Pacific Coast League: Where do Teams Stand?


The Pacific Coast League (PCL) looks to be one of the most of competitive leagues in all of minor league baseball with half of the teams already sporting a .500 or better record to start the season. With teams tied for the lead in two of the four divisions, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the PCL champion crowned after a season of drama and close victories.  There is a long season still to go, a lot can happen, and with so much talent in one league, it should come down to the wire. Keeping that in mind here are the early lead dogs in the divisional races.

The Pacific Coast League has always been known for their big bats. Big time prospects like Peter O’Brien, Preston Tucker and Tim Wheeler are already filling box scores with five home runs each this season.  Of course, the PCL’s biggest bat is now tearing up the big leagues, as Kris Bryant has departed to The Big Show on the North Side.

That’s what makes solid pitching performances, like OkLAhome City’s Mike Bolsinger consecutive shutout outings so impressive. Fellow team mate Zach Lee also gets some recognition with a 0.75 ERA over his first two starts.

All in all, the first stretch of the PCL season has been exactly what was to be expected. High octane offense with some outstanding pitching prospects leading the way. Here is your first rundown of the season.

Next: PCL American Northern

American Northern

Oklahoma City Dodgers: The Dodgers are 9-3 after opening their inaugural season with a 2-0 loss against the Round Rock Express.  The Dodgers rotation has been almost as strong as their MLB affiliation’s rotation with veteran Scott Baker leading a group of young highly-talented prospects Zach Lee, Mike Bolsinger, and Joe Wieland.  After winning three out of four against the Iowa Cubs this past week they moved into sole possession of first place. 

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Joe Wieland displayed major league potential going five innings while allowing only two hits, no walks, and striking out five to lower his earned-run average to 1.80. Their offense is still struggling as their team maintains a combined .222 batting average and .314 on-base percentage.  They’ve won five games by one run largely attributed to pitching with some offensive pop from third baseman Buck Britton and right-fielder Kyle Jensen who have 15 of the team’s 36 RBIs and are the only two players with averages over .300.

30-year old veteran Chris Heisey is taking advantage of the thin air in most PCL parks and is off to a homer happy start to 2015. He leads the way for the Dodgers with four home runs. Joc Pederson is off to a solid start in LA, so there is no room in an already crowded Dodgers’ outfield for Heisey. His bat will be solid in the heart of the OKC lineup.

Their pitching will take them far, but they will need more production from the lineup to compete in the long-run.

Next: PCL American Southern

American Southern

Nashville Sounds: The Sounds are 7-5 in their first season as the Oakland Athletics’ Triple-A Affiliate.  They’re doing it mainly at the plate with a combination of patience and patience and “small ball”.  Similar to the Athletics, the Sounds get on base at a high rate with a team on-base percentage of .364 and league leading 55 walks.

Their lineup has a group of strong hitters led by center-fielder Billy Burns.  Burns leads a group of four Nashville players with batting averages over .300 who have played at least half of their 12 games this season. Second baseman Joey Wendle leads the team in RBIS with 13 in 51 at-bats.  Their hot start is partially attributed to the team’s ability to get to pitchers early. They’ve outscored their opposition 12 to 1 in first innings this season.

The Sounds, however, have struggled with strikeouts, ranking second in the league with 103 and have looked lost on the mound with only Chris Bassit holding an ERA below 3.4 and WHIP below 1.5 among their pitchers with at least two games started.

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They’ll need to get their pitching on track to hold the division lead.

Round Rock Express: The Express have gone 7-5 over their first 12 games on the backs of four capable starters and three hitters who they’re hoping could be nicknamed the Killer Ts by season’s end.  Those three hitters, Tomas Telis, Trever Adams, and Thomas Field are the only players on the roster who have played six games and sport a .300 average and .350 on-base percentage. Field has been particularly effective, leading the team with four home runs, including a two run shot against the Memphis Redbirds on Sunday.

Their pitching staff the ideal combination of youth and experience with top ten Rangers’ prospect Luke Jackson being inconsistent but showing signs of growth through three starts, former top Red Sox prospect Anthony Ranaudo only yielding one earned run, and veteran Wandy Rodriguez quickly proving that he deserves a spot in a major league rotation.

Although neither the pitching staff nor lineup have excelled thus far, they’ve done enough to keep them in contention while demonstrating promise for the rest of the season. If they can cut down on their strikeouts, which rank third in the league, and be more patient at the plate, they should have a greater chance of reaching that promise.

Next: PCL Pacific Northern

Pacific Northern

Sacramento River Cats: The River Cats may the best two-way team in the Pacific Coast League.  With an 8-4 record to start the season, Sacramento has two high-quality starting pitchers along with an offensive lineup replete with former major leaguers.

