The South Atlantic League kicks off the season on Thursday and leading up to Opening Day, MiLB.com will be taking a close look at what the year might bring for each team.
What's another week or so when you've waited nearly seven decades for a Minor League team to call your own?
That's the prevailing attitude in Bowling Green, Ky., as Opening Day approaches for the Hot Rods, the first franchise to call the area home since 1942.
While the final touches are being added to Bowling Green Ballpark before the much-anticipated home opener against Kannapolis on April 17, the Rays' Class A affiliate is looking forward to providing six months of exciting entertainment for its new fan base.
The centerpiece of the new stadium is a gigantic video screen, measuring 16 feet in height and 32 feet in width. The screen is capable of displaying high-definition video and will be used in a variety of ways throughout the campaign.
"Any fan that comes into Bowling Green Ballpark is going to be blown away by the new video board," said Hot Rods general manager and CEO Brad Taylor.
"From its size to all the information it will display, we are thrilled to be able to provide our fans with a first-class structure."
The Rays moved the franchise formerly known as the Catfish from Columbus, Ga.
Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect in the Carolina League in 2009:
2008 record: 83-56; First-half Southern Division title
2009 Manager: Joe Mikulik
What's on deck: Manager Joe Mikulik returns for his 10th season as skipper of the Tourists. He was named the South Atlantic League's Manager of the Year the last two seasons, yet still may be best known for a particularly animated disagreement with umpires in June 2006. ... Mikulik and returning hitting coach Houston Jimenez will be joined by new pitching coach Dave Schuler, who worked with the hurlers at Class A Short-Season Tri-City in 2008. ... Among the pitchers who could man the Tourists' rotation this season is LHP Christian Friedrich, who was the Rockies' top pick in last June's Draft and made three late-season starts for Asheville. RHP Jonnathan Aristil also should be in the Tourists rotation after going 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA (third-best in the Northwest League) over 15 starts for Tri-City last year.
|10 PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Here's a look at 10 South Atlantic League prospects who you should keep an eye on in
- Tim Beckham, SS -- Bowling Green
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 Draft, Beckham hopes to shake off the .246 batting average he posted between two levels last season.
- Wilfredo Boscan, RHP -- Hickory
Boscan went 9-1 with a 3.12 ERA for Class A Short-Season Spokane in 2008. This year, he should show what he can do in a full season of work.
- Andrew Brackman, RHP -- Charleston
The top Yankees pitching prospect is set for a successful recovery from the Tommy John surgery that kept him out for much of last season.
- Jason Castro, C -- Lexington
The Astros' first choice in 2008 is widely considered the best prospect in the system. He hit .275 for Class A Short-Season Tri-City last year.
- Travis D'Arnaud, C -- Lakewood
D'Arnaud, a New York-Penn League All-Star last year, could be the Phillies' backstop in a couple of seasons. He
hit .305 at two levels in 2008.
- Wilmer Flores, C -- Savannah
The young catcher is one of the Mets' top prospects and he'll be honing his skills behind the plate with the Sand Gnats.
- Tyler Kuhn, SS -- Kannapolis
The 15th-round pick was a 2008 Pioneer League Postseason All-Star after batting .375 with 51 runs and 46 RBIs over 62 games.
- Jack McGeary, LHP -- Hagerstown
McGeary is simultaneously attending Stanford University and playing professionally. His pro career continues with the Suns.
- Kyle Skipworth, C -- Greensboro
The No. 6 overall Draft pick last year struggled a bit offensively in the GCL, but looks to prove himself with Greensboro.
- Pat Venditte, LHP/RHP -- Charleston
Venditte made national headlines with his ambidextrous abilities last year, but make no mistake, he can bring it. Was a New York-Penn All-Star.
88-50; 2008 SAL Champions
What's on deck:
Manager Dave Machemer joins the GreenJackets from the Giants' Rookie-level club in the Arizona League. He has twice won Manager of the Year awards during an 18-year Minor League managerial career. ... After winning its third SAL title and reaching the playoffs for the third straight season, Augusta may look to a duo of pitchers who spent last season at Class A Short-Season Salem-Keizer to keep the 'Jackets buzzing: RHP Mike Loree
went 4-3 and led the Northwest League in ERA (2.44) and WHIP (0.86) while ranking third with 75 strikeouts and RHP Andrew Reichard
finished second on the circuit with a 2.87 ERA. ... Unfortunately for Augusta, first-round phenoms Buster Posey and Conor Gillaspie are likely to jump straight to higher classifications.
