Image courtesy of MiLB.com
By Nick Stevens
The first week of the Major League Baseball season is in the books, leaving fans with an instant reminder of why this game is so beautiful. A youth movement is sweeping through the league, allowing us to enjoy the mesmerizing play of Fernando Tatis Jr., the pure power of Pete Alonso and the video game-like changeup of cowboy Chris Paddack.
While the major league game is providing thrilling moments on a nightly basis, the minor league baseball season is set to begin Thursday, 120 teams across four levels of minor league ball, full of rosters of players ready to continue their grueling journey to the major leagues.
A number of former James Madison Dukes will suit up with various minor league teams, attempting to become the next former Diamond Duke to run out on an MLB field.
Here’s the complete list of Dukes beginning the 2019 season in affiliated ball.
Jake Lowery, Harrisburg Senators (Washington Nationals)
Lowery capped off his JMU career by winning the Johnny Bench Award, an annual award given to the top catcher in all of college baseball. This will be his ninth season in minor league ball since being drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the fourth round of the 2011 MLB draft. Lowery will take his career .330 on-base percentage back to Harrisburg, the Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, after re-signing with the Nats this offseason to a minor league deal.
Brandon Withers, Beloit Snappers (Oakland A’s)
A 31st-round pick of the Oakland A’s back in 2017, Withers made 15 appearances for the Vermont Lake Monsters (rookie ball level) last season, working a 0.88 ERA and converting all five of his save opportunities. A former Friday night starter for JMU, Withers may have found a role in the bullpen at the professional ranks.
Kyle McPherson, San Jose Giants (San Francisco Giants)
If McPherson continues his impressive pro career, he may quickly find himself back in Virginia with the Richmond Flying Squirrels. For now, McPherson begins the year in Advanced-A ball with San Jose. A 26th-round pick of the Giants, the infielder was a 2018 All-Star in Single-A ball, hitting .314 with a .370 OBP and seven home runs. This assignment means he will be skipping full-season A-ball.
Colton Harlow, Grand Junction Rockies (Colorado Rockies)
The left-hander returns to rookie ball in Grand Junction after going 1-0 with a 4.57 ERA last season. His stats are skewed a little bit after one bad outing. The real story is that Harlow is a strikeout pitcher who gave up just two hits over his final eight innings and logged six perfect outings of at least one inning. Like McPherson, Harlow should be making his way back east shortly, likely earning a promotion to Asheville, North Carolina, at some point in 2019.
Chris Huffman, Amarillo Sod Poodles (San Diego Padres)
Don’t you just love these names! The Sod Poodles are the brand new Double-A affiliate of the Padres, the team that drafted Huffman in the 14th round of the 2014 draft. Pitching in both Double-A and Triple-A last year, Huffman went 4-6 with a 5.75 ERA and spent his offseason pitching in the Mexican winter league. I thought last season would be the year Huffman made it to the bigs, but he struggled to find his footing in AAA and was forced to repeat AA. The two-time All-Star and Triple-A champion will need a big year to crack a new and exciting Padres pitching staff.
Former JMU outfielder Adam Sisk will continue his playing career with the Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League, an independent baseball league. Many former Dukes typically find their way onto independent league rosters throughout the summer.
After dominating in the Can-Am League, including winning Rookie of the Year honors back in 2014, Johnny Bladel earned himself a contract with the Boston Red Sox last year. After playing out the summer, the Red Sox decided not to bring him back. I will be sure to update with any new information on Bladel or any other former Dukes who take the indy ball route this summer.