Thursday, June 14, 2012

All-Time Appalachian League Teams

The Appalachian League season is fast approaching, with Opening Day on Tuesday. Most of the blog posts here have been from the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs series, in which I put together a 25-man all-time roster of former Bluefield players. Because I am a huge dork, I decided to do the same for the other Appy League cities.

Feel free to peruse the rosters and skip to the bottom and vote for the one you think is best in the poll.

Programming note: Moving forward this blog (and will be the go-to place for Baby Jays news, game notes, audio highlights and more! I'll have live game posts right here all summer long!

First, here's an overview of past and present affiliations for each city:

Bluefield Blue Jays:
BOSN (46-51) WAS (53) BOS (54-55) BKN (57) BAL (58-10) TOR (11-Present)

Bristol White Sox:
NYG (42-51) PIT (52-53) NYY (54-55) DET (69-94) CWS (95-Present)

Burlington Royals:
PIT (52-55) CLE (58-64) WAS (65-71) TEX (72) CLE (86-06) KC (07-Present)

Danville Braves:
BOS (36-37, 39-42) NYG (45-47) WAS (52) NYG (53-57) SF (58) ATL (93-Present)

Elizabethton Twins:
BOS (37-40) BKN (41) CHN (45-48) PHI (51) MIN (74-Present)

Greeneville Astros:
CHN (38) CLE (39) CHN (40) BOSN (42) HOU (04-Present)

Johnson City Cardinals:
STL (38-55) PHI (57-60) STL (61) NYY (64-74) STL (75-Present)

Kingsport Mets:
BKN (42) BAL (57) PIT (60-63) KC (69-73) ATL (74-79) NYM (80-82, 84-Present)

Princeton Rays:
PIT (88-89) PHI (co-op 90) CIN (91-96) TB (97-Present)

Pulaski Mariners:
BKN (47-49) PHI (52-55) CHN (57-58) PHI (69-77) ATL (82-92) TEX (97-02) TOR (03-06) SEA (08-Present)

I made these imaginary rosters out of former major leaguers that played in the minors in each respective city. This is in no way scientific, it was just me scanning the internet for each club and putting the teams together. When it came to slotting everyone into positions, I cheated on some. For instance, there wasn't really anyone I could put at third base for Danville, but they've had two outstanding shortstops in Rafael Furcal and Elvis Andrus. So I kept Andrus at short and moved Furcal over to third.

I've also left out the Greeneville Astros. Professional baseball only returned there in 2004, so they've only graduated 12 players to the show. Only one is really of note and that's the wonderful Jose Altuve. Maybe it can be revisited in a few years once some former G-Ville 'Stros make it to the majors. The club moved from Martinsville, VA, which was home to the Astros (99-03) and the Phillies (88-98). Martinsville had some really good players, including Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson and Wandy Rodriguez. They even had a young Ricky Williams (I...learned something today). Even if I include those guys, it's not enough to field a whole team.

So here are the nine all-time teams listed alphabetically and at the end I'll sum things up and try to gauge which group is the best.

C Gregg Zaun C Lance Parrish
1B Eddie Murray 1B Tony Clark
2B Bobby Grich 2B Lou Whitaker
SS Cal Ripken SS Alan Trammell
3B Doug DeCinces 3B Travis Fryman
LF Don Baylor LF Carlos Lee
CF Luis Matos CF Chris Young
RF David Dellucci/Bob Bailor RF Bobby Thomson
DH Boog Powell DH Rico Brogna/Frank Catalonotto
B Mark Belanger/John Shelby B Doug Strange/Ryan Sweeney
SP Dean Chance SP Mark Fidrych
SP Mike Boddicker SP Gio Gonzalez
SP Bill Monbouquette SP Dan Petry
SP Pete Harnisch SP Jose Lima
SP Storm Davis SP Justin Thompson
RP Sammy Stewart RP Bob Cain
RP Jim Johnson RP Art Fowler
RP Arthur Rhodes RP Rich Monteleone
RP Armando Benitez RP Carl Willis
RP Sparky Lyle RP Jon Rauch

I've written at length about the Bluefield team, which has a great infield and a strong bullpen while lacking in the outfield.

