RailRiders 2018: International League Preview
Toronto Blue Jays
Manager: Bobby Meacham (Second season)
2017: 65-76, 5th IL North
Stadium: Coca-Cola Field (16,907)
PNC Field visits: April 30-May 2, July 4-5, Aug. 3-5
Noteworthy: Talented outfield with Teoscar Hernandez, Dwight Smith, Dalton Pompey and, eventually, Anthony Alford (injured hamstring). ... They’ll start in Double-A, but there’s a chance top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette could see Buffalo in the second half of the season. ... The RailRiders were 13-7 against Buffalo last season, which included a 13-game winning streak.
Chicago White Sox
Manager: Mark Grudzielanek (Second season)
2017: 61-81, 4th IL South
Stadium: BB&T Ballpark (10,200)
PNC Field visit: July 24-26
Noteworthy: Charlotte enters its 20th season as a White Sox affiliate. ... Starting pitcher Michael Kopech is the 11th best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America. He has a 100-mph fastball and was part of the deal that sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox. ... The RailRiders went 5-2 against the Knights last year, out-scoring them, 50-29.
Manager: Chris Tremie (Sixth season)
2017: 71-71, 2nd IL West
Stadium: Huntington Park (10,100)
PNC Field visit: April 23-25
Noteworthy: Catcher Francisco Mejia is the Indians’ top prospect, and could begin a wave of the organization’s best talent coming into Columbus this season. He had a 50-game hitting streak in 2016. First baseman Bobby Bradley, ranked the Indians’ No. 3 prospect by Baseball America, should also be on the Clippers. ... Columbus will host the Triple-A All-Star Game and the Triple-A National Championship this season.
Tampa Bay Rays
Manager: Jared Sandberg (fourth season)
2017: 86-56, 1st IL South, Won Governors’ Cup and Triple-A National Championship
Stadium: Durham Bulls Athletic Park (10,000).
PNC Field visit: June 5-7
Noteworthy: This team will hit. Shortstop Willy Adames and 1B/OF Jake Bauers are ranked among the Rays’ top prospects and were key to the Bulls’ postseason success. ... Third baseman Christian Arroyo is new to Durham. He was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Evan Longoria to San Francisco. ... Many of the pitchers from last year’s team won’t return. Ryan Yarbrough (13-6, 3.43 ERA) and Jacob Faria (6-1, 3.07) are in the Rays rotation and Brent Honeywell had Tommy John surgery.
Manager: Damon Berryhill (second season)
2017: 71-71, 2nd IL South
Stadium: Coolray Field (10,427)
PNC Field visit: July 27-29
Noteworthy: Rebranded from the Braves. The Stripers are named after striped bass found in a nearby lake. ... Will have baseball’s top prospect for a few weeks: Ronald Acuña will start the year in Gwinnett, but will be called up shortly if all goes to plan. ... Pitching will be a strength, with Mike Soroka (No. 3), Kolby Allard (No. 7) and Max Fried (No. 8) all ranked among Baseball America’s top Braves prospects. Soroka and Allard won’t turn 21 until August.
Manager: Brian Esposito (first season)
2017: 79-63, 1st IL West, lost to Durham in first round
Stadium: Victory Field (14,500)
PNC Field visit: Aug. 13-15
Noteworthy: Center fielder Austin Meadows is the Pirates’ No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America, but he’s been slowed by injuries in recent seasons. Shortstop Kevin Newman (No. 6) and pitcher Nick Kingham (No. 10) are also in the top 10. ... Pirates top prospect, pitcher Mitch Keller should reach Triple-A at some point this season.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs
Manager: Gary Jones (first season)
2017: 80-62, 2nd IL North, wild card winners, lost to RailRiders in first round.
PNC Field visits: April 8-11, May 15-17, June 19-21
Noteworthy: Graduated a lot of talent to the big leagues, including second baseman Scott Kingery, shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Jorge Alfaro. ... Bethlehem native Matt McBride joins Lehigh Valley this season. The veteran attended Liberty High School and was a second-round pick by Cleveland in 2006 out of Lehigh University. ... Catcher Logan Moore was born in Scranton and is the son of former Red Baron pitcher Brad Moore.
Manager: Pat Kelly (first season)
2017: 56-86, 4th IL West
Stadium: Louisville Slugger Field (13,131)
PNC Field visit: June 8-10
Noteworthy: Will have one of the top prospects in baseball in infielder Nick Senzel. He’s ranked No. 7 in the game according to Baseball America. He batted .340 and slugged .560 in 57 games at Double-A last year. ... Former RailRiders center fielder Mason Williams signed with the Reds this offseason. ... Louisville will host the “Bluegrass World Series” in July, which will feature a team of more than 30 former MLB players, including Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson, Josh Beckett, Roy Oswalt, Ben Sheets, Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones, managed by Johnny Bench.
