Our first trip to the Double-A level in the minor leagues is the Eastern League, established (as you can see in the logo) in 1923, making this the 90th season of Eastern League baseball. However, it hasn't been called the Eastern League for all 90 seasons. In fact (and this continues the trend of minor league madness), the league was first known as the New York-Pennsylvania League due to all the teams coming from those two states. The New York-Penn League is now a short season Single-A league. Are you still with me?
So in 1936, teams moved outside of New York and Pennsylvania, leaving the name to be somewhat false in nature, meaning that a change had to be made. So the Eastern League was born in 1938. It remained an independent minor league until 1963, where it was officially named as a Double-A league relative to Major League Baseball. So not only is this the 90th season of what became known as the Eastern League, but it's also the 50th season of it being a Double-A classified league. So 2012 has a chance to be a pretty big year for them.
With Double-A spreading out amongst three leagues, you'll see that the leagues are smaller in both number and in division and conference numbers. Here's how the Eastern League stacks up
Eastern Division: Binghamton Mets (New York Mets affiliate), New Britain Rock Cats (Minnesota Twins), New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays), Portland Sea Dogs (Boston Red Sox), Reading Phillies (Philadelphia Phillies), Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees)
Western Division: Akron Aeros (Cleveland Indians), Altoona Curve (Pittsburg Pirates), Bowie Baysox (Baltimore Orioles), Erie SeaWolves (Detroit Tigers), Harrisburg Senators (Washington Nationals), Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants)
As you can see, the league is full of teams that are close to their Major League Affiliates. Except for the Flying Squirrels (Which, besides being the newest team in the league, has the best name in the league) which is clear on the other side of the country from San Francisco. Now, what's interesting about that was before moving Richmond, the Giants had their affiliate in Connecticut, so technically they got closer by a whole 150 miles when they moved to Virginia for the 2010 season.
The league plays as a pitcher's league and has been that way for a while. It averaged 4.46 runs in 2011, and has averaged about that mark in the last decade or so. The main reason has to do with the league being a cold-weather league for much of the season before the summer humidity hits. The combination of both cold and humidiity leads to low run totals across the board. Their 2011 mark ranked as the fifth lowest in the 11 affiliated full-season minor leagues. The offensive side lends itself to International League comparisons, as their 2011 triple-slash line of .259/.329/.395 is basically identical to their karmic twin in Triple-A (.260/.329/.400).
Last year's Double-A MVP, Travis D'Arnaud of New Hampshire, is probably the best catching prospect in baseball (if you think, like I do, that Jesus Montero won't be a catcher at the Major League level). There have been some good Eastern League MVPs over the years, as well. Going back as far as 1993, you have guys like Cliff Lee ('93), Mark Grudzielanek (1994), Vladimir Guerrero (1996), Kevin Millar (1997), Marlon Byrd (2001), Victor Martinez (2002), Alex Rios (2003), Ryan Howard (2004), Adam Lind (2006) and Carlos Santana (2009). That's a pretty dang good list that includes a bunch of All-Stars, an MVP in Howard and even a guy who could be in the Hall of Fame some day in Guerrero.
But for 2012, the Eastern League has a chance to house some pretty dang good talent, as well. d'Arnaud won't return, but the Blue Jays could see some of their young pitching talent mature in time to meet d'Arnaud in Toronto. Drew Hutchinson and Deck McGuire have a chance to be movers and shakers in that system. Other talents include some of the best in all of baseball. There's a chance Manny Machado, Baltimore's top prospect, could start the year at Double-A as a 19-year-old. Gerritt Cole could also move fast for Pittsburgh and be in Altoona by the end of the year. Both of those players are considered amongst the Top 10 prospects in all of baseball.
Other players to look out for in the league include the following (some might not start in the league, but will probably appear at some point this season): Matt Harvey (Mets), Anthony Rendon (Nationals), Zack Wheeler (Mets), Brandon Jacobs (Red Sox), Trevor May (Phillies) and Starling Marte (Pirates), who could end up repeating the league after a somewhat underwhelming offensive showing.
Next, we'll look at the Southern League, including the best mascot in all of the Major Leagues. I'll give you a hint as to what it is:
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