This is part two of a seven-part series previewing the seven American Conference teams in the Pacific Coast League the Colorado Springs Sky Sox will play this season. You can read part one about the Iowa Cubs here.
With the recent realignment of the PCL, the Sky Sox switched back to the American Conference after nine years in the Pacific Conference.
The second featured team will be the Memphis Redbirds — the Triple-A affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Baseball in Memphis
Minor League Baseball has been played in Memphis for nearly every season since 1901 with the exception of 1962-67. Known for the longest time as the Chickasaws, or Chicks, Memphis played in the Southern League from 1978-1997, before moving to Jackson, Tenn. and became the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx (now the Jackson Generals).
When the Chicks left for Jackson, Memphis was awarded a new minor league affiliate in 1998, this time a Triple-A affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals — the Memphis Redbirds.
For the past 15 years, the Redbirds have stuck in Memphis and now is tied for the eighth most valuable Minor League franchise with an estimated net worth of about $29 million, according to Forbes.
The Sky Sox will play the Redbirds 16 times in 2014, eight of which will be in Memphis.
Here are some players to keep an eye out for when the Sky Sox play the Redbirds:
It’s probably doubtful the Sky Sox will see the Cardinals’ top two prospects, OF Oscar Taveras and 2B Kolten Wong, when they face each other in Memphis at the end of April, as these two will try to break the Big Club out of Spring Training.
Rated by MLB.com as the No. 3 prospect in the game, Tavaras is only 21 years old and is slated to develop above average hitting, power and fielding. He missed much of 2013 because of an ankle injury that required season-ending surgery in August, allowing him to only play in 47 games. In 2012 at Double-A Springfield, however, Taveras hit .321 with 23 home runs and 94 RBI.
Wong, the 23-year-old native of Hawaii, was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2011 and is vying for a spot on the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. Wong spent most of last season with Memphis before getting called up at the beginning of August. Despite hitting .303 with 21 doubles, eight triples and 10 home runs at Triple-A, Wong struggled in 32 games with the big club hitting only .153. In Triple-A, Wong also stole 20 bases against only one caught stealing.
Other possible Cardinal prospects the Sky Sox could see are LHP John Gast, OF Stephen Piscotty, and OF Randal Grichuk.
Gast probably won’t rejoin the Redbirds until late in the season if at all. Gast’s 2013 was cut short after having shoulder surgery in July, but was having a terrific season for the Redbirds prior to injury. In seven starts, he pitched 38.2 innings and compiled an ERA of only 1.16 and struck out 35. This is his second time having surgery. Following his senior season of high school, Gast underwent Tommy John surgery.
Piscotty was rated the No. 98th prospect for 2014 by MLB.com and could very well see time in Memphis. Between High-A and Double-A in 2013 — his first full professional season — the former Stanford Cardinal hit .295 with 15 home runs and 59 RB in 112 games.
Grichuk, who was sent to St. Louis from Los Angeles in the trade that sent 3B David Freese and RP Fernando Salas to the Angels, checks in as the Cardinals’ 11th best prospect.
Grichuk was drafted by the Angels in the first round in 2009 with the pick before they drafted All-Star Mike Trout. Grichuk has yet to reach the majors like Trout, but has been a productive outfielder in the minors. Though he only hit .258, Grichuk did hammer out 22 home runs and drove in 64 RBI in Double-A.
The Redbirds will bring back Ron Warner to manage the team. He has skippered Memphis the past two seasons and led Memphis to a 69-75 record in 2013, but missed the playoffs by a single game. Prior to managing the Redbirds, Warner was at the helm of St. Louis’ Double-A team, the Springfield Cardinals, for the previous five years. He also has managed their High-A and Rookie League affiliates.
Before Warner got into coaching, he spent nine years as a player throughout the Cardinals’ minor league system, including Memphis.
Notable Alumni: RF J.D. Drew, who was drafted with the fifth pick in the 1998 MLB draft by the Cardinals out of Florida State, was on the fast track to the majors appearing in 15 games by the end of 1998. But before he skyrocketed to the majors, he played with Memphis briefly during the 1998 and 1999 seasons where he hit four home runs and drove in 28 RBI. Drew went on to be an All-Star in Boston and hit .278 with 242 home runs in 14 years in the Big Leagues with St. Louis, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Boston.
Ever since making it to the majors in 2004, C Yadier Molina, has been essential to the Cardinals’ two World Series championships. The best defensive catcher in the game, Molina has been named to five All-Star teams and has won six consecutive Gold Gloves (2008-2013). In 37 games with Memphis in 2004, Molina hit .302 at the plate and did not commit an error behind the dish.
2B Placido Polanco has been one of the better defensive second baseman and third baseman over the course of his career with three Gold Gloves to his credit (‘07, ‘09, ‘11). He also hit .330 or higher twice. Polanco played parts of ‘98-’99 along with Drew and smacked 23 doubles and drove in 31 runs, while scoring 54 runs himself in 99 games.
During his rookie campaign in 2006, RHP Adam Wainwright, was essential to the Cardinals’ first World Series championship since 1982 as he became the team’s closer toward the end of the season. He capitalized on the opportunity by not allowing a single run in nine postseason games (9.2 IP) and collected four saves, including the final out in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. Since then, Wainwright has transitioned into the Cardinals’ ace. He has won 19 games three times, including a 20-win season in 2010. Wainwright has made three stints with Memphis and has a record of 14-15 with the Redbirds. He has 214 strikeouts in 43 starts.
2014 meetings: At Memphis from April 28-May 1; Home from May 2-5; Home from May 19-22; At Memphis from July 17-20
Sky Sox head-to-head Record vs. Memphis: 54-57, 32-24 at home, 22-33 on road
Recent match-ups: Since 2012, the Sky Sox are 6-2 against the Redbirds.
Total elevation in Memphis: About 337 feet
Mascot: Rockey Redbird
Food item: Item on the menu that looks worth considering are the Parmesan Garlic Fries.
Distance from Security Service Field to AutoZone Park: 1,029 miles
Memorable games – On June 25th, 2000, the Sky Sox defeated the Redbirds, 14-7, and collected a total of 21 hits — the ninth-most in Sky Sox history.
On April 15th, 2004, shortstop Clint Barmes and catcher J.D. Closser each collected five hits on the road at Memphis. It is the only time in team history two players collected at least five hits in the same game on the road.
Below you can find the realigned divisions for the 2014 season. The teams who changed divisions are italicized.
Pacific Northern: Fresno, Reno, Sacramento, Tacoma
Pacific Southern: Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Vegas, Salt Lake
American Northern: Colorado Springs, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Omaha
American Southern: Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Round Rock
Nashville will go to American Southern, and Colorado Springs will take Nashville’s spot in the American Northern.
Albuquerque will go to Pacific Southern and Fresno will take Colorado Springs’ spot in the Pacific Northern.
- Oklahoma City and Memphis switched divisions. Previously in the American Southern, OKC will move to the American Northern and Memphis will move to the American Southern.
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