Welcome to Bus Leagues Express. Every morning, you’ll be able to stop here for a quick summary of the previous day’s minor league action, what’s to come, and interesting links the staff wants to share. While you’re eating cereal getting ready for the day, you can check out the notable stories from each league and some of the top performers at the plate and on the mound.
Since this is the first day of the season and there isn’t anything to recap, get prepared for the upcoming season with these organizational previews.
For now, the Salt Lake Bees will be led by a star that jumped right over them from AA to the majors last year in Mike Trout. He likely won’t be there long, but the Bees hope he helps them avoid finishing in the basement for a second consecutive season. The Arkansas Travelers have a couple fireballing starters that will be pushing Richards to be considered the organization’s best pitching prospect in Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena. The lineup is led by Jean Segura, looking to stay healthy after an injury plagued 2011. Inland Empire was under .500 last season but still made the playoffs. With seven of the team’s top 30 prospects on the Opening Day roster including C.J. Cron and Taylor Lindsey, they should be able to beat that this year. Two former first rounders will make their full-season debuts with Cedar Rapids, infielder Kaleb Cowart and outfielder Chevy Clarke. Matthew Scioscia, son of Anaheim’s manager Mike, joins them on the roster.
Over the winter, it was announced that the Reno Aces would host the AAA All-Star Game in 2013. Jonathan Albaladejo returns to the U.S. after a season in Japan. Over his career, he’s been a great late inning reliever in AAA. Even without Jarrod Parker, Mobile’s rotation to start the year will be one of the best, headlined by Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs. With a number of returning positions players, the Bay Bears could repeat as Southern League Champions. Visalia’s rotation may not have the star power that Mobile’s does, but David Holmberg, Andrew Chafin, Anthony Meo and Kyle Winkler provide plenty of potential nonetheless. Bobby Borchering returns to the Rawhide as he learns to play the outfield. Archie Bradley will start the year in South Bend, but he might not finish there. A number of hitters from last year’s successful Missoula Osprey roster jump up to low-A.
Gwinnett fell just short of the playoffs last year because injuries in the majors hurt their depth. Eventually, Randall Delgado will join Julio Teheran to form one of the best one-two punches in the minors. Braves first rounder Sean Gilmartin will jump from low-A to AA and pitch for Mississippi. Ian Gac, who has 160 career home runs in A-ball and below, will finally make his AA debut. Spring training story Evan Gattis will serve as the backstop for Lynchburg. Matt Lipka only slugged .304 last year in low-A, and he’ll be moving from shortstop to centerfield. Rome struggled last season and only won 60 games, and they could have another tough season. All 70 of their home games will be shown on milb.tv.
Chris Tillman showed improved velocity in spring training, and he’ll try to turn his career around with Norfolk. Matt Antonelli was signed to a major league contract, but he was optioned to AAA. Infield prospects Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop will team up again, this time in Bowie. Billy Rowell has adamantly rejected the idea of becoming a pitcher, but the Orioles may be thinking about it again. The Frederick Keys will try to defend their Carolina League championship, but they might not be as talented as last year. In June, they’ll host a Cowboy Monkey Rodeo. A number of Baltimore’s top prospects will start the year in Delmarva, obviously led by Dylan Bundy. Joining him will be John Ruettiger, the nephew of Rudy.
Boston Red Sox
Boston’s pitching depth is weak, and that may explain why Pawtucket’s rotation will feature Brandon Duckworth, John Maine and a host of other veterans. Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias could be the best defensive left side of an infield in the minors. Bryce Brentz highlights Portland’s lineup, and infielders Kolbrin Vitek and Oscar Tejada will try to improve their stock after down seasons. Stolmy Pimentel returns after a very rough season. The Salem Red Sox feature a strong lineup of Boston prospects with Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Jacobs, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Sean Coyle among others. Billy McMillon, who was once traded for Darren Daulton, will be their manager. Greenville set a franchise record with 78 wins last year, and they appear to be talented again. Three of Boston’s top picks in the 2011 draft, Matt Barnes, Henry Owens and Blake Swihart will begin the season with the team.
