Around the Horn with Rube Baker
In my first installment, I decided to travel to Charlotte, NC to get a glimpse of the Tar Heels organization. I landed at Charlotte Douglas International around 9:30AM yesterday morning and picked up a coffee and a bagel at Starbucks before catching a taxi to downtown Charlotte. My taxi driver was more than pleasant although with Charlotte being the home of NASCAR, my driver felt the need to break all speed laws and ignore multiple warning signs of sharp curves and hidden driveways.
After arriving in downtown Charlotte, I tried to walk off my taxi ride and started to scope a place to eat lunch before heading to Knights Castle to meet with Tar Heels owner hopkinsheel. I'm a big fan of brewery's and after talking to a few of the locals, they recommended Hops Grill and Brewery. Unfortunately, Hops is located south of the city so I hopped in another taxi and made my way to Hops.
It's finally lunch time and I was more than ready for a burger and a beer. I decided on the Bacon Cheddar Burger and a tall Lightning Bold Gold. Both were absolutely delicious. I still had about an hour before I had to meet with hopkinsheel so I decided to have another Lightning Bold Gold while catching up on spring training action on the TV above the bar.
I arrived at Knights Castle to see a beauitful ballpark. I was quite impressed with the setup. It's a little far from downtown Charlotte but overall I was very impressed. While touring the ballpark I was pleasantly suprised by the OMB Beer Garden. OMB stands for Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and was founded in 2007. They partnered with the Tar Heels for Season 10 and the garden is located along the third base line next to the grill.
Tar Heels owner hopkinsheel met me while I was walking through the stadium trying to digest the burger and two beers I had just had at Hops. We made our way to the owner's box to talk about the upcoming season and what kind of talent the Tar Heels have.
We started with the Big League club. The Tar Heels are coming off a 73-89 season in which they finished last in their division. Their two best players return for Season 10 in Ron Montgomery and Vin Horton. Montgomery hit .294 last season with 27 HRs and 87 RBIs. Horton his .288 with 26 HRs and 78 RBIs. It also looks like Roger Herndon, the Tar Heels 1st-round pick of Season 6 will have a big impact at the Big League level after hitting .295 with 13 HRs and 52 RBIs in his 1st full season with the Big League club. He worked with Hitting Coach T.J. Fisher during the offseason and I predict a 20 HR, 80 RBI year out of Herndon.
On the mound, Pedro Ramirez returns as the teams Wins leader from Season 9. Ramirez finished the Season 11-11 with a 4.23 ERA. Buddy Daniels also returns and after a disappointing 9-15 record last season, I expect a much better season from Daniels after going 16-11 in Season 6 and 12-9 in Season 8. He seems to perform well in even-numbered seasons so expect a better record from Daniels. Merv Witt was the closer last season and looks to keep the job but he has some tough competition in the bullpen. Witt saved 22 games last season with a 4.02 ERA.
Looking down on the farm, I am very excited to see John Kramer pitch in Spring Traing. The guy is a stud. If he can meet his potential, the guy has the ability to be a 15-18 game winner at the ML level. The past two seasons at High A and AA, John has posted 19-3 and 21-4 records with a sub-3 ERA each season. He has great control and 4 average to above average pitches that include a sinker, chane up, curveball and a cutter. His velocity might be a little low but that never stopped Greg Maddux from dominating hitter after hitter.
Looking a little further I found Tomas Olmedo. Olmedo is an International Prospect with tons of potential. He can hit for average and power and has great speed to go along with it. He has performed well in the minors so far however we haven't seen the power outburst like many are expecting. I think with a little more seasoning and some work with the coaches Olmedo can be a 20-20 player. Olmedo also sports a fantastic eye at the plate which with his speed and power will make him very dangerous once he arrives at the ML level.
The last prospect I want to focus on is not one prospect, but 3. All 3 are pitchers and all 3 have huge upside. The first is Dallas Parrott. Dallas is currently in Low A and has excellent control and good velocity. Better than Dallas is Erubiel Ordaz. Erubiel also has excellent control and velocity and posted a 19-4 record last season at Low A. Erubiel is a International Prospect and some have questioned whether he has the makeup to meet the high expectations set for him. He pitched very well in the Dominican Republic but some question his motivation. The last of the group is Fausto Gimenez. Fausto is another International Prospect from Cuba who didn't attract the same type of money Erubiel did, however, is a much better pitcher in my opinion. Fausto is going to dominate left-handers with his slider and also sports great control that will go well with his fastball, change-up combination. Fausto went 20-3 last season in Low A with a 2.58 ERA. What is even more impressive is his 1.03 WHIP.
Charlotte definitely has a great future if they decide to keep the talent they have sitting in the minor leagues. With Kramer, Parrott, Ordaz and Gimenez, the staff of the Tar Heels in seasons to come could include multiple Cy Young award winners. I'm very impressed with the way the organization is ran and although the last two seasons have not been great for the Tar Heels, there is definitely reason to be excited in Tar Heel country.
Check in next week as I head to Jackson to check out the Rebels and meet with owner Iceman67.