We have turned the corner in our trip around the minors, as we now travel to the small corner of the High-A ranks with the Carolina League. It began in 1945 as World War II was ending, originating in North Carolina in the Raleigh area. In fact, over the 67 year history of the league, the majority of the teams have played in North Carolina. That being said, the stretch of the league has gone as far north as Delaware and as far south as South Carolina.
It started with only two official teams back in 1945, but has been as much as 12 at one point, as well. However, this league checks in at only 8 teams, the lowest of any of the High-A leagues. It’s split up as follows:
North Division: Frederick Keys (Baltimore Orioles affiliate), Lynchburg Hillcats (Atlanta Braves), Potomac Nationals (Washington Nationals), Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals)
South Division: Carolina Mudcats (Cleveland Indians), Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Texas Rangers), Salem Red Sox (Boston Red Sox), Winston-Salem Dash (Chicago White Sox)
I think we all know who the most popular team in the league is. That would be Myrtle Beach. And that would be because of one man and one man only:
Methinks the Pelicans are going to get an attendance boost. And a jersey sale boost. And probably because some people think they’ll actually see him play. (In all honesty, if Danny McBride doesn’t at least sign an actual one day contract with Myrtle Beach, the Pelicans are not doing it right) Best team name has to go to the Mudcats, although the Blue Rocks is a pretty cool mascot, too.
The league plays as a pitching extreme league. In 2011, the 4.19 runs per game were the lowest in all of the minors, and the offensive stats as a whole (.250/.322/.379) was the second lowest of the full-season leagues, with the .700 OPS only being better than the Low-A Midwest league. The ERA for the league was 3.76, the lowest in all the minors, as well. This has a lot to do with the cavernous fields of the league, and along with the humidity once the summer months come, the combination is hell on anyone of the offensive persuasion.
The Carolian League has been seen many a great player come through, and the list of great MVP winners is a long one. The first stand out was the great Bill Evans, who won the award in 1950. Curt Flood won the award in 1956 before helping the Cardinals win a World Series in 1967. Dave Parker won the award in 1972 before he and Willie Stargell terrorized baseball in 1979 en route to a World Series title. Julio Franco won the award in 1980 as a 67-year-old, which is even more impressive considering he retired at the age of 95. Lenny Dystrka did it in 1983 before he helped make some of the worst investments this side of Bernie Madoff.
However, the most famous MVP of the bunch by far was Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemszi who won the award in 1959 before having his marvelous career with the Red Sox. His Triple Crown is still waiting to be matched 45 years later. Other MVPs have included Bobby Murcur (1965), Richie Sexson (1995), Jose Guillen (1996), Aramis Ramirez (1997) and Chris Shelton (2003). Shelton, if you remember, had that flash in the pan start with the Tigers before flaming out in epic fashion.
The biggest star of the league will most likely be Jurickson Profar, who will be a 19-year-old shortstop in a defense and pitching oriented league. His bat has held up and his ceiling is that of a an All-Star shortstop with pop, defense and speed, which means that when he’s Major League ready in approximately three years, the Rangers will have their choice between Profar and incumbent Elvis Andrus. Another player who looks like he could make an impact could be Anthony Rendon, who will be playing second base after the signing of Ryan Zimmerman’s recent extension blocked him from the position. He should get a full season assignment and considering early reports show that he could be closer to the Majors than advertised, he could surprise people with perhaps a short stint in the Carolinas before moving on up the ladder.
Other players to watch include Francisco Lindor (who has a chance to play at some point this year, but only if the Indians fell like he is worth the push), Brandon Jacobs (Red Sox), Cheslor Cuthbert (Royals), and Kenny Powers (Mermen). Powers seemed to have flamed out a bit at the Major League level, but scouts are saying his fastball might be back after a stint in the Mexican League. If that’s the case, he could really flourish in Myrtle Beach if he doesn’t let the off-field issues get to him. Also, he’d have a better chance at making the Majors if his team was actually a Major League affiliate.
Next time, we’ll finish off High-A with a look at the high-powered offensive smorgasbord that is the California League.