The Iowa Cubs could provide a glimpse into the big club’s future with Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson starting the season in their lineup. The Cubs opted to send Welington Castillo to AAA to play every day rather than be Chicago’s backup catcher. Trey McNutt leads a Tennessee pitching staff that has the experience to repeat as Southern League champions. Casey Weathers, a former first round pick by Colorado, will try to get his career back on track after elbow problems cost him the entire 2009 season. Theo Epstein began a rebuild for the Cubs this offseason, and two players he acquired in trades, Zach Cates and Ronald Torreyes are on Daytona’s roster. Anthony Zych from Louisville has nice potential as a late inning reliever. Ron Villone will serve as Peoria’s pitching coach, and hopefully for Midwest League fans will be sure to instruct his pitchers to spend less time between pitches as he did. Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach will be starting the season in extended spring training.
Chicago White Sox
Despite a totally barren farm system, White Sox affiliates will still field rosters in 2012. According to Ballpark Digest, the Charlotte Knights are close to completing a deal for a new stadium. Birmingham is expected to move into a new facility of their own in 2013. Two prospects acquired in offseason trades, Nestor Molina and Simon Castro, will headline the Barons’ rotation. Winston-Salem will host the annual California-Carolina League All-Star Game. Trayce Thompson has huge raw power, but the rest of his game needs a lot of work. Chicago’s first round pick in 2011, Keenyn Walker, will start the season with Kannapolis. Jose Bautista returns as the Intimidators’ pitching coach.
David Bell was promoted to manage AAA Louisville. Thanks to the mammoth Joey Votto contract extension, Neftali Soto may find himself playing for a new organization by the end of the year. Affiliated baseball will return to Pensacola for the first time in 50 years with the Blue Wahoos now in town. Just one year after resigning from Washington because of a contract dispute, Jim Riggleman finds himself managing again. Local oil tycoons purchased the Blaze in the offseason, and that greatly improves the future of professional baseball in Bakersfield. Aside from maybe the Winston-Salem Dash, the Blaze may be the most aptly named team for Billy Hamilton in baseball. The Dayton Dragons will maintain their sellout streak which is the longest ever in U.S. professional sports. Reliever Dan Jensen will be the first Dayton-area player to play for the Dragons.
Columbus may be hard pressed to win a third straight AAA Championship with the Indians farm system drying up. Lonnie Chisenhall starts another season in AAA, trying to prove he is major league ready. The Akron Aeros amazingly still have not converted their website to the standard MLBAM layout. Nick Weglarz is expected to start the season in AA and will look to play his first full season since 2007. For the first time in history, the Carolina Mudcats will not be an AA affiliate. For the first time since 1997, affiliated baseball will not be played in Kinston. Francisco Lindor headlines the Lake County roster, and the giant starter Elvis Araujo has finally made it out of short-season ball. If David Wallace the manager is as effective as David Wallace the CFO of Dunder Mifflin, the Captains will be in good shape.
The Colorado Springs Sky Sox are celebrating their 25th anniversary. Throughout March the team has been running articles about the best players in franchise history. The Tulsa Drillers will receive the core of last year’s Modesto playoff team, including Chad Bettis, Edwar Cabrera, Nolan Arenado, Josh Rutledge and others. Bettis will start the season on the DL with a shoulder injury. For the first time since 2006, Modesto won’t be managed by Jerry Weinstein, now Colorado’s catching instructor. Tyler Matzek returns to the Cal League in what has to be considered a make or break season. Game balls in Asheville will be delivered via zipline. Neither Peter Tago nor Tyler Anderson are currently assigned to a roster.
Drew Smyly won Detroit’s 5th starter competition, and Toledo will receive the other competitors, Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby and eventually, top prospect Jacob Turner. Brad Eldred, 5th among active minor leaguers in home runs, will be in the starting lineup. 19 of the 26 players on Erie’s roster have experience at AA. That includes Zach Segovia who has one major league start with the Phillies in 2007. Lakeland reliever Bruce Rondon may have the least accurate listed weight in baseball history. Tim Teufel’s son Shawn will be on the pitching staff again. Four players with well known relatives are assigned to West Michigan: Colin Kaline, Marcus Lemon, Patrick Leyland and Nick Avila. Third rounder Aaron Westlake will also be a Whitecap after an underwhelming pro debut in 2011.
Jordan Lyles and Aneury Rodriguez, who combined to make 23 starts for Houston last year, will start the year in Oklahoma City. Two of their infielders, Brett Wallace and Jimmy Paredes, will be learning new positions. Four Phillies prospects received in trades over the last two seasons will be on Corpus Christi’s roster. Only three players haven’t played in a AA game yet. First rounder George Springer will start the season in Lancaster. Telvin Nash and Domingo Santana seem like likely candidates to take advantage of the hitting conditions at Clear Channel Stadium. Houston’s two first rounders in 2010, Delino DeShields Jr. and Mike Foltynewicz, return to Lexington hoping for better results. Houston’s system finished with the worst aggregate record in the league in 2011.
