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Minors Look For Encore To Year Of The Prospect

Prospects defined the 2015 minor league season, from Kris Bryant’s seven-game Triple-A Iowa stint before he took Chicago by storm, through Blake Snell and A.J. Reed battling for the Minor League Player of the Year award.

In between, such prospects as Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Kyle Schwarber and many more poured through the minors en route to starring in the major leagues. Even the World Series was full of prospects, from Steven Matz and Michael Conforto to Raul Adalberto Mondesi.

What can the minors do for an encore? On the prospect side we’re unlikely to see another year with such a bounty of big league talent. That’s why minor league operators rely less on on-field talent to draw fans and rely more on promotions and the overall experience of going to a game, viewing it from an entertainment perspective.

Maybe the prospects helped a bit, but the consistent focus on making minor league baseball a strong entertainment option helped minor league teams draw more than 42.5 million fans last year, the third-highest total in minor league history. Can this year’s storylines, franchise shifts and new promotions help minor league operators surpass that total?

Storylines To Watch: On And Off The Field

High Desert Heat: The town of Adelanto, Calif., was playing hardball with the Rangers over the Mavericks’ California League ballpark. Could this be the catalyst that finally spurs high Class A realignment?

Affiliation Shuffle: Most player-development contracts come up after the 2016 season, with at least a dozen affiliates free at every full-season level after the 2016 season. Major league clubs now seem to be competing with each other for the best facilities and geography more than ever before.

Return Of the PawSox: Last year’s plans for the Pawtucket Red Sox (International) to move out of historic McCoy Stadium and into a new ballpark in nearby Providence have faltered. Now the parent Red Sox say they want to re-establish their relationship with fans in Pawtucket, despite “bumps and bruises.” How will PawSox fans respond?

Can Memphis Deliver?: The home of FedEx will serve as host for the 2016 Triple-A National Championship. Memphis’ new ownership hopes to use the event as a springboard out of the franchise’s debt-driven struggles.

Through The Net: Major and minor league franchises are extending protective netting at ballparks across America. We’ll see how fans respond this year, but complaints are likely to be consistent. If we all had just put our phones down at games . . .

Woo, Pig: Lehigh Valley, the International League franchise that serves as the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, figures to have one of the minors’ stronger rosters, fortified by the bounty Philadelphia received from the Rangers in last year’s Cole Hamels trade. The IronPigs should have shortstop J.P. Crawford, catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielders Roman Quinn and Nick Williams and righthanders Mark Appel and Jake Thompson.

Waiting For Anderson Espinoza: The Red Sox’s latest teen sensation has evoked some lofty comparisons, even though he hasn’t thrown five innings in a professional game yet. He’s bound to do so at low Class A Greenville in 2016 and will be one of the minors’ most eagerly awaited pitching prospects.

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Used To Be: New Britain Rock Cats Used To Be: Savannah Sand Gnats
The Details: The Eastern League franchise will start the year on the road thanks to construction delays at its new ballpark, but the capital of the Nutmeg State will get its first minor league franchise since 1952. The Details: South Carolina’s capital city had a South Atlantic League franchise until 2004, when it moved to Greenville, S.C. Now it gets one back with a unique nickname, logo and uniforms that will glow in the dark.
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Mason Thompson Shows Off At Instructs

The Padres added the 23-year-old to the 40-man roster after showing promise in the bullpen at fall instructs.

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