Results tagged ‘ Carolina League ’

2016 Carolina Countdown – Frederick Keys

Believe it or not, the Dash’s season starts in just 16 days! To get you ready, we’ll be previewing every team in the Carolina League. Stay tuned over the next few days as we examine each of the Dash’s seven Carolina League foes. Yesterday, we looked at the Carolina Mudcats. Now stepping to the plate, the Frederick Keys!

Introduction: The Keys were founded in 1989 when their parent team, the Baltimore Orioles, chose to move their Class A-Advanced affiliate from Hagerstown, Maryland. Frederick’s home ballpark, Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium, is located just 50 miles away from Camden Yards. Overall, the team has won four league championships (1990, 2005, 2007, and 2011). The Keys have hit a dry spell lately, though, missing the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.

Last Season: Frederick had a subpar year in 2015, finishing with an identical 32-38 record in the first and second half of the season. Overall, the Keys were eight games back of first-place Lynchburg with a 64-76 record.

Pitching was team’s Achilles heal in 2015. The Keys finished last in the league with a team ERA of 4.32. Relief pitcher Cody Wheeler was the squad’s lone year-end All-Star, leading the CL in saves (17) while posting a 2.79 ERA in 42 outings with Frederick.

One of the bright spots offensively was first baseman Trey Mancini. The Orioles 2015 Minor League Player of the Year smashed a team-high eight home runs in only 52 games for Frederick, before getting called up to the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Mancini ended the season with the most home runs (21) among Baltimore’s minor league players, while posting a combined batting line of .341/.375/.563 between the two levels.


First baseman Trey Mancini, an 8th round pick by the O’s in 2013, led Frederick offensively last season. (Photo by

Manager:  Keith Bodie begins his first season at the helm with Frederick and second with the Baltimore Orioles organization. The 59-year old was the hitting coach for Double-A Bowie in 2015. Under his tutelage, the team finished second in the Eastern League in home runs and RBIs. Bodie joined the Orioles organization in 2015, following 16 seasons as a manager and coach with the Houston Astros. His first managerial stint lasted three years with Houston’s Double-A team in Corpus Christi. Bodie was named the Texas League Manager of the Year in 2012. The next year, he helped the team reach a franchise record 83 victories. In 18 years as a minor league skipper, Bodie boasts 10 division titles and a winning percentage of .525 (1223-1108).

He will be joined in the dugout with fellow newcomer Erik Pappas, who begins his first year as a hitting coach for the Keys. Kennie Steenstra returns as the team’s pitching coach.

System: The Baltimore Orioles had a disappointing 2015 campaign at the major league level. After going 96-66 in the regular season and reaching the American League Championship Series in 2014, the team finished 81-81 last season and missed the playoffs entirely.

The front office has been active in building a competitive team for 2016.They re-signed first baseman Chris Davis and added designated hitter Pedro Alvarez and starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo. They might not look a surefire contender on paper, but there’s a good shot they will finish above .500 for the fifth straight year.

On the minor league level, there isn’t too much to be savored. With farmhands like Manny Machado and Kevin Gausmann thriving in big leagues, the Orioles lack top flight prospects. Overall, Baseball America ranks Baltimore’s farm system as the 27th best in baseball.

According to, the O’s only top-100 prospect is Hunter Harvey (no. 85). The right-hander went 7-6, with a 2.87 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 113 innings combined between the 2013 and 2014 seasons. But after pitching in the 2014 Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game, the North Carolina native was shut down for the rest of the year due to a right elbow strain. He returned to pitch in spring training the following season, but fractured his fibula on a comebacker during a minor league exhibition game. To make matters worse, Harvey re-injured his right elbow while rehabbing and had to miss the entire 2015 season.

The results from spring training this year have been mixed, but Harvey says he feels healthy. Barring injury, expect him to pitch for Frederick at some point this season.

Best Promotion: As a young adult, nothing makes me more nostalgic than 1990’s cartoons.

For the second straight season, Frederick is partnering up with Nickelodeon for one of their promotional events. On June 17, the team will wear Hey Arnold-designed jersey and pants. There will also be a variety of fun games and videos throughout the night. Last year, the Keys earned some national praise for their specialized Chucky Finster-themed uniforms (that’s a Rugrats character for all you older folk).


The Keys rocked these Rugrats-themed jerseys last July. Staying with the Nickelodeon theme, Frederick will wear a Hey Arnold-themed jersey on June 17.  (Photo via Frederick Keys)

Fun Fact: The franchise is named after Star Spangled Banner poet Francis Scott Key. He was a native of Frederick County and is buried in the Mount Oliver Cemetery located across the street from Harry Grove Stadium. Right before the 2011 season, the team introduced a brand new mascot, Frank Key, to work along their longtime mascot, Keyote.

Keys in Winston-Salem: The Keys make their first visit to BB&T Ballpark for a three-game series from May 24-26. The Dash will also host Frederick from July 25-27 and August 4-6.

Enjoy the rest of your day! Tomorrow, we will continue in the Northern Division with the Lynchburg Hillcats.


