Atlantic League Expansion Updates
It was announced this week that the Lexington Legends will be joining the Atlantic League. The announcement of an 8th team will presumably need to come this week considering we’ve been told to look for schedule announcements before week’s end. As we’ve mentioned before on ALPB Roundup, Lexington is a great baseball market with good facilities, and prior indy ball exposure, so this is a terrific addition for the Atlantic League. While Lexington does stretch out the league’s geographic footprint, it’s nowhere near as extreme an expansion as Sugar Land was and some markets can be added to make Lexington less of a proverbial island (such as Charleston, WV which we discussed in last week’s ALPB Weekly Roundup). Once the 8th team is announced, the league will unveil a 120-game schedule for 2021. Be sure to check back here as we over-analyze what the schedule and divisional structures mean for each team’s playoff odds as the season approaches.
Both of the confirmed expansion teams announced their 2021 managerial selections this week! The Gastonia Honey Hunters will be lead by Mauro “Goose” Gozzo. Goose served as the pitching coach for his hometown New Britain Bees in 2018 before being named manager in 2019 when Wally Backman left the Bees to manage the Long Island Ducks. Gozzo led the Bees to a franchise-best 72-68 record before following Backman to work as Long Island’s pitching coach when the Bees left the league before the 2020 season. Of course, like all good things, COVID ruined that reunion. Hopefully, Goose’s Atlantic League experience and other professional connections will help with the daunting challenge of forming Gastonia’s first-ever roster.
With Lexington’s announcement that they’re joining the Atlantic League, the team also announced that they’d retain their 2020 Battle of the Bourbon Trail series manager, PJ Phillips. Phillips managed the Vallejo Admirals from mid-season 2016 through their most recent season in 2019, leading the Admirals to a Pacific Association Championship in 2017. With Indy Ball experience under his belt (including 77 games with the Long Island Ducks as a player), Phillips is a solid managerial choice with a proven track record of success. P.J. will turn 35 in September, making him exceptionally young for an Atlantic League manager. That could go a long way toward endearing him to his players and helping to bring together Lexington’s first full-season independent league roster.
Rockers Sign Power Bat For 2021 Lineup
Mitch Walding is a great addition for High Point in 2021, but the total upside for the Rockers comes down to 1 thing: Will he put the ball in play? Nobody can argue Walding’s power. In 2018, he boasted a .209 ISO in triple-A (before the switch to the super-ball), but he still struck out at a 31% clip – and that was during his *best* triple-A season.
Mitch’s strikeouts could be limited somewhat with improved discipline above and below the zone, which the Atlantic League’s robo-zone could help him with. By forcing pitchers to work inside the zone Walding can improve his contact rate and further show-off his power.
If Walding can use the ALPB to develop his weaknesses and emphasize his strengths, he could be a top-5 hitter in the league, bringing 5 WAR to the Rockers lineup over the course of a 120-game season. If not, he will still be well above-average (projected 125 OPS+), so it’s hard to find any downside to this move as the Rockers continue with the momentum from last year’s signings!
Lancaster Storming Into Signings Season With 3 Additions
We’ll need to find out if Brandon Lawson actually sees the mound in Lancaster this season. He initially signed with Lancaster in 2019 but was picked up by the San Francisco Giants before the season even started. Brandon has high-potential as a top-end of the rotation arm for Lancaster in 2021.
In 2019, Lawson had a 51% GB rate which is a big positive going into 2021. However, his BB/9 has been creeping up since 2016 (from 1.7 to 3.3), which is too high to justify his low K-rate. Pitch-to-contact guys can’t be giving away free baserunners with walks, but if Lawson gets that control issue in check, he might really take the sting out of opposing lineups and improve his longevity in games while he’s at it.
The negative trends in K/BB rates and WHIP cause our high and low-end projections to give a pretty wide range for Lawson this year. We believe that Lawson, after having a full year to work on what needs improving, will strike the right balance with the Barnstormers. Projections may be undecided until we see what Brandon’s bringing to the mound, but we see him leading the Lancaster rotation well as a #2 caliber arm in 2021.
Devon Torrence re-signed with the Barnstormers for his 2nd professional baseball season in 2020 and is officially back to try it again in 2021. The switch-hitting outfielder returned to baseball in 2019 after several seasons of professional football and some time off. Torrence slashed .227/.294/.277 in 268 plate appearances during the 2019 campaign. However, a slow start and sub-par September dragged down Devon’s numbers. Torrence managed a .259/.306/.366 between July and August, including a .296/.333/.481 month of July. Torrence will likely split time across all three outfield positions and could see extensive playing time if he can get a faster start to the season in 2021.
The Barnstormers have added righty outfielder LeDarious Clark to the roster. Clark originally planned to play with Lancaster in 2020 before the season’s cancellation. LeDarious had been playing in the Rangers system since 2015 and reached double-A Frisco in 2019. Clark has struggled to put together good at-bats above Rookie ball and scouting indicates that his defense needs improvement. Clark enters 2021 as a potential starter, but we expect the Barnstormers to use him and Devon Torrence more for outfield depth than anything else. As with Torrence, a fast start to the season could see Clark getting regular time in the lineup. We know LeDarious Clark will bring some power and good speed to Lancaster, giving the Barnstormers useful flexibility in whatever role he finds himself in.
ALPB Roundup’s All-Time Top 100 Players Countdown To Opening Day
As of this past Wednesday, there were just 100 days standing between us and the scheduled start of the 2021 Atlantic League season. ALPB Roundup thought we’d do our part to set the mood for Opening Day by counting down our top 100 Atlantic League players of all-time day-by-day! Check back here, as well as on ALPB Roundup’s Twitter and Instagram, for daily memories and stat-blasts as we count our way down to first pitch on May 28th!
Here’s a look at who was announced on our list this week for spots 100 through 96 in our countdown:
100. Jonathan Galvez
99. Matt Craig
98. Sean Halton
97. Ryan Langerhans
96. Javier Colina
95. David Vidal