The infield really stands out when looking at the Bristol team. Fittingly, there's Whitaker and Trammell together up the middle, flanked by a couple of solid 1990s players in Clark and Fryman with the underrated Parrish catching. The outfield is good as well. Carlos Lee has over 350 career homers and is still productive at 36. Bobby Thomson wasn't just The Shot Heard 'Round the World. He was a three-time All-Star and had eight 20-homer seasons. Here are the players with eight or more seasons of 20+ HR between 1946 and 1960 (spanning Thomson's career, which is a neat timeframe from post-war to expansion):

Yrs From To Age
1 Ted Williams 12 1946 1960 27-41 Ind. Seasons
2 Gil Hodges 11 1949 1959 25-35 Ind. Seasons
3 Duke Snider 10 1949 1959 22-32 Ind. Seasons
4 Yogi Berra 10 1949 1958 24-33 Ind. Seasons
5 Stan Musial 10 1948 1957 27-36 Ind. Seasons
6 Eddie Mathews 9 1952 1960 20-28 Ind. Seasons
7 Mickey Mantle 9 1952 1960 20-28 Ind. Seasons
8 Del Ennis 9 1948 1957 23-32 Ind. Seasons
9 Ralph Kiner 9 1946 1954 23-31 Ind. Seasons
10 Willie Mays 8 1951 1960 20-29 Ind. Seasons
11 Larry Doby 8 1949 1956 25-32 Ind. Seasons
12 Bobby Thomson 8 1947 1958 23-34 Ind. Seasons
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/13/2012.

Gio Gonzalez should probably be the ace of the staff already, but I'll give the nod to the late Mark Fidrych and his magical ROY campaign of 1976. Bristol's weak spot is the 'pen, which might be the worst out of all nine teams. Art Fowler didn't really achieve success until he was a pitching coach (serving mostly under Billy Martin). Bob Cain made the last cut because he's the one who walked three-foot-seven Eddie Gaedel in his famed pinch-hit appearance in 1951.

C Salvador Perez C Tyler Flowers
1B Jim Thome 1B Willie McCovey
2B Damian Jackson 2B Marcus Giles
SS Toby Harrah SS Elvis Andrus
3B Russell Branyan 3B Rafael Furcal
LF Manny Ramirez LF Jermaine Dye
CF Tommie Agee CF Andruw Jones
RF Brian Giles RF Jason Heyward
DH Richie Sexson/Gus Zernial DH Leon Wagner
B David Bell B Manny Mota
SP CC Sabathia SP Adam Wainwright
SP Luis Tiant SP Kevin Millwood
SP Bartolo Colon SP Tommy Hanson
SP Joe Coleman SP Matt Harrison
SP Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez Heredia SP Brandon Beachy
RP Jaret Wright RP Randall Delgado/Julio Teheran
RP Gene Conley RP Jason Marquis
RP Steve Kline RP Kevin McGlinchy
RP Alan Embree RP Neftali Feliz
RP Rafael Perez RP Craig Kimbrel

Burlington features a top-heavy team that has a great top six in the lineup and top three in the rotation. How's this for a lineup: Agee-Harrah-Ramirez-Thome-Giles-and then two of the powerful Sexson/Zernial/Branyan trio. CC-Tiant-Colon is probably the best 1-2-3 in the league. After that, Joe Coleman, Jaret Wright and The Artist Formerly Known as Fausto Carmona provide a decent back of the rotation. There are three good lefties in the bullpen with Kline, Embree and Perez. Gene Conley pitched for the great Milwaukee Braves teams of the 50s, made three All-Star Games and also played for the Boston Celtics. He is the only player to win championships in two of America's four major sports (1957 Braves, 1959-61 Celtics).

Danville has a pretty good lineup too. How about Furcal-Andrus-Jones-McCovey-Dye-Heyward-Wagner one through seven with pinch-hitter extraordinaire Manny Mota on the bench. There aren't any perennial All-Stars or Hall of Famers on the staff, but it's a deep group. Atlanta, swimming in pitching prospects, has the young troika of Beachy, Delgado and Teheran. Feliz and Kimbrel make a pretty unhittable one-two punch to close.

C Joe Mauer C Yadier Molina
1B Kent Hrbek 1B Dmitri Young
2B Scott Leius 2B Tom Herr
SS Jay Bell SS Jack Wilson
3B Gary Gaetti 3B Terry Pendleton
LF Marty Cordova LF Vince Coleman
CF Kirby Puckett CF Ray Lankford
RF Denard Span RF Bobby Murcer
DH Justin Morneau/Jim Eisenreich DH Ron Blomberg
B AJ Pierzynski B Ken Oberkfell/Coco Crisp/Cesar Geronimo
SP Matt Garza SP Ron Guidry
SP Denny Neagle SP Jeff Fassero
SP Mark Portugal SP Chris Short
SP Brian Duensing SP LaMarr Hoyt
SP Cory Lidle SP Joe Magrane/Danny Cox
RP Nick Blackburn/Kevin Slowey RP Jose Jimenez
RP Grant Balfour RP Kyle McClellan
RP LaTroy Hawkins RP Luke Gregerson
RP Eddie Guardado RP Ron Willis
RP Jesse Orosco RP Jason Motte

