Carolina Countdown – Lynchburg Hillcats

The Carolina Countdown previews the rest of the Carolina League in advance of the season. We will take a look at each club, both on and off the field. The countdown will progress alphabetically, and a new post will go up every weekday until it is over.

March 26: Carolina Mudcats
March 27: Frederick Keys

Introduction: Founded in 1963, Lynchburg joined the Carolina League in 1966, making the Hillcats the second-oldest continuously operating team on the circuit, behind only the Winston-Salem franchise. The 2015 season marks the 40th that Lynchburg will spend in the Carolina League and their first in affiliation with the Cleveland Indians. The Hillcats have now been affiliated with 10 MLB teams over their history, but have normally been very successful; their seven Carolina League titles leave them behind only Winston-Salem for the most in league history.

Last Season: While certainly no juggernaut, the Hillcats were nothing if not consistent, following up a 34-36 first half of the 2014 campaign with a 34-35 record after the All-Star Break. Despite finishing under .500 overall at 68-71, Lynchburg claimed a playoff spot by virtue of their second place finish in the second half of the season before Potomac swept their Mills Cup semifinals series.

Lynchburg pitchers combined for the worst ERA (4.36) of any team in the Carolina League, but that was no fault of Greg Ross, who had the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher on the club at 3.50 to go along with his 5-3 record in 79.2 innings. Infielder Jose Peraza, MLB.com’s 39th-best prospect, and outfielder Kyle Wren (more on him below) helped charge up the offense, with the former batting .342/.365/.454 with 35 stolen bases and the latter slashing .296/.359/.357 to go along with his 33 swipes.

Manager: The Hillcats will welcome Mark Budzinski into the dugout to lead their club for the first time as an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Budzinski earned his first-ever managing experience last year with Class A Lake County of the Midwest League, leading the Captains all the way to the Championship Series before falling to the Kane County Cougars (Chicago Cubs) in three games.

Budzinski played collegiately at the University of Richmond and was selected by the Indians in the 21st round of the 1995 draft. He spent 11 seasons in the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Philadelphia systems, finally earning that coveted promotion to The Show in 2003 with the Reds. Budzinski’s MLB career was short; it lasted just four games and seven plate appearances before he was sent back down to the minors for good until his retirement following the 2005 campaign. The Severna Park, Md. native will be joined in the dugout by pitching coach Tony Arnold and hitting coach Bobby Magallanes.

Francisco Lindor is the top prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

Francisco Lindor is the top prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

System: Poised to be one of baseball’s breakout teams in 2015, the Indians have seen much of their enviable young core of talent graduate to the majors to help their big league club try to challenge Detroit, Kansas City and the White Sox for the American League Central crown. All five of Cleveland’s starting pitchers are 29-and-younger and of the team’s nine projected regulars, six are still in their 20s. So the upcoming season could be the first of many that the Indians are a serious threat not just in the Central, but also in the entire American League.

While the Cleveland farm system may not be the strongest top-to-bottom (Baseball Prospectus ranks it 17th overall), there are a couple of high-impact prospects on the way that could help the big league club as early as this summer. The first name that comes to remember is infielder Francisco Lindor, the fourth-best prospect in all of baseball. Still just 20 years old, Lindor was the youngest player in the Eastern League (Double-A) on Opening Day last season and became the youngest position player in the International League (Triple-A) after a midsummer promotion. Along the way, he played in his third consecutive All-Star Futures Game, batting .276/.338/.389 across the two levels with 11 home runs and 28 stolen bases in 126 games.

The other Indians prospect ranked among the minors’ best is outfielder Clint Frazier (54th overall). Cleveland made Frazier the first high school position player selected in the 2013 Draft (5th overall), gave him a franchise-record $3.5 million signing bonus and watched him slash .266/.349/.411 with 13 bombs and 50 RBIs with Low-A Lake County in 2014, his first professional campaign. Frazier could see time at High-A Lynchburg in 2015.

Best Promotion: On Saturday, May 3, the Hillcats will host “Kentucky Derby Night” against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Fans who wear a seersucker, fancy hat and/or a bow tie will receive discounted admission to the game.

Outfielder Kyle Wren was a Midseason All-Star for the Hillcats last year, but was traded to the Brewers in the offseason. (Photo courtesy of Baseball America.)

