The Pacific Coast League should have some great storylines in 2011, from Omaha's imposing lineup to the rebirth of baseball in Tucson. The reigning champs in Tacoma will be managed again by Daren Brown, who spent half the summer helming the Mariners up in Seattle.
Tucson will create a buzz early on, with their throwback Padres uniforms and newly acquired slugger Anthony Rizzo. Brown returns to lead a Rainiers club that went on to claim the PCL championship without him last fall. He'll have former No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley to help too.
And Omaha, rebranded as the Storm Chasers and set to open a brand-new ballpark, should terrorize opponents all summer with the elite duo of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, two jewels in the Royals' stocked farm system.
Here's a quick look at how each PCL club shapes up heading into Opening Day:
2010 record: 72-71
2011 manager: Lorenzo Bundy (first season)
Outlook: The 'Topes get a new skipper in the widely experienced Bundy, the former D-backs bench coach who helped Tucson to the PCL and Triple-A championships in 2006. One of the fastest prospects in baseball, Dee Gordon, should make his Triple-A debut after stealing 126 bases over the past two seasons. Switch-hitting outfielder Trayvon Robinson has at least 38 steals in each of the past two years. Jerry Sands had a huge season in 2010, hitting .301 with 35 homers, 93 RBIs and 18 steals at two levels. Can he keep up the pace at Triple-A?
Colorado Springs Sky Sox
2010 record: 64-79
2011 manager: Stu Cole (third season)
Outlook: Cole has a chance to reach 700 career wins this year with the Sky Sox. Southpaw starter Christian Friedrich, the Rockies' 2008 first-round pick, will probably begin the season back at Double-A Tulsa but should reach Triple-A sometime soon. Fans can probably expect a similar path for catcher Wilin Rosario, a 2010 Futures Game All-Star who enters the season ranked No. 41 among MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects. Rex Brothers, a 2009 first-round pick, could see significant time with the Sox after making 24 appearances at Tulsa last year.
2010 record: 75-69
2011 manager: Steve Decker (second season)
Outlook: The Grizzlies produced one of the top new players in baseball last year in National League Rookie of the Year Buster Posey -- will the Giants bring up another gem in 2011 from Triple-A? Thomas Neal is probably the biggest prospect slated to see time at Chukchansi Park this summer after hitting .291 as an Eastern League All-Star last year. Switch-hitting second baseman Emmanuel Burriss will probably see time at Fresno again. First baseman Brett Pill has 193 RBIs over his last two seasons and should again provide some pop to the Grizzlies' lineup.
2010 record: 82-62
2011 manager: Bill Dancy (first season)
Outlook: Dancy takes over the dugout after beloved Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg left the team to manage in the Phillies' system. The I-Cubs, in their 31st season affiliated with Chicago, had a lot of success last season despite missing the playoffs -- can 2010 Futures Game All-Star Brett Jackson make the jump to Triple-A? He enters the season ranked No. 46 in MLB.com's Top 50 list. Right-hander Chris Carpenter, an Arizona Fall League Rising Star, will see time with Iowa after a strong performance with Chicago in Spring Training. Another righty, Casey Coleman, made his Major League debut last year and should see more time at Principal Park.
Las Vegas 51s
2010 record: 66-78
2011 manager: Marty Brown (first season)
Outlook: Brown, 48, comes over to Vegas from Japan's Central League, where he managed and played following a brief Major League career. Former Brewers prospect Brett Lawrie could begin the year with the 51s. He came over to the Jays in the Shaun Marcum deal after hitting .285 with 63 RBIs and 30 steals last year at Double-A. First baseman David Cooper had 20 homers and 78 RBIs at New Hampshire last year and should see a promotion this spring. Eric Thames had a huge summer at Double-A last season, hitting .288 with 27 homers and 104 RBIs, and is in line for a jump to the PCL.
: 82-62, American Northern champs
: Chris Maloney (fifth season)
: Maloney begins the season with 979 wins, so he'll be eager to put some in the books as the Redbirds try to repeat their success of 2010. Lance Lynn
spent the 2010 season at Memphis with 13 wins and a 4.77 ERA, putting himself in line for some more time with the 'Birds. Eduardo Sanchez
, a 2010 Futures Gamer, reached Triple-A last season but should see more time there this summer after striking out 58 batters in 53 innings of relief at two levels. Third baseman Matt Carpenter
saw success at Class A Advanced Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, earning a look from St. Louis in Jupiter this spring. He should see time at Memphis after batting .309 last year.