Bowling Green Hot Rods
2008 record: 67-69 (as the Columbus Catfish)
2009 Manager: Matt Quatraro
What's on deck: Formerly the Columbus (Ga.) Catfish, the Hot Rods bring Minor League baseball to Bowling Green, Ky., for the first time since 1942. They'll open up brand-new Bowling Green Ballpark against Kannapolis on Friday, April 17. ... Matt Quatraro, a longtime Rays farmhand and coach, will manage the Hot Rods in their inaugural season after guiding the Catfish to a 67-69 mark last year. ... Among the players he may be overseeing are SS Tim Beckham, the top overall pick in the 2008 Draft; LHP Matthew Moore, who led the Appalachian League in ERA (1.66) and WHIP (0.90) last season; and C Jacob Jefferies, a third-round pick last June who batted .315 for Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League. ... Other possible Hot Rods include 2B Elias Otero, who hit .332 with Princeton in the Appy League and RHP Matthew Gorgen, who ranked third in the New York-Penn with 13 saves. ... After playing their debut season in the South Atlantic League, the Hot Rods are slated (along with Lake County) to move to the Class A Midwest League in 2010.
2008 record: 80-59
2009 Manager: Torre Tyson
What's on deck: Affiliation with the Yankees has been kind to the RiverDogs, who have posted winning records in each of the past six seasons. ... Manager Torre Tyson, a former South Atlantic League All-Star, returns for his third year as Charleston skipper. ... RiverDogs games will continue to air on ESPN Radio 910 AM "The Team" in Charleston and Kirkman Broadcasting in the Lowcountry, but with a new voice in play-by-play man Danny Reed. ... One of the big names Reed could be calling is that of 6-foot-11 RHP Andrew Brackman, the Yankees' first-round pick in 2007 who played basketball at North Carolina State. Joining Brackman on the hill could be ambidextrous P Pat Venditte, who posted an 0.83 ERA, led the New York-Penn League with 23 saves and was named MiLB.com's Short-Season Reliever of the Year last season. 1B Brian Baisley, whose .336 batting average at Staten Island ranked second in the New York-Penn, is also slated for action at Charleston this year.
2008 record: 78-61
2009 Manager: Orlando Gomez
What's on deck: Orlando Gomez is the new Shorebirds manager after serving as skipper of Baltimore's Appalachian League affiliate in Bluefield last season. This will mark his 14th season as a Minor League manager. He also spent three years as a coach on the Orioles' Major League staff. ... Last season's 78-61 record was Delmarva's best since 1998. ... The Shorebirds will look to fly high in 2009 with potential contributors like LHP Rick Zagone, a sixth-round pick last June who fanned 79 over 56 1/3 innings for Aberdeen and ranked among the New York-Penn League leaders in several categories. RHP Pat Kantakevich, who posted a 1.29 ERA at Bluefield and limited opponents to a .127 average, might also land in Delmarva as could RHP Oliver Drake, a 43rd-round pick out of the Naval Academy who compiled an 0.82 ERA between Bluefield and Aberdeen. Offense might be provided by 1B Elvin Polanco, who hit .311 with 10 homers (sixth-most in the Appy League) for Bluefield in 2008.
2008 record: 66-72
2009 Manager: Darin Everson
What's on deck: The Grasshoppers drew over 400,000 fans for the fourth straight season in 2008 -- not including a crowd of 8,367 for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game -- and received the Bob Freitas Award at the Class A level. ... Darin Everson takes over as Greensboro manager after two seasons as skipper of Class A Short-Season Jamestown. He guided the Jammers to the New-York Penn League Finals in 2008. ... Possible 2009 Grasshoppers include the Marlins' top Draft pick (sixth overall) last June, 19-year-old C Kyle Skipworth, LHP Brad Hand, a 2008 second-rounder with a plus curveball who posted a 2.64 ERA last summer and SS/3B Ernesto Manzanillo, whose .456 OBP in 2008 (primarily in the Gulf Coast League) ranked fourth in the Minor Leagues.