Outfielder Kyle Wren was a Midseason All-Star for the Hillcats last year, but was traded to the Brewers in the offseason. (Photo courtesy of Baseball America.)

Fun Fact: Outfielder Kyle Wren was named the Braves’ Single-A Player of the Year after his strong performance for Lynchburg last season. However, after Atlanta fired his father, Frank, as the team’s general manager and his uncle, Jeff, a scout in the organization, the team shipped Kyle to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for minor league pitcher Zach Quintana.

Hillcats in Winston-Salem: Lynchburg makes its first appearance at BB&T Ballpark for the 2015 season for a three-game series from May 27-29. The Hillcats will also come south two times after the All-Star Break, for a set from July 19-21 and then again for a weekend series from July 31-August 2.

We’ll come back into the Southern Division tomorrow to talk about the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Have a wonderful day!

– Scott

Carolina Countdown – Frederick Keys

The Carolina Countdown previews the rest of the Carolina League in advance of the season. We will take a look at each club, both on and off the field. The countdown will progress alphabetically, and a new post will go up every weekday until it is over.

March 26: Carolina Mudcats

Introduction: Members of the Carolina League since their inception in 1989, the Keys are now in their 26th year in affiliation with their parent club just under 50 miles to the east, the Baltimore Orioles. The franchise originated when the Orioles decided to move their Class A affiliate from Hagerstown, Md., but things on the field did not go so smoothly at first; Frederick was swept in a doubleheader by the Durham Bulls, with then-Atlanta Braves prospect Dennis Burlingame tossing a seven-inning perfect game in one of the contests. However, since then, the Keys have played in and won five Carolina League championships, interestingly enough beating the Kinston Indians, now the Carolina Mudcats, in four of them to take the Mills Cup to Maryland.

Last Season: The Keys finished the 2014 campaign in a tie with the Wilmington Blue Rocks at the bottom of the Northern Division with a 62-74 overall record, 13.5 games behind the Potomac Nationals, Frederick’s rivals from the Old Line State. The Keys finished with the worst record in the division in the season’s first half at 32-35 but were able to just barely rise above that by a half-game in the second half at 33-37.

Michael Burgess was a steady force in the Keys' lineup throughout 2014 (photo via the Frederick Keys).

Michael Burgess was a steady force in the Keys’ lineup throughout 2014 (photo via the Frederick Keys).

The club’s lone Year-End All-Star was outfielder Michael Burgess, who smashed 15 home runs, ranking in a tie for fourth-most in the league. Burgess also batted .315/.366/.579 with 32 doubles and 68 RBIs in 83 games. Frederick also boasted two pitchers who ranked in the top 10 of the Carolina League in ERA in Matt Taylor (6-2, 3.69 ERA) and Brandon Kline (8-6, 3.84). The Keys also saw six starts from Baltimore’s top prospect, and the 21st-best in baseball according to MLB.com, Dylan Bundy (1-2, 4.78).

Manager: The 2015 season is Orlando Gomez’s 52nd in professional baseball, his 20th as a minor league manager and his 11th in the Orioles organization. Gomez led the Keys from 2010-12, winning the 2011 Mills Cup and compiling a 214-204 record, making him the only manager to reach 200 wins in franchise history. Before joining the Orioles staff in 2005, Gomez served as a manager, coach and scout in the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Devil Rays organizations. His first managerial job came in 1977 with Rookie-level Medicine Hat in the Oakland organization, just a year after his 13-year minor league career ended. Gomez played in the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City/Oakland A’s and California Angels organizations, reaching as high as Triple-A. He will be joined in the dugout by pitching coach Kennie Steenstra and former Keys All-Star Paco Figueroa as hitting coach.

System: Things were ugly when Baltimore introduced Dan Duquette as its general manager after the 2011 season. Since winning the 1997 American League East division, the Orioles had not posted a winning record in 14 consecutive campaigns, including five straight seasons with win totals in the 60s. Like he had with the Montreal Expos in the early 1990s and the Boston Red Sox in the late part of the decade, Duquette immediately infused the Orioles with young talent, pushing the club to a 93-win season and a playoff appearance in 2012. After an 85-77 season in 2013, Baltimore won 96 games and the AL East last year before falling to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.