Kansas City Royals
Omaha will try to repeat as Pacific Coast League champions, but they won’t have Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to rack up wins early. Mike Montgomery needs to pitch much better in his second season at AAA. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are celebrating their 5th year. A number of Royals prospects will be returning to AA to start the season, including Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Christian Colon. The Wilmington pitching staff is headlined by Jason Adam and Yordano Ventura. Cuban defector Roman Hernandez will begin his pro career with Wilmington. The jury is still out on whether or not pitcher Sugar Ray Marimon looks like George Costanza’s boss. Kane County catcher Jin-Ho Shin is the first ever Korean-born player in the Royals organization. Bubba Starling will begin the year in extended spring training, but he should join the roster eventually.
Los Angeles Dodgers
John Valentin enters his second season as Albuquerque’s hitting coach. No word on whether or not hot dogs with mesquite-grilled onions, jalapeno relish and mango-lime salsa will be available. Travis Denker will begin his 8th year in the Dodgers organization, all in the minor leagues, with Chattanooga. Former first rounder Aaron Miller will look for a healthy season after only pitching 36 innings last season. The last two Dodgers first rounders, Zach Lee and Chris Reed, will team up in the Rancho Cucamonga rotation. Matt Herges will be the Quakes’ pitching coach, his second season in coaching. The Great Lakes Loons are celebrating their 5th anniversary by allowing fans to vote on the best manager and players in team history. Outfielder James Baldwin is one of the biggest breakout candidates in minor league baseball.
The New Orleans Zephyrs are beginning their 20th season. Kevin Mattison and his 80-grade mustache will be in their outfield. The Jacksonville Suns will be celebrating their 50th season. Former top 10 pick Kyle Skipworth will begin his second year in Jacksonville attempting to get his career started. The toolsy Christian Yelich will move up a level to high-A with the Jupiter Hammerheads. They’ll have a doubleheader on Friday with fellow tenants of Roger Dean Stadium, Palm Beach. Dave Berg, the lowest Marlins draft pick to ever reach the majors, will manage the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Jose Fernandez will begin his first full season in low-A.
Since the Brewers signed Aramis Ramirez, infielder Taylor Green has no clear path to the majors and will be back with Nashville. Seth McClung rejoins the Milwaukee organization trying to make it back to the majors. Contact extraordinaire Scooter Gennett will try to prove he can keep hitting in the upper levels with Huntsville. Tyler Thornburg and Cody Scarpetta will try again to command their great stuff in their rotation. Milwaukee’s top two draft picks from 2011, Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, will begin the year with Brevard County. They may not be there long and could probably handle AA very soon. Pitcher Chad Pierce, a three time all-Wisconsin player in high school, will play for Wisconsin. Yadiel Rivera, a slick fielding shortstop, is the top prospect starting with the Timber Rattlers.
Tsuyoshi Nishioki was optioned to Rochester, and it seems like he’ll never adjust to U.S. baseball. Joe Benson skipped from AA to the majors last season, but he’ll get his AAA experience at the beginning of this season. Ideally for New Britain, Alex Wimmers will get off to a better start this year than he did last season. The Twins released veteran minor leaguer Chris Cates who was the shortest player in baseball. Fort Myers has only won 127 games over the last two seasons. Twins first rounder Levi Michael will make his pro debut with the Miracle. Appalachian League sluggers Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario will join Beloit’s infield. If Sano commits errors at the same pace he did last year, he’ll have over 50 over a full season.
New York Mets
The Buffalo Bisons will host the 2012 AAA All-Star Game in their 25th anniversary season. Jennry Mejia is assigned to Buffalo after only pitching 28.1 innings last year due to an elbow injury. Their top prospect, starter Zack Wheeler, will be in Binghamton’s rotation. Allan Dykstra, a former first rounder by San Diego, will play first base. St. Lucie will try to repeat as FSL Southern Division champions. World Series MVP Frank Viola will serve as Savannah’s pitching coach in 2012. Catcher Blake Forsythe is the brother of former Padres first rounder Logan Forsythe.