2010 record: 77-67
2011 manager: Don Money (third season)
Outlook: Money is in line for his 900th career win this month, leading a team that finished last in the PCL's American Northern Division despite being 10 games over .500 last year. Former first-round pick Mark Rogers, Milwaukee's top prospect, should see time at Nashville after making one start there in 2010. He also made his Major League debut, striking out 11 over 10 impressive innings. Second baseman Eric Farris, who had 70 steals in 2009, should return, as will Mat Gamel, a Major League veteran who will transition to first base this year. Right fielder Brendan Katin stands 23 home runs and 46 RBIs behind Chad Hermansen for the top spots on the Sounds' all-time career leaderboard.
New Orleans Zephyrs
2010 record: 66-77
2011 manager: Greg Norton (second season)
Outlook: Norton took over last June and begins his first full season with the Z's in 2011. The sweet-fielding Matt Dominguez should start the year at New Orleans by early May at the latest after suffering a fractured elbow in an exhibition game on March 31. Dominguez knocked in 81 runs last year at Double-A Jacksonville and had a long look at Marlins camp this spring. Shortstop Osvaldo Martinez, a 2010 Futures Game and Southern League All-Star, should return after spending time in Florida last year. Right-hander Jhan Marinez made the jump from Double-A to the Majors last summer, but will probably start the year at New Orleans.
Oklahoma City RedHawks
2010 record: 73-70, American Southern champs
2011 manager: Tony DeFrancesco (first season)
Outlook: The 'Hawks were one of several Minor League teams to swap affiliates over the winter, leaving the Rangers for the Astros in 2011, so fans can certainly expect an entire roster of new faces. Former 2008 supplemental first-round pick Jordan Lyles, MLB.com's No. 31 top prospect, should begin the season with the RedHawks after seeing brief time with Round Rock last summer. Lyles, a 6-foot-4 righty, was a Futures Game All-Star last season. J.D. Martinez hit .341 with 18 homers and 89 RBIs between two levels last year and will see time at Triple-A.
Omaha Storm Chasers
2010 record: 81-63
2011 manager: Mike Jirschele (seventh season)
Outlook: The biggest change, of course, is Omaha's new name and home -- the Storm Chasers, renamed thanks in part to a fan vote, left behind their Royals moniker and historic Rosenblatt Stadium for the new Werner Park. The Royals' system is packed with talent, so Omaha fans will definitely be in for some excitement with the duo of Mike Moustakas, MLB.com's No. 7 prospect, and Eric Hosmer, the No. 8 prospect in baseball. Both could reach Kansas City sometime this season, but for now, they'll start in Omaha. Former first-rounder Mike Montgomery will make his Triple-A debut after finishing 7-5 with a 2.61 ERA at three levels last year. Danny Duffy? He's another former Futures Gamer, a lefty who went 5-2 with a 2.95 ERA at Double-A last year.
2010 record: 69-74
2011 manager: Brett Butler (third season)
Outlook: First baseman Brandon Allen slugged his way to Arizona last year but did not make the team's Opening Day roster. Allen, who had 25 homers and 86 RBIs at Reno last year, should anchor a lineup that will also feature catcher Konrad Schmidt and Collin Cowgill. Schmidt hit .315 with 11 homers and 65 RBIs at Double-A last year, while Cowgill had 83 RBIs and 25 steals at Mobile last summer. Veteran infielder Andy Tracy enters the season ranked third among active Minor Leaguers in runs scored (879), home runs (278) and total bases (2,608). He's also second in RBIs (1,013).
