makes it to New Britain. The diminutive spark plug led the Minor Leagues in batting last season, hitting .379 at Class A Beloit of the Midwest League.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
2008 record: 61-81
2009 manager: Gary Cathcart
What's on deck: 1B David Cooper was the Blue Jays' first-round draft pick last season and excelled over three levels during a 2 1/2-month span. If he continues his rapid climb through the system, he may get a chance to suit up for the Fisher Cats in 2009. ... Another infielder with potential is 2B/3B Brad Emaus, who hit .302 with 12 homers and 71 RBIs at Class A Advanced Dunedin. ... LHP Marc Rzepczynski recorded a 2.83 ERA and 124 strikeouts over 121 innings at Class A Lansing last year. The Fisher Cat faithful may be introduced to him in 2009 and, hopefully, will have some idea how to pronounce his last name. ... 1B Brian Dopirak blasted 27 homers in the offensively challenged Florida State League in 2008 and hit two more with New Hampshire. He'll return to the club this spring.
Portland Sea Dogs
2008 record: 74-66
2009 manager: Arnie Beyeler
What's on deck: Beyeler is entering his third season as Sea Dogs skipper, becoming only the second man in team history to hold the position that long. He'll get a brief promotion to Boston in August, when the Sea Dogs take part in the annual "Futures at Fenway" game. ... 1B Lars Anderson, perhaps the best hitter in the Red Sox system, batted .316 in a 41-game stint with Portland last year and should open the 2009 season at Hadlock Field. If he does, it's a good bet he won't be there for long. ... Another phenom who may see time with the Sea Dogs is OF Josh Reddick. Last season, the 22-year-old hit .311 with 23 homers and 91 RBIs over three levels.
2008 record: 53-89
2009 manager: Steve Roadcap
What's on deck: Reading is known as Baseballtown for a reason as the long-running Eastern League city is home to hordes of rabid fans of the national pastime. This year, the R-Phils faithful might have the chance to watch OF Michael Taylor on a daily basis. The 6-foot-6 former fifth-round pick was named the Phillies' Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .346 with 19 homers and 88 RBIs at Class A Lakewood and Class A Advanced Clearwater. ... Another intriguing prospect is speedster OF Quintin Berry, who stole 51 bases at Clearwater while batting a healthy .272. ... LHP Joe Savery, the 19th overall pick in the 2007 Draft, also should be spending time in Reading after a season in which he went 9-10 with a 4.13 ERA at Clearwater.
2008 record: 86-54, won Eastern League championship
2009 manager: Tony Franklin
What's on deck: Franklin returns for his third go-round with the Thunder, and why wouldn't he? Under his leadership, Trenton has nabbed the Eastern League title the past two seasons. This has generated tremendous goodwill among Thunder fans, but the front office isn't content to rest on its laurels. This season, the turnstiles should be whirring, thanks to the team's new "Kids Eat Free" deal at the concession stands. ... As for product on the field, 2007 first-round draft pick RHP Andrew Brackman may log some time in Trenton. The 6-foot-10 flamethrower did not play in 2008 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. ... RHP Zach McAllister may be ready for the Thunder after going 14-9 with a 2.09 ERA in 25 appearances at Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa last season.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com.