When the Texas Rangers decided not to renew their PDC with the Carolina League’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans after the 2014 season, the CL franchise was left looking for a new parent club. It did not take long for the Pelicans to get that new ML affiliate-in fact, they got one of the most storied franchises in ML history, the Chicago Cubs.
Yes, the same Chicago Cubs who are often referred to as the “Lovable Losers”, the same team that has the longest pennant drought in baseball today-no NL pennant since 1945, no World Series championship since 1908.
The Chicago Cubs, a truly iconic franchise, signed a 2-year PDC (through 2016) with a franchise that is based in a rather iconic city itself. Myrtle Beach gets numerous rewards for being a great family vacation destination, and baseball fans and those who flock to the “Grand Strand” for summer vacations will see future Wrigley mainstays.
The inaugural season of the Cubs at the Strand was a smashing success, as the Pelicans won the franchise’s first Mills Cup since 2000. While a slew of Cubs prospects played here, giving the Wrigley faithful hope for the future, leading the charge were a pair of former Virginia Teach Hokies, P Brad Markey and OF Mark Zagunis.
Markey, drafted in the 19th round of the 2014 draft out of VT, worked his way up to Myrtle Beack approximately a year later, and he delivered in a huge way. As a Pelican, he went 7-0 with a 1.15 ERA in 9 games (8 starts). In the Mills Cup finals, he started Game 2, and pitched 7 hitless innings. Remember this name, Cubs fans!
Earlier in the same 2014 draft, in the 3rd round, the Cubs drafted a decent bat out of VT, Zagunis. After 57 games with 3 different affiliates in ’14-during which time he batted .288 with a .420 OB%, Zagunis was assigned to Myrtle Beach for 2015, and he came through. In 115 games, Zagunis batted .271 with a .406 OB%. He finished the season in the Top 10 in the Carolina League in OB%, hits, and RBIs. MLBPipeline.com, which ranks the Top 30 prospects in each system, had him at 18th in the Cubs system entering 2015-when the 2015 minor league season ended, he shot up 9 spots to 9th place, essentially forcing himself into the radar of Cubs management!
Brad Markey. Mark Zagunis. 2 former Hokies. 2 future Cubs.
The 2015 Carolina League postseason begins this week, and the first round will include the Lynchburg Hillcats (Indians) taking on the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Should Lynchburg advance, they will play for the Mills Cup, the Carolina League’s version of the World Series. A win would not only give the Hillcats their 3rd title in 7 years, but it would extend Virginia’s dominance in the Carolina League.
Dominance, you ask? There are three VA teams in the league-the Woodbridge-based Potomac Nationals (Nationals), Salem Red Sox (Red Sox), and the aforementioned Hillcats. Since 2008, not only have all 3 teams won a title, but they have combined to win 6 of the last 7 Mills Cup titles. In 2007, the then-Salem Avalanche went to the Mills Cup finals and lost, but since then:
CAROLINA LEAGUE CHAMPIONS SINCE 2008:
All Virginia based teams! For good measure, the 2009 runner-up was Salem, and the 2013 runner-up was Potomac.
Let’s see if the Hillcats can continue our state’s dominance and make it 7 of 8 champions this time around.
One of the longest-tenured franchises in all of minor league baseball, much less the Carolina League, will have a new parent club in 2015. The Lynchburg Hillcats have parted ways with the Atlanta Braves after four years, and will now become the High-A Carolina League affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians chose not to renew their affiliation with the Carolina Mudcats (formerly the Kinston Indians), a franchise partnership that dates back to 1987, a 25-year affiliation, and decided to go in a different direction, hooking up with a full-season affiliate that is the furthest from Cleveland, 480 miles apart from homeplate at Progressive Field. The deal between the Indians and Hillcats runs through 2018.
Meanwhile, the Braves chose not to re-up after just 4 years in Hillcity, a partnership in which the Hillcats won the 2012 Carolina League championship and current Atlanta Braves stars Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons, and former UVA star Phil Gosselin played here.
Over the last 10 years or so, the Commonwealth of Virginia has become a real goldmine of baseball talent. It used to be football, but baseball is emerging. In recent years, Justin Upton, David Wright, Justin Verlander, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Zimmerman, just some of the notable baseball talent that has come out of our great state.
So, who could be part of the next wave of Virginia talent? That is the focus of this new series. I have looked back at some minor league stats of this year and draft choices of the last 5 years, and I found some names that I like. They will be mentioned, but not ranked like a Top prospects list.
We start off with Red Sox IF Reed Gragnani, a Richmond native. At 5’11 and weighing 180 pounds, Gragnani, a switch-hitting second baseman, played his college ball at UVA, and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 21st round of 2013. He finished up 2013 by batting .277 with a .356 On Base Percentage in 52 games with Lower-A ball at Greenville and Lowell.
This means that 2014 was his first full season of professional baseball, and he delivered. Now, living in Woodbridge, the home of the Carolina League champion Potomac Nationals, I had a chance to watch him play up close when his Salem Red Sox came to Woodbridge to play Potomac, and I was very impressed by what I saw in him. Gragnani was a solid hitter and seemed to show the right discipline at the plate. He finished the season batting .300, tied for second in the Carolina League, and led the league with a .409 On Base Percentage. He also drew 64 walks, good for 4th in the league. Gragnani made the Carolina League mid-season all-star team as well as the End of Season All-star team.
Reed Gragnani definitely has a future in the big leagues, and Red Sox Nation will be happy with him.
The Potomac Nationals have had tremendous success lining up with their big league parent club just up the road in DC. In 10 seasons, the Potomac franchise has seen the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen, Anthony Rendon, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and others stop over in Woodbridge on their way to Nationals Park. In the 10 years, the Potomac franchise has made 5 playoff appearances, played in the Carolina League championship 4 times, and won 3 league championships-2008, 2010, 2014. In addition, the big Nationals have appreciated having a minor league affiliate so close that they can send their own players down to rehab from injuries. Over the years, people like Jayson Werth, Ivan Rodriguez, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos,
So the Nationals, as you can see, are very happy with Potomac. That showed this week when they announced that they have signed a 2-year extension of their player development contract (PDC) with Potomac, going through the 2016 season.
Hector Silvestre dominated all game, Randolph Oduber hit a 3-run homerun to lead a balanced offense, and the Potomac Nationals won their 3rd Carolina League Championship in 7 years last night by beating Myrtle Beach 5-1, taking the series 3-1. John Wooten was named series MVP.
John Wooten hit two homers, they came back from a 7-2 deficit, and Potomac will go for the Mills Cup championship tomorrow night.