Today prospect junkies will celebrate the opening of the 2016 minor league baseball season. Ten leagues across four levels of classification begin play this afternoon and evening. All week the prospect staff here at Fake Teams has been rolling out league-specific previews, and we will continue through next week. Minor league baseball means games and prospects galore. With this in mind, here's some of what I'll be watching on this glorious opening weekend:
LHP Blake Snell, 2015 Minor League Player of the Year and Tampa Bay's #1 prospect, will make his 2016 debut for the Triple-A Durham Bulls at 6:05 ET against the Charlotte Knights (White Sox). Fans in Durham should get to the ballpark early and often this season, as Snell might not be in Triple-A for long.
LHP Josh Hader, one of my favorite pitchers in MiLB, will start for Biloxi (Brewers) in its 7:40 ET home opener vs. the defending Double-A Southern League Champion Chattanooga Lookouts (Twins). Hader could move to Triple-A in short order.
LHP Yohander Mendez will start for the High Desert Mavericks (Rangers) in their 9:35 ET home opener against Inland Empire (Angels). Mendez is a bit of a divisive prospect, for some view him as a future reliever. He did not make the Fake Teams Consensus Top 100 Prospects List in December, but I did have him at #88 on my personal list. If he dominates the High-A California League, MiLB's most notorious hitter's paradise, then he could emerge as the next Josh Hader: a lefty starter who keeps defying projections.
Assuming the game is played--the weather in Ohio looks dreadful--Friday's 7:15 ET clash between RHP Tyler Glasnow of the Indianapolis Indians (Pirates) and RHP Mike Clevinger of the Columbus Clippers (Indians) will be the Triple-A pitching match-up of the weekend. It also happens to be a rematch of the 2015 International League Championship Series.
RHP Anderson Espinoza, Boston's teenage phenom who turned 18 on March 9, will take the mound for the Low-A Greenville Drive in a 7:05 ET South Atlantic League clash with the Asheville Tourists (Rockies). Espinoza has drawn some ridiculously-premature-but-exciting comparisons to Pedro Martinez
RHP Jose Berrios, already the best pitcher in the Twins organization, will return to Triple-A Rochester to hone his craft until the big club decides it is time to add him to the Major League rotation. That should not take long. Berrios will make his 2016 Red Wings debut at 4:05 against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Yankees).
RHP Francis Martes, Houston's top pitching prospect, will take the hill for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks in an 8:05 ET tussle with the Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers). Martes will not turn 21 until November, so the Texas League should provide quite a challenge.
After two seasons lost to injury, RHP Jameson Taillon will return to the mound for Indianapolis in the 1:05 ET series finale at Columbus. Taillon, like Glasnow, expects to be in Pittsburgh later this summer.
Happy Opening Day!