Change and turnover are concepts that Minor League baseball teams are more than familiar with, and this offseason in the California League was a perfect example of why. Three of the 10 teams in the league changed affiliations -- including the Inland Empire 66ers and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes trading parent organizations -- while eight managers will be new to California League competition this season.
But in spite of the change that is commonplace from year to year, some things remain remarkably consistent. The San Jose Giants have been the class of the league the past two years, and they will again field one of the most talented rosters in the league as they attempt to become the first team in California League history to three-peat. That will not be an easy task, however, as the league is littered with some of the top young talent in all of baseball.
Below, MiLB.com examines how each team looks heading into Opening Day:
MLB Parent Club: Cincinnati Reds
2011 manager: Ken Griffey, Sr. (first season)
Outlook: Griffey, in his first year as a Minor League manager, will be looking to turn around a team that was the worst offensive squad in the league last season, resulting in a last-place finish in the North Division. With a new affiliation (they were previously affiliated with the Texas Rangers) and a completely new roster, that task might not be as tall as it sounds. Switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal will start his professional career with the team, while first baseman Neftali Soto will return to Class A Advanced after hitting 21 homers in 522 at-bats in the Carolina League last year. Pitcher Josh Ravin will try to prove that his 2.08 ERA in five starts with Lynchburg last year was no fluke.
High Desert Mavericks
MLB Parent Club: Seattle Mariners
2011 manager: Jose Moreno (first season)
Outlook: After reaching the California League title game in 2008, the Mavericks didn't make it past the first round of last year's playoffs. Manager Jose Moreno will take over after guiding the Class A Short-Season Everett AquaSox to a Northwest League championship and league-best 49-27 regular season record last year. The Mavericks will start the year with MLB.com's No. 38 prospect, Nick Franklin, but if the wiry shortstop continues to impress, they are unlikely to end the season with him. Right-hander Yoervis Medina
will lead the pitching staff after going 9-2 with a 3.17 ERA in 15 starts across three levels last year, including one outing at Triple-A.
Inland Empire 66ers
MLB Parent Club: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2011 manager: Tom Gamboa (first season)
Outlook: The 66ers struggled mightily last season, finishing with the worst record in the California League thanks to an offense and defense that both ranked second-to-last on the circuit. But with a new affiliation comes a new roster as well as new management. Veteran Tom Gamboa, who has worked in baseball since 1974 including five years as a Major League coach, will attempt to turn the ship around. The 66ers will have a sparkplug in second baseman Jean Segura, who stole 50 bases in the Midwest League last season. Right-hander Fabio Martinez Mesa, 21, will move up a level after striking out 141 batters in 103 1/3 innings with Cedar Rapids in 2010.
Lake Elsinore Storm
MLB Parent Club: San Diego Padres
2010 results:81-59, first-half South Division winner
2011 manager: Carlos Lezcano (fifth season)
Outlook: Boasting the No. 1 pitching staff and No. 2 offense in the league, the Storm posted the circuit's best regular season record last season, including a stellar 48-22 mark away from home. Even so, Carlos Lezcano's squad couldn't make it out of the second round of the playoffs, falling to Rancho Cucamonga in four games. Lake Elsinore will have plenty of depth this year and should be able to compete at a high level again as Lezcano goes for 900 career wins (he is currently at 874) and 300 victories with the Storm. Matt Lollis
will anchor the pitching staff after dominating lower levels to the tune of a 2.12 ERA in 2010. Meanwhile, former first-rounder Reymond Fuentes and shortstop Jonathan Galvez will aim to give opposing teams fits on the base paths, as the pair racked up a combined 60 steals last season.
MLB Parent Club: Houston Astros
2011 manager: Tom Spencer (first season)
Outlook: At 889 career wins, Spencer is another California League manager aiming to break the 900 mark this season. Speedy shortstop Jonathan Villar will lead the way as the JetHawks look to make noise outside the spectrum of concession food items. Joining him will be 2008 second-rounder Jay Austin, who tallied 48 extra-base hits for Lancaster last year, and 2010 third-rounder Austin Wates, who hit .316 with a .500 slugging percentage in a 38 at-bat stint in the New York-Penn League last year. Second baseman Jose Altuve should also be a producer for the JetHawks.
MLB Parent Club:
Jerry Weinstein (fifth season)
Weinstein has accumulated 294 wins during his tenure with Modesto and should rack up plenty more with this talented squad. Left-hander Tyler Matzek
was ranked by MLB.com as the No. 33 prospect
in baseball, while righty Chad Bettis
, a second-round pick in the 2010 Draft, has a high ceiling himself. Third baseman Nolan Arenado will take on the challenge of Class A Advanced after torturing South Atlantic League pitchers last year with a .308 batting average and .520 slugging percentage.
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
MLB Parent Club: Los Angeles Dodgers
2010 results:78-62, South Division winners
2011 manager: Juan Bustabad (first season)
Outlook: The Quakes made it all the way to the league finals last year, but turnover in the offseason has left this a very different team. Like many of his players, skipper Juan Bustabad has moved up from the Midwest League, where he was named Manager of the Year in 2010, to try his hand against tougher competition. Pitcher Ethan Martin, selected No. 15 overall in the 2008 Draft, will have another go-around against California League competition after struggling with his command last year -- he walked 81 batters in 113 1/3 innings and posted a 6.35 ERA. Meanwhile, fellow 2008 draftee Allen Webster will get his first shot at Class A Advanced after compiling a 2.88 ERA with the Great Lakes Loons last season.
San Jose Giants
MLB Parent Club: San Francisco Giants
2010 results:76-64, North Division winners, California League champions
2011 manager: Andy Skeels (first season)
Outlook: The Giants organization was successful at more than just the Major League level last year, as San Jose posted the best record in its division before going on to win its second straight California League title. These Giants could make a run at a record-breaking third consecutive championship this year, as the team boasts well-regarded prospects all over the field. Pitcher Zack Wheeler will attempt to live up to the promise that made him the sixth overall pick in the 2009 Draft. Other high Draft picks include outfielders Gary Brown (selected 24th overall in 2010) and Jarrett Parker (second round in 2010), as well as catcher Tommy Joseph (second round in 2009) and pitcher Michael Main. Right-hander Heath Hembree will play an important role in the bullpen after posting 22 strikeouts and a 0.82 ERA in 11 Rookie ball innings, and third baseman Chris Dominguez moves up a level after launching 21 homers in the South Atlantic League last year.
MLB Parent Club: Oakland Athletics
2010 results:74-66, first-half North Division winners
2011 manager: Webster Garrison (first season)
Outlook: Michael Choice, the 10th overall pick in the 2010 Draft, will get the Opening Day start in center field for the Ports in his first full professional season of baseball. He will be joined in the lineup by touted catcher Max Stassi, who struggled at the plate last year (.229 batting average) but is known as a defensive wizard. The team will have a new skipper in Webster Garrison, who spent the last several years managing and coaching Oakland's Double-A affiliate in Midland.
MLB Parent Club: Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 manager: Jason Hardtke (first season)
Outlook: Lefty Tyler Skaggs will be the biggest name on rookie manager Jason Hardtke's squad, as the former first-round pick was a key piece in the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels. The left side of the Visalia infield should be strong, as both shortstop Chris Owings and third baseman Bobby Borchering are recent first-round Draft picks. The Rawhide should also get some pop from designated hitter Matthew Davidson, another former first-round pick, who slugged .504 with a .371 on-base percentage in 415 Midwest League at-bats last season.