New York Yankees
Because of stadium issues, the Scranton Yankees will play 140 road games as the Empire State Yankees. They’ll feature a deep rotation that includes Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps and Adam Warren. Spring training hit Zoilo Almonte will begin the year with Trenton. Solid infielder David Adams will look to stay healthy after only playing 68 games over the last two seasons. The Tampa Yankees will try to win their third FSL championship in the last four seasons. Catching prospect J.R. Murphy will get his second chance in high-A. The Charleston RiverDogs boast one of the strongest rosters in all of minor league baseball, including Mason Williams, Dante Bichette Jr. and Jose Campos. Catching prospect Gary Sanchez will start in low-A again, trying to improve his defense.
Two prospects acquired in trades this offseason, Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock, head Sacramento’s rotation. In his age-24 season, Grant Green will continue his transition to centerfield with the River Cats. A’s first rounder Sonny Gray will return to Midland after starting his pro career there last year. Personal favorite and sleeper Ryan Ortiz will try to stay healthy and handle their catching duties. After essentially missing the entire 2011 season due to injuries and off the field problems, Ian Krol will resume his career with Stockton. He’ll be joined in the rotation joined by A.J. Cole, the centerpiece of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Intriguing pitching prospect Raul Alantara will start with Burlington after being acquired from Boston. Michael Ynoa is still nowhere to be found.
Ryne Sandberg will try to lead Lehigh Valley to their second season over .500 in franchise history. Domonic Brown will start the season with the IronPigs as the organization continues to not use their best left field option. If healthy, Tyson Gillies and Jiwan James will cover a ton of ground in the outfield for Reading. J.C. Ramirez, acquired in the 2010 trade that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle, is converting to a relief role this season. After coming to camp out of shape in 2011 and struggling through the entire season, Brody Colvin will repeat high-A in Clearwater. He’ll be joined in the rotation by Philadelphia-area native and former first round pick Jesse Biddle. Gauntlett Eldemire will finally make his professional debut with Lakewood after wrist injuries wiped out the last one and a half seasons. The team’s top two picks, Larry Greene and Roman Quinn, didn’t get in any games last year and will start in extended spring training.
For the 8th straight year, Indianapolis will likely have as much talent as the big club. The athletic Starling Marte will start the season in AAA but will likely finish in the majors. Catcher Tony Sanchez was drafted 4th overall in 2009, but he hasn’t gotten past AA yet in his career and will start with Altoona again. Tim Alderson was once a very good prospect for San Francisco, but his career has stalled in the Pirates organization. Bradenton’s rotation is very strong with first overall pick Gerrit Cole, former second overall pick Jameson Taillon and Colton Cain. Mel Rojas will roam the outfield. Rinku Singh is still active in the organization, and he’s starting in West Virginia. The aptly-named Power will be the team where highly-touted slugger Josh Bell makes his pro debut.
San Diego Padres
After Jeff Moorad failed to receive public funding for a new stadium in Escondido, it appears San Diego’s AAA affiliate will remain in Tucson for now. Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland will lead their rotation. Pitching prospect Keyvius Sampson skipped high-A right to AA San Antonio. They led the Texas League in runs last year, and they boast a deep lineup again this year. Lake Elsinore will try to defend their Cal League championship, but they don’t have a pitching staff as deep as they usually do. The Storm put their best foot forward trying to acquire Tim Tebow, but the Broncos ultimately preferred the Jets’ offer. Major League veteran Jacque Jones is entering his first year as hitting coach of Fort Wayne. Donovan Tate will try once more to play an entire season.
San Francisco Giants
Fresno Grizzlies fans won’t get to enjoy Brandon Belt on Opening Day, but the Giants continuing to sabotage his development will likely land him in AAA at some point. Eric Surkamp could join their rotation when healthy. The Richmond Flying Squirrels still cannot finalize arrangements for a new stadium. Gary Brown will roam the current centerfield very well, and he could find himself in San Francisco by the end of the year. San Jose has won seven straight first half division titles, but that streak could be in jeopardy this year. For the first time in four seasons, they may not be using a six man rotation. It’s a weaker system now, but two of their top pitching prospects, Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn, will start the season with Augusta. Former Oklahoma star Garrett Buechele will be in the infield.
Walk specialist Oliver Perez is listed on Tacoma’s roster. They have a number of potential decent major league hitters on their roster, something Seattle desperately needs. The Jackson Generals have one of the best rotations in the minors, featuring top 100 prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. Chih-Hsien Chiang was one of the best Eastern League hitters, but didn’t hit a home run after being traded to the Seattle organization. Unlike Bakersfield, there is no happy ending in sight for High Desert’s stadium situation. Seattle is developing a habit of skipping better prospects over high-A. 2009 first rounder Steven Baron will spend his third year with Clinton. Guillermo Pimentel is a power bat to watch in the low minors.
