Minor League Opening Day 2014It’s finally here! After seven long months of offseason, the 2014 Minor League Baseball season kicks off tonight for the Nashville Sounds, Huntsville Stars, Brevard County Manatees, and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
Nashville opens up on the road against the Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals) at 7:05. Johnny Hellweg gets the start on the mound for the Sounds.
Huntsville also opens on the road, taking on the Jacksonville Suns (Marlins) at 6:05. Brooks Hall is the scheduled starter for the Stars.
Brevard County will be at home, playing host to the Daytona Cubs (Cubs) at 6:35. Tyler Wagner will get the start for the Manatees.
Wisconsin is also at home, taking on the Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals) at 6:35. Taylor Williams will be on the bump for the Timber Rattlers.
In anticipation of the new season, we thought it would be fun to make some staff predictions for 2014.
MINOR LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mitch Haniger – Haniger had a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League last season and followed it up with a solid spring. I think he’ll handle the jump to Double-A and continue to impress. In a system with a lot of players with boom or bust potential, Haniger seems like one of the safest bets to put together a great season. (Brad Krause)
Tyrone Taylor – After handling the Midwest League fairly well as a 19-year-old, Taylor seems primed for a big season in 2014, even in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. If he starts strong, I would think he could see Huntsville before the end of the season and that would be quite impressive at just 20 years of age. (Marcus Young)
Orlando Arcia – Some folks seem a bit surprised that Arcia isn’t repeating Wisconsin to start the year. But I, for one, am happy to see him moving up to Brevard County. I worry about how much time he’ll actually spend at shortstop with Yadiel Rivera there also, but I think Arcia makes a big leap forward this year and puts it all together. (Sam Peterson)
Hunter Morris – Morris will be repeating Nashville and I think we’ll see improvement on his numbers from last year. The power numbers are going to be there for Morris, and if, at the end of the day, he can hit for more average, he should certainly be in the running for player of the year. (Chris Collins)
MINOR LEAGUE PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Jimmy Nelson – He’s the best of what the Brewers have in the minor leagues right now and I think he’ll continue to show that this season. I think the only thing that holds him back from winning this award will be an inevitable jump to Milwaukee at some point. (Marcus Young)
Jimmy Nelson – Nelson has been impressive when I’ve seen him in the past and I think that he’ll slot right in behind Hellweg in that stacked Nashville rotation, continuing the success he’s had the past few seasons. (Sam Peterson)
Johnny Hellweg – Hellweg winning the award in back-to-back seasons might be difficult, but he’s back in the PCL, where he was named the league’s best pitcher in 2013. The Brewers obviously want him in the rotation and I expect similar results from him this year. (Chris Collins)
Taylor Jungmann – Jungmann is heading back to Double-A to start the season, but I’d expect to see him in Nashville before the All-Star break. I think the Brewers would have liked to push him to AAA to start the season, but with a full rotation, a little extra time in AA could help him continue to develop. (Brad Krause)
Devin Williams – Milwaukee decided against pushing Williams to Wisconsin, but I think we’ll see big things from the youngster once Helena starts play in June. He gives the Brewers a high-upside arm that could prove to be the best in the system. (Sam Peterson)
Tucker Neuhaus – The left-handed hitting Neuhaus should improve upon his debut in the AZL last summer. I’m predicting big things for him this year. He also plays a position of need for the Brewers so a big year in Helena should up his value as a prospect. (Chris Collins)
Jorge Lopez – My gut says this is the year that the former second round pick puts it all together. He had a solid season in Wisconsin last year and I’m anticipating even more from him in Brevard. The stuff is there. It’s just about command and consistency. If Lopez can find those things, he should remind people why the Brewers drafted him so high. (Brad Krause)
Cameron Garfield – Garfield really should be heading to Huntsville to start the season, but for whatever reason the Brewers felt the need to start him back in Brevard. I think offensively he’ll make short work of the FSL and force the Brewers to promote him, and if reports of his improved defense this spring are accurate, he could be a top ten prospect by season’s end. (Marcus Young)
Clint Coulter – I’d still like to see him get out from behind the plate, but I think Coulter, who is still very young, will handle the Midwest League much better his second time through. I’m expecting much better numbers offensively and increased power from the 20-year-old. (Chris Collins)
Chris McFarland – McFarland should fair much better in his return trip to Wisconsin. He’s got all the tools to be the best second base prospect in the Brewers organization and he will hopefully see more regular playing time, resulting in better numbers from the 21-year-old McFarland.(Brad Krause)
Jed Bradley – Maybe I’m crazy for still holding out hope for Bradley. But he’s a big lefty who was a former first round pick so there has to be something there. It’s make-or-break for him in his third season at BC, but I’m going all in on Bradley and saying this is the year he starts to shine. (Marcus Young)
Hiram Burgos – Burgos is a bit of a forgotten man for the Brewers, but I like the rotational depth he provides them. I’m not saying he’s going to suddenly turn in to a top of the rotation starter, but I think he will make fans remember that he is a pitching prospect to keep an eye on. (Sam Peterson)
MOST EXCITING AFFILIATE
Brevard County – It’s really hard to pick just one. So many things could change with promotions, injuries, trades, etc. But to start the season, that Brevard squad looks really loaded. The team is strong up the middle with Garfield behind the plate, Arcia and Rivera at short/second and Tyrone Taylor in center. They also have Victor Roache and Michael Reed flanking Taylor in the outfield and plenty of quality depth. The pitching staff features some veterans who could enjoy some success as well and they would seem like the most logical team to see some playoff baseball this year. (Brad Krause)
Brevard County – The Manatees will be fun to follow with all of their prospects. How long that team stays together remains to be seen, but they should be exciting from the start. Even if the team doesn’t have a winning season, the prospects they are loaded with will make them a must follow. (Marcus Young)
DSL Brewers – I’m really looking forward to seeing how some of the new signings like Nicolas Pierre and Franley Mallen do this summer, and if the Gilbert Lara rumors are true, that could add even more excitement to those Dominican box scores.(Sam Peterson)
Brevard County – About 80% of the prospects that interest me are starting off the year at Brevard so they’ll have my attention early on. Hopefully all those players aren’t there for a full season, but to start out with, I expect this team to be the most exciting. (Chris Collins)
We’ll see in about five months how right or wrong some of us were in our predictions. But it’s all in good fun, and hopefully we will have plenty of exciting performances to look forward to as the season goes along. Best of luck to the Brewers and all of their affiliates as we prepare to once again hear those wonderful words….PLAY BALL!