Manager: Ron Johnson (seventh season)
2017: 66-76, 3rd IL South
Stadium: Harbor Park (11,856)
PNC Field visit: Aug. 16-19
Noteworthy: Crestwood grad Matt Wotherspoon pitched to a 2.20 ERA in 28⅔ innings after being traded from the Yankees. ... Baseball America ranks LHP Tanner Scott as the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect. He made 24 starts at Double-A last year, going 0-2 with a 2.22 ERA. He never pitched more than 3⅔ innings in any start. ... This is the 50th season for the Tides in the International League.
Pawtucket Red Sox
Boston Red Sox
Manager: Kevin Boles (fifth season)
2017: 67-75, 4th IL North
Stadium: McCoy Stadium (10,031)
PNC Field visits: May 3-4, Junw 29-July 1, Aug. 31-Sept. 1
Noteworthy: Outfielder Rusney Castillo returns after arguably his best season in the Red Sox organization after signing a seven-year, $72.5 million deal in 2014. The 30-year-old batted .314 with a .507 slugging percentage in 87 games for Pawtucket last year, but he’s no longer on Boston’s 40-man roster. He’ll make more than $11 million this season. ... No longer here is Bryce Brentz, who hit 31 home runs last year. He’s now in the Mets organization. ... Pawtucket will be the “Osos Polares de Pawtucket” (“Polar Bears of Pawtucket” in Spanish) every Tuesday home game.
Rochester Red Wings
Manager: Joel Skinner (first season)
2017: 80-62, 2nd IL North
Stadium: Frontier Field (10,840)
PNC Field visits: May 10-13, June 11-13, July 12-15
Noteworthy: Plenty of talent. On the offensive side is shortstop Nick Gordon, son of Tom “Flash” and brother of Dee, the Twins’ No. 8 prospect according to Baseball America. The 2014 fifth overall pick had a .749 OPS at Double-A last year. Outfielder LaMonte Wade and former RailRider Jake Cave will also provide pop. ... They’ll have two top 10 prospects in the rotation, too, in Stephen Gonsalves (No. 4) and Fernando Romero (No. 6).
New York Yankees
Manager: Bobby Mitchell (first season)
2017: 86-55, 1st IL North, lost in Governors’ Cup final
Stadium: PNC Field (10,000)
Noteworthy: Reloaded. Top prospect Gleyber Torres is back after Tommy John surgery, and he’ll be joined in the lineup by 3B Miguel Andujar, OF Billy McKinney, C Kyle Higashioka and 1B Mike Ford. And, eventually, OF Clint Frazier, once he’s healed from a concussion. ... The pitching staff will be among the league’s best, with Domingo German, Luis Cessa, Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield in the rotation, and Ben Heller and Anyelo Gomez in the bullpen. ... This is the 30th season in SWB history.
Manager: Randy Knorr (first season)
2017: 54-87, 6th IL North
Ballpark: NBT Bank Stadium (11,071)
PNC Field visits: April 6-8, May 25-28, Aug. 28-30
Noteworthy: This is Syracuse’s last season as a Nationals affiliate. The New York Mets bought the franchise for $18 million in the offseason, and will move their Triple-A team to Syracuse in 2019. ... Top prospect Victor Robles will roam the outfield. The speedy 20-year-old is one of the best in baseball. He had an .875 OPS between High A and Double-A last year, and made his major league debut in September. ... Top pitching prospect Erick Fedde will be joined by veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Edwin Jackson in the rotation.
Toledo Mud Hens
Manager: Doug Mientkiewicz (first season)
2017: 70-71, 3rd IL West
Stadium: Fifth Third Field (10,300)
PNC Field visit: April 20-22
Noteworthy: Appear to have a lot of power. Outfielder Christin Stewart hit 28 home runs and OF Michael Gerber had 13 in Double-A Erie last year. 1B Edwin Espinal had 15 homers at Double-A Altoona and Ronny Rodriguez had 17 for Columbus. ... Pitcher Artie Lewicki was a teammate of Scranton’s Joe McCarthy at the University of Virginia.
— CONOR FOLEY
April 5: Opening day in Durham
April 6: Opening day in Indianapolis, Louisville, Norfolk, Pawtucket, Rochester and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
April 12: Opening day in Buffalo, Charlotte, Columbus, Gwinnett, Lehigh Valley, Syracuse and Toledo
July 9: Triple-A Home Run Derby & Skills Competition in Columbus
July 11: Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus
Sept. 3: End of regular season
Sept. 5-9: Governors’ Cup playoffs first round
Sept. 11-15: Governors’ Cup championship series
Sept. 18: Triple-A National Championship in Columbus
Hall of Fame
Longtime league slugger Mike Hessman and Columbus Clippers president and general manager Ken Schnacke will be inducted into the International League Hall of Fame this season. Hessman had an IL record 288 homers across runs with Richmond, Toledo, Buffalo and Louisville. Schnacke, who has been with the Clippers for 42 seasons, was named the league’s top executive twice.