We’ve reached October, which means we’ve reached playoff baseball in the big leagues. The MLB post-season officially gets underway tonight, and there are former Sounds all over the place. Depending on how playoff rosters get finalized in the coming days, as many as seven of the 10 qualifying teams will be represented by at least one former Nashville Sounds player. There are a few players with Nashville or middle Tennessee ties, too. So, as you’re watching, listening and reading over the next few weeks, here are some names — both household and otherwise — of former Sounds for which to look.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have reached the playoffs for the third year in a row, and unlike last year, they did so with the help of some former Sounds. Their tremendous pitching staff is loaded with young phenoms, many of whom came through Memphis and faced the Sounds this year or in years past. They have their share of veterans, too, including 38-year-old Sounds alum Randy Choate (’08), who went 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 69 appearances this year for the Cards. Joining him in the St. Louis bullpen these days is former Sound and Brewers closer John Axford (’09-’10), who was traded from Milwaukee on August 30 for Michael Blazek (a possible Sounds reliever in ’14). Axford saved 46 games for a Brewers playoff team in ’11 and saved 35 games for Milwaukee last year before posting a 4.45 ERA in 62 games this year for The Crew. After the trade, though, he had a 1.74 ERA in 13 appearances for St. Louis.
The Braves certainly will have some players on their playoff roster with ties to the Nashville area. Whether they have a Sounds alum, though, depends on whether they include Kameron Loe (’10) in their ‘pen for the Division Series. After three productive seasons (’10-’12) in the Brewers’ bullpen, Loe bounced around in ’13. He signed with the Mariners this past February and was claimed off waivers by the Cubs in April. A month later, he was a free agent and signed in mid-May with Atlanta. He went 4-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 27 games — 10 starts — for the Braves’ Triple-A Gwinnett club and 1-2 with a 6.17 ERA in nine games in the major leagues for Atlanta. The Braves also boast Vanderbilt alumnus Mike Minor and Columbia native Dan Uggla. The seventh overall pick in the ’09 draft out of Vandy, Minor went 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA in 32 starts. Uggla cracked 22 homers in 136 games in his third season with the Braves, but the club did not include him on its roster for the NLDS.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are managed by one of the most well-known former Sounds the team has ever had — Don Mattingly (’81). He managed the club to a winning record for the third year in a row and did so this year as many were calling for him to be fired early in the season. Instead the Dodgers went on to win the NL West by 11 games over Arizona, sporting a 92-60 record. There are two former Sounds on their pitching staff — Zack Greinke (’11) and Chris Capuano (’10). Greinke pitched for the Sounds in 2011 as part of a major league rehab assignment while with Milwaukee. After going 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA in 21 starts for the Brewers in ’12, he was traded that July to the Angels for Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena. Segura seems to be the Brewers answer at shortstop for years to come, Hellweg was named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year after a stellar season for the Sounds this year, and Pena seems likely to pitch for the Sounds at some point next year after a solid ’13 campaign at Double-A Huntsville. Meanwhile Greinke became a free agent after last year, signed a lucrative contract with the Dodgers over the winter and went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA in 28 starts this season. Greinke is part of a loaded Dodgers rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Ricky Nolasco, Hyun-jin Ryu and the veteran Sounds alum Capuano. The 34-year-old lefty went 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA in 24 appearances as the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter. In his nine-year major league career, Capuano is 73-83 with a 4.27 ERA. In the best-of-five National League Division series, Capuano figures to be in the Dodgers’ bullpen.
If you’re hearing about the Pirates, you’re probably hearing a lot about 1992, which WAS the last time the Buccos had had a winning season and reached the playoffs. Enter 2013. They’re back in the dance, and former Sound Jeff Branson (’91-’92) is a member of manager Clint Hurdle’s coaching staff. Branson played for the Sounds in the early 1990s when the Sounds were in the American Association and Triple-A for the Reds. He enjoyed a 14-year playing career before becoming a minor league coach for the Pirates, serving as hitting coach at Triple-A Indianapolis last year before joining their major league field staff this season. One of the hitters Branson oversees is Vanderbilt alum Pedro Alvarez, a New York native who starred for the Commodores and was the No. 2 overall pick in the ’08 draft. During an all-star season this year, Alvarez hit .233 with 36 homers and 100 RBIs.
