The Carolina League kicks off the 2010 season on Thursday. Leading up to Opening Day, MiLB.com will be taking a close look at what the year might bring for each team.
The Lynchburg Hillcats breezed through the 2009 Mills Cup playoffs to capture their second Carolina League title in a decade. But after 14 seasons as the Class A Advanced affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Hillcats are part of the Cincinnati Reds system.
Lynchburg's Pat Kelly is one of five new managers in the Carolina League, joining Orlando Gomez of the Frederick Keys, Aaron Holbert of the Kinston Indians, Gary Cathcart of the Potomac Nationals and Kevin Boles of the Salem Red Sox.
Last season's Southern Division Champions, the Winston-Salem Dash, will open the new BB&T Ballpark to a sellout crowd on Tuesday, Potomac pays a visit. The Dash sold 12 of 14 luxury boxes in the new facility as well as more than 4,100 season-ticket packages and 90 percent of the sponsorship opportunities, long before construction was completed last month.
Here's a team-by-team look at what else to expect in the Carolina League in 2010:
2009 record: 64-75
2010 manager: Orlando Gomez
What's on deck: After managing Class A affiliate Delmarva last season, Orlando Gomez brings 47 seasons of professional baseball experience to Frederick. ... 3B Billy Rowell, the ninth overall pick in the 2006 Draft, has shown inconsistency at the plate but is expected to return to third base after spending last season in the outfield. He'll repeat the Carolina league after hitting .225 in 2009. ... 1B Joe Mahoney added more than 10 pounds of muscle in hopes of improving last year's .326 slugging percentage. ... LHP Rick Zagone will start the opener for Frederick. He had a 5.10 ERA over 67 innings last season.
2009 record: 60-78
2010 manager: Aaron Holbert
What's on deck: RHP Alex White, the 15th overall pick in last year's Draft, will make his professional debut on Saturday. The Greenville, N.C., native will be joined by fellow former first-rounder LHP Nick Hagadone and LHP Kelvin De La Cruz. ... RHP Alex Perez combined for a 2.99 ERA across two levels last season. ... OF Abner Abreu moves up after hitting .305 at Class A Lake County, while 2B Jason Kipnis batted .306 at short-season Mahoning Valley. ... Aaron Holbert also moves up after managing at Lake County last season.
2009 record:73-66, Carolina League champs
2010 manager:Pat Kelly
What's on deck: The Reds provided Lynchburg with plenty of experience in the first year of their partnership. Seventeen Hillcats already have seen action at the Class A Advanced level. ... Pat Kelly brings 21 years of Minor League managerial experience to Lynchburg. He managed the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Reds in 2009 and is the father of Red Sox pitching prospect Casey Kelly. ... RHP Brad Boxberger, the 43rd overall pick in last year's Draft, should form a formidable 1-2 punch with RHP Mark Serrano, who pitched to a 2.11 ERA in 14 games (eight starts) across two levels a season ago.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
2009 record: 53-84
2010 manager: Rocket Wheeler
What's on deck: Scott Brown is the Pelicans' new general manager after 15 seasons with the Double-A Binghamton Mets. ... Rocket Wheeler returns for his fifth year as Myrtle Beach manager. ... Perhaps the biggest news for the Pelicans doesn't involve the team or its parent club, the Atlanta Braves. Owner Chuck Greenberg's bid for the Texas Rangers will be completed, pending the approval of Hicks Sports Group's lenders and Major League Baseball owners. ... Fifteen players return from last year's squad, but it's two newcomers, RHP Randall Delgado and RHP Zeke Spruill, who may get most of the attention. Delgado ranked fifth in the South Atlantic League with 10.23 strikeouts per nine innings last season, while Spruill posted a 3.03 ERA at Class A Rome.
2009 record: 79-58
2010 manager: Gary Cathcart
What's on deck: Potomac fans hoped that megaprospect Stephen Strasburg would begin the season in the Carolina League, but he debuts with Double-A Harrisburg. ... RHP Juan Jaime had a 2.10 ERA across two levels last season, struck out 76 over 55 2/3 innings and held opponents to a .189 average. He'll start the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury... The biggest prospect in Potomac is C Derek Norris who could be Strasburg's batterymate down the road. Norris' defense is developing, but he was named MLB.com's Class A Hitter of the Year while playing in the South Atlantic League. ... After seven seasons in the Blue Jays organization, Gary Cathcart takes the reins of the P-Nats.
Salem Red Sox
2009 record: 67-72, Mills Cup runner-up
2010 manager: Kevin Boles
What's on deck: Mike Jones' walk-off homer catapulted the Red Sox into the Championship Series last September, but they were swept by Lynchburg. ... After missing most of 2008 due to Hodgkin's Lymphoma, 1B Anthony Rizzo was a South Atlantic League All-Star last season. He'll move up to the Carolina League after hitting .297 with 12 homers and 66 RBIs across two levels. ... RHP Stolmy Pimentel was fourth in the Red Sox organization with a 3.14 ERA last season. ... He'll be joined on Kevin Boles' pitching staff by RHP Alex Wilson who allowed only two earned runs in 36 innings at short-season Lowell Spinners. ... The Sox have a formidable catching duo of Tim Federowicz, a 2009 South Atlantic League All-Star, and Ryan Lavarnway, who led the SAL with 59 extra-base hits and ranked second with 87 RBIs.
Wilmington Blue Rocks
2009 record: 84-55, Northern Division champs
2010 manager: Brian Rupp
What's on deck: The best left-hander from Cuba not named Chapman is Noel Arguelles who signed a five-year deal with the Royals in January. The 19-year-old stands 6-foot-4, weighs 225 pounds and will be a "top-of-the-rotation pitcher at some point in his career," according to Royals GM Dayton Moore. ... LHP Mike Montgomery is MLB.com's No. 43 prospect. ... Former first-round pick 1B Eric Hosmer returns after hitting .206 in a 27-game stint with the Blue Rocks last season. ... The Blue Rocks will wear new uniforms featuring their new logo.
2009 record: 73-65, Southern Division champs
2010 manager: Joe McEwing
What's on deck: Joe McEwing returns after earning Carolina League Manager of the Year honors. Pitching coach Bobby Thigpen also is back in Winston-Salem. ... It took the Dash 25 minutes to sell the remaining tickets for the opener at new BB&T Ballpark. ... With former first-round pick OF Jared Mitchell out for the season following ankle surgery, C Josh Phegley is the top prospect on the Winston-Salem roster. Selected 38th overall last June, the Indiana product hit .224 with nine homers and 33 RBIs at Class A Kannapolis, where he earned praise for his ability to handle pitchers. ... 3B Jon Gilmore is another former first-rounder who batted .274 in the South Atlantic League a year ago. He's one of 22 members of the Dash who helped Kannapolis post the SAL's best record.