I’ve been kicking around different ways to start this post, but none seems to capture the sentiment I want to express as simply as this: It’s Opening Day for the Midwest League, and I’m excited!
My first visit to a Midwest League ballpark this year took place in late March when I went to the Quad Cities River Bandits’ Fan Fest at Modern Woodmen Park. (You can read about it in this post.) Yesterday I made my second visit, this time to Beloit’s Pohlman Field to watch part of the Snappers’ open practice. (It was a matter of fortunate timing — I was driving back to Illinois and my arrival in Beloit coincided with the second half of practice.)
I caught about 20 minutes of on-field action, including Matt Olson taking some swings and playing first base. I also saw Ryan Mathews hit a home run after his teammates were giving him some good-natured ribbing; he pointed toward them as he rounded the bases, and everyone had a good laugh.
Today MiLB.com released a list of the top lineups and top pitching rotations in each of the minor leagues. The Snappers, led by Olson, Renato Nunez, Bruce Maxwell and Aaron Shipman, are expected to be the top-hitting team in the Midwest League. Here’s what was written about Beloit’s lineup:
Beloit’s lineup won’t boast the same star power of others in the league, with, for example, Carlos Correa headlining in Quad Cities and Byron Buxton drawing attention to Cedar Rapids. What it will have, however, is remarkable depth, with three of the A’s top 15 prospects — Olson (No. 5), Nunez (8) and Maxwell (15) — ensconced in the batting order, and a fourth, 2012 first-rounder Daniel Robertson (No. 7), joining them when he comes off the disabled list.
On top of that, Beloit also will see the contributions of highly regarded international signing Wilfredo Solano, a shortstop, centerfielder Shipman, a third-rounder in 2010, and second baseman Christopher Bostick and outfielder Brett Vertigan, a 2011 44th-rounder and 2012 10th-rounder respectively, who both flashed intriguing skill sets last season in the short-season New York-Penn League.
It will be Olson, who slugged .521 in 50 games last year after being taken 47th overall in the 2012 Draft, and Nunez, a Venezuelan signed in 2010 by Oakland who hit .325/.403/.550 in 42 games in the rookie-level Arizona League, who provide the fireworks for the Snappers. This potent collection of youth and talent give Beloit the lineup with the most upside top-to-bottom in the league.
The Fort Wayne TinCaps’ starting rotation was named the best in the Midwest League. They are led by what I’m dubbing “Fort Wayne’s Formidable Four,” LHP Max Fried, RHP Zach Eflin, RHP Joe Ross and RHP Walker Weickel. Here’s what was written about them:
The TinCaps’ collection of young arms represents a truly elite grouping of pedigrees. Fried, the seventh overall pick of the 2012 Draft, is the most exciting of the bunch, but Eflin (33rd overall in 2012), Weickel (55th overall in 2012) and Ross (25th overall in 2011) each represents a first-round talent of his own.
The group offers limited experience with only 93 1/3 total innings of professional ball between them (55 2/3 of which belong just to Ross). But what they lack in experience they should more than make up for with their ability to light up the radar gun and dazzle crowds with their raw stuff on a nightly basis in Fort Wayne.
My first game of the Midwest League season is tonight. I’ll be in Peoria to watch the Chiefs take on the defending Midwest League champions, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Just as I’ve done from MWL games the past two seasons, I’ll be live-tweeting updates on Twitter. (If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you can read my feed on the side of this website, unless you’re looking at it on a mobile device.) I’ll later write a game post and tweet scores and statistics from all of today’s MWL games, then rinse and repeat daily until the end of the season. Over the weekend, I’ll post the final two installments of my Midwest League preview series. (You can read the first posts here and here.)
Time to head down to the ballpark!