The Orioles return most of the core of that team, which like a typical Duquette roster, is filled with talented and young players from top-to-bottom. That being said, a whopping 12 of Baltimore’s 21 highest-paid players will qualify for free agency at the end of the year, and the Orioles’ system is just the 22nd-best in baseball by Baseball Prospectus. Baltimore has just one other prospect in Hunter Harvey (No. 42) ranked among the top 100 prospects by MLB.com. Harvey, who pitched in the Futures Game in July, went 7-5 with a 3.18 ERA, 106 strikeouts and 33 walks in 17 starts over 87.2 innings pitched for Low-A Delmarva last season.

Best Promotion: On August 15 against the Carolina Mudcats, the Keys will host Seinfeld Night, in which all fans have the chance to meet the Soup Nazi. Just remember, it’s very important not to embellish on your order. No extraneous comments. No questions. No compliments. And if you don’t get any bread… just forget it.

Fun Fact: If you’ve been watching March Madness, you’ve probably heard the name Pat Connaughton. The Notre Dame senior guard scored nine points in the Irish’s tournament-opening win over Northeastern before turning in a season-saving performance in the third round of the dance against Butler. With the score tied at 55, Connaughton blocked Butler guard Kellen Dunham’s potential game-winning three with one second left in regulation and then nailed a 3-pointer of his own to break a 59-59 tie in overtime and give Notre Dame a lead they would never relinquish.

Pat Connaughton is a Notre Dame basketball player and a Baltimore Orioles farmhand (Michael Hickey/Getty Images).

Pat Connaughton is a Notre Dame basketball player and a Baltimore Orioles farmhand (Michael Hickey/Getty Images).

Well, Connaughton is also a prospect in the Orioles organization. A right-handed pitcher on the baseball diamond, the Arlington, Mass. native was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Connaughton went 0-1 with a 2.56 ERA at Short Season Class A Aberdeen but did not pitch for the Keys after being promoted August 11 to Frederick.

Keys in Winston-Salem: Frederick does not visit BB&T Ballpark until Independence Day for a series from July 4-6. The Keys then close out the regular season with a four-game set from August 27-30.

The Carolina Countdown continues Monday with the Lynchburg Hillcats. Have a great weekend!

-Scott

Carolina Countdown – Carolina Mudcats

The Carolina Countdown previews the rest of the Carolina League in advance of the season. We will take a look at each club, both on and off the field. The countdown will progress alphabetically, and a new post will go up every weekday until it is over.

Introduction: The Mudcats are now in their fourth season in the Carolina League and, after three years under the Cleveland Indians’ umbrella, are beginning their first year of affiliation with the Atlanta Braves. The franchise originated in 1978 as the Kinston Eagles and relocated to Zebulon in 2012 after the original Mudcats relocated to Pensacola, Fla. The 2015 season is a big milestone for the franchise, as it represents their 25th anniversary playing at Five County Stadium in Zebulon.

Last season: With a 62-74 overall record, the Muddies struggled throughout the 2014 campaign, finishing in third place in the Carolina League Southern division, 19.0 games behind first-place Myrtle Beach. Carolina owned the worst record in the league during the first half of the season at 29-38. The Mudcats made things interesting in the second half of the season, but the Dash ousted them from postseason consideration during the final set of the half.

Ryan Merritt dominated on the mound for Carolina, going 13-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 25 starts en route to both Midseason and Year-End All-Star Team honors. Outfielder Anthony Gallas (.276/.331/.480, 21 2B, 8 HR, 31 RBI) and infielder Erik Gonzalez (.289/.336/.409, 14 2B, 7 3B, 3 HR, 46 RBI, 15 SB) also represented the Mudcats in the Midseason All-Star Game.

Luis Salazar (left) will once again manage the Braves' High-A club, which has moved from Lynchburg to Carolina (AP Photo/Don Petersen).

Luis Salazar (left) will once again manage the Braves’ High-A club, which has moved from Lynchburg to Carolina (AP Photo/Don Petersen).

