A Pacific Coast League Primer

Let’s take a look at some big-picture topics as we head into the 113th season of Pacific Coast League baseball.

AFFILIATION CHANGE

The big story of the offseason was the affiliation changes. Below are the teams, affiliations, and managers for 2015. Teams are listed in order of the 2014 final standings.

Changes from 2014 are in italics; asterisked managers managed in a different PCL city last year and moved due to affiliation changes.

PACIFIC CONFERENCE

NORTH

  1. Reno Aces – Arizona Diamondbacks – Manager: Phil Nevin
  2. Sacramento River Cats – SF GiantsBob Mariano*
  3. Tacoma Rainiers – Seattle Mariners – Pat Listach
  4. Fresno Grizzlies – Houston AstrosTony DeFrancesco*

SOUTH

  1. Las Vegas 51s – New York Mets – Wally Backman
  2. El Paso Chihuahuas – San Diego Padres – Pat Murphy
  3. Albuquerque Isotopes – Colorado RockiesGlenallen Hill*
  4. Salt Lake Bees – LA Angels – Dave Anderson

AMERICAN CONFERENCE

NORTH

  1. Omaha Storm Chasers – Kansas City Royals – Brian Poldberg
  2. Iowa Cubs – Chicago Cubs – Marty Pevey
  3. Oklahoma City Dodgers – LA DodgersDamon Berryhill*
  4. Colorado Springs Sky Sox – Milwaukee BrewersRick Sweet

SOUTH

  1. Memphis Redbirds – St. Louis Cardinals – Mike Schildt
  2. Nashville Sounds – Oakland A’s – Steve Scarsone*
  3. New Orleans Zephyrs – Miami Marlins – Andy Haines
  4. Round Rock Express – Texas Rangers – Jason Wood

THE NEW DYNASTY

Omaha has surpassed Sacramento as the team to beat in the PCL.

The Storm Chasers have won back-to-back PCL championships – and they have won three in the last four years. They have also won their division four straight times.

Not only has Omaha won the PCL title two straight years, they have defeated the International League champion in the Triple-A National Championship Game two years running.

Only one team in the modern era has won the PCL title three seasons in a row: Albuquerque, 1980-1982.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

These players won major awards in the PCL in 2014:

Joc Pederson of Albuquerque won the MVP & Rookie of the Year, was the league’s first 30-30 man in 80 years, and led the league with 33 home runs. He’s set to open the season as the Dodgers starting center fielder and is a trendy NL Rookie of the Year pick.

Jimmy Nelson of Nashville was the PCL Pitcher of the Year, going 10-2 with a 1.46 ERA. He claimed the Milwaukee Brewers fifth starter role this spring.

Wally Backman of Las Vegas won the Manager of the Year award. He’s returning to Vegas this year where his club is the preseason favorite to repeat as the Pacific-South division winner.

Brennan Boesch of Salt Lake won the batting title in 2014, hitting .332. He was a free agent after the season, signed with the Cincinnati Reds, and made the opening day roster as a reserve outfielder.

Nick Tropeano of Oklahoma City won the league’s ERA crown, with a 3.03 mark (Nelson did not have enough innings pitched to qualify in the PCL). He was traded to the Angels during the offseason and was one of their last cuts of spring – so he’ll be in Salt Lake to open the season.

Tim Cooney of Memphis topped the circuit with 14 wins last year. He’s with Memphis again to open the season.

NEW DIGS IN NASHVILLE

The Nashville Sounds are set to open their brand new ballpark on April 17. First Tennessee Park should help make Nashville one of the jewels of the PCL.

Tacoma does not play at Nashville until the 2016 season.

THE MEN IN BLUE

We can’t have a preview without discussing umpires, can we?

After years of a “move ’em up or move ’em out” philosophy, the umpire development group has decided to bring back the majority of last year’s officials.

Thank goodness.

There are only three Triple-A rookie umpires on the 29-man opening day PCL umpire roster. Sixteen of the 29 are in at least their third season of Triple-A work.

Last year there were ten rookie umpires at the start of the season.

I’m not saying this is suddenly going to give us great umpiring, but it is definitely a positive development. Having umpires who have been around the league, know the ballparks, and have relationships with the managers can only help. We’ve had far too many rookies at this level in recent years, and it has shown on the field.

WILL YOU PLEASE SPEED UP

Baseball’s attempts to speed up play has been a big subject all offseason, and here in Triple-A we are implementing the 20-second pitch clock, a between-innings timer, and enforcing the rule that says the hitter must stay in the batter’s box.

However, none of this is going to take effect until May 1 – or later.

Many parks are still installing the new clocks (including Cheney Stadium as of last Friday). There are also many administrative details to work out with clock operators, etc.

The plan is for the umpires to issue warnings but nothing more in April. Starting May 1 (or thereabouts) the league will greenlight the clocks and the umpires will start handing out penalties.

WHAT ABOUT TACOMA?

Tomorrow morning the Mariners will put the 25 Tacoma Rainiers players on an airplane and fly them from Peoria, Arizona to El Paso, Texas. Thus, I think we’ll have an opening day roster tomorrow.

The Rainiers have had a winning record in five of the last seven years, but is in a little bit of a playoff drought: after winning the PCL Championship in 2010, the Rainiers have missed the postseason for four straight years.

Tacoma starts the season on Thursday with an eight-game road trip to El Paso and Albuquerque. The home opener is Friday, April 17.

Links:

It’s time to get ready for the Mariners opener. Hopefully we’ll have a Rainiers roster for you tomorrow!

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