A Look at the Omaha Storm Chasers
The finals are set in the Pacific Coast League as the Omaha Storm Chasers — the 2013 PCL and Triple-A National Champions — are back to defend their title against the Reno Aces. For the second time in three seasons, the Aces are back in the PCL Finals. The Aces, who beat the Las Vegas 51s, lost game one of the series, but battled back to win the last three games. The Aces and the Storm Chasers played in the 2012 PCL Championship, with the Aces winning the series and the PCL championship in four games.
One of these two PCL teams will play in Uptown Charlotte at BB&T Ballpark on September 16. The winner will face the winner of the IL Finals, which features Pawtucket against Durham.
Let’s take a look at the…
OMAHA STORM CHASERS: Triple-A Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals
The Omaha Storm Chasers are led by manager Brian Poldberg, who is in his first season at the helm of the team. Poldberg spent the last six seasons as manager of Northwest Arkansas (Double-A affiliate of the Royals). Overall, the 2014 season is his 15th as a Minor League manager and he has compiled 1,010 wins. Omaha’s pitching coach is Larry Carter, who is in his second season with the Storm Chasers. As a player, Carter was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 10th round of the 1986 draft.
Hitting coach Tommy Gregg is a familiar name to Charlotte Knights fans. Gregg spent parts of two seasons with the Charlotte Knights when the team was affiliated with the Florida Marlins organization. In 1995, Gregg appeared in 34 games for the Knights and hit a remarkable .387 with 30 runs scored, 10 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBIs. The following season, Gregg appeared in 119 games for the Knights (1996) and hit .286 with 69 runs scored, 24 doubles, 22 home runs, and 80 RBIs.
Born in Boone, NC, Gregg is fifth all-time in Knights franchise history in batting average with a .310 mark. He went to high school at Richard J. Reynolds High in Winston-Salem, NC and attended Wake Forest University. The 2014 season is Gregg’s sixth with Omaha. He spent nine seasons in the majors.
RHP Kyle Zimmer was drafted by the Royals in the first round (5th overall) in the 2012 draft out of the University of San Francisco. He made his way through the ranks over the past two seasons, finishing the 2013 campaign in Northwest Arkansas (Double-A). He went 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in four starts.
Zimmer entered the 2014 season ranked by Baseball America as the number one prospect in the Kansas City organization, however Zimmer has missed the majority of the season after he strained his lat muscle in May. He was shut down for six-to-eight weeks and made his 2014 debut on August 17 with Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League (Rookie). He appeared in six games (five starts) with the team and compiled a 0-0 mark with a 1.93 ERA in 4.2 IP. Zimmer is moving quickly, however, as he is playing for Triple-A Omaha. He appeared in game three of the first round of the playoffs — making his Triple-A debut. He threw one inning out of the bullpen and did not allow a run or a hit. He walked one.
Jorge Bonifacio, 21, entered the 2014 season ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization by Baseball America. Bonifacio, the younger brother of Major League infielder Emilio Bonifacio, was signed by the Royals in 2009. The 21-year-old outfielder is moving quickly through the system and has had success at every level. In 48 games with the Royals DSL squad in 2010, he hit .335 over 48 games. Last season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, he hit .301 in 25 games. Bonifacio hit .230 (116-for-505) with four home runs and 51 RBIs this season for Omaha. Bonifacio hit .455 (5-for-11) in three first-round playoff games with two runs scored and a double.
The Omaha roster features a number of veterans, including Brian Bocock, Paul Janish, Pedro Ciriaco, and Clayton Mortensen. All four have spent time in the International League over the years. Bocock started playing in the IL in 2010 as a member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He spent 2010 with Lehigh Valley and parts of 2011 with Lehigh Valley and Indianapolis. He was back in the IL in 2013 with Indianapolis and Syracuse. Overall, Bocock has played nine seasons in the minors and parts of two seasons in the majors.
Janish is an International League veteran — having spent parts of five seasons in the IL over the years. He spent four seasons with the Louisville Bats (2007-2008, 2011-2012) and then was back in the IL in 2013 with the Gwinnett Braves. Janish has spent nine seasons in the minors and has appeared in parts of six seasons in the majors.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Aaron Brooks put together an impressive 2014 season for Omaha. Brooks, 24, posted a 12-3 record with one save in 25 games (23 starts). His final four 2014 regular season starts were all good ones. The California native won all four starts including a complete game on August 23 in a 5-1 win over Tacoma. In his last outing of the regular season on August 28, he allowed just two hits over seven shutout innings. The month of August was a month to remember for Brooks, who went 5-0 with a 3.66 ERA in six starts (39.1 IP). Overall, his wins were tied for second-most in the PCL while he also ranked seventh in ERA and sixth in WHIP (1.27). On September 4, Brooks was named as the Royals Triple-A Pitcher of the Year — a year after winning the Double-A Pitcher of the Year (2013).
Brooks tossed game one of the PCL playoffs for Omaha and matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts. In all, he tossed eight innings and allowed just five hits in a 7-0 win over Memphis.
Whit Merrifield is a product of the University of South Carolina. He played a key role in USC’s first national championship in 2010 — delivering the game-winning single over UCLA in the title game. He was drafted by the Royals in the ninth round of the 2010 draft.
A native of Advance, NC, Merrified, 25, earned the Royals Triple-A Player of the Year Award this year after he hit .340 (109-for-321) in 76 games for the Storm Chasers this season. Merrifield also had 57 runs scored, 28 doubles, three home runs, 29 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases in his first crack at the Triple-A level. He began the season in Double and hit .278 (45-for-162) with 22 runs scored, 13 doubles, one triple, five home runs, and 22 RBIs. He was selected to play in the Texas League All-Star Game this year, but didn’t play due to his promotion to Omaha.
His success has continued into the playoffs and helped Omaha get past Memphis. In four first-round playoff games, Merrified hit .353 (6-for-17) with four runs scored, one double, three home runs, and four RBIs.