Baseball is officially back, as minor league baseball opens today. All of the KC Royals minor league affiliates open on the road, so it won’t be until next week that those four teams experience their home openers.
The eight-team Carolina League had plenty of affiliation changes in the offseason, so it may take a little time for me to get used to the shuffle. Gone is Texas and in comes the Chicago Cubs to Myrtle Beach. Cleveland and Atlanta stayed in the league, but switched teams (the Indians to Lynchburg and the Braves to Carolina).
However in 2015, there are plenty of returning players to the league, a lot more than usual.
The Blue Rocks get the first look at the Pelicans, as they once again open the season in Myrtle Beach. The Cubs have sent nine of their prospects (according to Baseball America) to MB. Three of those prospects are outfielders (Billy McKinney, Mark Zagunis, and Jacob Hannemann), while their other outfielder has big league pedigree (Shawon Dunston, Jr).
Four other Cubs prospects are pitchers, including their first and second round picks in 2012 (right-handers Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood). Underwood is listed as tonight’s starter against Wilmington’s Jakob Junis.
The Pelicans also boast former big leaguer (and Philadelphia Phillie) Mariano Duncan as their hitting coach.
The Blue Rocks then continue their road trip to Carolina. The Mudcats have three of Atlanta’s prospects (according to BA) on their roster. That includes Lucas Sims (#2), who threw the first of back-to-back no-hitters against the Blue Rocks last season.
The Mudcats have 12 players returning to the CL (from last year’s Lynchburg team) and have five players making their organizational debut. Two pitchers (Yean-Carlos Gil and Mauricio Cabrera) were in the Braves big league camp. Gil is listed as tonight’s starter and then would pitch against the Blue Rocks (barring a rain out) next Tuesday.
The Blue Rocks finally return home to Frawley Stadium for their home opener on April 16th against division rival Frederick. Barring any postponements on the road, Alec Mills should start the home opener for the Blue Rocks.
For the Keys, they have 15 returning players and seven prospects (according to BA). The highest-rated prospect is catcher Chance Sisco (#4), who led the South Atlantic League in hitting in 2014 with a .340 average.
The Keys rotation will consist of David Hess, Sebastian Vader, Jarrett Miller (who pitched for Lynchburg the last two season), Mitch Hovacek, and Luis Gonzalez. Hovacek is the Keys starter tonight and led the SAL in strikeouts in 2014.
After the four-game set with Frederick, the Blue Rocks welcome fellow division rival Potomac to town. The reigning CL champs are bringing back 17 former players and seven prospects (according to BA).
The P-Nats return CL Manager of the Year Tripp Keister and former Blue Rocks manager Brian Rupp as hitting coach. The highest ranked prospect on their roster is shortstop Wilmer Difo (#7), who was the SAL’s MVP last season (.315 with 49 stolen bases).
Third baseman Drew Ward (#8) is the P-Nats youngest players at 20 years old. Last season, Ward hit .269 with 26 doubles, ten home runs, and 73 RBIs.
Second baseman Chris Bostick returns to the CL after playing with MB in 2014. The Nationals picked him up in an offseason trade (the second straight year he was traded).
The P-Nats will also have outfielder Jayson Werth tonight in the lineup on a big league rehab assignment.
The Blue Rocks do not play Winston-Salem until the first weekend in May. The Dash return 18 players and will have two local kids on their roster (CJ Beatty and Chris Jacobs). Jacobs is the lone Dash position player to have never played for the team.
A name familiar to Royals fans is Jirschele. The Royals third base coach’s son Justin is an infielder on the roster.
James Dykstra will be the Dash starter tonight. Matt Heidenreich, who started the 2012 California League-Carolina League All-Star Game, returns to W-S after being let go by Houston.
The Dash pitching staff has six newbies, including Jace Fry, who was a third round pick in last year’s draft.
The Blue Rocks play division rival Lynchburg for the first time May 8-11 at home (and then May 15-17 in Lynchburg). The Hillcats represent the Indians for the first time, with Cleveland sending them seven prospects.
The highest rated prospect (according to BA) is a familiar name to Royals fans, Zimmer. Bradley, the Indians top pick last June and number two prospect, is the younger brother of injured Royals prospect Kyle.
Right behind him is fellow former first round pick Clint Frazier (#3). You won’t be able to miss his red, curly hair in the outfield. The other prospect in the Indians top ten is former Virginia standout Mike Papi (#5). Papi was also a first round pick last year.
The Blue Rocks do not play Salem until June. While the Red Sox have six prospects (according to BA) on their roster, the roster will most likely be very different when the two teams finally meet.
The Red Sox return manager Carlos Febles (a former Blue Rock) and welcome former Royal Jon Nunnally as hitting coach.
The Carolina League kicks off its season tonight, with two games starting at 7pm and two more at 7:05pm (the Blue Rocks start at this time). You can check out the MiLB CL preview HERE.