Dash Top 10 – #1: First playoff clinch at BB&T Ballpark

The Winston-Salem Dash’s 2015 season is in the books, and Dash fans enjoyed many incredible moments. We whittled them down to this year’s Dash Top 10.

Previous moments:
#10 – Four-homer outburst sinks Salem
#9 – Fulmer debuts with Winston-Salem
#8 – Peter’s 14-game hitting streaks
#7 – Heidenreich named CL Pitcher of the Year
#6 – Dash win at Debbie D. Harllee Ballpark
#5 – Winston reclaims first on wild pitch
#4 – Dash power past Pelicans in SDCS Game 1
#3 – Dykstra’s dominant no-hitter
#2 – Narvaez’s walk-off on July 4

Moment #1 – August 29
Dash punch postseason ticket at home

Playoff Social MediaThe Dash have enjoyed tremendous success since moving into BB&T Ballpark in 2010. Winston-Salem has won division titles, advanced to the Mills Cup Finals, produced Major League players and posted strong attendance numbers.

However, BB&T Ballpark had never been the site of a win that clinched a playoff berth–until this season.

After the fact, the second half looks like a 68-game celebration. The Dash stood in first place for all but one day after the All-Star break. Winston-Salem recorded a remarkable 17-3 mark in one-run games. The club’s 45-23 record was the best second-half record in this league since 1987.

Entering play on August 20, though, the Dash were in second place and led Carolina by just 2.5 games for the Southern Division’s final playoff spot. It was far from certain that Winston-Salem would even make it to the postseason, let alone deliver one of the best halves in recent Carolina League memory.

The late-season surge started with the club’s walk-off wild pitch against Myrtle Beach on August 20. Over the next three days, Winston swept Carolina to extend its playoff advantage over the Mudcats to 5.5 games.

Following a rain-shortened two-game split at Myrtle Beach, the Dash returned to BB&T Ballpark for the final home set of 2015. Winston-Salem’s playoff magic number stood at six with four games against the Keys before a week-long road trip.

A team will take a playoff clincher wherever it can get it. Heck, the 2010 Dash officially wrapped up a playoff spot while on the bus. Still, a clinch at home is the preferred method.

It was not a likely scenario when that final home series began. Even if Winston were to sweep the Keys, Lynchburg would need to hand Carolina at least two losses. At the earliest, a Saturday night clinch was possible, but that would only happen with three straight Dash wins and Mudcats losses.

On Thursday, the Dash nipped Frederick 5-4, while Lynchburg’s seven-run ninth sunk Carolina 8-2.

On Friday, the Dash cruised past the Keys 6-3, and Lynchburg posted a more conventional 8-2 win over the Muddies with runs in four different innings.

So, on Saturday, the Dash had an opportunity to clinch at BB&T Ballpark, and they did not waste it.

For a third straight night, the Hillcats helped out the Dash (while also improving their playoff positioning). Lynchburg blanked the Muddies 2-0 in Zebulon.

The Dash seized the lead right away thanks to an Adam Engel leadoff home run. From there, Brandon Brennan and Brian Clark combined on a three-hit shutout, while the Dash tacked on three more runs for a 4-0 victory.

It was a dominant effort from a red-hot team with many players who had never tasted the Minor League postseason.

“That was incredible,” Dash manager Tim Esmay said after the game. “That was one of the moments right there.”

“They never panicked. They never lost their way. We never pointed fingers. The guys stayed pretty connected, and that’s why they are where they’re at right now.

“It’s very special to me,” Engel said. “Every time you get to do something like this, what we got to do tonight, it’s never going to be the same twice. I love this team, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

The Dash would take eventual champion Myrtle Beach to the brink in a thrilling Southern Division Championship Series before eventually falling by one in the deciding third game. Even though the team fell short of a record 12th Mills Cup, Winston-Salem watched a thrilling run that culminated in a playoff clinch at home.

Another Dash Top 10 is in the books. Stay tuned throughout the offseason for more news and notes.

– Brian

Carolina Countdown – Wilmington Blue Rocks

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
March 30: Lynchburg Hillcats
March 31: Myrtle Beach Pelicans
April 1: Potomac Nationals
April 2: Salem Red Sox

Introduction: The Wilmington Blue Rocks franchise actually dates back to 1976, when the team played as the Peninsula Pilots in Hampton, Va. The Pilots played in the Carolina League from 1976 through 1987, and then again from 1989 through 1992 before moving to Wilmington. Since becoming the Blue Rocks, Wilmington has been affiliated with the Kansas City Royals in every season except for the 2005-06 campaigns. The Blue Rocks have won four Mills Cup, but none since 1999.

Christian Winford was the Royals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2014. (Brad Glazier/

Christian Binford was the Royals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2014. (Brad Glazier/

Last Season: The Blue Rocks struggled throughout the 2014 campaign, going 33-35 (4.5 GB) in the first half of the season before slipping to 32-37 (9.0 GB) in the second half. Wilmington’s overall record of 65-72 was tied with Frederick for the worst in the Northern Division.

