Carolina Countdown: Lynchburg Hillcats
Another day, another preview. Today in the “Carolina Countdown,” the Lynchburg Hillcats get a closer look.
Introduction: Ever since the Hillcats won the Carolina League in 2009, there has been plenty of change in Lynchburg. That 2009 squad was the final one affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2010, the Reds made a one-year stop in Lynchburg. A year ago, the Reds High-A squad went west to Bakersfield, Calif., while the Braves came to town. Atlanta’s High-A affiliate had been in Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans are now under the Rangers’ umbrella. In summary, the Hillcats have done some significant shuffling in recent years, but the Braves are back for year two in 2012.
Last season: Since its CL crown in ’09, Lynchburg has struggled on the field. The Hillcats have finished below .500 in each of the last four halves of the season. In 2011, Lynchburg stumbled to a 60-78 overall mark, which was worst in the Carolina League. The Hillcats finished with a league-low 31 home victories, too.
Manager: Luis Salazar almost lost his life on March 9, 2011. During a spring training game, a Brian McCann foul ball hit Salazar while he was standing in the Braves’ dugout. Salazar remained unconscious for 14 minutes, but he did not suffer any brain damage and went on to manage the Hillcats last season. MILB.com did a great feature on the courageous skipper, who is now preparing for his second season as Lynchburg’s boss.
System: The Braves have a reputation of solid production within their minor league system. A consistent and significant influx of young players was the main catalyst behind Atlanta’s incredible run of 11 straight National League Eastern Division titles from 1995-2005. This year, Baseball America ranks the Braves as the 15th best minor league system in baseball. According to this article from Baseball America, the Braves have focused their drafting efforts on college prospects who can work through the minor leagues quickly. As a result, you can expect many prospects to suit up for the Hillcats this season and beyond.
Best promotion: The Hillcats may lead the league in promotions, but my favorite is “Superstitions Night” on Friday, July 13th. It appears that the organization will let people walk under a ladder and spill some salt, among other “bad luck” actions. I’m a little superstitious, so I’m glad I won’t be in town that night. Maybe the Hillcats will wear black and really test the validity of superstition?
Fun fact: With the exception of the Winston-Salem franchise, Lynchburg’s organization is the oldest one in the Carolina League. Lynchburg joined the CL in 1966. In more than 70 years of baseball in Lynchburg, the Hill Climbers, Shoemakers, Grays, Senators, Cardinals, White Sox, Twins, Rangers, Mets, Red Sox and Hillcats have taken the field.
Travel to Lynchburg: The Dash will travel two and a half hours north for their three trips to Lynchburg this season. This is one of Winston-Salem’s shortest trips of the season–approximately 140 miles.
Hillcats in Winston-Salem: The Hillcats visit BB&T Ballpark three times this season: May 18-20, July 7-9 and August 28-31.
Tomorrow: The Myrtle Beach Pelicans, which unsurprisingly is the favorite stop for many players, coaches and broadcasters in the CL.