St. Louis Cardinals
Shelby Miller will start the season in Memphis, but once he’s promoted their pitching could struggle. Zack Cox and Matt Adams will man the corner infield positions, and they’re two bats close to being ready for the majors. Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong and Trevor Rosenthal both make the double jump from low-A to AA Springfield. Former baseball ejection champion Phillip Wellman is Springfield’s hitting coach. Carlos Martinez returns to Palm Beach which is where he finished 2011. Palm Beach doesn’t have a player born in the 1990′s on their roster. Tyrell Jenkins will make his full-season debut with Quad Cities. Former FIU star Garrett Wittels is included on the River Bandits’ roster.
Tampa Bay Rays
Durham has become a fixture in the playoffs at this point, and with a rotation led by Alex Cobb and Alex Torres, they could find themselves back there again. Bull City Summer is a must-see site documenting the 2012 season in Durham. Hak-Ju Lee is the best prospect on Montgomery, and he’ll lead an infield that’s a bit short on power. Alex Colome finished last season in AA, but his strikeout rate dropped enormously. Grayson Garvin and Mikie Mahtook will both make their pro debuts in Charlotte, and they could move quickly. He may be moonlighting as a shortstop, but Derek Dietrich is probably the best power hitter in the Stone Crabs infield. Thanks to a ton of recent high draft picks, Bowling Green has an interesting roster to watch. Jake Hager and Tyler Goeddel reached full-season ball faster than recent Rays first rounders.
Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez highlight Round Rock’s rotation that also includes ML relief prospect Mark Hamburger. Tanner Scheppers is running out of time to prove he can be healthy and reach the majors. Jurickson Profar is skipping high-A to join Mike Olt and Leury Garcia in Frisco’s infield. Former Orioles prospect Val Majewski is the oldest player on the roster. Myrtle Beach may not have quite the prospect power of the other teams in the system, but there is still plenty of intrigue. Wilmer Font returns after missing all of 2011 because of Tommy John surgery. Hickory’s roster is absolutely loaded with talent. Jorge Alfaro will catch a pitching staff that includes Luke Jackson and Will Lamb, and Rougned Odor, born in 1994, will make his full-season debut.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto is still leery of sending serious pitching prospects to Las Vegas. Travis d’Arnaud and Anthony Gose could also hit a lot of home runs there. Major league veteran Brett Cecil will add experience to a rotation that includes prospects Drew Hutchinson, Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire in New Hampshire. The Blue Jays’ pitching depth could help the Fisher Cats repeat as Eastern League champions. Kevin Ahrens is becoming a Dunedin lifer, being assigned here for the 4th straight season. John Stilson could be a big time arm for Toronto if he stays healthy. Carlos Perez returns to Lansing for a second season to catch a talented pitching staff that includes Justin Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard. Toronto’s system is so deep in the lower levels that this team could get even better later in the season.
Bryce Harper, Syracuse. Otherwise, they have a lot of quad-A talent. Harrisburg is a bit short on talent too, but Destin Hood is a big name to watch. Matt LeCroy was promoted to manage AA. Potomac will benefit from the Nationals big spending in the 2011 draft. Anthony Rendon will start the season there but certainly won’t finish, and Matt Purke will report there after starting the season on the DL. The other two big bonus recipients in the last draft, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin, will start with the Hagerstown Suns. Lenny Dykstra’s son Cutter is on the roster.
Good luck to your local affiliate and favorite organization. The season is starting!
Early preview for tomorrow
Casey Kelly makes his AAA debut (10:05 PM ET, Tucson)
Jesse Chavez makes his first start since 2007 (10:05 PM ET, Las Vegas)
Richmond and New Britain play an early season doubleheader for some reason (4:35 PM ET, New Britain)
Dodgers pitcher Ethan Martin returns to the starting rotation (7:15 PM ET, Chattanooga)
A.J. Burnett makes a rehab start (6:30 PM ET, Bradenton)
Big time pitching matchup in the Midwest League (Elvis Araujo v. Adys Portillo, 7:05 PM, Fort Wayne)
Stetson Allie makes his full-season debut (7:05 PM, Hagerstown)