The Blue Rocks boasted the Carolina League’s best run prevention last year, posting the circuit lowest ERA (3.09) en route to allowing the fewest runs (469). Part of Wilmington’s success on the mound was limiting free passes; Blue Rocks pitchers surrendered just 330 walks (2.55 per nine innings). Right-handed pitcher Christian Binford epitomized this, walking just 11 against 92 strikeouts in 82.2 innings to post a 5-4 record and 2.40 ERA. The Hagerstown, Md. native was named Kansas City’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2014.

However, for all their success preventing runs, Wilmington struggled to score them. The Blue Rocks scored a staggering 126 fewer runs than seventh-place Potomac and were the only team to bat under .250 (.224) and post on-base (.292) and slugging percentages (.334) below .315 and .370, respectively. Third baseman Hunter Dozier (Kansas City’s sixth-best prospect, according to was one of just two Blue Rocks to post an OPS above .700, registering a .826 mark to go along with his .295 average, four home runs and 39 RBIs.

Manager: Brian Buchanan will move to the Class A-Advanced level in 2015 after managing the Royals’ Low-A affiliates (Kane County in 2012 and Lexington from 2013-14) during each of the last three seasons. The 13th-manager in Blue Rocks history, the 2015 campaign is also the sixth for Buchanan as a skipper in the Royals organization. The Jupiter, Fla., native starred at the University of Virginia collegiately, earning All-American honors in 1994. He was selected by the New York Yankees in the first round (24th overall) of the 1994 draft and broke into the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2000.

In his six-year MLB career with Minnesota, the San Diego Padres and New York Mets, Buchanan hit .258/.328/.439 with 32 home runs, smacking as many as 11 in 2002. After closing out the 2004 campaign with the Mets, Buchanan played in the Minnesota, Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds organizations before spending the 2007 season in Japan. He returned to the States and spent the 2008 and 2009 season in the Kansas City organization with Triple-A Omaha. Buchanan’s pitching coach is Steve Luebber, the longest-tenured coach in Blue Rocks history at nine consecutive seasons. Hitting coach Abraham Nunez rounds out the staff.

System: In more ways than one, the Blue Rocks’ 2014 campaign mirrored that of their parent club. Both teams were built around strong pitching and defense (Fangraphs rated the Royals as the best defensive team in baseball) and struggled offensively by not hitting for power or getting on base frequently. There was just one significant difference: the Royals were successful. Kansas City became the very first team in baseball history to make the playoffs while finishing dead last in both home runs and walks. And as you also probably heard, by doing so, the Royals snapped a 29-year postseason drought and won the American League pennant before bowing to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the World Series.

Yordano Ventura is expected to lead the Royals' rotation after the departure of James Shields in free agency. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Yordano Ventura is expected to lead the Royals’ rotation after the departure of James Shields in free agency. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

The Royals’ method of winning last year was certainly thrilling even to non-Kansas City fans, but also likely unsustainable, which is why many expect them to take a step back in 2015. That being said, there are a lot of young players on the roster like 1B Eric Hosmer, C Salvador Perez, RHP Yordano Ventura and LHP Danny Duffy.

Kansas City also boasts five players in’s Top 100 prospects list, which is more than all but four teams. The son of former National League Rookie of the Year and All-Star Raul Mondesi, Raul Adalberto Mondesi (No. 41 overall) is the team’s top prospect. A shortstop defensively, Raul Adalberto struggled with Wilmington last year, batting just .211/.256/.354. However, Mondesi was the youngest player in the Carolina League, tackling High-A as just an 18-year-old.

The other top 100 prospects behind Mondesi in Kansas City’s organization are all pitchers. LHP Sean Manaea (No. 57) was 7-8 with a 3.11 ERA in 25 starts with the Blue Rocks last season after being drafted with the Royals’ supplemental first round pick (No. 34 overall) out of Indiana State. RHP Kyle Zimmer (No. 59) was limited to just 4.2 innings with Rookie-level Idaho Falls last year due to a variety of injuries. Meanwhile, LHP Brandon Finnegan (No. 76) shot through the farm system after being picked 17th overall out of TCU, finishing his season with 13.0 innings out of the bullpen for Kansas City in both the regular season and playoffs. Finnegan will begin the 2015 campaign in the minors as a starter, and as will RHP Miguel Almonte (No. 85). The Dominican flamethrower went 6-8 with a 4.50 ERA in 110.0 innings for Wilmington last season.

Best Promotion: The Blue Rocks will have two excellent bobblehead promotions in 2015. Wilmington’s game against Frederick on April 18 is Elena Delle Donne Bobblehead Night. Fans will also have the chance to meet Delle Donne, who earned three CAA Player of the Year and AP All-American honors at the University of Delaware and now plays for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. The Blue Rocks will also have National Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett Bobblehead Day on August 1 against the Carolina Mudcats. Speaking of Brett, a 13-time All-Star, 1980 AL Most Valuable Player and member of the 3,000 hit club…

George Brett kissed home plate at Kauffman Stadium after the last home game of his career. (Photo: Cliff Schiappa, Associated Press)

George Brett kissed home plate at Kauffman Stadium after the last home game of his career. (Photo: Cliff Schiappa, Associated Press)

Fun Fact: Brett works for the Royals as a special instructor during Spring Training, among other responsibilities. One of the traditions he helped implement at Royals camp one year was one in which players take batting practice with no fielders. Then, at the end of the session, the players would run around the outfield and collect the baseballs, looking for one in particular; whoever found the ball specially marked by Brett would earn $100.