Manager: After managing the former Braves’ High-A affiliate in Lynchburg the last four seasons, Luis Salazar will now the lead the ship in Carolina. Salazar, now in his fifth season with the Braves and his 13th as a minor league manager, has guided his teams to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. This included the Lynchburg club that won the 2012 Mills Cup Championship over the Dash. A 13-year major league veteran, Salazar will be joined in the dugout by pitching coach Derrick Lewis and hitting coach Carlos Mendez.

System: After winning 94 and 96 games, respectively, in 2012 and 2013, the Braves slumped to a 79-83 finish last year, causing the team to unload many veterans in an attempt to rebuild for a brand-new ballpark scheduled to open for the 2017 season. The offseason trades to dump Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton, in particular, netted Atlanta seven of their top 13 prospects as ranked by MLB.com. In addition to stocking up their farm system, the lineup teardown should put the Braves in position for a high draft pick in 2016.

Trying to replicate their 14-straight division title run of the franchise’s glory days in the mid-90s and early-2000s, Atlanta’s system is loaded with arms. In fact, of the team’s top 15 prospects by MLB.com, 10 are pitchers. That being said, the Braves’ top prospect according to MLB.com is middle infielder Jose Peraza (No. 39 overall), who batted .339/.364/.441 across both High-A and Double-A last season.

Rated as 78th-best prospect in baseball, Mike Foltynewicz (No. 79 overall) was acquired from Houston in the Gattis trade over the winter. The flame-throwing right-handed went 7-7 with a 5.08 ERA in 21 Triple-A outings (18 starts) last season. He fanned 102 batters in 102.2 innings. Atlanta also has two other prospects in the bottom of the MLB.com’s rankings in catcher Christian Bethancourt (No. 94) and right-handed pitcher Lucas Sims (No. 95). Bethancourt batted .283/.308/.408 in 91 Triple-A games before getting a cup of coffee at the big league level to close out the 2014 season. Meanwhile, Sims posted an 8-11 record with a 4.20 ERA in 28 High-A starts spanning 156.1 frames.

Best Promotion: On the weekend of May 15-16, the Mudcats will wear specially-designed jerseys for “Strikeout Cancer Weekend.” Following Carolina’s Sunday game against Myrtle Beach, the team will hold a jersey auction giveaway with a portion of the proceeds to be donated to cancer research charities.

Fun Fact: Thirty-year-old catcher Yenier Bello appeared in eight games in High-A last season, and his path to get there was incredibly interesting. Bello was caught attempting to escape from Cuba in 2012 and was immediately suspended from baseball and had his passport revoked. In the spring of 2013, he retired from the game, eventually earned his passport back and traveled to Ecuador. From there, Bello went to Mexico, established residency and, come March of 2014, signed a minor league contract with Atlanta.

Mudcats in Winston-Salem: The Muddies visit BB&T Ballpark during the Dash’s first homestand of the season, a three-game series from April 20-22. From there, Carolina won’t come back to Winston-Salem until the second half of the season, returning from July 22-24 and then again from August 21-23 in the penultimate regular season homestand.

The Carolina Countdown will continue tomorrow with the Frederick Keys. Stay tuned!

- Scott

Baseball returns in…

Two months.

Today is February 16. Opening Night at BB&T Ballpark is April 16.

With those two months to go, the ballpark is buzzing with activity, as is Glendale, Ariz., the site of White Sox Spring Training.

Sox pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training on Friday, while the first full-team workout is next Tuesday, February 24.

There are many former Winston-Salem stars who will be focal points of Spring Training, whether they are trying to grab the attention of the big league club or even attempting to break camp with the team. Scott Merkin, the excellent beat writer on WhiteSox.com, compiled a list of potential impact prospects for the club in 2015. Through this list, it is very clear that the White Sox farm system is the strongest it has been in several years.

The impact from some of those players will come within the Minor Leagues, but Jim Callis expands upon those who could register important time in Chicago.

Carlos Sanchez will need to rely on his glove in order to overcome Micah Johnson and win the White Sox second base spot (Steve Orcutt/W-S Dash).

Carlos Sanchez will need to rely on his glove in order to overcome Micah Johnson and win the White Sox second base spot (Steve Orcutt/W-S Dash).

Second base is the most important and intriguing Spring Training battle, and it likely features a pair of former Winston-Salem studs. Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson are about as even as two young players can be at this stage in regards to a starting slot in the big leagues. Both are within the top 10 of every White Sox prospect list. Both have skills that tantalize and flaws that worry the White Sox.

