#15: Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (#3 Low-A)
The Cannon Ballers. Had it been up to us, they would not be in this year's competition, but our fans LOVE this team. Unfortunately, the Cannon Ballers did not find a lot of success last season, and when they did, it was because they were playing a lesser opponent (Fredricksburg). They made strides at the end of the season last year to not finish dead last, but this year, sitting in last for multiple weeks will affect their end of the year standings. Making contact with the ball and not letting opponents run away with the score are the two most significant factors that will determine the Cannon Baller's season. The Cannon Ballers will start their season with a three-game series against league rival, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers.
#14: Tennessee Smokies (#3 AA)
The Tennessee Smokies are bad, but they are not as consistently bad as the Cannon Ballers. They will start the season as the lowest-ranked new team in this series. The Smokies have pretty good competition throughout the year, so movement is inevitable. We will have to wait and see whether that's up or down. The Smokies will start the season with a three-game series against a Chattanooga Lookouts team that looks... well... you'll see.
#13: Winston-Salem Dash (#4 High-A)
The Dash were not great last season, and up until the end of the year, they hung around the middle of the pack. However, we see an upside for Winston-Salem because their home run numbers are not terrible compared to the rest of the field. The Dash are on that fine line between #13 and #14, but their ability to hit dingers helps them out significantly. With four other teams in the High-A East in this year's competition, the Dash will have plenty of opportunities to move around in the field. Their first series coming into the season is against the Hickory Crawdads, who finished 10th last year and was not nominated this year. After that series, they will square off against Greensboro, Greenville, Asheville, Greenville again, and Greensboro again before playing a team outside of this year's competition. The first five weeks of the Minor League season will be detrimental to the team's end-of-year standings.
#12: Memphis Redbirds (#5 AAA)
The Memphis Redbirds will start as the lowest team of the five AAA teams. However, it is the most competitive league this year, and while the other AAA teams may stay ahead, do not expect them to remain in the Bottom-5 long. They do hit a good number of home runs which may be their saving grace against other teams in the competition. The upside for the Redbirds is that they will play last year's champion in three series this season and will have the ability to compete for the title truly. They will start the season off against the Gwinnett Stripers, who have had significant influence in the past though they are not in the competition.
#11: Fayetteville Woodpeckers (#2 Low-A)
Last year's most improved team will have a lot of ground to cover to begin the season, but that's what happens when the competition is so vast. The Woodpeckers are really good at one thing, and that's scoring points. The Woodpeckers will look to finish the season in front of the Down East Wood Ducks, something they could have done had they played the entirety of last season as they did in the last few weeks. Luckily, the Woodpeckers start the season playing the #15 Kannapolis Cannon Ballers and will see them several times before the season concludes.
#10: Down East Wood Ducks (#1 Low A)
It's crazy to think that last year's #2 team will be starting in the Middle-5 this year, but that ought to tell you just how good this year's competition is. The Wood Ducks win many games and somehow manage to win them by a large margin, but where they struggle is making contact with the ball and hitting home runs. There will be pressure coming from the #11 Fayetteville Woodpeckers this season. Last season, Fayetteville spent most of the season in the bottom two positions with the #15 Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, but as we saw at the end of last season, they can play ball. The Woodies will start the season with a three-game series against the Carolina Mudcats before playing the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers.
#9: Nashville Sounds (#4 AAA)
The Nashville sounds are about as average of a team as they come. They are great at nothing, and their only weakness is making contact with the ball. They have the fourth-lowest batting average (.241) in the competition. They aren't lower than the Memphis Redbirds, but that batting average could be a weak spot that drags them down this season. Their first week of play could change the tide of how we think the season will go because they are playing last year's champion, the Durham Bulls, in a six games series. A tie or better in week one could significantly impact their trajectory for the entire season. The Bulls @ Sounds Series is our Week 1 Series of the Week!
