A Brief PCL Preview

It’s opening day eve here in the Pacific Coast League. Tacoma hosts Sacramento on Thursday at 7:05.

With that in mind, let’s look at some key story lines in the 116th season of the PCL.

The Competition: Tacoma’s Division Rivals

Reno (Arizona Diamondbacks) is the defending Pac-North champion, going 80-62 last year before getting swept 3-0 by El Paso in the conference finals. Manager Greg Gross returns, as does reigning PCL Most Valuable Player Christian Walker. Many will be curious to see how Yasmany Tomas plays; he’ll be the highest paid player in Triple-A baseball this year due to the massive guaranteed contract the Diamondbacks gave him when he left Cuba.

Fresno (Houston Astros) has a new manager, since Tony DeFrancesco left for Las Vegas. Rodney Linares is the new manager, and the team returns PCL stars Tony Kemp and A.J. Reed (the 2017 MiLB home run leader). Keep an eye on top outfield prospect Kyle Tucker who is up from Double-A.

Sacramento (San Francisco Giants) will visit Tacoma twice in April, led by former Rainiers manager Dave Brundage. The River Cats went 64-77 last year, but this year it looks like they have a nice outfield group with Chris Shaw, Austin Slater, Mac Williamson, and touted prospect Steven Duggar.

The Other Teams Tacoma Plays Often

El Paso (San Diego Padres) has won the Pac-South division title three times in just four years of existence. Last season the Chihuahuas reached the PCL Championship Series, eventually losing to Memphis. Manager Rod Barajas will get to put top hitting prospect Luis Urias in the lineup at second base every day; he’s a 20-year-old high-average hitter. Not on the roster now – but coming soon – is Fernando Tatis Jr, considered one of the top prospects in all of the minors. He’s opening the season a step below at Double-A.

Las Vegas (New York Mets) made the biggest offseason acquisition, hiring the PCL’s all-time winningest manager Tony DeFrancesco. He’ll pilot an older club which includes the man who won the Triple-A All-Star Home Run Derby at Cheney Stadium last summer: Bryce Brentz.

Albuquerque (Colorado Rockies) brings back manager Glenallen Hill for his fourth season. Top prospects include opening day starter Yency Almonte and outfielders David Dahl and Raimel Tapia.

Salt Lake (Los Angeles Angels) skipper Keith Johnson will have a mix of experience and youth this year, as the Angels farm system is on the upswing. Starting pitching prospect Jaime Barria is a name to know. Veteran hitters include Chris Carter, Ryan Schimpf, and Eric Young Jr.

The Rarely Seen American Conference

Defending league champion Memphis (St. Louis Cardinals) will be led by catcher Carson Kelly and former Rainiers slugger Tyler O’Neill… Nashville (Oakland A’s) might be the most prospect-loaded team in the league. Infielder Jorge Mateo is considered one of the fastest players in the minors, and Franklin Barreto is back for some fine tuning before he secures a big league job… New Orleans (Miami Marlins) is still calling the team the Baby Cakes… Round Rock (Texas Rangers) has top hitting prospect Willie Calhoun – at least for the start of the season… the Iowa (Chicago Cubs) roster includes a handful of Cubs pitching prospects… Omaha (Kansas City Royals) should steal a lot of bases with Terrance Gore and Billy Burns… Oklahoma City (Los Angeles Dodgers) features one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, Walker Buehler… Colorado Springs (Milwaukee Brewers) also has a top pitching prospect: Corbin Burnes.

Final Years

Colorado Springs is playing its last year in the league. The Sky Sox franchise has announced it is moving to San Antonio in 2019, and a short-season Pioneer League team will move into the Springs.

Las Vegas is playing its final season at Cashman Field. A new ballpark is under construction in nearby Summerlin, and is scheduled to be ready for the 2019 season.

Looming Affiliation Shuffle

After the 2018 season the window opens for the major league and minor league teams to switch affiliations around, like changing partners at a high school dance. We don’t have to concern ourselves with that here in Tacoma, but all season long there will be rumors about some of the teams possibly changing. It may fizzle out into nothing – El Paso recently re-signed with the Padres through 2020, which stopped one of the key dominoes from falling. On the other hand, the new ballpark in Vegas now makes that a desirable city for MLB teams, and the Sky Sox move to San Antonio could change things up.

Pace Of Play

Which team will be the first to send a runner out to second base in the top of the tenth inning? Will it happen on opening day? Is anyone going to use all six mound visits? Will the umpires enforce the pitch clock rules? Stay tuned and find out!!!

The Rainiers roster took a hit on Tuesday, when the Mariners elected to place Nelson Cruz on the ten-day disabled list and call up Taylor Motter.

While Motter hasn’t hit much yet in the majors (other than those two grand slams early last season), he’s a force to be reckoned with in the Pacific Coast League. Rainiers manager Pat Listach was probably planning to bat Motter No. 3 or No. 4 in the lineup. We’ll have to make do without him for a bit.

The Mariners have flown 18-year-old Cesar Izturis up from extended spring training to serve as an emergency back-up infielder while Motter is gone.

Links:

I guess we need to talk about links to The Athletic. It’s a new subscription-only sports site, and they have hired a lot of talented writers and have already put out some terrific content. When they hired Corey Brock to cover the Mariners, I decided to subscribe (for about $40/year). On Monday they posted a really good story about former Rainiers lefty Danny Hultzen making his comeback bid in the Cubs organization, and it was written by none other than Peter Gammons. A story I would certainly link to here, as it would interest some of you blog readers.

Unlike these other links, you can’t access The Athletic’s stories for free via an incognito window or anything like that. They have – to my knowledge – an impenetrable paywall. Because of that, I won’t be linking to content from The Athletic. I do suggest subscribing if you love reading about baseball; there is a ton of good stuff on the site daily.

OK, that’s enough for today. Tomorrow is opening night and I need to get ready. Let’s do this.

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