Blue Rocks in Winston-Salem: Wilmington’s first trip to BB&T Ballpark does not come until a four-game series from June 8-11. The Blue Rocks will also come down to Winston-Salem for a three-game set from July 28-30.

Well, that does it for our 2015 Carolina Countdown! Thanks so much for reading and keep tabs on the Dash Board as we continue to get you ready for the Dash’s season opener April 9 at Frederick.

– Scott

Carolina Countdown – Salem Red Sox

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
March 30: Lynchburg Hillcats
March 31: Myrtle Beach Pelicans
April 1: Potomac Nationals

Introduction: Having joined the Carolina League in 1968, the Salem Red Sox are the third-longest tenured team on the circuit. Originally known as the Salem Rebels, the team was affiliated with five other MLB teams before coming under Red Sox control in 2009. Salem has won five league championships, most recently in 2013.

Reed Gragnani was a Year-End Carolina League All-Star for Salem in 2014. (Photo courtesy of

Reed Gragnani was a Year-End Carolina League All-Star for Salem in 2014. (Photo courtesy of

Last Season: Salem was the second Southern Division playoff team in 2014. The Red Sox sputtered along for most of the campaign until a seven-game winning streak in the middle of August pushed them into second place in the division, allowing Salem to clinch a playoff berth by 2.5 games over Carolina with a 35-33 second half record. The Red Sox went 33-35 in the first half of 2014 to record a 68-68 record overall, 13.0 full games behind Myrtle Beach at the top of the Southern Division. Once the Sox reached the postseason, Salem took Game 1 of the SDCS over Myrtle Beach, but the Pelicans won the last two games of the series to advance to the Mills Cup Championship Series.

The Red Sox scored the second-most runs (648) in the Carolina League last season behind catcher Carson Blair (.261/.385/.471, 9 HR, 41 RBI) and infielders Reed Gragnani (.300/.409/.406, 53 RBI) and Jonathan Roof (.301/.384/.461, 4 HR, 23 RBI). Justin Haley was the only pitcher on the team to toss at least 35 innings and post an ERA under 3.00. The right-hander went 7-4 with a 2.82 ERA in 92.2 frames.

Manager: Former major league second baseman Carlos Febles returns for his second season with Salem in 2015. Febles was signed by the Kansas City Royals as a 17-year-old in 1993 out of El Seibo in the Dominican Republic. Febles spent the 1997 season with Wilmington in the Carolina League, batting .237/.333/.347 with three home runs, 29 RBIs and 49 steals in 122 games.

He worked his way up for an 11-game cup of coffee with the Royals in 1998 and was named the No. 30 prospect in baseball by Baseball America before the 1999 campaign. Over his six-year MLB career, all with Kansas City, Febles batted .250/.328/.559 with 414 career hits while smashing as many as 10 home runs and swiping 20 bags in one year. After signing with Boston as a free agent following the 2003 season, he spent the 2004 campaign with Triple-A Pawtucket before retiring from his playing career. Febles eventually began serving as a hitting coach in the Red Sox organization starting in 2007 before getting his first managing gig in 2011 with Short Season Class A Lowell in the New York-Penn League in 2011. The 2014 Salem Red Sox was the first team he helped steer into the playoffs as a manager. Joining Febles this year will be pitching coach Paul Abbott and hitting coach Joe Nunnally.

Mookie Betts batted .291/.368/.444 in 52 games for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. (Carlos Osorio/AP Photo)

Mookie Betts batted .291/.368/.444 in 52 games for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. (Carlos Osorio/AP Photo)

System: Under the Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington regimes, the Red Sox have become one of baseball’s model organizations, embracing the analytical side of the game, showing a keen eye towards injury prevention and stocking up their farm system with young and talented players. That being said, their previous three seasons have been a roller coaster, with the 2013 World Series title sandwiched between two last place finishes in the American League East.

However, the Red Sox should be in for a strong rebound in 2015 due to free agent acquisitions Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, potential bounceback seasons from infielders Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts and exciting young talent playing bigger roles like infielder/outfielder Mookie Betts and outfielder Rusney Castillo.

While Boston is expected to contend in the AL East in 2015, they have a slew of prospects due to come up in the next few years that should continue to infuse the team with younger and cheaper players. In fact, the Red Sox have the sixth-best farm system, according to Baseball Prospectus.

