After a long offseason and a couple days of major league baseball, it's finally Opening Day for the next wave of Brewers players (except for the Timber Rattlers - welcome to Wisconsin, guys). With that in mind, it seems a good time to briefly review the Brewers' affiliates at each level. That said, I won't be breaking down each team's roster. If you're looking for prospect nuggets, they're easy to find elsewhere. Rather, I will just focus on some basic facts about each team and the places they play.
Nashville - Pacific Coast League (AAA)
About the League: The Pacific Coast League (PCL) enters its 108th season of play this year. As the name suggests, the league originated on the West Coast. Over the years it has expanded eastward all the way to the Brewers' affiliate, Nashville. The PCL now plays a 144-game season, a far cry from the heady days of 200+ games early in the 20th century.
About the Team: Originally intimidating opponents as the Evansville Triplets, the Sounds moved up to Nashville in 1985. Brewers prospects and minor league free agent signings have been sent to Nashville since 2005. Before that, Nashville was the proud home of Pittsburgh's almost-finest. The Sounds won the PCL championship in 2005.
Last Year: In their first season under manager Don Money, the Sounds finished 75-69, two games off the pace in their four-team division.
Home Park: Herschel Greer Stadium, completed in 1978 on the site of Fort Negley, a Civil War bastion. Perhaps best known for a guitar-shaped scoreboard, Greer typically sees slightly fewer runs than the average PCL park and, perhaps not coincidentally, more strikeouts. For some context, consider PCL teams averaged just over five runs per game from 2007-2009, half a run more than the National League over the same time period (link).
2009 League Averages: .272/.341/.418 for hitters. 4.50 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 for pitchers.
2009 Notables: The breakout star of the 2009 Sounds was 27-year-old infielder Adam Heether. Heether hit .293, got on base at a cool .400 clip, and slugged 16 home runs. On the pitching side, non-roster invite Chris Smith positively dominated, saving 17 games in 28 appearances and striking out 49 in 42 2/3 innings in just three months.
Huntsville - Southern League (AA)
About the League: The second generation of the original South Atlantic ("Sally") League, the Southern League took on its current moniker in 1964. It has been a AA league for its entire existence. The league is split into two divisions and the season is split into two halves, allowing two teams from each division to make the playoffs. Each team is scheduled for 140 games.
About the Team: By an interesting twist of fate, the Huntsville Stars came into existence thanks to the Nashville Sounds. When the AAA squad formerly located in Evansville, Indiana, moved to Nashville, the existing Nashville AA club moved to Huntsville. Huntsville usually fields a competitive squad, though they have not won a league title since 2001.
Last Year: Having said Huntsville regularly fields good teams, I now must point out the Stars struggled to a 63-75 record in 2009. Despite the poor overall record, they still made the league playoffs by virtue of their stellar first half performance. 2009 manager Bob Miscik moved down a level to Brevard County this year, trading places with erstwhile Manatees skipper Mike Guerrero.
Home Park: Joe W. Davis Stadium, built in 1985 and named after the city mayor instrumental in its construction. The oldest stadium in the league, "the Crown Jewel of the Southern League" was renovated a few years ago and now has a capacity of 10,200. Unfortunately, the team struggles to draw even 2,000 fans to each game.
2009 League Averages: .255/.332/.380 for hitters. 3.84 ERA, 7.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 for pitchers.
2009 Notables: The offense was sparked by Drew Anderson, a 2006 September call-up. Back on the Brewers farm after a year in the Cincinnati organization, Anderson hit .301/.376/.452 with ten home runs and nine steals last season. Huntsville had a relatively itinerant pitching staff, but relievers Casey Baron and Mike McClendon put up the shiniest numbers of the long-term Stars. Josh Butler and Zach Braddock shone in limited duty.
Brevard County - Florida State League (A+)
About the League: The Florida State League began play in 1919 but did not play from 1928-1936 or during World War II. Currently there are twelve teams split into two divisions. With the season split into halves, four teams make the league playoffs. Each team is scheduled for 140 games, but Florida weather causes frequent rainouts.
About the Team: The Brevard County Manatees came into being in 1994, just in time for a devastating major league players' strike. That didn't stop the Manatees from getting to the league championship series before losing to the Tampa Yankees. Brevard County made it to the finals again in 2001, but the series was canceled after September 11 and they were named co-champions with Tampa. In 2007, the Manatees made it to the finals again, losing to the Clearwater Threshers.
Last Year: Mike Guerrero led the Manatees to the league playoffs in his second season as manager. The team lost in the first round to arch-nemesis Tampa, but a 79-48 overall record is nothing to sniff at.
Home Park: Space Coast Stadium, built in 1994 as a spring training site for the Florida Marlins. These days, the Washington Nationals warm up the field for the Manatees. The Gulf Coast League version of the Nationals also sometimes play at the stadium. Stuck in a tremendous pitcher's league, Space Coast Stadium has the decency not to punish its tenants any more than an average FSL park. I say tremendous pitcher's league because the FSL saw only 4.2 runs per game from 2007-2009, the fewest of any American professional league.
2009 League Averages: .252/.322/.363 for hitters. 3.55 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 for pitchers.
2009 Notables: Remarkably, only seventeen players batted for the Manatees in 2009. Of those, Caleb Gindl (.277/.363/.459) and Logan Schafer (.313/.369/.446) were the stars, hitting for average and power, respectively, in a tough offensive environment. The favorable pitching environment makes for gaudy numbers, as the team put up a 2.75 ERA. 2004 first round pick Mark Rogers put up a 1.67 ERA and struck out 67 in 64 2/3 innings. Of course, those innings came over 22 starts, a testament to the team's caution in handling his oft-injured arm.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers - Midwest League (A)
About the League: The Midwest League was birthed from two parent leagues in 1954. As with all minor leagues, the location and number of teams has changed over the years, but currently sits at sixteen clubs in two divisions. Once again, the league is split into halves and
four eight clubs make the playoffs. Teams are scheduled for 140 games.
About the Team: Appleton has called a Midwest League team home since 1962. Known as the Foxes until 1994, the club reinvented itself when Fox Cities Stadium opened in 1995. A powerhouse in the 1960s and 1980s, the club has struggled in recent years, finishing over .500 only twice since 2001.
Last Year: Much was made of the Brewers finally regaining a Wisconsin minor league affiliate, but the action on the field failed to live up to the buzz in the stands. Under second-year skipper Jeff Isom, the team sputtered to a 58-81 record while struggling on both sides of the ball.
Home Park: While the rumor fans will sit on the Les Stumpf Ford Bleachers in the Aurora Medical Stands by Time Warner Field at Fox Cities Stadium is false, the team will indeed play at Fox Cities Stadium in 2010. In addition to the Timber Rattlers, the 5,500-seat stadium also hosts the WIAA state baseball championships and the NCAA Division III College World Series.
2009 League Averages: .256/.329/.373 for hitters. 3.96 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 for pitchers.
2009 Notables: Brett Lawrie (.274/.348/.454) and Brock Kjeldgaard (.250/.342/.458) highlighted the offense. While one is Milwaukee's top prospect, the other is the low-minors' version of Rob Deer (172 strikeouts!). Of course, Rob Deer types are plenty exciting, even if limited. Wily Peralta and Cody Scarpetta were the best starters, striking out more than one per inning in just over 100 innings each.
Helena - Pioneer League (R) and Arizona - Arizona League (R) start play in June. Don't worry about them yet.