2008 record: 70-69
2009 Manager: Kevin Boles
What's on deck: Each of Boston's Minor League affiliates finished above .500 in 2008, and Greenville will try to keep its part of that streak going under manager Kevin Boles, who returns for a second season. ... 1B Anthony Rizzo was hitting .373 with the Drive last spring before being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma 21 games into the season. Now healthy and in great shape, the 19-year-old could return to Greenville to start 2009. ... Other possible players include RHP Stolmy Pimentel, who posted a 3.14 ERA as an 18-year-old with Class A Short-Season Lowell, and 2008 first-round picks RHP/SS
Casey Kelly (who will pitch until he reaches an innings limit) and RHP
Bryan Price, both of whom impressed at Lowell last summer.
2008 record: 61-78
2009 Manager: Matt LeCroy
What's on deck: Former big league catcher Matt LeCroy will make his professional debut as the Suns' manager. The 33-year-old batted .260 with 60 home runs over eight big league seasons. ... SS Carlos Alvarez (formerly Esmailyn Gonzalez) led the Nationals' system with a .343 average in the Gulf Coast League last season, but was discovered in February to be 23 years old rather than 19. The recipient of a $1.4 million signing bonus in 2006, Lugo may begin the season with Hagerstown. ... Another possible Sun is OF Destin Hood, an athletic second-rounder. ... LHP Jack McGeary, the Nationals' sixth-round pick last year who is attending Stanford University as well as playing professionally, will pitch for the Suns. ... Robert Flannery is the Suns' new president and general manager. He previously served as GM of the South Atlantic League's Columbus RedStixx from 1999-2000.
2008 record: 52-87
2009 Manager: Hector Ortiz
What's on deck: After 10 years and two South Atlantic League championships as Pittsburgh's Class A affiliate, 2009 will mark Hickory's debut in the Texas Rangers system. The Rangers' previous Class A club in Clinton, Iowa reached the Midwest League playoffs in five of the past six seasons. ... The Crawdads will be managed by Hector Ortiz, who is in his fourth season in the Rangers organization. He served as hitting coach for the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks in 2008. ... The Hickory rotation could feature a pair of 19-year-old RHPs who impressed at Class A Short-Season Spokane last year,
Wilfredo Boscan (9-1, 3.12 ERA) and
Carlos Pimentel (6-3, 3.31). The two hurlers ranked fourth and fifth respectively in ERA in the Northwest League.
2008 record: 67-68
2009 Manager: Ernie Young
What's on deck: Minor League legend Ernie Young will make his managerial debut with Kannapolis in 2009. Young retired following the 2007 season after an 18-year pro career in which he hit 319 Minor League home runs. He served as hitting coach for Pioneer League champion Great Falls last summer. ... After three losing seasons since winning the 2005 Sally League title, the Intimidators will look to bounce back with likely help from 1B Jorge Castillo, whose .365 average with Bristol ranked second in the Appalachian League, and SS Tyler Kuhn, who finished second in the Pioneer League with a .375 mark. ... The duo could be joined by C Mike Grace, who belted 13 homers for Great Falls in 2008.
Lake County Captains
2008 record: 75-65; First-half Northern Division title
2009 Manager: Aaron Holbert
What's on deck: After guiding the Captains to the Northern Division first-half title last season, Aaron Holbert will return as manager in 2009, becoming the second skipper in club history to manage multiple seasons. ... 2008 first-round pick Lonnie Chisenhall could see some time in Lake County after a strong debut with Mahoning Valley last summer. He hit .290 with 45 RBIs as a shortstop for the Scrappers, but worked out at third base in fall instructs. ... Chisenhall could be joined by Scrappers teammates 2B Cord Phelps, a third-round pick who hit .312 in 2008, and LHP Russell Young, a 28th-rounder out of Dartmouth who went 6-3 with a 3.38 ERA. ... After seven seasons in the league, the Captains are slated (along with Bowling Green) to move to the Class A Midwest League in 2010.
2008 record: 80-60
2009 Manager: Dusty Wathan
What's on deck: It's been an exciting offseason for the BlueClaws, who saw alumni Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels lead the Phillies to the World Series title. ... Along with the Double-A Trenton Thunder (Yankees), Lakewood has announced an unprecedented promotion in 2009: Kids eat free at every home game. The BlueClaws have already run a successful Kids Eat Free on Mondays program the past three seasons. ... Lakewood fans could see several of the Phillies' top 2008 Draft picks this season, including athletic 3B Anthony Hewitt (first round, 24th overall), OF Zach Collier, a left-handed hitter with raw power (first-round supplemental, 34th overall) and OF Anthony Gose, a five-tool player from California taken in the second round. ... The 2009 BlueClaws will be helmed by Dusty Wathan, a former catcher who guided Class A Short-Season Williamsport to a 38-37 record in his managerial debut last season. ... Wathan's backstop in Williamsport, C Travis D'Arnaud, will join him in Lakewood after hitting .309 and being named to the New York-Penn All-Star team last summer.
