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Published: Sunday, 4/6/2003

International League notebook: Rochester's switch to Twins is biggest change

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

For the first time in five seasons there will be change in the International League.

And the change is a doozy: Rochester has severed its 41-year connection with Baltimore and now is affiliated with Minnesota.

That change transforms the Red Wings, one of the weakest teams in the IL last season, into a bully. Last season Minnesota farmhands won the Pacific Coast League title while playing in Edmonton, and many of those same players will wear Rochester uniforms this summer.

The Twins' move into Rochester sent the Orioles winging to Ottawa, and a new front office in Baltimore seems intent on producing a winner in its first season in Canada's capital city.

In each of the past nine seasons the International League has crowned a different titlist. Will this mark the 10th straight season with a new champ?

If so, then look for Norfolk, Pawtucket, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Syracuse or the Hens to win the Governors' Cup.

Here's a look at the other 13 IL teams:

BUFFALO

Affiliation: Cleveland Indians

Manager: Marty Brown

Last season: 87-57, second in North

Familiar faces: RHP Dave Burba pitched for the Indians in each of the past five seasons.

Fresh faces: C Victor Martinez has won league MVP awards in each of his last two seasons. ... OF Alex Escobar missed all of last season after a spring training injury. ... LHPs Cliff Lee and Brian Tallet are among the Tribe's top pitching prospects.

Fast fact: The Bisons have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons and in seven of the eight years since joining forces with Cleveland. ... C Chris Coste is the author of a book entitled Hey, I'm Just The Catcher, which recounts his four seasons playing with Fargo-Moorhead in the independent Northern League.

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CHARLOTTE

Affiliation: Chicago White Sox

Manager: Nick Capra

Last season: 55-88, fourth in South

Fresh faces: OF Joe Borchard is a former Stanford QB who hit 20 home runs for the Knights last season.

Fast fact: The Knights may have one of the best bullpens in the IL. Edwin Almonte, who had 26 saves for Charlotte last season, is joined by promising prospects Dave Sanders and Arnie Munoz.

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COLUMBUS

Affiliation: New York Yankees

Manager: Bucky Dent

Last season: 59-83, fourth in West

Familiar faces: Former Michigan QB Drew Henson is now in his third season with the Clippers. ... C Marcus Jensen played for the Mud Hens.

Fresh faces: OF Juan Rivera is one of the Yankees' top position prospects and started for the Yankees in last year's playoffs.

Fast fact: Columbus has missed the playoffs three straight seasons. Will Yankees owner George Steinbrenner put up with a fourth?

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DURHAM

Affiliation: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Manager: Bill Evers

Last season: 80-64, first in South

Familiar faces: Among the former Hens on the roster are first baseman Ryan Jackson, third baseman Chris Truby and pitcher Matt Perisho.

Fresh faces: One of the Devil Rays' top pitching prospects, Dewon Brazelton, should start for the Bulls.

Fast fact: Since the Bulls joined the International League in 1998 they have been affiliated with Tampa Bay, and the result has been four playoff appearances in five seasons.

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INDIANAPOLIS

Affiliation: Milwaukee Brewers

Manager: Cecil Cooper

Last season: 67-76, third in West

Familiar faces: Brooks Kieschnick, who last season became a pitcher and a designated hitter while with Charlotte, continues the experiment this season in Indianapolis. ... First baseman Lee Stevens, who played with Cleveland last year, is with Indy this year.

Fast fact: The Indians pitching staff is composed completely of right-handers.

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LOUISVILLE

Affiliation: Cincinnati Reds

Manager: Dave Miley

Last season: 79-65, second in West

Familiar faces: Former Hens Tim Adkins, Jason Maxwell and Jacob Cruz all are on the roster. . P Sean DePaula, who was with Cleveland last year, is on the Bats' staff.

Fast fact: In eight seasons as a Triple-A manager Miley has led his club to a winning record seven times.

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NORFOLK

Affiliation: New York Mets

Manager: Bobby Floyd

Last season: 70-73, third in South

Familiar faces: Former Hen Lyle Mouton will serve as the team's DH.

Fresh faces: The Mets' top prospect, SS Jose Reyes, will begin the season with Norfolk. ... Among the pitching prospects in the rotation are Aaron Heilman, Pat Strange and former UT star Jeremy Griffiths.

Fast fact: OFs Esix Snead and Prentice Redman combined with Reyes to steal 171 bases last season. As a team the Tides stole just 110 bases in 2002.

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OTTAWA

Affiliation: Baltimore Orioles

Manager: Gary Allenson

Last season: 80-61, third in North

Familiar faces: A bevy of former Hens should see action with the Lynx, including catcher Carlos Mendez, third baseman Brian Rios, outfielder Pedro Swann and right-handed pitcher Mike Drumright.

Fast fact: The Lynx's 24-man roster includes 19 players with major league experience. ... In honor of the team's new affiliation with Baltimore, members of Ottawa's front office will dye their hair orange for the home opener.

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PAWTUCKET

Affiliation: Boston Red Sox

Manager: Buddy Bailey

Last season: 60-84, fifth in North

Familiar faces: Indians fans should recognize 3B Earl Snyder and C Chris Coste. ... Former Hen Kevin Tolar will be in the Pawtucket bullpen.

Fresh faces: SS Freddy Sanchez, a top prospect for Boston, has hit wherever he has played, including .301 with Pawtucket last season.

Fast fact: Playing in a small ballpark, and having power hitters such as Julio Zuleta, Andy Abad and Snyder, should result in a lot of home runs.

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RICHMOND

Affiliation: Atlanta Braves

Manager: Pat Kelly

Last season: 75-67, second in South

Familiar faces: Former Clay High School star Chris Fussell should see action on the mound for the Braves.

Fresh faces: The lineup will include one of the Braves' top prospects in SS Wilson Betemit. ... RHP Trey Hodges and LHP Andy Pratt are two of Atlanta's top young pitchers.

Fast fact: Last season the R-Braves had their first winning season since 1995. Now they will shoot for their first playoff appearance since that year.

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ROCHESTER

Affiliation: Minnesota Twins

Manager: Phil Roof

Last season: 55-89, sixth in North

Familiar faces: Not many here, but that's a good thing for an organization that has had five losing seasons for the first time since the World War II era.

Fresh faces: Two of the Twins' top prospects, Michael Restovich and Lew Ford, will patrol the outfield at Frontier Field.

Fast fact: The Red Wings' outfield of Restovich, Ford and Mike Ryan combined to hit 89 home runs last season.

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SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE

Affiliation: Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Marc Bombard

Last season: 91-53, first in North

Familiar faces: Former Tiger Wendell Magee will take his second tour of duty with the Red Barons. ... Former Indian Jesse Levin will see plenty of action behind the plate.

Fast fact: The Red Barons, entering their 15th season in the IL, will look for their fifth straight playoff berth after making the playoffs only once in their first 10 years.

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SYRACUSE

Affiliation: Toronto Blue Jays

Manager: Omar Malave

Last season: 64-80, fourth in North

Fresh faces: C Kevin Cash is one of the Blue Jays' top prospects. ... Top prospect Vinnie Chulk may be the fifth starter in a deep, experienced rotation.

Fast fact: Two of the players the Yankees sent to Oakland in the Jeff Weaver trade, John-Ford Griffin and Jason Arnold, are in the Toronto organization now, and both could be with the SkyChiefs before this season is over.



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