An abundance of affiliation changes was the big story entering the 2015 season with six Pacific Coast League clubs starting a new partnership with a Major League organization. By the end of the season, the Fresno Grizzlies stood out among the rest in their first year as the Houston Astros' Triple-A affiliate, claiming the PCL title and Triple-A National Championship.
Fresno began its stay in first place in the Pacific Northern Division on May 12th, building a 13.5 game lead over the next-best team in the division by Labor Day. The Grizzlies' offense accumulated a PCL-high 804 runs during the regular season, led by league MVP Matt Duffy who produced 104 RBI and scored 94 runs. Fresno was also helped by a flourishing Astros' farm system that included shortstop Carlos Correa and starting pitcher Mark Appel, who became the first former No. 1 overall draft picks to play in the PCL without prior MLB experience since Luke Hochevar in 2007.
In the playoffs, the Grizzlies faced adversity as they were a loss away from elimination in the League Championship Series vs. Round Rock, but battled back to win the final two games and claim the PCL title in front of their home crowd at Chukchansi Park. Fresno then moved on to El Paso for the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game, where they defeated the International League's champion, the Columbus Clippers 7-0. Second baseman Tony Kemp ignited the Grizzlies during their playoff run, batting .405 in nine games to earn PCL Postseason MVP honors.
The Grizzlies had never won a league championship prior to this year, let alone been to the playoffs since their inaugural season of 1998, making the team's 2015 campaign the most successful in club history.
The league championship was also the fourth of Fresno manager Tony DeFrancesco's career in the PCL, having won titles with Sacramento in 2003, 2004, and 2007. He is now tied with PCL Hall of Famer Del Crandall for the third-most championships won by a manger in league history and joins Tommy Lasorda, Bob Skinner, and John Davis as the only skippers to win titles with two different clubs in the modern era.
DeFrancesco was not the only person to etch his name into the PCL records book this season. Omaha outfielder Jose Martinez won the league's batting title with a .384 clip, setting a new modern era record for the league. Martinez collected 131 hits in 396 plate appearances during his first campaign at the Triple-A level.
The PCL had three players record at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases for the second-straight year thanks to Round Rock's Jared Hoying, Nashville's Jason Pridie, and Sacramento's Jarrett Parker. For Hoying, it was the second-consecutive year he reached the 20/20 mark, becoming the first player to achieve that feat since Doug Frobel produced 20/20 seasons with Portland in 1982 and Hawaii in 1983.
Iowa's Arismendy Alcantara reclaimed his spot as the PCL's leader in triples (10), joining the likes of Bobby Abreu (Tucson 1995-96) and Chone Figgins (Salt Lake 2002-03) as the only players in the modern era to lead the league in triples in back-to-back seasons.
Defensively, Matt Dominguez was near flawless in 106 games at third base this season between Colorado Springs and Fresno. Dominguez committed only three errors in 289 chances for a .990 fielding percentage, breaking Ramon Conde's percentage record (.987) for a third baseman that Conde set in 1960 with Spokane.
On the mound, Oklahoma City's Scott Baker was one strike away from pitching the tenth perfect game in league history during a seven-inning contest vs. Iowa on April 20th. The I-Cubs' star prospect, Addison Russell, was responsible for ending Baker's bid at history with a two-out single on a 0-2 count. Baker still earned the win that day, as he and his Dodger teammates combined to win a PCL-best 86 games in 2015, while also allowing the fewest home runs (89) the league has seen since 2003.
These historic achievements on the field, along with numerous nationally-recognized promotions, helped the PCL draw over 7.2 million fans this year. The attendance total was the fourth-largest in league history and the most since the record-setting season of 2007.
Sacramento led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance with over 670,000 fans at Raley Field during the club's first season as the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A affiliate. Fans at Southwest University Park continued to show their passion for the Chihuahuas, setting a new attendance record for professional baseball in El Paso with 578,952 coming through their turnstiles. The Nashville Sounds opened the PCL's newest stadium, First Tennessee Park, in grand fashion, bringing in over 565,000 fans for the city's highest attendance figure in the last 25 years.
The Pacific Coast League will look to continue its upward trend in attendance in 2016, when the league opens its 114th season of operation. Opening Day for 2016 is scheduled for Thursday, April 7.