Lookouts Down Under
For 28 of the teams in Major League Baseball, the regular season will start on the 30th or 31st of March. However, there are two teams who will start their season a week early, and do so in the land down under: the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. Sporadically over the last decade, Major League Baseball has sent two teams overseas to start the season. The last time they did so was March 28-29, 2012, when they sent the Mariners and Athletics to Tokyo, Japan.
This year, the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks are being sent to Sydney, Australia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the game played by the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants on January 3, 1914. These two games will be played in the exact same stadium, the world famous Sydney Cricket Ground. They will be played on Saturday, March 22, with the first being at 4 a.m. EST (7 p.m. local time), and the second at 10 p.m. EST (1 p.m., March 23 local time). Both games will be aired on MLB Network as well as Fox Sports Arizona and SportsNet L.A.
The Lookouts have been the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2009, when they took over the club from the Cincinnati Reds. In that time, many big leaguers have spent time at AT&T Field, including eight of the 30 players which took the long, 16 hour flight over the Pacific Ocean to get to Australia earlier this week. The active roster will have to be whittled down to only 25 players on Friday, but we will definitely see some of those Lookouts take the field.
The former Lookouts’ player who will receive the most playing time, as well as have the biggest impact on the game, is Yasiel Puig. Puig got into the spirit of the games quickly in Australia by bringing his bat flip to the game of cricket. Although he only played 40 games in Chattanooga in 2013 before being called up to the majors, he was the best player on the team while he was there. Puig hit .313 with eight home runs in 167 plate appearances. Once he got to the Dodgers, he took the league by storm. He helped the Dodgers turn their season around and if it wasn’t for another Cuban phenom in Miami, Puig would have been the Rookie of the Year.
Three other players who graced the field in a Lookouts’ uniform in 2013 got a ticket to go to Sydney as well. Miguel Rojas, who only hit .233 in 130 games last year, has played very strongly in Cactus League games. Rojas has hit .444 in 27 at-bats this spring, giving him the best average of all the Dodgers who have seen more than two times at the plate. Joc Pederson was the second best hitter for the Lookouts in 2013, with Puig being the only one who was better than he was. He also was near the top of the Southern League for stolen bases, and is currently ranked as the 36th best prospect in all the minor leagues on MLB.com. Zach Lee was the Dodgers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, leading the rotation for the Lookouts. Lee is the only player who made their way to Australia that might be back in a Lookouts’ uniform in 2014, but he is still trying to work his way up in the organization.
Kenley Jansen, who is the closer for the Dodgers, was in a Lookouts’ uniform in 2010 and 2011. The first year, Jansen went 4-0 in 22 appearances, with a minuscule ERA of 1.67, splitting time between Chattanooga and L.A. He came back in 2011 and pitched in only five games before being permanently called up to the Majors. He has been the closer for the Dodgers the last two seasons, accumulating 62 saves over his career, with an ERA of 2.10.
Scott Van Slyke, who may be known most of all for his standoff with Joe Kelly in the NLCS last year (see below), was a teammate of Kenley those two years, although he made his way to the majors a little more slowly. He averaged .312 in the Scenic City, driving in 121 runs in 770 plate appearances. He’s seen a little less success in the major leagues, only hitting .219 in his sporadic at-bats mainly being a bench player and pinch hitter.
Another Lookout from the 2010 season was Dee Gordon. The speedster stole 53 bases for the Lookouts that year and has split each of the last three seasons between Albuquerque and the Dodgers, stealing 66 bases in the Majors and 58 for the Isotopes.
The final Lookouts’ player to make his way to the Sydney Cricket Ground is the one who had the most time spent in a Lookouts’ uniform. Chris Withrow was in Chattanooga for a little over three seasons, playing between 2009 and 2012 at AT&T Field. He was a starting pitcher until 2012, where he struggled with the Lookouts. They moved him to the bullpen that season and he flourished. In 2013, Withrow began the season with the Isotopes, with an ERA of 1.71 in 25 appearances. That was good enough to get him called up to Los Angeles, where he continued to do well, going 3-0 with an ERA of 2.60 in 26 more appearances.
No matter which five players don’t make it onto the 25-man roster for those two games, there will be a large stamp left on the games from players who got an opportunity to play just up the hill from the Tennessee River.