The Pawtucket Red Sox enter the 2015 season as Governors’ Cup Champions in two of the last three seasons.
With a slew of top prospects and many members from last year’s title run, the PawSox could be in line for another successful postseason run — or at least a solid start to the season since roster turnover is always one of the keys to minor league success.
A possible dynastic run by the PawSox — who will be leaving Pawtucket after the 2016 season but staying in the New England area — is one of many stories to keep an eye on during the 2015 International League season; other league storylines are listed below.
For the first time since 2010, Hazleton Area graduate Russ Canzler will begin the new season in the same place he ended the previous season. The soon-to-be 29-year-old is with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs once again after latching on with the Phillies organization in the middle of last year.
Canzler, a corner outfielder and corner infielder, got an extended look with Philadelphia in spring training and traveled north with the team for a weekend series in Philadelphia against the Pirates before being sent to Lehigh Valley. Canzler re-upped with the organization in the offseason on a minor league deal. He’s with the same organization to begin the season for the first time since he left the Cubs organization following the 2010 season.
The familiar faces
More than a dozen former Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders/Red Barons/Yankees have latched on with another organization and will the start season on International League squads.
• Let’s start with a notable former Red Baron, left-hander Randy Wolf. The 38-year-old, who pitched in 25 games last year for the Miami Marlins and three different Triple-A squads, was signed by Toronto to a minor league deal last month. He will start the season in Buffalo’s rotation.
• In addition to Canzler, former RailRiders can be seen all over the I.L., including seven from last year’s team. The Gwinnett Braves are the team that gobbled up the most past RailRiders as infielder Corban Joseph, outfielder Zoilo Almonte and pitchers Manny Banuelos and Chien-Ming Wang all signed with the Braves organization in the offseason.
• There are a plethora of former SWB Yankees still around in the league as well. Infielder Doug Bernier will be with Rochester for the third straight season, while outfielder Chris Dickerson will be patrolling the grass in Buffalo as the two most notables.
Looking to end droughts
At the end of last season, it looked like Syracuse was about to break the longest Governors’ Cup drought in the league as it ended the regular season with the best record in the league. But the Chiefs lost in the first round to Pawtucket and still hasn’t won a title since 1976.
That appeared to be the year for the Chiefs, the defending North Division champs, as they could be in trouble this season with five top hitters from that lineup gone.
The second-longest drought in the league belongs to Norfolk, which hasn’t won the Cup since 1985 when it was still known as Tidewater. This year the Tides will consist of five of Baltimore’s eight top prospects, according to Baseball America, while more could be on the way. They also have a solid mix of veterans that should help lead the youngsters and show them the way.
Five former International League Most Valuable Players are still in the circuit, or expected to be at one point during the season; two are former RailRiders in Canzler and Dan Johnson, who is now with Louisville.
Chris Colabello, who won the award in 2013 with Rochester, signed with Toronto and is on Buffalo’s roster. The league’s all-time career home run leader Mike Hessman, with 272 longballs, returns to Toledo for his 11th season in the league and seventh with Buffalo.
The league’s reigning MVP is Steven Souza, who won it with Syracuse. He was dealt to Tampa Bay in the offseason and is expected to see most of the time with the Rays, but any struggles and he could be with Durham.
Not a former MVP, Buffalo’s Andy Wilkins could be the next, especially if he played all his games against the RailRiders. Wilkins, who led the league in homers last season with 30 while playing for Charlotte, hit over .600 against SWB last season with seven home runs. He was picked up by Toronto and will man first base for Buffalo this season.
Quade back on circuit
A trio of new managers are set to make debuts with their new clubs on Thursday, including familiar Mike Quade returning to the International League. Quade, who is now leading Rochester, has nine Triple-A seasons and two Major League seasons as manager under his belt, including two with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 1994 and 1995. Quade takes over the Red Wings from Gene Glynn, who is now Minnesota’s third base coach.
The two other new skippers on the circuit are names that probably sound familiar. Jared Sandberg, nephew of Ryne Sandberg, replaced former Red Baron infielder Charlie Montoyo as Durham’s manager. Like Glynn, Montoyo is now Tampa Bay’s third base coach.
Delino DeShields, former Major League second baseman for 13 years with Montreal, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis, Baltimore and the Chicago Cubs, replaces former Louisville manager Jim Riggleman, who is also now the third base coach with the Bats’ parent club Cincinnati.
Sandberg, who managed High Class A last season, and DeShields, who mentored Double-A Pensacola the last two season, are both first-time Triple-A skippers.
One of the things fans always seem to want to know is who the International League teams are affiliated with in the Majors. Even though there haven’t been any new affiliates for a few years, here they are:
Buffalo Bisons: Toronto Blue Jays
Charlotte Knights: Chicago White Sox
Columbus Clippers: Cleveland Indians
Durham Bulls: Tampa Bay Rays
Gwinnett Braves: Atlanta Braves
Indianapolis Indians: Pittsburgh Pirates
Lehigh Valley IronPigs: Philadelphia Phillies
Louisville Bats: Cincinnati Reds
Norfolk Tides: Baltimore Orioles
Pawtucket Red Sox: Boston Red Sox
Rochester Red Wings: Minnesota Twins
Syracuse Chiefs: Washington Nationals
Toledo Mud Hens: Detroit Tigers