New stadiums and affiliate shifts are more or less the norm in the Minor Leagues. But the 2015 Pacific Coast League season brings not so much a wave of change as a sea change.
Six PCL teams have new parent clubs, with some longtime partnerships giving way to budding relationships. The Dodgers, who had a Minor League team in Albuquerque from 1963-2000 and again from 2009 through last season, own a piece of the now-eponymous Triple-A franchise in Oklahoma City. Albuquerque will host the Rockies' Triple-A club, while Colorado Springs begins an affiliation with the Brewers. The Giants are partnered with Sacramento, the Astros with Fresno and the A's with Nashville.
In Nashville, of course, there's a more obvious big change that has fans excited. The Sounds will play in a brand new home, First Tennessee Park, after 36 seasons in Greer Stadium. First Tennessee Park is built near the site of old Sulpher Dell Park, which hosted pro baseball from the 19th century through the early 1960s, and the state-of-the-art facility will have "a little something for everyone," according to team owner Frank Ward.
Fans who fear they'll miss the iconic guitar-shaped scoreboard that loomed over the left-center field wall at Greer Stadium can take heart: First Tennessee Park has a guitar-shaped scoreboard beyond the right-center field wall.
Not everything in the PCL will be new, however. One very familiar face will be back at the start of the season.
Brace for Bryantmania: With Kris Bryant having made a huge stir during Spring Training and headed for Triple-A Iowa -- but not likely to hang around long -- the I-Cubs' first few series may have something of a circus atmosphere. Get in on the action if you can.
Iowa opens the season with four games at Memphis, then four more in New Orleans. The I-Cubs' home opener is April 17 against Oklahoma City, but there's a good chance Bryant will debut at Wrigley Field on April 18 against the Padres. In other words, the 23-year-old phenom will probably only have eight games -- nine, maybe -- to reclaim the Joe Bauman Award. The way he slugged in the Cactus League, well, anything may be possible.
Spare fans in Des Moines your pity. Even if they miss Bryant, they have plenty to look forward to this season (not to mention the fact they had him for 70 games last year). Javier Baez, who slugged 23 homers and plated 80 runs in 104 PCL games in 2014, is back to work on making his approach big league-pitching proof. Addison Russell, MLB.com's fifth-ranked prospect, is also likely to see significant time there, as is the Cubs' top pitching prospect, 23-year-old right-hander C.J. Edwards.
Prospect You Have to See in Person: The PCL favors power hitters and the Rangers' Joey Gallo is about as powerful as they come. Texas' top prospect will start the season at Double-A Frisco, but it stands to reason that he'll do some serious damage for Round Rock at some point in 2015. The left-handed-hitting third baseman whacked 40 homers in 2013 and 42 last year, making this summer a good one to buy seats in right field at Dell Diamond or when the Express are coming to town.
Series You Need to Watch: On the season's opening weekend, Salt Lake is at Sacramento, where one top pitching prospect will have something to prove right out of the gate. Andrew Heaney, whom the Angels acquired when they traded Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers, is slated to start the season with the Bees, and he's not thrilled about it. The 23-year-old southpaw told The Orange County Register, "It is disappointing. I came into camp wanting to make the team, didn't come into camp trying to break with Triple-A."
The Angels are beginning the year with four starters, so if Heaney proves dominant enough in his first couple PCL games, he could make a case to be No. 5.
Andrew Susac, the Giants' No. 2 prospect who hit .273 over 35 Major League games last year, will lead the River Cats in trying to make trouble during Heaney's first start. The 25-year-old catcher was optioned to Sacramento at the end of March after batting .217 in 15 Cactus League games. The Giants believe he's "refined defensively and offensively," and he'll undoubtedly relish the opportunity to reestablish himself at the plate. Adam Duvall, who's already proven he can hit at the Triple-A level, is opening the year with the River Cats along with right-hander Hunter Strickland.
Last things last
- Last season's Championship Series: Omaha over Reno in five games MiLB.com coverage »
- Last perfect game: Brandon Hynick, seven innings, Colorado Springs vs. Portland, June 30, 2009 MiLB.com coverage »
- Last no-hitter: Chris Rusin, Iowa vs. New Orleans, May 7, 2014 MiLB.com coverage »
- Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Juan Berenguer (220), Tacoma, 1979
- Last cycle: Jimmy Paredes, Omaha vs. New Orleans, May 12, 2014 MiLB.com coverage »
- Last three-homer game: Ben Paulsen, Colorado Springs vs. Albuquerque, Aug. 23, 2014 MiLB.com coverage »
- Last 30-homer hitter: Joc Pederson (33), Albuquerque, 2014
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com.