Boston won a bidding war to sign the No. 9 overall prospect in baseball, inking Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada for $31.5 million. Moncada could see time with Salem in 2015. The Red Sox have also developed catcher Blake Swihart (No. 19), who batted .293/.341/.469 with 13 homers and 64 RBIs across Double-A and Triple-A last season, and LHP Henry Owens (No. 20), who was 17-5 with a 2.94 ERA and 170 strikeouts against 59 walks in 159.0 innings. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (No. 90), infielder Rafael Devers (No. 97) and outfielder Manuel Margot (No. 100) are the team’s other prospects that rank among baseball’s best.

Best Promotion: On Friday, June 5, Salem will host “Harry Potter Night” against the Potomac Nationals. Fans are encouraged to grab their wand and glasses and participate in a snitch hunt around LewisGale Field.

Fun Fact: Former Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield pitched for the Salem Buccaneers (Pittsburgh Pirates) in 1990, going 10-14 with a 4.73 ERA. That was only Wakefield’s second season pitching. He was originally drafted by the Pirates as a first baseman, but was constantly caught fooling around with the knuckleball with teammates during infield drills. After Wakefield batted .189 with Short Season Class A Watertown in 1988, he split the 1989 season on the mound and at first base before transition to the mound full-time in 1990. Wakefield made his MLB debut with Pittsburgh in 1992, signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in 1995 and wound up pitching in Boston for 17 seasons. In his 19-year MLB career, Wakefield went 200-180 with a 4.41 ERA and a 2009 All-Star Game selection.

Red Sox in Winston-Salem: The Salem Red Sox’s first trip to BB&T Ballpark in 2015 is for a weekend series from May 15-17. Salem comes back at the end of the month from May 30-June 2 and then again to close out the first half of the season in a four-game set from June 18-21. After that, the Red Sox make just one more trip down south to Winston-Salem for the remainder of the regular year, another weekend clash from August 7-9.

Thanks for reading! We will close out the Carolina Countdown tomorrow with a look at the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

– Scott

Carolina Countdown – Potomac Nationals

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
March 30: Lynchburg Hillcats
March 31: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Introduction: The Potomac Nationals were established in 1978 as the Alexandria Dukes, playing in Alexandria, Va., before moving about 20 miles south to Woodbridge in 1984. Potomac has been affiliated with the Nationals since 2005 and enter the 2015 season as the Carolina League’s defending champion after winning their fifth title last year.

Last Season: The P-Nats rolled throughout the entire 2014 campaign, winning both the first (38-31) and second half (40-27) Northern Division titles. A weak division was certainly a help for Potomac, as they were the only Northern Division team to finish with a record above .500 at 78-58. However, the Nationals proved they were for real in the postseason by sweeping Lynchburg in the NDCS. Then, after dropping Game 1 of the MCCS to Myrtle Beach, the P-Nats rattled off wins in the next three games to secure the championship.

After winning the Carolina League's Manager of the Year award, Tripp Keister returns for Potomac in 2015. (Daniel Sato/The News Journal)

After winning the Carolina League’s Manager of the Year award, Tripp Keister returns for Potomac in 2015. (Daniel Sato/The News Journal)

The P-Nats won by razor-thin margins often throughout 2014, outscoring opponents by just eight runs over the entire campaign and registering an incredible 32-13 record in one-run games. For his help in guiding his club through those close contests, Tripp Keister was named the Carolina League Manager of the Year.

Potomac also had four Year-End All-Stars, including nearly their entire infield. First baseman Shawn Pleffner batted .298/.361/.393 with two homers and 44 RBIs, second baseman Tony Renda chipped in with a .307/.381/.377 line and 19 stolen bases and shortstop Stephen Perez hit .258/.364/.339 with two home runs, 50 RBIs and a team-high 29 steals. Oscar Tejeda was the club’s fourth Postseason All-Star after bashing a team-high 16 home runs and hitting .270/.318/.460 with 65 RBIs.

Manager: Potomac welcomes back their entire coaching staff for the 2015 season, led by the aforementioned Carolina League Manager of the Year. Keister, the former Delaware Blue Hen, was drafted by the New York Mets in the 33rd round of the 1992 Draft and played four seasons in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Double-A. After announcing his retirement, Keister took a job as an assistant at the University of South Carolina before moving into the head coaching role at Delaware State University. Two years later, he took a job as an amateur scout for the San Diego Padres. Keister returned to the collegiate ranks as the head coach of Division III Wesley College (Del.) from 2006 through 2011 before joining the Nationals organization as a manager in 2012. Pitching coach Franklin Bravo and hitting coach Brian Rupp join Keister in the P-Nats dugout.

System: The Washington Nationals are the favorite to win the 2015 World Series thanks to a homegrown young core of players, most notably outfielder Bryce Harper, shortstop Ian Desmond, third baseman Anthony Rendon and pitchers Stephen StrasburgJordan Zimmermann. The big league club also boasts a stable supporting cast of veterans like outfielder Jayson Werth and 2015 free agent prize, right-hander Max Scherzer. That young Washington nucleus, combined with general manager Mike Rizzo‘s ability to acquire solid role playing like catcher Wilson Ramos and RHP Doug Fister for little in return, means the Nationals shouldn’t have too many problems being competitive for years to come.