If you are a fan of defense, then Sanchez is the candidate for you. However, if you are looking for offensive upside, Johnson will gain your vote. It will be a fascinating debate that may stretch into April.

Both of those men have already reported to Glendale, along with some other notable names. Per this report from Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago, around 25 players have already arrived to Spring Training.

This group includes left-hander Carlos Rodon, who has already been in Glendale for more than a week, Courtney Hawkins, Jared Mitchell, Keenyn Walker and reigning American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu.

The vibes around the organization are as positive and optimistic as they have been in the last few years, and the fun begins in Arizona shortly.

Stay tuned to the blog for more updates as Spring Training rolls along.

– Brian

FutureSox recognizes 18 former Dash stars

Carlos Rodon is the White Sox top prospect, per FutureSox.com (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

Carlos Rodon is the White Sox top prospect, per FutureSox.com (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

With Spring Training quickly approaching, the writers at FutureSox have compiled their Top 30 White Sox prospects, 18 of whom have played in Winston-Salem at some point.

The 2014 version of the Dash boasted 11 of the top 30, including four of the Sox five best prospects, per FutureSox. The full countdown and a description of each farmhand are available here (1-15) and here (16-30).

Here are the 18 Dash alumni on the list, with the members of the 2014 roster in italics.

1. LHP Carlos Rodon
2. INF Tim Anderson
3. RHP Frank Montas
5. RHP Tyler Danish
6. INF Micah Johnson
7. OF Courtney Hawkins
8. INF Carlos Sanchez
9. INF Trey Michalczewski
11. RHP Chris Beck
14. OF Jacob May
15. INF Cleuluis Rondon
16. INF Tyler Saladino
17. OF Trayce Thompson
20. INF Keon Barnum
21. C Kevan Smith
24. OF Adam Engel
27. INF Andy Wilkins
28. RHP Mike Recchia

A few thoughts:

  • It should come as no surprise that Rodon checks in as the top prospect. He will almost certainly be atop every White Sox prospect list in advance of the 2015 season. Last week, MLBPipeline.com named Rodon the second-best southpaw prospect in the Minors.
  • This time last season, both Danish and Montas were viewed as prospects, but not as the elite-level Minor League arms that they became in 2014. In Winston-Salem last year, the duo combined to go 9-3 with a 2.23 earned run average in 28 starts. There are still doubters, but both men continue to climb the Minor League ladder and collect more believers.
  • Michalczewski figures to be the highest-ranked prospect to begin the 2015 season with the Dash. After enjoying significant success in Low-A Kannapolis, the White Sox sent the 19-year-old to Winston-Salem. Michalczewski hit just .194 in 19 games, but he did show some flashes of his noticeable talent, including his three-hit, three-RBI showing in that playoff-like final home Friday game against Carolina.
  • Another likely returnee is Rondon, who continues to wow people with his glove. He held his own at the plate in Winston-Salem (.247) over 53 games, the majority of which featured him in the two-hole.
  • It is great to see someone like Recchia on this list. The former Minor League free agent zoomed through CL offenses before jumping to Double-A Birmingham, where he performed well. His story is fascinating. His personality is great. Now, his status as a true prospect in the system is starting to show.

The Dash’s 2015 season begins in exactly 70 days. Stay tuned for more information as Opening Day approaches.

– Brian

The other side of the Samardzija trade

Most White Sox fans are thrilled about the proceedings at the Winter Meetings. The Sox have been the “it” team of the week thus far by signing Yankees closer David Robertson and trading for Oakland righty Jeff Samardzija.

Within the latter of those two transactions, the White Sox had to surrender some significant talent. On behalf of the entire Dash organization, I would like to wish good luck to the four players included in the blockbuster deal: right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley and infielders Rangel Ravelo and Marcus Semien.

All four of these players spent a significant amount of time in Winston-Salem and were tremendous both on and off the field. Even though they are no longer members of the White Sox system, I hope Dash and Sox fans continue to root for them in Oakland.

Here are some thoughts from Twitter as this deal came to be:

Some players in the White Sox system weighed in as well:

Indeed, good luck to those who are now Athletics. Winston-Salem fans will be tracking your careers.

