After an exciting beginning to the Major League season, it is now time to gear up for the always exciting and entertaining minor leagues to start! All this week BK and I will be previewing each full-season squad in anticipation of games beginning on Thursday.
Today we begin with the low-A Dayton Dragons. This figures to be a big year for the Dragons, for a number of reasons. First, after a dismal and embarassing season in 2010, the roster looks to be vastly improved and full of exciting young players. The team will definitely have a much improved record, and a playoff berth seems very possible. Second, the organization figures to set a very impressive record this season. The team has sold out 774 consecutive home games at Fifth Third Field, and if the streak continues, the team should break the current record of consecutive sellouts by a pro sports team (814, currently held by the Portland Trail Blazers) on July 1 of this season. What kind of team can those fans expect to see?
The Dragons play at 5/3 Field. It seats 7,230, plus 29 luxury suites(!) and 3 party decks.
2011 Projected Lineup
1B-Donald Lutz/Dominic D'Anna
OF-Yorman Rodriguez, Juan Duran, Jaren Matthews
It seems like one of these relievers will be put in the starting rotation, but at this point not a single one of them has made a start as a professional, so I have no idea who it might be. There are some promising pitchers listed on the Billings roster, most notably Kyle Lotzkar, so it could be that he will be inserted into the rotation after some more time in extended spring training.
There is some upside in the current rotation. Tanner Robles had a very solid pro debut last year after being drafted out of Oregon State in the 9th round. He ended up striking out 66 in 60 innings with a 2.98 ERA. Daniel Corcino might eventually be moved to the 'pen, but he has already drawn Johnny Cueto comparisons, and Daniel Tuttle has very good stuff, although he had just a mediocre year in Billings last season. Now that he'll be in a more neutral run environment, it'll be interesting to see what kind of numbers he can put up.
But enough about the pitchers. Look at that lineup. It makes me giddy. You've got three top 30 prospects and a bunch of other guys with huge upside. Tucker Barnhart just turned 20 and he walked almost as much as he struck out last season. Devin Lohman is a 3rd round pick who plays a very good SS and 2B. The question is how much he'll hit. Baseball America called David Vidal the best pure hitter the Reds drafted last year (and that includes Yasmani Grandal). Jaren Matthews is one of my sleeper prospects for the entire system this season and beyond. I think he has big time home run potential (he hit 7 in 100 ABs in the AZL) and showed a willingness to take a walk last season. And, well, you all know Hamilton, Rodriguez, and Duran.
As is the case with any low level minor league team, there are enough questions about most of these guys that this could ultimately be a disappointing team. On the flip side, a lot of very good performances could result in enough promotions that many of these guys are gone by the time school is out. Even then, there are enough exciting players in Billings (like Lotzkar and Ronald Torreyes) that could replace them that this team should be fun to watch all summer. And that makes me happy for the poor citizens of Dayton. They deserve a winner!