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.
Since the former Potomac Cannons lined up as an affiliate of the newly named Washington Nationals, they have played a vital role in creating a core nucleus that has made the big club competitive, hence the 2012 and 2014 NL East Division titles. Players such as Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen, Michael Taylor and Anthony Rendon have made their mark with Washington, while players such as Derek Norris, Billy Burns, and Adrian Nieto are making their mark with other organizations. This focus on player development has resulted in Carolina League championships in 2008, 2010, and 2014.
The 2015 squad is looking just as promising.
Highly touted position players Drew Ward, Wilmer Difo, Spencer Kieboom are certainly living up to their promise. 3B Ward has posted a .268 batting average with 17 RBIs. C Kieboom is batting .262 with a .397 OB%. SS Wilmer Difo batted .320 with a .386 OB% and 14 RBIs before he was promoted to AA on April 28th. Also of note, Smithfield-native CF Isaac Ballou has also impressed the Potomac faithful with a nice followup to last season in Woodbridge. Ballou has played in 27 games, batted .292, and is the only regular to not make an error so far in 2015.
On the mound, leading the rotation is RH Nick Pivetta and his 1-3 record but a 1.41 ERA. Brian Rauh went 2-0 with a 0.51 ERA in 3 starts before he moved on to AA. Highly touted RH Reynaldo Lopez made his debut with Potomac on Thursday May 7th, and dazzled, allowing 2 hits and no walks over 5 scoreless innings enroute to a win. In the bullpen, hard throwing RH Jake Johansen has struckout 22 batters in 16 innings enroute to a 2.81 ERA.
So, as you can see, the 2015 squad in Woodbridge is well stocked again. Will it lead to a 4th title in 8 years? We will see.
When Major League Baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005, in the form of the newly named Washington Nationals, it marked a return after 34 years, when the second coming of the Senators moved to Texas. MLB allowed the Montreal Expos to relocate to DC and sold the team to local ownership, who then had a tough task ahead rebuilding a franchise from top to bottom.
When the team moved to DC and the new owners took over, the new local fan base thought that it would mean lots of money spent on star free-agents to make the team instant contenders. The Lerner family had other ideas. They wanted to have long-term success for the franchise, and they believed that the best way to do that was to invest in the minor league system and player development.
One of the first things the franchise did was to jump at the chance to have one of their minor league affiliates close by, and just 20 miles away from homeplate at Nationals Park, they found that in Woodbridge, with the former Potomac Cannons, newly minted Potomac Nationals, and Potomac was all too happy to oblige. The Cannons franchise had 5 different parent clubs-Yankees, Pirates, White Sox, Cardinals, Reds-in 21 years in Woodbridge, so stability for the organization was truly welcomed.
The Washington Nationals have had some success in DC in recent years. After 81 wins in their inaugural season in the nation’s capital, the team fell on some hard times on the field, but stayed the course while focusing on player development. It has paid off, as the team has 2 NL East Division titles under its belt-one more than the total the franchise won in 36 seasons in Montreal. While both have resulted in 1st round playoff losses, the team has turned the corner and has a promising future ahead of it.
What can they attribute this to? For one thing, their relationship with their Single-A Carolina League affiliate out in the suburbs. Some former Potomac Nationals have made it to Washington. 2B Anthony Rendon (2012) is an everyday player and in 2014, his second full season in the majors, he won his first Silver Slugger award. SS Ian Desmond (2005-2007) has won 3 consecutive Silver Slugger Awards-something only accomplished by one other SS, Barry Larkin. On the mound, RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2008) has won 57 games, was a 2-time all-star, tied Adam Wainwright for the NL lead with 16 wins in 2013, and on September 28, 2014, the final day of the season, pitched the Nationals first no-hitter, an accomplishment all the more remarkable by the diving catch made by another Potomac alumni, OF Steven Souza (2012-2014), for the third out in the ninth inning to secure the feat. In the bullpen, RH Craig Stammen (2006-2008), RH Aaron Barrett (2012), and LH Ross Detwiler (2007-2008) have developed into solid contributors.
