Some news and notes from around the International League heading into the 2005 season:
Rochester should be Buffalo's top challenger thanks to a pitching staff featuring 23-year-old right-hander Scott Baker, Minnesota's top prospect, and righty Dave Gassner, who won 16 games for the Red Wings in 2004.
Syracuse should benefit from a bigger budget set by the parent Toronto Blue Jays ownership. Former IL MVP Chad Mottola, an outfielder/designated hitter, and second baseman Bryant Nelson (.288 with 161 hits last year at Charlotte) have been signed as free agents. So has veteran closer Matt Whiteside, who had an IL-record 38 saves last year at Richmond.
Scranton-Wilkes/Barre: First baseman Ryan Howard (46 HRs last year between Double-A and Triple-A) might start the season with the Red Barons. Danny Sandoval, a 25-year-old Venezuelan shortstop who led the Double-A Texas League with 169 hits, was signed as a free agent.
Pawtucket: Catcher Kelly Shoppach is the top prospect for now, but highly touted shortstop Hanley Ramirez is likely to arrive this year.
Ottawa: Will the Lynx benefit from the loss of baseball in Montreal or will fans care even less and make this the last season in Canada's capital? First baseman Walter Young, a 6-foot-5, 275-pounder, set a franchise mark with 33 homers last year at Double-A Bowie and graduates to Triple-A this season.
Around the IL
In West Division news, Indianapolis is the only team in the league to switch parents (from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh). The Pirates' top pitching prospect, 6-5 Bryan Bullington, will be at Indy. The Ball State grad was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft, the first Mid-American Conference athlete ever drafted as a top overall choice in any sport. He was 12-7 last year at Double-A Altoona. . . . Defending West champ Columbus will have a strong pitching staff led by Colter Bean, Jorge DePaula and closer Sam Marsonek. Ex-Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent returns for his third season as manager, and former major-league slugger Frank Howard will be the first base coach. . . . Toledo's lineup will feature outfielder Curtis Granderson, Detroit's No. 1 prospect. He had a big year (.301, 21 HRs, 94 RBIs) in 2004 at Double-A Erie. . . . Top Cincinnati pitching prospect Richie Gardner should spend much of the year at Louisville.
In the South Division, Richmond returns IL All-Star second baseman Pete Orr. Buffalo native Rick Albert is back as hitting and first base coach for manager Pat Kelly. . . . A pair of former third basemen with World Series rings will be in charge at Norfolk. Ken Oberkfell ('82 Cardinals) will be the manager while Howard Johnson ('86 Mets) will be the hitting coach. They were at Double-A Binghamton last year. . . . Bill Evers, who has 1,316 minor-league wins, returns for his eighth season as manager at Durham and will have 20-year-old megaprospect B.J. Upton back at shortstop for the Tampa affiliate. Outfielders Jonny Gomes (26 HRs) and Joey Gathright (33 SBs) are key returnees. . . . Former Philadelphia Phillies manager Nick Leyva has returned as manager at Charlotte. He previously led the Knights in 2000 and 2001.
Outfielder Jason Tyner and infielder Brent Abernathy, key members of the club during last season's championship drive, are expected to be in Rochester. . . . Jack Cressend, who tied Buffalo's franchise record with nine straight wins last year, will be in the bullpen for Pawtucket. . . . Utility man Earl Snyder, who hit an IL-high 36 home runs last year for the PawSox, is ticketed for Durham. . . . 1B Eric Crozier should start in Syracuse but has a good chance to get to Toronto. . . . Scranton's roster is expected to include catcher/DH Chris Coste, OF Mark Budzinski, IF/OF Anthony Medrano and P Mike Bacsik.
INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE 2004 FINAL STANDINGS
Durham 7767.5353 1/2
Norfolk 7272.5008 1/2
Charlotte 6874.47911 5/8
Toledo 6578.45514 1/2
Source: Buffalo Bisons