Round Rock Express
2010 record: 57-87
2011 manager: Bobby Jones (first season)
Outlook: The Express and RedHawks essentially traded affiliations for 2011 following the Rangers' ownership deal. Now a Rangers affiliate, the Express should feature former Round Rock talent Tanner Scheppers, the Rangers' first-round pick in 2009 who enters the season ranked No. 43 by MLB.com. The 2010 Futures Gamer appeared in 30 games for the Express last year, striking out 90 in 80 innings. Lefty Martin Perez is the organization's top prospect heading into the season, and after spending last summer at Double-A Frisco, a promotion is due. Southpaw starter Michael Kirkman appeared in 14 Major League games last year but will return to Triple-A for Opening Day.
Sacramento River Cats
2010 record: 79-65, Pacific Southern champs
2011 manager: Darren Bush (first season)
Outlook: The A's promoted Bush to Triple-A after he managed Double-A Midland to the 2009 Texas League championship. We're well aware that Chris Carter has some serious power -- he's driven in at least 93 runs in each of his last four seasons -- but is this finally the year he sticks in the Majors? Carter, who finished last season with 31 homers and 94 RBIs, a year after plating 115 runs, made his Oakland debut last summer, appearing in 24 games. The A's should compete, and Carter could provide some pop to the lineup. He'll start off with the Cats, though. Michael Taylor will look to rebound in 2011 after seeing most of his production numbers drop in '09. And California native Tyson Ross, a former second-round pick, will likely start the year at Triple-A after posting a 5.49 ERA in the Majors last year.
Salt Lake Bees
2010 record: 73-71
2011 manager: Keith Johnson (first season)
Outlook: The Bees should see a good amount of the Angels' young talent in 2011, with prospects such as Andrew Romine, the son of former Red Sox outfielder Kevin Romine. Romine, a shortstop, debuted with the Angels last summer. Infielder Alexi Amarista, outfielder Jeremy Moore, a Texas League All-Star last year, and starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood, a 2008 second-rounder, should all start at Salt Lake. Chatwood was the Angels' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010 after finishing 13-9 with a 2.84 ERA. Right-handed reliever Ysmael Carmona (32 saves over the past two seasons) should be the Bees' stopper. Salt Lake's 15th win of the season will be the franchise's 4,000th as part of the PCL. And the Bees also will be hosting the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 13, with picturesque Spring Mobile Ballpark becoming the first venue to host the game two times. The 1996 event also took place there.
2010 record: 73-69, league champions
2011 manager: Daren Brown (fifth season)
Outlook: Brown returns to Tacoma after serving as interim manager for Seattle last season -- he's managed the Rainiers since 2007 and led the club to a 61-54 mark and first place in the Pacific Northern Division prior to his big league promotion last summer. Dustin Ackley is the name to see in 2011 -- the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Ackley ranks as the No. 5 prospect in baseball by MLB.com after being named the Arizona Fall League's MVP last year. He reached Tacoma last year in just his first professional season, so with a little more seasoning, the second baseman will be in line for a Seattle debut. He homered in his first Triple-A at-bat last July after coming up from West Tenn, where he hit .305 over his final 54 games. Luke French, who reached the Majors for the second straight year in 2010, should return to the Rainiers' rotation. French was the Rainiers' Pitcher of the Year after going 11-3 with a 2.94 ERA and 63 strikeouts. Dan Cortes should return -- he had 98 strikeouts at Tacoma and reached Seattle last year.
2010 record: 59-85 (at Portland)
2011 manager: Terry Kennedy (first season)
Outlook: Baseball returns to Tucson in 2011 for the first time since the Sidewinders left town for Reno following the 2008 campaign. The Padres, who will sport retro San Diego uniforms and logos, should fare better than Portland did in 2010. Anthony Rizzo, acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, will make his Triple-A debut this year after hitting 25 homers and knocking in 100 runs at two levels in the Boston system last summer. The speedy Everth Cabrera, a Rule 5 Draft pick who's spent most of his last two seasons in the Majors, should start at Tucson. Remember Bobby Kielty? The Major League veteran will begin his comeback with the Padres after missing all of 2010. Simon Castro is a 6-foot-5 right-hander who struggled at Portland last season but will look to prove himself worthy of Triple-A and beyond this spring. Lefty Aaron Poreda will look to get back to the Majors -- he was a first-rounder in 2007 who converted to the bullpen last year. Major League veteran Wade LeBlanc should also factor into the Tucson rotation.