Elizabethton is the most successful team in the Appalachian League and their affiliation with the Twins (since 1974) is the longest active one in the circuit. They've made the postseason in each of the last seven seasons, winning three titles. 1989 marked the beginning of a string of 23 consecutive winning seasons, during which they've won seven championships and averaged a record of 42-15. There are a few stars on their all-time team, like Joe Mauer and Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. But it's mostly comprised of solid but not great players like Hrbek and Bell. The rotation gets thin quickly behind Garza and Neagle, but the pen has two good lefties (Orosco and Guardado) and two good righties (Hawkins and Balfour).

Johnson City has been home to a St. Louis farm team for a long time, and there are plenty of good Cards in this deck. Coleman-Murcer-Pendleton-Lankford-Young is a good top five offensively and guys like Molina and Wilson are great in the field. Fittingly, Ron Blomberg is the designated hitter, as he was the first in history. The starting staff behind Guidry is only slightly above average and the relief corps isn't great outside of Motte. With Johnson City as the two-time defending Appy League champs, maybe they can add to this list someday.

C Bruce Benedict C Shawn Riggans
1B Gregg Jefferies 1B Jonny Gomes
2B Quilvio Veras 2B Elliot Johnson
SS Jose Reyes SS Pokey Reese
3B David Wright 3B Reid Brignac
LF Angel Pagan/Al Cowens LF Carl Crawford
CF Dale Murphy CF Josh Hamilton
RF Darryl Strawberry RF Desmond Jennings
DH Bob Horner/Kevin Mitchell DH Rocco Baldelli
B Endy Chavez/Carlos Gomez B Jason Pridie
SP Dwight Gooden SP Jeremy Hellickson
SP AJ Burnett SP Matt Moore
SP Dennis Leonard SP Wade Davis
SP Pete Schourek SP Jason Hammel
SP Steve Blass/Paul Wilson SP Joe Kennedy
RP Matt Lindstrom RP Albie Lopez/Victor Zambrano
RP Heath Bell RP Alex Cobb
RP Randy Myers RP Fernando Salas
RP Jason Isringhausen RP Jake McGee
RP Steve Bedrosian RP Chad Fox

Kingsport has great speed at the top in Reyes and Veras and one of the league's best 3-4-5 in Murphy, Strawberry and Wright. Gooden headlines a pretty good rotation with a surprisingly good middle (Burnett, Leonard and Schourek). I figured Bluefield would easily have the best bullpen but this group, but this one made me think twice. However, the top five Bluefield relievers racked up 70 bWAR while the Kingsport five lands just south of 50.

Princeton has been with Tampa Bay since the franchise's inception. The outfield of Crawford, Hamilton and Jennings is fantastic, would a fly ball ever get down out there? But the infield is certainly the worst in the league. The pitching staff is mostly made up of very promising, yet unproven guys like Moore and McGee.

C Javy Lopez
1B Travis Snider
2B Tony Graffanino
SS Jeff Blauser
3B Mike Lamb
LF David Justice
CF Tony Tarasco/Melvin Nieves
RF Kevin Mench
DH Robinzon Diaz
B Todd Cruz/Eugenio Velez
SP Jason Schmidt
SP Steve Avery
SP Colby Lewis
SP Aaron Harang
SP Don Cardwell
RP Brad Clontz/Kameron Loe
RP Turk Wendell
RP Mark Clear
RP Mike Stanton
RP Mark Wohlers

Pulaski's had many different parent clubs, including the Blue Jays for four years. For a team that's been in the Appy League about as long as Kingsport and Bristol, I was surprised Pulaski's lineup isn't better. Justice and Lopez are the only two really good bats in there. Adding shortstop Urban Meyer (1983 Braves) doesn't really help. The strength of the team is definitely the pitching. One through five, the rotation might be the deepest among the nine teams and the bullpen is strong as well.

Alright, time to rank these teams. I'll put together the top three infields (including catcher), outfields, rotations and bullpens, then use a 5-3-1 point system and see how it turns out...


I went with Bluefield over Bristol for best infield, taking Hall of Famers Ripken and Murray over should-be-Hall-of-Famers Whitaker and Trammell. Bobby Grich has a strong HOF case as well, so that probably decides it.

