We continue on with our minor leaugue season preview series, moving into the upper minors after Kate previewed the Low-A Modesto Nuts and John did the same for the starpower-packed Everett AquaSox, now a High-A affiliate. The Mariners’ Double-A affiliate in Arkansas won’t have the same concentration of system talent as their worldbeating 2019 team, but this roster is full of doughty minor-league vets who know how to win, and should enjoy regular infusions of talent as various AquaSox prove they’ve moved from being tadpoles to full-fledged frogs.
The Arkansas Travelers and Double-A North: What’s Changed
The erstwhile Texas League now carries the clunkier moniker of Double-A North, and the league has grown from eight to ten teams, which will relieve some of the tedium of playing the same teams over and over again. The Travelers remain in the North division of Double-A North (Double-A North North? So clunky!), along with their old division-mates the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals), the Springfield Cardinals (Cardinals), and the Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers). The fifth team joining the division this year will be the Wichita Wind Surge, a Twins affiliate. The Wind Surge were originally slated to join minor-league baseball as a Triple-A affiliate of the Marlins (RIP New Orleans Babycakes) in 2020, but with the season being canceled and minor leagues condensing geographically they’re now Minnesota’s Double-A club.
The Travs will also play games against the South Division of Double-A North (seriously, these names), which includes old AL West foes the Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros), the Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers), and the Midland Rockhounds (Athletics). The Amarillo Sod Poodles, new to the Texas League in 2019, will return, although they switch affiliation from the Padres to the Diamondbacks; the Padres affiliate is now the San Antonio Missions, returning to Double-A after a brief stint in Triple-A as a Rockies affiliate.
See the whole Travelers schedule here. Every game is available to watch on MiLB TV, and the Sod Poodle and Drillers broadcasts are of especially high quality.
View the current Arkansas Travelers roster here.
Here’s how the Travs lined up on Opening Day:
Okay, admittedly this lineup is not as...star-studded as others in the system. The most intriguing name here is definitely Joe Rizzo, who has a tall task ahead of him in trying to impress with his bat in the offensive black hole that is Dickey-Stephens Park. Luckily he’ll also enjoy some trips to more offense-friendly stadiums like Springfield’s and Amarillo’s, but trying to create offense in DSP against quality arms will be a much tougher test for Rizzo than the Fun Time Smack Bang California League. If Rizzo’s bat holds up at this level, though? Watch out because Dickey-Stephens’s ballpark train will be joined by the Joe Rizzo Hype Train. Also interesting at this level: OF Keegan McGovern, who spent his quarantine downtime getting absolutely shredded and will match up his prodigious power against Dickey-Stephens’ deep center field.
Don’t expect this lineup to score a ton of runs, though, as this group had trouble with that even in the much friendlier confines of the California League. Jordan Cowan is a system veteran who knows how to hit in DSP, but he shouldn’t be in Arkansas for long. Nor should fellow returner Dom Thompson-Williams, who missed most of 2020 with injury but should be roaming the spacious outfield at Cheney Field before too long.
One thing you can expect to see is a very different Travs lineup at the end of the season vs. at the beginning. Austin Shenton has been promoted aggressively throughout the system, and as soon as it looks like he’s outgrown Funko Field, he’ll provide some
Projected pitching staff:
Again, this isn’t as interesting at the outset as Everett (or even Modesto), but keep in mind players will be promoted into this level over the course of the year. That goes the other way, of course, and I wouldn’t expect Double-A veterans Jack Anderson, Darren McCaughan, or Darin Gillies to stick around Arkansas for long. Other fast movers could include Ian McKinney, who has spent time at Double-A while in the Cardinals system, and Penn Murfee and Devin Sweet, who have less experience but are both polished pitchers.