Sacramento’s offense was on full display on Sunday afternoon, when they routed the Salt Lake bees 15-7.  Sacramento’s best player, Adam Duvall was at the center of the River Cats’ production and leads the team with a blistering .431 average, 22 hits, 15 RBIs, and 1.278 OPS.  Duvall went 5 for 6 with two doubles, two runs scored, and four RBIs versus the Bees.

Along with Duvall, Sacramento has a roster full of players with major league experience including Travis Ishikawa, Brett Jackson, Darren Ford, and Guillermo Quiroz. Yet it’s 25 year old right-fielder Jarrett Parker who may be the best bet to form a 1, 2 punch at the plate with Duvall as Parker has the power and patience at the plate to make an impact all season. 

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On the mound, the River Cats are led by Robert Coello, Ty Blach, and Austin Fleet.  Coello looked like an ace through his first three starts yielding only five runs and 11 hits in 17 innings.  Blach also performed well, but it was Fleet who dazzled in his first start this season.  Fleet had a no-hitter through four innings and looked to have excellent control and pitch selection, which kept hitters off-balance.  With a 1.20 WHIP through the first 12 games, the staff looks like it has the potential to hold up in the long-haul.

Fresno Grizzlies: The Grizzlies have gone 8-4 in their first 12 games and the 95 percent of the credit is due to their offense.  Left fielder Preston Tucker and third baseman Matt Duffy have played a large part in the offense’s productivity, but the performance of top Astros’ prospect Jon Singleton must be noted. Singleton and Tucker have combined for eight home runs and all three hitters have combined for 38 RBIs.

Each with an on-base percentage above .370 they are a formidable group, which is even more effective when second baseman Nolan Fontana and catcher Max Stassi are contributing.

The issue for Fresno is the lack of any dominating pitcher in their rotation.  The Astros’ top prospects are in their lower-level affiliates, while their PCL squad is filled with replaceable talent. Left-hander Tommy Shirley gives them some hope, but his 4.35 ERA in Triple-A last year and 3.86 ERA this season doesn’t bode well for the Grizzlies’ playoff hopes.

Their league worst 74 strikeouts are 19 fewer than the next pitching staff and their 1.60 WHIP is the third worst in the league.

Yet despite their pitching problems, the fact that they lead the league in RBIs and on-base percentage, while being second in the league in home runs will allow them to stay competitive.

Next: PCL Pacific Southern

Mandatory Photo Credit to Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Pacific Southern

Albuquerque Isotopes: The Isotopes are 7-5 after going 6-3 after in their first nine games.  They’ve done it behind the a plethora of young hitters including First baseman Ben Paulsen and left fielder Tim Wheeler.  Paulson and Wheeler have combined for 24 hits, 18 runs, and 18 RBIs so far this season including an 8 for 9 night with eight runs driven in against the Reno Aces last week.

Along with Wheeler and Paulsen, the Isotopes have catcher Dustin Garneau and right-fielder Brandon Barnes ticketed for productive roles all season who are both tied with Wheeler for the team lead in home runs.  Besides Wheeler, Garneau is the only Isotope to record a five RBI game this season and leads the team with a .409 average.

The pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired, but have former major leaguer John Lannan anchoring the rotation.  Lannan may eventually be promoted due to injury or inconsistency in the Rockies’ rotation, but for now he’s their number one option on the mound.  Jorge De La Rosa looked excellent in his starts as he rehabbed from his groin injury, but he was promoted to the majors this weekend.

If the Isotopes are going to compete in the long-term, they will need top Rockies’ prospect Jon Gray to pitch to his potential. Until then, Albuquerque will have to rely on their bats which currently rank second in the league in home runs and third in the league in doubles.  If they outslug opponents, they could win more than they lose, but if they reach the playoffs, they will need more than Lannan to have any hope of a League Championship.

El Paso Chihuahuas: El Paso may be the surprise team so far this season with a 7-5 record.  After starting the season 2-4, they went on a five game winning streak, one shy of the team record. The Chihuahuas are led by first baseman and former Astros top prospect Brett Wallace.  Wallace is leading the team with a .390 average and .490 on-base percentage. Catcher Austin Hedges has been even more impressive.  Known for his glove, Hedges is leading the team with a .645 slugging percentage and has shown some of the offensive potential that the Padres have been hoping to see.

The Chihuahuas’ rotation has been pitcher short of a disaster. No pitcher besides Bryce Morrow has an earned run average below 5.5 and Morrow’s 1.60 WHIP through two starts indicates that he hasn’t performed up to the level his 1.80 ERA leads you to believe.

With a middling offense that is fourth in the league in RBIs, but at the bottom of the league in almost every other category, the pitching staff will need to get themselves on track in order for the Chihuahuas to be competitive.

*With only 12 games in the books, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played. As the season progresses, injuries and call-ups will change the fate of each ballclub, but the good news for fans is that there looks to be no frontrunner early in the season, making each victory more crucial in the standings.