In the second half of the 2014 California League preview, we examine the league’s Southern division. While teams in the South are not overloaded with prospects, some of the biggest names in the minor leagues will begin the season here.
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High Desert Mavericks
Parent Club: Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker started the season with the Mavericks, but only on a rehab assignment. Beyond the Mariners’ top pitching prospect, lefty Tyler Pike is the most recognizable pitcher in the rotation. Just 20 years old, Pike performed well in the Midwest League last season, compiling a 7-4 record and 2.37 ERA in 22 starts for Clinton. He held hitters to a .194 average and struck out 90 in 110 innings as a teenager.
There are few locations friendlier to hitters than High Desert. D.J. Peterson should enjoy his stay, through it could be a short one. The 22-year old corner infielder hit .303/.365/.553 with 13 homers and 47 RBI combined between Everett and Clinton last season. He will be joined by the system’s top catching prospect, Tyler Marlette, as well as outfielder Gabriel Guerrero.
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Inland Empire 66ers
Parent Club: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels are considered by many to have one of the shallowest talent pools around. However, the 66ers won the Cal League championship last season, and welcome some intriguing prospects for a repeat run.
Cam Bedrosian seems to have settled into a bullpen role and could move quickly through the system with a strong start to 2014. After spending most of 2013 with Burlington, the 22-year old threw nine scoreless innings for the Sixers at the end of last season. The Georgia native has seen an increase in velocity since settling in as a reliever and struck out 78 hitters in 63 total innings last year. He could end up as a closer like his old man. Nate Smith, who had an impressive Opening Day start, and Kyle McGowin, who also pitched well in his first start of the season, will anchor the rotation.
Shortstop Jose Rondon celebrated his 20th birthday last month and proved to the Angels he was ready to jump the Midwest League for a spot in San Bernardino. The native of Venezuela hit .298/.359/.399 for Orem last season, and showed a solid glove and decent speed.
Cal Towey is off to a hot start for the club, primarily as the team’s DH. Towey has also caught and played right field so far for the 66ers, and may see time at third base as well. He was impressive in 2013, posting a .317/.492/.543 line with eight homers and 53 RBI in 70 games in the Pioneer League. The 24-year old also showed nice speed, stealing 13 bases and collecting 6 triples for the Owlz and proved worthy of an accelerated appointment to IE.
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Lake Elsinore Storm
Parent Club: San Diego Padres
While fans in Lake Elsinore will not have the benefit of watching the system’s top pitching prospect, lefty Max Fried, due to an injury, there will still be plenty of pitching talent to come through the Padres Advanced Class-A affiliate this season.
Right handed pitching prospects Zach Eflin and Joseph Ross give the Storm one of the better one-two combinations in the California League. Eflin, who turns 21 today, was 7-6 with a 2.73 ERA in 22 starts for Fort Wayne last season. Ross, 20, was also impressive in 23 starts, compiling a 5-8 record and 3.75 ERA.
The biggest bat in the lineup belongs to Hunter Renfroe, the 2013 first round pick. In 43 games last season, the outfielder hit .271/.308/.459 with six home runs and 25 RBI split between Eugene and Fort Wayne. Third baseman Gabriel Quintana had nine homers and 44 RBI in 347 at-bats for Fort Wayne last season.
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Parent Club: Houston Astros
You won’t get far in any conversation about the 2014 JetHawks without mentioning their Opening Day roster includes the top overall pick in each of the last two drafts. However, there is more than just two Astros prospects that will see the California League, and possibly beyond, this season.
Led by a strong pitching staff, the JetHawks must be considered among the favorites to win the league championship in 2014. Mark Appel and Lance McCullers will headline the starting rotation this season in Lancaster. While Appel’s stay may be short, expect to see McCullers for the majority of the year. Josh Hader and Kyle Smith will also be in the mix for the JetHawks, giving them one of the most talented collection of arms in the California League.
Lke Appel, Carlos Correa may be on the move early this season. The 19-year old shortstop is off to a hot start to 2014 after an impressive campaign last season in the Midwest League. He will likely put up big numbers as long as he stays in the hitter-friendly Cal League.
Fellow infielder Rio Ruiz showed good pop last year when he connected for 12 home runs in Quad Cities. Outfielders Teoscar Hernandez and Danry Vasquez are an intriguing pair that make Lancaster one of the more well-rounded lineups in the league.
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Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
Dodger fans will have an opportunity to see some of the system’s most talented players in 2014 in Rancho Cucamonga. Also, thanks to the close proximity to the big league club, Quakes fans will also get to see plenty of rehabbing big leaguers. In the season’s opening week, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett and Brian Wilson have already pitched for the club.
While fans will surely be excited to see big leaguers come down to work themselves back into shape, the most exciting pitching prospect in the system, 17-year old Julio Urias will begin the season with the Quakes. He has already put together a full season as a professional, posting a 2.48 ERA in 54 innings across 18 starts for Great Lakes last season. The lefty from Mexico walked only 16 hitters and fanned 67, and allowed opponents to a .227 BAA. Not bad for someone that would be a high school sophomore had he been raised in the United States.
Joining Urias will be fellow lefty Chris Anderson, 21, who was impressive as well in the Midwest League last season. The 2013 first rounder went 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA in 46 innings and 12 starts for the Loons. He struck out 50 hitters and held them to a .201 average.
A full two years older than Urias, shortstop Corey Seager is one of the youngest players in the California League this season. He looked somewhat overmatched in 27 games for the Quakes last year, but hit four home runs in 100 at bats after posting a line of .307/.389/.529 with 12 home runs in 74 games in the Midwest League. Brandon Dixon will man third base for the Quakes this season.