Lucas Giolito can hit 99 MPH on his fastball and is the top pitching prospect in baseball. (Carl Kline/

Lucas Giolito can hit 99 MPH on his fastball and is the top pitching prospect in baseball. (Carl Kline/

Just because there is so much young talent already on the big league roster doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to come in the future. Washington boasts’s top pitching prospect in Lucas Giolito (No. 6 overall). The 6-foot-6, 255-pound right-hander breezed through Low-A Hagerstown last summer as a 19-year-old, going 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA and 100 strikeouts against 28 walks in 98.0 innings. He could see time with Potomac in 2015.

Washington also boasts two other players in’s Top 100 prospects in outfielder Michael Taylor (No. 43) and RHP A.J. Cole (No. 53). Both players split time across Double-A and Triple-A last season, with the former batting a combined .304/.390/.526 with 23 home runs and 64 RBIs, and the latter finishing 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 25 starts across both levels.

Best Promotion: On the final day of the 2014 season, outfielder Steven Souza (now with the Tampa Bay Rays) made an incredible sprawling catch in left field to secure Jordan Zimmermann‘s no-hitter, the first in Nationals history. Potomac will honor commemorate that play with a Steven Souza “The Catch” figurine giveaway on June 13 when the P-Nats host the Frederick Keys.

Fun Fact: Pedro Severino played in 94 games with Potomac in 2014, hitting .247/.306/.399 with nine homers and 36 RBIs. When Severino was growing up in Bonao of the Dominican Republic, he played pitcher, third base and outfield, three positions he all enjoyed, especially third base. However, when he was 15, his team’s regular catcher didn’t show up, and Severino was asked to fill in. As fate would have it, an opposing runner attempted to steal second base and Severino threw him out.

Because of that, his coach wanted to keep him behind the plate because he saw Severino’s potential but the teen threatened to quit playing baseball if it meant catching. Severino’s father was able to talk him into giving the position a try, and four months later, Severino was signed after his 16th birthday by Washington… as a catcher. Fast forward to today, and Severino is rated as the 11th-best prospect by in the Nationals system and the best defensive catcher in the organization, according to Baseball America.

Nationals in Winston-Salem: The P-Nats become the first Northern Division team to visit BB&T Ballpark in 2015 with a three-game series from April 28-30. Potomac won’t return to Winston-Salem until the second half of the season, during a four-game set from July 10-13.

Our final Southern Division preview is on the horizon. Join us Thursday for a look at the Salem Red Sox. Thanks for reading!

– Scott

Carolina Countdown – Myrtle Beach Pelicans

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
March 28: Lynchburg Hillcats

Introduction: The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have been members of the Carolina League since their 1999 inaugural season. Myrtle Beach split the 1999 Mills Cup with Wilmington but won the 2000 championship outright. Since then though, the team has yet to win a title, although they are the only Carolina League team to have made a postseason appearance in four straight seasons. The 2015 season is Myrtle Beach’s first in affiliation with the Chicago Cubs, after four seasons with Texas.

Last Season: Myrtle Beach dominated throughout the 2014 campaign, finishing a full 13.0 games better than any other Southern Division team with an 82-56 overall record. The Pelicans scored the most runs (683) and allowed the second-fewest tallies (550) in the Carolina League. Myrtle boasted a circuit-high 13 players on the Midseason and/or Year-End All-Star teams en route winning the Southern Division in both the first half (44-24) and second half (38-32). In the postseason, the Pelicans took the final two games of a Best-of-3 to knock off Salem in the SDCS and won Game 1 of the MCCS against Potomac before the Nationals won the next three to win the Carolina League championship.

Joey Gallo drove in 50 runs in 58 games with Myrtle Beach in 2014. (Robert Gurganus/Myrtle Beach Pelicans)

Joey Gallo drove in 50 runs in 58 games with Myrtle Beach in 2014. (Robert Gurganus/Myrtle Beach Pelicans)

Chicks likely dug the Pelicans in 2014. Myrtle Beach slammed 111 home runs; no team was within 24 bombs. Infielder Joey Gallo won the Carolina League’s Most Valuable Player award, smashing a circuit-high 21 home runs and posting a .463 on-base percentage and .735 slugging percentage for a ridiculous 1.199 OPS in 58 games before getting promoted to Double-A Frisco. Outfielder Nick Williams added a .292/.343/.491 line with 28 doubles, 13 home runs and 68 RBIs. On the pitching side, Andrew Faulkner went 10-1 with a 2.07 ERA, 100 strikeouts and 31 walks in 104.1 innings.

Manager: In conjunction with Myrtle Beach’s move to the Cubs organization, Mark Johnson will become the Pelicans’ sixth manager in team history in 2015. Johnson spent the previous two campaigns with Low-A Kane County, earning Baseball America Minor League Manager of the Year and Midwest League Manager of the Year honors last year after guiding the Cougars to a circuit-best 91-49 record and a Midwest League championship after sweeping the postseason with a 7-0 record.