2008 record: 45-93
2009 Manager: Tom Lawless
What's on deck: After a tough season that saw the Legends finish in the South Atlantic League basement, the 2009 squad will be helmed by Tom Lawless, who spent the past five years in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Lawless last managed in the Carolina League in 2004. ... Alan Stein, president and CEO of both the Legends and Omaha Royals, was honored at the Winter Meetings with the first-ever Presidential Citation from Minor League Baseball for outstanding service. The Legends made donations of $774,000 to Central Kentucky non-profits in 2008. ... C Jason Castro, the Astros' first-round pick in 2008 (10th overall), could see playing time in Lexington this season. ... 1B Phil Disher, a 15th-round selection, was a New York-Penn League All-Star last summer and finished second on the circuit with 85 hits, 20 doubles, 13 homers and 56 RBIs. He and Tri-City teammate OF J.B. Shuck, who batted .300 and also was named to the midsummer classic, could play starring roles in Lexington in 2009.
2008 record: 56-81
2009 Manager: Randy Ingle
What's on deck: Randy Ingle will return in 2009 for his fourth season as Rome skipper and 18th as a manager in the Braves system. Hitting coach Bobby Moore and pitching coach Jim Czajkowski also remain in Rome. ... Among the new faces on the roster could be 2B Robert Brooks, a 20th-round pick last June who earned Gulf Coast League All-Star honors after hitting .329 with 12 stolen bases. Also expect to see 1B Gerardo Rodriguez, who led the Appalachian League with 49 RBIs and ranked third with 13 homers last summer, and 3B
Jon Gilmore, who struggled in 27 games with Rome last season, but hit .337 (third-best in the Appy League) for Danville. ... Atlanta selected its top two picks in the 2008 Draft -- LHP Brett DeVall (first-round supplemental) and RHP Zeke Spruill (second round) -- out of high school. While the Braves will certainly be cautious with their young arms, the two could also see time in Rome.
Savannah Sand Gnats
2008 record: 61-76
2009 Manager: Edgar Alfonzo
What's on deck: Savannah's new manager is Edgar Alfonzo, the older brother of former Mets infielder Edgardo Alfonzo. "Fonzie" joins the Sand Gnats after guiding the Class A Short-Season Brooklyn Cyclones to an impressive 94-55 record over the past two seasons. ... He could be surrounded by familiar faces from last summer's Brooklyn club. The Mets had three first-round Draft picks -- 1B Ike Davis (18th overall), INF Reese Havens (22nd) and RHP Brad Holt (33rd) -- in Brooklyn in 2008. Holt led the New York-Penn League with a 1.87 ERA and 96 strikeouts. ... RHP
Scott Shaw, a 13th-round pick, also pitched for the Cyclones last year and could be part of the Gnats' rotation in 2009. He ranked seventh in the New York-Penn in ERA (2.80) and fourth in strikeouts (79). ... The Sand Gnats signed a two-year extension on their Grayson Stadium lease in January. ... Veteran executive R.C. Reuteman joins Savannah as team president after successful stints with the Cyclones and Binghamton Mets.
West Virginia Power
2008 record: 77-62; Won second-half Northern Division title; advanced to Championship Series
2009 Manager: Gary Green
What's on deck: After four seasons as Milwaukee's Class A farm club, the Power opens 2009 as the South Atlantic League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. ... Coming over from the Pirates' previous Sally League club in Hickory is manager Gary Green, a Pittsburgh native who guided the Crawdads the past two seasons. ... Appalachian Power Park will host its first South Atlantic League All-Star Game on June 23. ... The Power reached the league Championship Series in each of the previous two seasons. ... Among the Pirates prospects that could be playing in Charleston are 2008 fourth-round pick SS Chase D'Arnaud, a New York-Penn League All-Star who hit .286 for State College last summer, and Salvadoran LHP
Nelson Pereira, who earned Gulf Coast League All-Star honors with a 6-2 record and a 1.62 ERA over 50 innings last year. ... Jarek Cunningham, who hit .318 for the Gulf Coast Pirates last season, was slated to play second base for the Power, but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee early in Spring Training. He will miss the entire 2009 season, but should recover fully.
John Parker is a contributor to MLB.com.