Tonight at 9:05 Chicago time in Everett, Washington, the Eugene Emeralds will take on the Aqua Sox in their first game of the year. I know you have questions, so I decided to answer them and get you up to speed.
Who are the Eugene Emeralds? I've never heard of them before.
The Emeralds are the Cubs new Class A short-season team in the Northwest League. If somehow you hadn't been paying attention to the "affiliation shuffle" this year, the Emeralds replace the Boise Hawks, just like the Pelicans replaced Daytona and South Bend replaced Kane County.
So why did they change affiliation again?
The Boise Hawks play in an old stadium from the 1980s. The Emeralds play in a state-of-the-art new stadium on the campus of the University of
Nike Oregon. They share the stadium with the Pac-12 Oregon Ducks, but the Ducks are done using it for the year.
Sounds great! Are there any downsides to this?
Check the starting time. Boise is in the Mountain time zone. Eugene is in the Pacific. Not really a problem for the Cubs, but a problem for Midwest fans wanting to follow the team. At least they still get one series a year in Boise.
Umm, what's that thing on the logo?
It's Bigfoot with a giant tree. He's a big Ems fan. Do you have a problem with that?
Why is he green?
He ate something bad at the concession stand? (On the road, of course.) Maybe that's why he looks so angry.
So has everything changed?
Not everything! The manager of last year's Boise Hawks, Gary Van Tol, has shifted over to Eugene and will be leading the Emeralds this season. Ricardo Medina is the hitting coach and former Expo Termel Sledge is the assistant hitting coach. Anderson Tavares is the pitching coach with Dean Stiles serving as the assistant.
Do they have anyone worth watching?
Glad I asked for you. A lot of the Emeralds roster will come out of this season's draft class, once they sign and get processed in Arizona. Until then, there are some interesting holdovers from years past.
Let's start with the pitching. The two biggest names here are a pair of lefties from last year's draft: 4th round pick Carson Sands and 5th round pick Justin Steele. Both were high school draftees who played last year in rookie ball in Mesa with some success. Both are young and promising, with all the good and bad that comes with it. They are also both slated to be starters, but don't freak if you see one of them coming in the game from out of the bullpen in the fourth inning. The Cubs tend to go with tandem starters in short-season A in order to limit innings and provide more opportunities.
Another interesting arm is Jordan Brink, who was taken in the 11th round last year out of Fresno State. Brink was a two-way player in college and is still raw as a pitcher, but has shown a lot of promise
Then there's Dillon Maples, whose at the make-or-break point of his career. Signed away from a commitment to North Carolina for $2.5 million in 2011 (That was before bonus pools), Maples has never been able to get his delivery straightened out and has never been able to throw strikes. He has tons of potential, but this is his fifth year in the system and if he doesn't start throwing strikes quickly, he will likely be gone soon.
Then there is Jae-Hoon Ha, an outfielder who got as high as Triple-A and even homered in the Future Game before his bat stopped hitting. He always had a great arm, so he's going to give it a go as a pitcher now. It will be interesting to see what he'll do this season.
Along with Maples, three more pitchers played for the Hawks last season: Corbin Hoffner, Greyfer Enegua and Sam Wilson. Oscar de la Cruz is making the jump all the way from the Dominican Summer League, but at age 20, he should have the maturity to handle the jump.
I guess this is a new kind of team that doesn't bother hitting?
Man, you can be sarcastic. I'm getting to the hitters. The one name that everyone is going to be following is outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who, along with Gleyber Torres, was the prize of the 2013 international free agent class. The best way I can describe Jimenez is that he's a young Jorge Soler. Errr, make that a younger Jorge Soler.
Another exciting young outfielder is Kevonte Mitchell, whom the Cubs took in the 13th round last year. Overlooked because he was expected to go to college to play basketball, the Cubs convinced him to play baseball for $200,000. He excelled in Arizona last year and looks like a classic leadoff hitter with on-base skills and speed.
Shortstop Frandy Delarosa was a top Cubs international sign from 2012 and is making his stateside debut after spending the past two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He is a little bigger at 6'1" than your typical switch-hitting shortstop and it will be interesting to see how he fills out as his minor league career continues. A move to second base might be possible.
Korean second baseman Ho-Young Son is another speedy guy. The Emeralds are going to steal a lot of bases.
Venezuelan catcher Erick Castillo has had cups of coffee with Boise (last year) and Tennessee (this year)
Catcher Alberto Mineo is from Italy, giving this team a real international flavor.
Great! When is the home opener?
If you're going to be in Eugene on Tuesday, they'll take on the former Cubs affiliate Boise Hawks at 7:05 local time. That's 9:05 Chicago time.
You're really obsessed with the time, aren't you?
My nights just got later until Labor Day.