The third spot was up for grabs and I compared Elizabethton to Danville. Here they are listed by career Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement:

Hrbek 35.7 McCovey 60.7
Leius 1.8 Giles 15.5
Bell 34.1 Andrus 9.9
Gaetti 38 Furcal 38
Mauer 34 Flowers 1.2

Danville boasts the great Stretch McCovey, but the Twins have a very consistently productive group. Gaetti, Hrbek, Bell and Mauer all have between 34 and 38 bWAR, with Mauer still adding to his total. Leius and Flowers basically cancel each other out, but I think I'd rather have a hole at second than at catcher. On the other hand, Furcal still has something left in the tank and Andrus is only 23 (?!). It's a tough call, but I think I'll lean Danville here, even accounting for Mauer's huge advantage behind the plate and docking Furcal some points for being a fictional third baseman.

1 Bluefield
2 Bristol
3 Danville

So far it's Bluefield 5, Bristol 3, Danville 1


Wow...a lot of contenders for the top three outfields. Ramirez is the best of the bunch and puts Burlington over the top. Bristol and Johnson City have terrific trios, but I think it's Danville/Kingsport/Princeton for the final two spots. Kingsport stars two of the best of the 80s, but both Murphy and Strawberry had their careers fizzle out (for different reasons). Danville trails them in bWAR, but Andruw Jones is a borderline HOF and Heyward still has a bright career ahead of him. The wild card is Princeton. Does Carl Crawford have anything left? How will Josh Hamilton age now that he's north of 30? Jennings is 25 and hasn't even played 162 career games yet. I'm going to go with Kingsport at number two, also giving them a bonus for having a very deep group of Bob Horner, Kevin Mitchell, Al Cowens and Endy Chavez. It's absolutely a toss-up for the three spot and I'll go out on a limb and give it to Princeton. This will be their only appearance in these top three rankings.

Lee 25.2 Ramirez 64.8 Dye 16.5
Young 12.9 Agee 23.6 Jones 59.5
Thomson 30 Giles 48.4 Heyward 10.2

Coleman 10.5 Pagan 12.9 Crawford 33.1
Lankford 35.7 Murphy 42.6 Hamilton 23.5
Murcer 29 Strawberry 39.2 Jennings 3.4

1 Burlington
2 Kingsport
3 Princeton

So far it's Bluefield 5, Burlington 5, Bristol 3, Kingsport 3, Danville 1, Princeton 1 with no team appearing twice.


Without even looking at stats, I'd go with Burlington and the 1-2-3 of Sabathia, Tiant and Colon at number one.

Here's where it gets interesting. I would have guessed by looking at the names that Kingsport would be well into the two spot and Bluefield and Pulaski would be clustered together at three and four. Take a look at the rotations and their career bWAR:

Sabathia 49.6 Gooden 45.1 Schmidt 29.3 Chance 32.3
Tiant 61.8 Burnett 21.1 Avery 10.8 Boddicker 29.1
Colon 34.4 Leonard 23.3 Lewis 4.4 Monbouquette 20.7
Coleman 21.6 Schourek 4.7 Harang 18.7 Harnisch 16.9
Carmona 4.7 Blass 5.6 Cardwell 14.6 Davis 15.1

In an earlier post that summed up the All-Time Bluefield pitching staff, I noted that it was a surprisingly good group.When you look at the fourth and fifth starters for many of these other teams, you realize that Harnisch and Davis are pretty good. I'll rank Bluefield second and Kingsport third. I like Bluefield's depth and the short-lived brilliance of Gooden puts Kingsport over the top for the three spot.

1 Burlington
2 Bluefield
3 Kingsport

So far it's Burlington 10, Bluefield 8, Kingsport 4, Bristol 3, Danville 1, Princeton 1


I think it's safe to say that Bluefield has the top bullpen, with Kingsport and Elizabethon behind them for the other two slots. The Elizabethton quartet of Balfour-Hawkins-Guardado-Orosco is a strong one, let's see how they stack up:

Lindstrom 2.8

Bell 7.1 Balfour 6.1
Myers 14 Hawkins 14.6
Isringhausen 11.7 Guardado 12.2
Bedrosian 14.1 Orosco 21.7

Even with only four guys, the Twins pen surpasses that of Kingsport.

1 Bluefield
2 Elizabethton
3 Kingsport

So the final tally between the four categories is complete:

Bluefield 13, Burlington 10, Kingsport 5, Bristol 3, Elizabethton 3, Danville 1, Princeton 1

Here's the poll.

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