The Reds, in the playoffs for the second straight season and third time four years, have four former Sounds on their team. Their third base coach is Mark Berry (’87), who hit .233 with 22 RBIs in 75 games for Nashville in ’87 as a Reds minor leaguer. He’s in his 30th year overall with the Reds organization and his 15th in a row as part of the major league club’s coaching staff. Veteran pitcher Bronson Arroyo (’99-’02) is on a major league playoff team for a sixth time. He pitched in 47 games for the Sounds over four years when Nashville was Triple-A for the Pirates. In ’02 when he went 8-6 with a 2.96 ERA. The ever-eccentric (see: music, hairstyles, pitching delivery) Arroyo went 14-12 with a 3.79 in 32 starts for the Reds this year while reaching 200-plus innings pitched for the eighth time in his career (note: he tossed 199 innings in ’11 and otherwise would have nine straight years of 200-plus IP). Sounds alumnus Manny Parra (’07, ’09, ’11) joins Arroyo on the Reds pitching staff. After several years with the Brewers, Parra signed with the Reds last winter as a free agent and went 2-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 57 appearances this year out of the bullpen. The other former Sound for the Reds is veteran utility man Cesar Izturis (’12), who played four games for the Sounds last year on a major league rehab assignment from the Brewers. Izturis has played in over 1,300 games in his 13-year major league career but is in the playoffs for just the second time (’04 Dodgers).
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox do not have a former Sound on their roster. So, don’t root for them.
A’s are now the two-time defending AL West champions, thanks in large part to their manager, former Sound Bob Melvin (’85), who took the A’s helm in ’11 and was one of six former Sounds who managed in the big leagues this year (Ron Roenicke, MIL; Dale Sveum,CHC; Robin Ventura,CHW; Buck Showalter, BAL; and Mattingly, LAD). Melvin, who also managed Arizona to the post-season in ’07, appeared in 53 games for the Sounds in ’85 (Triple-A, Tigers), batting .271 with nine homers and 24 RBIs. Yet again, one of the stalwarts in Melvin’s bullpen this year was closer Grant Balfour (’07), who went 1-3 with a 2.59 ERA and 38 saves in an all-star campaign. In addition to Melvin, the A’s field staff features former Sound Ariel Prieto (’03), a native of Cuba who was a minor league coach in the A’s system before joining their major league staff after the club signed Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes. One of the many young hurlers the A’s boast is Smyrna native and Vanderbilt alum Sonny Gray, who excelled this year for Triple-A Sacramento, including a victory for the River Cats against the Sounds at Greer Stadium in May, before getting called up. Gray currently is slated to pitch Game 2 for the A’s in the Division Series against the Tigers.
The reigning American League champions continue to feature two former Sounds — one player and one coach. You know the player… Prince Fielder (’05), who put together his third straight (6th overall) 100-RBI season. He belted 25 home runs, his lowest total in any previous full season in the majors. One of the men observing Fielder is Tigers hitting coach and former Sound Lloyd McClendon (’87-’88), who played in Nashville at Triple-A for the Reds and totaled 28 games. He’s in his seventh year as the Tigers’ hitting coach under manager Jim Leyland.
The Indians do not have a former Sound on their roster. So, don’t root for them.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays don’t feature any former Sounds but do have a couple of players with ties to Nashville, most notably David Price, the Vanderbilt alum, Murfreesboro native and No. 1 overall pick in ’07 who led Tampa Bay’s charge past the Rangers on Monday night. Price battled some injuries this year but still went 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA in 27 starts, logging 186 2/3 innings after three straight years of 200-plus. The Rays also feature Franklin resident Ben Zobrist, who batted .275 with 12 homers and 71 RBIs in 157 games for the Rays while making his second all-star team. Zobrist, born in Illinois, is the Rays’ longest-tenured player. He’s lived in Franklin for several years with his wife, Julianna, a Christian alternative recording artist. Fun fact of the day: according to the Rays’ Media Guide, the Zobrists rent out their farm in Franklin, Trinity View Farm, for weddings and corporate events as a small-business venture.
So, there you have it. Those are the 16 former Sounds (plus a few others with Nashville ties) to look for in the playoffs. Enjoy the October baseball…it’s the best!
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