#8: Chattanooga Lookouts (#2 AA)
The Chattanooga Lookouts are our Preseason Sleeper Team of the Year. Though currently sitting at #8, the Lookouts lead the league in batting average, yet somehow have managed to be in the Bottom-5 in total home runs and runs batted in. If they manage to put it all together, lookout. Chattanooga will start the season with a three-game series against the #14 Tennessee Smokies.
#7: Worcester Red Sox (#3 AAA)
The Worcester Red Sox win many games, but they don't dominate like you would think a #7 team would. They're the only winning team on this list who were outscored by opponents last season. Had it not been for that, Worcester could easily be a Top-5, if not a Top-3 team. If the Red Sox cannot figure this out, that #7 spot may quickly slip, and they could see themselves in the Bottom-5 of this competition. In August, the Durham Bulls will visit Worcester. This is the only time the Sox will meet a team on the list.
#6: Asheville Tourists (#3 High-A)
The Tourist are contenders and could take this entire competition by storm this year. They score lots of points, hit lots of balls, and home runs are plentiful. Where the Tourists struggled last season was they also let their opponents score, hit, and hit dingers a lot which put them in the losing column more than the winning. If pitching gets a little better, they become an above .500 team, by the end of the year we could see a true contender come out of Asheville. Asheville will begin the season against Bowling Green before facing the Greenville Drive. Whoever takes the High-A East very well has a chance at taking this whole thing. Notice that the Tourist are #3 in their league but #6 in this competition. The Top-5 this year is going to be insanely competitive.
#5 Akron RubberDucks (#1 AA)
The RubberDucks are one of the most dominant teams in the competition and per our second to last article, we chose the RubberDucks to compete for a title. They were the #1 team in the AA - Northeast last season and there is no sign of slowing them down. They can win games, win by a lot, and are good at getting on base. Unfortunately, the RubberDucks do not play another team within the competition, so their judgment may be harsher than others.
#4: Greenville Drive (#2 High-A)
The Drive are good, and like, really good. However, they are not even the best team in their league, so you know the battles between the High-A teams this year will be well fought. Last season, the Drive finished fourth in the league and will be looking to make that jump this season. They start the season against a really good Hudson Valley team and will see the #6 Asheville Tourist in week two of the season.
#3: Oklahoma City Dodgers (#2 AAA)
The Dodgers are another team that will be heavily judged since they will not play anyone else on this list, though they have the power to be in the top three. They are one of the best home run hitting teams in the competition, which directly correlates to having a high win percentage, high scoring, high batting average, and extreme dominance. Oklahoma City will be a fun team to watch as the season progresses.
#2 Greensboro Grasshoppers (#1 High-A)
The favorites! Consistently consistent. Last season, the Grasshoppers did not want to lose a series. It was either won or tied. It is hard to argue that the Grasshoppers do not belong in the Top-3. They are the best home run hitting team in the series, have the second-highest win percentage, and score the third-most points. Let's hope Greensboro can build upon last season and win more than they tie and take the #1 spot this year. The High-A is the highest-ranked league division heading into the season. With #2, #4, and #6 in the league, the Grasshoppers, Drive, and Tourists will get their fair share of time in the Top-5. The first team in this competition that Greensboro will play will be in Week 2 of the season against the #13 Winston-Salem Dash. It's redemption season for the Grasshoppers.
#1: Durham Bulls (#1 AAA)
Finally, our #1 team and our defending champions. A no-brainer. The Durham Bulls. They are, without a doubt, the most dominant team in the series. Their pitching is unmatched. They had the third-best win/loss percentage throughout all American Baseball last season and had the second-highest point differential in all American Baseball behind the LA Dodgers. The Durham Bulls are the definition of dominant. Last season, they barely slipped out of first. Unless a team from a lesser division steps up their game, we do not see the Bulls moving out of first for a long time. There will be a lot of competition in the AAA East this year, starting with the Nashville Sounds.