Wind: 1.99 m/h
At last, minor league baseball is returning tonight!
The junior circuit cancelled its season last year due to COVID-19 restrictions and loss of revenue, and this season was delayed by a month for similar reasons. Nonetheless, it’s back now.
Many teams had already unveiled the rosters of each of their affiliates, but like they often are on this subject, the Nationals were laggards.
If some of those locations look unfamiliar to you, it’s because they are new to the organization. Harrisburg has remained Washington’s Double-A affiliate, but Rochester and Wilmington were added from other organizations during a far-reaching minor league realignment this offseason, and Potomac (affectionately known as the P-Nats) recently relocated to Fredericksburg.
Most seasons, there isn’t a lot of intrigue surrounding the announcement of Opening Day minor league rosters. However, the loss of their season last year – replaced by activity for some, but not all, players at an “Alternate Training Site” – made this year’s assignments much less predictable. Some players suffered a lost year in their development, while others may have been able to skip a level due to their progress in 2020.
As you would expect, the AAA roster has the most recognizable names. The pitching staff will remain a revolving door, and numerous arms are brought up and down from the big leagues. The position players might be the ones to watch. Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia will play every day at third base and shortstop, respectively – that much has been stated by Assistant GM, Player Development Mark Scialabba. Outfielders Gerardo Parra and Yasmany Tomas are also included on the roster.
The next most intriguing team is Wilmington, which will feature most of the organization’s top pitching prospects.
Speaking of prospects, here’s a more detailed look at where Washington’s most prized minor league possessions (according to MLB Pipeline) will be starting their seasons:
Note: Catcher Israel Pineda is starting his season A+, not AAA
Frankly, Nats prospects haven’t made a lot of noise recently, especially U.S.-born ones. Their current active roster – which doesn’t include Stephen Strasburg – features only four players that they drafted: Erick Fedde, Austin Voth, Ryan Zimmerman and Andrew Stevenson. That group includes a temporary No. 5 starting pitcher by necessity, a low-leverage reliever, and two backup position players.
Needless to say, an influx of young, homegrown talent would be much appreciated. As the minor league season begins tonight, so too does the clock for the next wave of potential soon-to-be Washington Nationals. Keep an eye out for some of them to pop up in D.C. before too long.
Rochester opens its season in Lehigh Valley (Phillies), Harrisburg will be in Somerset (Yankees), Wilmington hosts Aberdeen (Orioles), and Fredericksburg travels to Lynchburg (Indians).
As Dave S is aware, I am a product of attending many 1950s-1960s era AAA baseball games in Richmond, Virginia. It seems strange to me to see our once fierce rival Rochester Red Wings no longer associated with the Baltimore Orioles, but with the Washington team. I was at Richmond's Parker Field in the mid-60s when firery future Orioles manager Earl Weaver got upset that the Richmond organist played a "Charge" chord as the Rochester pitcher wound up and made his own charge up the grandstand steps intending to jerk the organist off his bench. That led to one of the greatest ever minor league baseball promotions - "Earl Weaver Music Appreciation" night in Richmond. We subscribed to The Sporting News published in St. Louis by the JG Taylor Spinks family back then and kept up with all three AAA leagues - International, American Association & Pacific Coast, as well as goings on in the SALLY League, Piedmont League, Texas League, Grapefruit League and winter Venezuealan baseball. AAA, AA, A, B, C, D leagues. Every crossroads back then had a ball club. Heck, I still can't get used to Washington having a club that plays in the National League. Back in the day we'd ride the Baseball Train from Richmond to see the Senators (before and after they became the Twins) play the Yankees. I guess the Broadway musical and film "Damn Yankees" would confuse today's kids who'd wonder why Washington was playing the Yankees. I'm happy the much changed minors have a season back. Many fewer minor league clubs, though, to prepare guys for the many more big league teams than in my day of 8 National & 8 American League franchises. Maybe that's why, to me, the quality of both major league and AAA ball team play has seemed quite watered down the past several decades. But I am glad everyone gets to hear "Play Ball!"
The Richmond Braves and the Tidewater Tides were our major league teams. We could listen to them on the radio, go see them live for a few bucks, and see many in the majors the very best year. The Rochester Red Wings, Toledo Mud Hens, Syracuse Chiefs...they were all as important to a young baseball fan as the Washington Senators and Baltimore Orioles. Still have great memories of those teams...