This is part four 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.
With the recent realignment of the PCL, the Sky Sox switched back to the American Conference after nine years in the Pacific Conference.
The fourth featured team will be the Omaha Storm Chasers — the Triple-A affiliate for the Kansas City Royals.
Baseball in Omaha
Professional baseball has been in and out of Omaha since 1879, but has been part of the Triple-A level non-stop since 1969. Omaha also had a Triple-A team from 1955-1962, but once the original American Association disbanded, baseball in Omaha went on a seven-year hiatus. When baseball returned in 1969, the Omaha Royals (now the Storm Chasers) became a Triple-A team in the new American Association for the Kansas City Royals. When the American Association disbanded again in 1997, Omaha was absorbed into the Pacific Coast League, where it has stayed put since. Since 1948 and until 2010, the minor league teams in Omaha were hosted at the famed Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, also the home of the College World Series until the tournament was moved to a new downtown ballpark, TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. The Storm Chasers now play at Werner Park in suburban Sarpy County.
RHP Kyle Zimmer is the Royals’ top prospect and was the club’s first-round draft pick in 2012. Zimmer spent much of 2013 with High-A Wilmington where he made 18 starts and finished with a 4-8 record. In 89.2 innings, Zimmer had an ERA of 4.82, but did strike out 113 batters. Toward the end of the season, Zimmer did see a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas where he found better luck.
In four starts, Zimmer pitched 18.2 innings with 27 strikeouts against just five walks, and had a 1.93 ERA. He also held opponents to a .162 batting average.
RHP Yordano Ventura has a fastball that consistently hits in the upper-90s on the radar gun along with a curveball that can be unhittable at times, according to MLB.com.
The 22-year-old spent time at the Double-A, Triple-A and the major league level in 2013. In 26 games at the minor league level (25 starts), Ventura compiled an 8-6 record and a 3.14 ERA. In 134.2 innings, Ventura struck out 155 batters.
Ventura, who might contend as the Royals’ fifth starter in 2014, was a September call-up in 2013 and performed well in three starts. In 15.1 innings, Ventura struck out 11 batters and had an ERA of 3.52.
SS Orlando Calixte spent all of 2013 with Double-A Wilmington and was the Royals’ eighth top prospect last season. In 123 games, Calixte hit .250 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI.
Calixte, a native of the Dominican Republic, was signed as an international free agent in 2010.
3B Cheslor Cuthbert split 2013 between High-A and Double-A and could possibly face the Sky Sox when the two teams play each other later in the season. In 124 games split between the two levels in 2013, the 21-year-old hit .247 with eight home runs, 59 doubles and 37 doubles.
In 2014, Omaha will boast a new manager for the first time since 2003 when Brian Poldberg takes over the reigns on Opening Day. Poldberg will take over for longtime manager Mike Jirschele who has taken Omaha to three consecutive PCL Championship series in the past three years, including two Triple-A National Championships, winning it all in 2013. Poldberg has been a part of the Royals organization for about 30 years and even played for Omaha from 1983-85.
Most recently, Poldberg has spent the last six years as the manager for Kansas City’s Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas and led the 2010 team to the Texas League Championship. Poldberg has managed a total of 14 seasons in the Royals organization.
Notable Alumni: Clint Hurdle, the former Colorado Rockies manager, spent the 1977 and ‘79 seasons in Omaha. In 1977, Hurdle hit .328 with 16 home runs and 66 RBI. He also played 68 games for Omaha in 1979 where he hit .236. Hurdle, who is now the manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates went on to play 10 seasons at the major league level before retiring at the age of 29. He was the Rockies’ manager for eight seasons (2002-09)
OF Carlos Beltran didn’t play for Omaha prior to making his major league debut, but did make an appearance with the team on a rehab assignment in 2000 just a year after winning the American League Rookie of the Year. In just five games, Beltran hit .333 with two home runs and two RBI. At the major league level, Beltran has been one of the top outfielders in the game. In 16 seasons, he has 2,228 hits, 358 home runs and 1,327 RBI. This past offseason, Beltran signed a three-year contract with the New York Yankees worth $45 million.
Prior to a Hall of Fame career, 3B George Brett spent two seasons with Omaha in 1973 and 1974. In 117 games in 1973, Brett hit .284 with eight home runs and 64 RBI. He also had more walks than strikeouts, he walked 48 times compared to 45 strikeouts. He also played 16 games for Omaha in 1974. At the major league level, Brett was one of the game’s greatest hitters. He finished his career with a .305 average, 3,154 hits, 317 home runs, 1,596 RBI and 1,583 runs. He also had 665 doubles and 201 stolen bases.
2014 meetings: at Omaha from July 4-6; Home from July 11-13; Home from Aug. 7-11; at Omaha from Aug. 28-Sept. 1
Sky Sox head-to-head Record vs. Omaha: 58-89, 34-41 at home, 24-48 on road
Recent match-ups: The Sky Sox are 6-2 against the Storm Chasers since 2012.
Total elevation in Omaha: About 1,090 feet
Baseball in Omaha: 1900-1936, 1947-54, 1955-63, 1969-present
Memorable games – On May 13, 2006, Sky Sox pitchers Sun-Woo Kim and Steve Colyer combined for a one-hitter in a 9-0 road win against Omaha. Kim got the nod and went eight innings before Colyer finished the game.
On July 14, 2001, the Sky Sox defeated Omaha, 12-0 in the first game of a double header. It is only the 11th time in more than 3,500 games the Sky Sox pitched a shutout and defeated their opponent by more than 10 runs.
Part One – Iowa Cubs
Part Two – Memphis Redbirds
Part Three – Nashville Sounds
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 the American Southern, and Colorado Springs will take Nashville’s spot in the American Northern.
Albuquerque will go to the 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.