Well, it's officially that time of year again. Sunday night was opening night in Major League Baseball, and Minor League rosters have been taking their forms all week. As MILB fans, this week marks a time where we all hope and pray that top prospect(s) and/or interesting big league veterans will be assigned to the MILB team in your area. Here's a list of some of the best cities to be a fan of a minor league baseball team this year. This is not necessarily a list of the best teams in MILB, but rather the teams with the most intriguing and exciting players to watch.
Team: Memphis Redbirds
MLB Organization: St. Louis Cardinals
Key Players: OF Oscar Taveras, RHP Michael Wacha, 2B Kolten Wong, SS Greg Garcia, OF Adron Chambers
Why Memphis?: The Cardinals have arguably the top farm system in baseball and much of it is due to their depth and talent level in the upper levels of their system. Obviously 20-year old Taveras is the biggest draw here, as he may be the best pure hitter in the minor leagues. Wacha, the Cardinals 1st Round pick in 2012, is one of the most under-appreciated pitching prospects in the game, with electric stuff and the ability to help the Cardinals this season. Lastly, the middle infield of Wong and Garcia are a talented duo who will be competing with the likes of Pete Kozma, Daniel Descalso, Matt Carpenter, and Ryan Jackson for big league playing time sooner rather than later. To top it off, as a special treat, Redbirds fans will get to see 3B David Freese this weekend, who is on a rehab assignment.
Team: Tacoma Rainiers
MLB Organization: Seattle Mariners
Key Players: LHP Danny Hultzen, C Mike Zunino, RHP James Paxton, 2B/SS Nick Franklin, 2B/3B Stefen Romero
Why Tacoma?: If the Cardinals aren't at the top of your list in terms of best farm system in baseball, it's most likely the Seattle Mariners. And again, like St. Louis, Seattle has much of their minor league talent in the upper levels, specifically AAA Tacoma. Hultzen and Paxton are two of four (Taijuan Walker, Brandon Maurer) outstanding pitching prospects that will most likely compete for big league rotation spots in 2014. Many have said Zunino has a chance to be the best power hitting catcher since Mike Piazza, while Romero (who will start the season on the DL), starts the season in AAA after being the organization's best bat in A and AA ball in 2012.
Round Rock, TX
Team: Round Rock Express
MLB Organization: Texas Rangers
Key Players: SS Jurickson Profar, 1B/3B Mike Olt, OF Engel Beltre, RHP Justin Grimm, 1B Chris McGuinness
Why Round Rock?: Clearly the main attraction in Round Rock this season is the consensus #1 prospect in baseball, 20-year old phenom Jurickson Profar. Profar should be in the big leagues sooner rather than later, but the talented youngster will get a chance to hone his skills in AAA after a quick stint as a September call-up in 2012. Olt, from UConn, is one of the better power hitting prospects in the game who also got a chance at the big league level in 2012.
Las Vegas, NV
Team: Las Vegas 51s
MLB Organization: New York Mets
Key Players: C Travis D'Arnaud, RHP Zack Wheeler, IF Wilmer Flores
Why Las Vegas?: First of all, unfortunately, probably the last thing on your bucket list of things to do in Vegas is to watch a minor league baseball game. That being said, any Las Vegas 51s fans out there have to be excited for the team's first year as an affiliate of the New York Mets. D'Arnaud returns to Las Vegas after being traded from the Blue Jays to the Mets, and is considered one of the top catching prospects in baseball. Wheeler has electric stuff, and should be joining Matt Harvey as a dynamic 1-2 punch in the Mets rotation before the all-star break.
Team: Bowie Baysox
MLB Organization: Baltimore Orioles
Key Players: RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Kevin Gausman, OF Xavier Avery
Why Bowie?: The consensus top pitching prospect in the game is 20-year old Bundy, who completely dominated both levels of A-ball in 2012, before getting a quick September call-up. Gausman, the 4th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of LSU, is another one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Both will start with the Bowie Baysox with every intention of being with the big league squad by the season's end. The Baysox also will have an outfield full of guys with big league experience, including Xavier Avery, who at 23 is still a prospect to watch in the Orioles organization.
Team: Portland Sea Dogs
MLB Organization: Boston Red Sox
Key Players: SS Xander Bogaerts, RHP Matt Barnes, RHP Daniel Bard, C Christian Vasquez
Why Portland?: A combination of two of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization, and an established veteran trying to work his way back to the big leagues, make the Sea Dogs a very interesting team to watch this year. Bogaerts is on many's Top 10 prospects in baseball list, with elite athleticism and raw talent. Barnes is also on most top prospect lists, and will join a rotation full of guys who could help the big league club soon including Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo and Drake Britton. Finally, Daniel Bard will be appearing at Hadlock Field, at least for the early part of the season, in an effort to regain his dominant form from the 2010 Red Sox season.
Team: Chattanooga Lookouts
MLB Organization: Los Angeles Dodgers
Key Players: OF Yasiel Puig, OF Joc Peterson, RHP Zach Lee, LHP Chris Reed
Why Chattanooga?: One of the biggest stories in 2013 Spring Training was the dominance of Cuban OF prospect Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was eventually optioned to Chattanooga to start the season. He will join another outstanding young hitter in the outfield with the underrated 20-year old Joc Peterson. To top it off, two of the more electric arms in the system (especially after dealing Allen Webster to the Red Sox), in Lee and Reed will be on the roster as well.
Team: Daytona Cubs
MLB Organization: Chicago Cubs
Key Players: OF Jorge Soler, SS Javier Baez, 2B Zeke DeVoss
Why Daytona?: While the Daytona Cubs aren't quite as deep with prospects as some of these other teams, they do have two of the most dynamic young players in all of minor league baseball in Baez and Soler. Soler, the No. 42 prospect in MLB for 2013, signed a massive major league contract with the Cubs in 2012 before impressing in the Arizona and Midwest Leagues. Baez, the 9th overall pick in the 2011 draft, is a talented bat at a premium position who was ranked the No. 16 prospect in baseball.
Cedar Rapids, IA
Team: Cedar Rapids Kernels
MLB Organization: Minnesota Twins
Key Players: OF Byron Buxton, LHP Mason Melotakis, RHP Hudson Boyd, 3B Travis Harrison, IF Jorge Polanco, OF Max Kepler (maybe??)
Why Cedar Rapids?: I admit, I expected this team to be much more loaded than it actually is, but due to the draw of Buxton it is still a place I would want to be as an MILB fan. Buxton is one of the highest upside prospects in baseball, and will be joined by other solid prospects in the lineup like Harrison, Polanco, and Adam Walker. Kepler, a German native who was awesome at Elizabethton in 2012, should join the team eventually after recovering from an elbow injury. The pitching staff isn't as strong as expected, with the notable omissions of RHPs from the 2012 draft Luke Bard and Jose Berrios, but Melotakis and Boyd are both decent prospects to watch.