The Potomac franchise won Carolina League championships in 2008, 2010, and 2014. This bodes well for the future of the Potomac-to-Washington pipeline.
The MLB awards season is in full swing, as the 2014 Silver Slugger awards were presented yesterday. Taking home the honors for their respective positions are a pair of hitters who were instrumental to the success of the 2014 Washington Nationals, who won their second division title in three seasons. Both also passed through the Northern Virginia suburbs of their major league employers.
SS Ian Desmond (Potomac, 2005-2007) took home the honors for his position. he batted .255, but hit 24 homers, one off his career high, and did set a personal best with 91 RBIs, which was 7th in the NL. He also showed his prowess on the base paths, as his 82.76% stolen base rate was 10th best in all of the NL. This was the third straight Silver Slugger award for Desmond, and he becomes the first NL SS to win three straight since HOF SS Barry Larkin won 5 in a row from 1988-1992.
3B Anthony Rendon (Potomac, 2012) took home his first Silver Slugger award, just two years after playing in Woodbridge. The 24-yr old Rendon had his first full season in the major leagues, and wowed Nationals nation. He batted .287 with 21 HR and 83 RBIs, and led the NL with 111 runs scored. His 66 extra-base hits and 176 total hits were each 5th-best in the NL. He had a 6.5 WAR, good for 4th in the NL. Rendon established himself as a major presence in the Nationals lineup, so much so that it will allow Washington to move Ryan Zimmerman to 1B and allow Adam LaRoche to depart via free agency.
Ian Desmond. Anthony Rendon. Past Potomac Nationals. Future infield of the Washington Nationals. And now, Silver Sluggers.
Roberto Clemente was a great ballplayer but also was well known for his charity work off the field. As a result, every year MLB awards the “Roberto Clemente” award to the one player who gives back to the community through whatever charitable endeavors they are the most passionate about. One player is nominated from each team and then fans vote on the winner.
The 2014 slate of candidates is out, and this year’s choices have a certain Virginia feel to them. It includes three Virginia-natives and one players who played in Virginia on their way to the majors.
From the Detroit Tigers, P Justin Verlander (Goochland/ODU) does various endeavors that help veterans in the Detroit area, including helping with renovations at a rehab facility, providing funding for mental health for veterans, and hosting veterans in his suite at Comerica Park on his game nights.
From the Colorado Rockies, OF Michael Cuddyer (Chesapeake) may have had a lost 2014 season, with numerous injuries and multiple stints on the DL, but he did not let that get him down and still gave back to the Denver community. He has been a huge part of the Rockies startup program to help eradicate violence in schools by encouraging high school students to perform random acts of kindness in the community. He also makes appearances in the schools on behalf of the Rockies and this program. He also provides a suite at Coors field to allow disadvantaged youth to see a MLB game live.
From the New York Mets, 3B David Wright (Chesapeake) may be playing the hot corner in the big city of New York, but he has never forgotten his Virginia roots. He started an initiative to help the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, based in Norfolk and the only free-standing children’s hospital in Virginia, provide for the development of needy children, and in 4 years, this initiative has raised $560,000. He also gives back to the New York Community, visiting a NYC firehouse every September 11 to recognize firefighters, and has also donated lots of cash and resources to help with the clean up from Hurricane Sandy.
From the Washington Nationals, SS Ian Desmond (Potomac Nationals) sits on the Board of Directors for the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, a facility and organization that uses the game of baseball to promote healthy lifestyles and character development for at-risk youth. In 2012, thanks to the power of social media, Desmond met through twitter a 20-year old man with neurofibramitosis, the two formed a special bond, and Desmond went back to twitter to start a campaign to raise money to fight this disease. The goal was to raise $10,000-they raised $32,000, all of which goes to NF awareness.
So some good candidates this year. All are worthy causes, and all are exactly what Roberto Clemente would have wanted.
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.