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #1: Record crowd watches Fourth of July game

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Here is the full list of the Dash Top 10.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings
#5 – Anderson rescues Dash with walk-off homer
#4 – Team names “Big Kev” MVP
#3 – Wendelken overshadows Rodon’s debut
#2 – Bucciferro’s takes no-hitter into ninth

Moment #1 – July 4
8,184 fans watch Fourth of July game

A record crowd of 8,184 enjoyed postgame fireworks on July 4 (Photo via Andrew Dye/Winston-Salem Journal).

A record crowd of 8,184 enjoyed postgame fireworks on July 4 (Photo via Andrew Dye/Winston-Salem Journal).

Even though the Dash did not post a great record, the 2014 season included some fantastic moments, many of which we have rehashed over the last couple of weeks. However, these milestones, awards and records would not have been possible without one important thing…

You.

The Winston-Salem Dash enjoy success, both on and off the field, due to the unending support from the fans. Since moving into BB&T Ballpark in 2010, more than 1.5 million fans have enjoyed Dash baseball here in the Triad. Only one other organization in Class A-Advanced baseball has welcomed more fans during this span than the Dash.

A year ago, a single-game record 7,576 fans took in the Dash’s Fourth of July game, which took place despite a rough weather evening. This year, Winston-Salem residents experienced a picture-perfect Fourth of July weekend.

This weather contributed to an even bigger attendance figure on July 4. For the first time in BB&T Ballpark history, a whopping total of 8,184 spectators watched Wilmington’s 5-0 win over Winston-Salem.

Even though the game did not go the way that Dash fans desired, the atmosphere were electric. The concourses were jam-packed. The place to be in the Triad was BB&T Ballpark, because of both the game and the fireworks.

This community has embraced the Dash organization, and that fact was more evident on July 4 than on any other night.

Thanks to each and every one of you who attended a Dash game in 2014. You are the reason why the Dash recorded another incredibly successful season.

Our Dash Top 10 for 2014 is in the books. Stay tuned for more offseason news and notes here on the Dash Board.

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #2: Bucciferro’s near no-hitter

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings
#5 – Anderson rescues Dash with walk-off homer
#4 – Team names “Big Kev” MVP
#3 – Wendelken overshadows Rodon’s debut

Moment #2 – July 20
Bucciferro takes no-hit bid into ninth at Frederick

Tony Bucciferro came within two outs of a no-hitter on July 20 at Frederick. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

Tony Bucciferro came within two outs of a no-hitter on July 20 at Frederick. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

“Two outs from glory.”

Those were the final words Tony Bucciferro said to me after a lengthy postgame conversation. Those four words ate at him, a reality that he had not fully digested.

A couple of hours before he uttered those four words, Bucciferro turned in the greatest pitching performance in Dash history. Through eight innings, the right-hander held the Frederick Keys scoreless at Harry Grove Stadium, the only facility that gives BB&T Ballpark a run for its money when discussing the most hitter-friendly Carolina League parks.

Frederick had not put good wood on a Bucciferro pitch through those eight innings. The closest thing to the obligatory “defensive gem” was a foul pop up that Joey DeMichele snagged after a lengthy gallop. It was a great play, but this came against the first batter of the contest, and it was never going to be a hit.

With 96 pitches under his belt and the chance at glory in front of him, Bucciferro took to the hill for the ninth inning. On a 1-2 pitch, he retired nine-hole hitter Jerome Pena with a pop out to second.

All-Star Glynn Davis followed, and his speed prompted third baseman Nick Basto to play on the grass. Davis lashed the first pitch he saw toward Basto, and his glove did not climb high enough to spear the glory-ending single.

The single understandably rattled Bucciferro a bit, and multiple players offered some words of encouragement before squaring off with Adrian Marin. The first pitch, like many of Bucciferro’s throughout this Sunday evening, was located perfectly, and Marin dribbled a double play ball to second.

One pitch after seeing his no-hit bid disappear, Bucciferro completed the only one-hit, nine-inning shutout by a Winston-Salem hurler in the Dash era, which began in 2009. He was two outs shy of the first nine-inning, solo no-no since Bill Kazmierczak turned in the gem on May 20, 1988, against Virginia.

