With a plethora of upper-level prospects making their way down to the Florida State League, fans will want to pay attention to this group of budding stars in 2012.
Daytona will try to join Tampa on the list of recent teams to repeat as champions. The Yankees won the title in 2009 and 2010, before the Cubs picked up last season's trophy. The Yankees will try to claim their fifth title since 2001 after missing the playoffs last season.
Charlotte will play host to the 51st Florida State League All-Star Game on June 16 and are planning a series of events that will celebrate not just Charlotte Sports Park, but the entire county.
All eyes on Cole: No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole is expected to make his pro debut with the Bradenton Marauders. Aside from a few innings in the Arizona Fall League, this will be the first exposure to Minor League hitters for MLB.com's No. 11 prospect.
"It's really exciting," Cole said. "I'm just excited to get going and excited to take in a new experience."
Despite making the jump to Class A Advanced right out of the chute, Cole feels he is ready for it.
"I got the AFL under my belt and I got a full Spring Training. I'm just kind of anticipating getting out there against another team."
"(Spring Training) was a lot of fun, I got some time in the big league camp which was cool to experience and then I got my work done in the Minor League camp. You pick up a lot of stuff. Tou don't really have dissertations with them, but you're able to watch them go about their business that way."
Cole, who said he will make his debut April 9 against Palm Beach, will be joined in the rotation by Jameson Taillon. Cole thinks he and the Pirates' first-rounder in 2010 will provide a solid 1-2 punch for the Marauders and there is plenty he can learn from Taillon, who spent 2011 with West Virginia.
"He's a really nice guy and we're pretty good friends," the 21-year-old right-hander said of Taillon. "Any time you have a guy like him on your team, it's always good to learn some things from him and be able to watch him go about his business."
After an impressive collegiate career at UCLA that saw him finish second in Bruins' history with 376 strikeouts, Cole thinks he's ready to start the year in the Florida State League.
"I had some ideas, maybe Double-A, maybe high A from just hearing stuff said. When I got in my meeting at the end of Spring Training, they told me and I was like, 'Ok, cool'."
Cole is keeping his goals for his debut season pretty simple.
"One of my biggest goals is just go day to day and go one step at a time," Cole said. "Really focus on nailing down that five-day routine and understanding the new physical demands that need to be met with a longer season."
In their defense: After winning their previous FSL title in 2008, the Daytona Cubs wound up finishing under .500 and out of the playoff picture the next year. With key contributors such as Matt Sczur and Justin Bour likely heading for Double-A, the Cubs will face a challenge in trying to repeat after sweeping the St. Lucie Mets in the Finals.
They will be led by Brian Harper, who guided the Tennessee Smokies squad to the Southern League Finals. Harper has a history of success, having posted a winning record in each of his past four seasons as a manager. Harper also led the San Jose Giants to a California League title in 2010.
Pitching prospects galore: Fans of pitching will want to head to a Florida State League game this season, as some of the best will by plying their wares. Besides Taillon and Cole in Bradenton, Carlos Martinez (Palm Beach), Jed Bradley (Brevard County), Jesse Biddle (Clearwater) and Brody Colvin (Clearwater) are expected to open the year in Class A Advanced ball. Jacob Turner will also be returning to Lakeland in a stint meant to help rehab his shoulder.
All are highly regarded around baseball, with Martinez being compared to legendary hurler Pedro Martinez by Quad Cities manager Johnny Rodriguez.
Taking it to the next level?
After a whirlwind end to the 2011 season that saw Christian Yelich and the Greensboro Grasshoppers rally their way to a South Atlantic League title, many of the Grasshoppers will be jumping up a level. Yelich will be joined by Mark Canha, Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto and Noah Perio, all Marlins prospects who spent 2011 in Greensboro.
With that many players with playoff experience on board, it gives Jupiter an edge in trying to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Yelich, Miami's top prospect, and Ozuna, who has hit 45 homers over the past two seasons, will be the keys to the club's offense.
Managers move up too: Former Major League backstop Mike Redmond will look to help the Blue Jays advance after the club lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2011. Redmond helped guide Lansing, Toronto's affiliate in the Midwest League, to the Finals last year. He'll be aided by Jake Marisnick, the club's No. 3 prospect according to MLB.com.
Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Florida State League.
- Last season's championship: Daytona Cubs over St. Lucie Mets in three games MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last back-to-back champion: Tampa Yankees, 2009-10
- Last perfect game: Nick Regilio, Charlotte vs. Jupiter, June 9, 2001
- Last no-hitter: Alex Wimmers, Fort Myers vs. Jupiter, Sept. 3, 2011 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Trevor May (208), Clearwater, 2011
- Last cycle: Brett Jackson, Daytona vs. Lakeland, June 14, 2010
MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last 30-homer hitter: Brandon Sing (32), Daytona, 2004