Entering his fifth season with the Cubs, Johnson began managing in the minors immediately after concluding a 17-year professional playing career. Johnson was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the first round (26th overall) of the 1994 draft and spent the 1997 season with Winston-Salem, batting .253/.420/.379 with four homers and 46 RBIs in 120 games. The Perry, Ga. native reached The Show with the White Sox in 1998 and served as the team’s backup catcher through the 2002 season before getting packaged with RHP Keith Foulke and others in a trade that brought Oakland Athletics RHP Billy Koch to Chicago.

Johnson played 13 games with Oakland in 2003, seven with Milwaukee in 2004 and then spent time in the Cubs, Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis organizations until his retirement in 2010, only returning to the big leagues for a 10-game cameo with the Cardinals in 2008. Johnson will be joined in the dugout by pitching coach David Rosario and hitting coach Mariano Duncan.

System: The Cubs haven’t had a winning campaign in seven years and have not won a playoff series since 2003. They have finished no higher than fifth in the National League Central in each of the past five seasons. Amazingly, they haven’t had consecutive 90-win campaigns since 1930. You also might have heard they have the longest championship drought in American professional sports, with their last World Series title coming in 1908.

Kris Bryant has the highest slugging percentage of any minor league over the last 30 years. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

Kris Bryant has the highest slugging percentage of any minor league over the last 30 years. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

But the future appears to be bright for the Cubs. Infielder Javier Baez (2014 No. 7 overall prospect) and outfielders Jorge Soler (No. 49) and Arismendy Alcantara (No. 89) made up the first wave of a talented battalion of prospects to trickle through Wrigley Field last summer. But knowing that the levee on Baseball Prospectus‘ top farm system will break in 2015, president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer spent the winter making sure that the time for baseball’s perennially hibernating bear is right now.

First, the Cubs hired manager Joe Maddon, who had led the Tampa Bay Rays to 90+ wins in four of the last six seasons and the 2008 American League pennant. That gave the Cubs the relevance they needed to convince LHP Jon Lester to come to the north side of The Windy City and lead the starting rotation.

Epstein and Hoyer then went out and made two key trades to shore up the middle of the defense, acquiring switch-hitting catcher Miguel Montero from Arizona and centerfielder Dexter Fouler from Houston. Combine all that activity with the expected MLB debuts of infielder/outfielder Kris Bryant (’s No. 2 overall prospect), who led all of Minor League Baseball with 43 home runs in 2014 and who’s .666 slugging percentage as a pro is higher than any minor league of the last 30 years, and infielder Addison Russell (No. 5 overall), who batted .295/.350/.508 last year in Double-A, this season, even more talented prospects are on the way.

Best Promotion: When Winston-Salem visits Myrtle Beach for a four-game series from April 23-26, the Dash will witness the Pelicans’ first-ever “Geekend.” The Dash will battle the Pelicans on Hunger Games Night to open the series on the 23rd before the two teams try to use the Force to bring them victory on Star Wars Night on Friday, the 23rd. Myrtle Beach will host Superhero Night with special jerseys auctioned off to benefit the Special Olympics of South Carolina on Saturday before Retro Game Night will close out the series on Sunday the 24th.

Adam Wainwright was traded to the Cardinals on the same day he got engaged. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Adam Wainwright was traded to the Cardinals on the same day he got engaged. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Fun Fact: Future St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright pitched for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2002, going 9-6 with a 3.31 ERA. In 2003, Wainwright advanced to Double-A Greenville and, following the season, decided to propose to his longtime girlfriend Jenny Curry. However, on that fateful day in December, every time Wainwright was about to get down on one knee to pop the question, his phone would ring. Wainwright kept ignoring multiple calls from the unknown number until finally his mother’s number came up. He answered it, only for his mother to inform him that he had been traded from the Atlanta organization to St. Louis. Wainwright, slightly stunned, hung up the phone, got down on one knee and finally completed his proposal, to which Curry said, “Yes.” The two were married in 2004.

Pelicans in Winston-Salem: The Dash will host Myrtle Beach for a record 17 home games in 2015. Winston-Salem and Myrtle Beach will open up the sixth season of BB&T Ballpark on April 16 to start a four-game series. The Pelicans will come back to Winston-Salem for another four-game series from May 8-11 before returning for a pair of three-game sets in June (15-18 and 28-30). The Dash’s penultimate homestand of the 2015 campaign begins with three games against Myrtle Beach from August 18-20.

Thanks so much for reading! We’ll get to the defending champion Potomac Nationals tomorrow.

– Scott

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,’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

Coats’ MVP case

Jason Coats (right) is a contender to win Winston's fourth straight MVP award (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash).

Jason Coats (right) is a contender to win Winston’s fourth straight MVP award (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash).

Outfielder Jason Coats has earned a well-deserved promotion to Double-A Birmingham after turning in one of the best seasons by an offensive player in the Carolina League this season.