It was a remarkable outing, one that Winston-Salem fans will not soon forget. Even though he did not earn the “glory” that was up for grabs, Bucciferro recorded an outing that is unparalleled in the modern era.

Our top moment of 2014 is on the horizon. What could be better than Bucciferro’s gem? Find out Wednesday!

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #3: Wendelken overshadows Rodon’s debut

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings
#5 – Anderson rescues Dash with walk-off homer
#4 – Team names “Big Kev” MVP

Moment #3 – July 30
Wendelken steals headlines in Rodon’s Dash debut

J.B. Wendelken set a Dash-era record for strikeouts in a single game. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

J.B. Wendelken set a Dash-era record for strikeouts in a single game. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

One of the top storylines during the Dash’s 2014 season was Carlos Rodon, whom the White Sox drafted third overall in this year’s MLB Draft. After a month-long negotiation process, the two sides agreed to the largest signing bonus in White Sox history.

Rodon entered the Minor Leagues as one of the best collegiate prospects in recent memory, which made him a hot topic. Around this region, Rodon means even more. He is one of the best baseball prospects from the state of North Carolina over the last few decades, and his three-year career at NC State was one of the most decorated in school history.

Thus, Dash fans were very interested in Rodon’s progression through the White Sox system, and it was a quick one. He jumped to Winston-Salem after a pair of outings in the Arizona League, and his Dash debut was set for a Wednesday matinee at BB&T Ballpark.

Before the game, everyone knew that Rodon would pitch an inning out of the bullpen, likely after starter J.B. Wendelken wrapped up his outing. While many fans in attendance were waiting for Rodon, Wendelken stole the show.

One year to the day the White Sox acquired him in the Jake Peavy trade with Boston, Wendelken blitzed the Frederick Keys over seven scoreless innings, during which he whiffed a record-setting 13 batters. In the Dash era, which stretched back to the 2009 season, no pitcher other than Wendelken has struck out more than 11 in a single game.

Rodon entered in the eighth inning and gave up two runs, but he struck out three in the first of four High-A outings for the Holly Springs native, who finished the season in Triple-A. Jefferson Olacio then punched out the side in the ninth to complete a remarkable 12-2 win. In the victory, Winston-Salem struck out 19 of the 27 Keys that the club retired. This is, by far, a Dash-era record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

As a result, Wendelken and Rodon shared the headlines after one of the Dash’s most exciting wins of the season. Our second-best moment of 2014 comes up tomorrow, and it also involves Frederick. Stay tuned for that.

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #4: “Big Kev” named team MVP

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings
#5 – Anderson rescues Dash with walk-off homer

Moment #4 – August 22
Kevin Pearman honored as team MVP

Pearman1We have shared some exciting on-field moments from the 2014 season, and all of them deserve to be here. However, Minor League Baseball, and sports in general, is about more than the game. The people you meet and the relationships you form make these “games” so meaningful, and they should trump the scores at the end of the day.

It does not matter what role you play in the sport. Whether you are a fan, player, coach, reporter or employee, relationships begin and grow thanks to the game of baseball, and BB&T Ballpark is a great place to experience all of this.

Rarely does an individual connect with people in all walks of a field or a sport. One who accomplished this feat during the Dash’s 2014 season was Kevin Pearman.

“Big Kev” was an outstanding bat boy and clubhouse assistant at BB&T Ballpark. He always showed up with a smile on his face, and he was willing and able to contribute at a high level. His presence made everyone better.

Thanks to his stellar efforts this summer, Kevin earned the Dash’s BB&T Employee of the Year from the front office. The men in the clubhouse also wanted to recognize his work.

Before a critical game against Carolina on August 22, manager Tommy Thompson gathered the entire team together before summoning Big Kev to the middle of the clubhouse. Tommy discussed what he looks for in a Most Valuable Player–work ethic, determination, passion, intelligence, timeliness, flexibility, production.

Kevin fulfilled all of those qualities, and Tommy gave him the award he deserved.

Many people weighed in on Facebook (too many likes to count) and Twitter.

It was an honor working with Big Kev throughout the 2014 season, and I know many players felt the same. Big Kev could not have been more excited about both of his awards, and few deserve praise as much as him.

Stay tuned for our top three moments, which will be released next week. Have a great weekend.

– Brian

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