Even though he will spend his final few weeks in the Southern League, Coats is on a short list of MVP contenders here in the CL. He is likely the Dash’s best chance to continue an incredible streak. Winston-Salem has claimed the league’s Most Valuable Player award in each of the previous three seasons.

No team had accomplished this feat since Lynchburg rattled off four consecutive MVPs from 1983-86. Here is how Coats’ numbers compare to those of the last three MVPs in the Dash purple:

2011 – Ian Gac: .279, 33 HR, 96 RBIs
2012 – Dan Black: .315, 17 HR, 88 RBIs
2013 – Chris Curley: .280, 24 HR, 92 RBIs
2014 – Jason Coats: .291, 15 HR, 72 RBIs

Coats’ promotion is a huge step for a tremendous player, and it is what Minor Leagues ultimately want. However, this jump to Double-A prevents Coats from logging 20 more games in Winston-Salem. Gac, Black and Curley all started and finished their MVP seasons in High-A.

If you extrapolate Coats’ numbers out over these final 20 games, you would get 18 homers and 85 RBIs, which are both right in the range of the MVP trio listed above.

Fortunately, though, Coats is not fighting against those numbers and players. He is competing with the current crop of Carolina Leaguers. The Allen, Texas, native leaves the Carolina League while still leading the way in hits (125), doubles (35), total bases (209), and games played (115).

He is currently in the top 10 in the three triple crown categories listed above: ninth in batting average, tied for fourth in home runs and second in RBIs.

Coats has superior numbers to most players in the Carolina League. His main competition figures to come against Myrtle Beach’s Joey Gallo, who dominated this league, but only for two months. He hit .323 with 21 homers and 50 RBIs in just 58 games, leading the Pelicans to an emphatic first-half Southern Division title.

However, Coats has a tremendous case, and one that could lead Winston-Salem to history. For now, we thank the former TCU star for all he brought to the Dash. Maybe he will leave us with a parting gift in a few weeks when the MVP award is announced.

– Brian

Familiar face rejoins Winston-Salem

The newest member of the Dash summed up the news pretty well on Twitter.

Indeed, right-hander Terance Marin is back with Winston-Salem, the White Sox announced Friday morning. Originally signed by Chicago as a non-drafted free agent in 2010, Marin was in the system until April 9 when he was released from the Dash’s roster. Less than three months later, Marin is back in the system and in the Dash’s rotation. He will start for Winston in its middle match against Salem on Friday.

Marin did not give up on his professional aspirations. The Newman, Calif., native signed with the Evansville Otters of the independent Frontier League, and he dominated to the tune of a 4-1 record and a 2.05 earned run average in six starts.

His short stint in Evansville was stellar. Check out some of these numbers, courtesy of Evansville broadcaster Mike Radomski:

  • Marin took a no-hitter into the fifth inning in three of his six outings with the Otters.
  • The righty whiffed 11 batters in back-to-back outings on May 24 and May 30.
  • Marin averaged more than six and a half innings per start. His affiliated career high is 6.2 frames, though he did not start many games in the Minors.

With Marin’s addition, the Dash’s roster is at the Carolina League maximum of 25. He will be the 11th hurler to start a game for Winston-Salem this season.

Stay tuned for a full preview of Friday’s clash against Salem here on the Dash Board.

– Brian

Unlucky 15 for Dash, Keys

Trends are an important part of baseball. Managers and coaches rely on them to set up strategy, while players use them to determine their approach on the mound, in the field or at the plate.

Generally speaking, weather can be extremely unpredictable. Forecasts can change from hour-to-hour, giving meteorologists nightmares whenever their predictions are wrong. But a trend has even emerged among Mother Nature during this baseball season: the Winston-Salem Dash and Frederick Keys will have their game postponed if it is scheduled on the 15th of the month at BB&T Ballpark.

Tarp covers the field at BB&T Ballpark on Thursday, May 15.

Tarp covers the field at BB&T Ballpark on Thursday, May 15.

On Tuesday, April 15, the Dash and Keys were slated to begin a three-game series in the Triad, but rain disrupted those plans, causing a doubleheader for that Wednesday. It was the first of three times in April where weather altered Winston-Salem’s schedule.

Fast-forward to Thursday, May 15, with the Dash and Keys set to begin a four-game series at BB&T Ballpark. Once again, Mother Nature got in the way, leading to this evening’s doubleheader.

It’s purely coincidence that Frederick was the scheduled opponent on both occasions, and that both postponements were on the 15th of the month. Still, we couldn’t help but look at the remaining schedule to see if the Dash and Keys will play on the 15th during the rest of the season.

Thankfully, they don’t. All of the remaining series with Frederick occur after the All-Star Break: June 25-27 and July 19-21 in Maryland, as well as July 29-31 at BB&T Ballpark.

Even with something as volatile and unpredictable as weather, baseball has a strange and fascinating way of producing trends. Remember last year when we discovered the key to quick baseball games? Simply offer all-you-can-eat food!

Since it’s the 16th of the month, the Dash and Keys will be able to play baseball. Two games, in fact. Stay tuned later for a preview of Friday’s doubleheader.

– Dave