After watching Bowie stumble through four straight losing seasons, the Baltimore Orioles helped the Class AA Baysox clean house in the offseason.
Dave Trembley became the team's seventh manager since 1999 and new coaches also joined the team, which will open play in Harrisburg on April 3 and will host the Senators in their home opener April 10.
The Orioles are trying to change life in their minor league system -- and Bowie is one of the places that needs the most fixing. The team was 55-85 last year, following seasons of 59-82 (2001), 65-77 (2000) and 70-71 (1999).
"As an organization, it's important to create stability," said Darrell "Doc" Rodgers, the Orioles' new director of minor league operations. "That's one of our long-term goals. You look at the shining examples of long-term success in the game, and you'll find consistency and stability. The goal is to follow that example."
Trembley brings 16 years of minor league managerial experience to the Baysox and wants to change life in Bowie. Butch Davis (bench coach) and Dave Schuler (pitching coach) are joining Trembley, who plans to make sure his players understand the value of hard work.
"Our fundamentals are going to be very sound," Trembley said. "Our approach is going to be very basic: Be on time, be professional and play the game with respect."
One thing that hasn't changed much is the Baysox roster, which still includes pitchers Matt Riley (4-10, 6.34) and Mike Paradis (8-13, 5.64). Catcher Eli Whiteside joined Bowie late last season and then turned many heads at the Orioles' training camp this spring in Florida.
Shortstop Ed Rogers (.261) was one of the Eastern League's best defensive infielders last year and is considered one of Baltimore's brightest prospects. Outfielder Tim Raines Jr. (.261) played much better in the second half last year after manager Dave Stockstill took over and put him in the leadoff spot daily.
First baseman Doug Gredvig (.275, 14 HR, 80 RBI) was one of the team's top power hitters throughout the season.
Offense was Bowie's problem last year because inconsistent starting pitching often left the Baysox behind early in games.
After staggering through 2002 with the worst record in all of full-season professional baseball, Class A Frederick is expected to enter Carolina League play with as much talent as it has had in recent years. The Keys will host the Lynchburg Hillcats in their April 4 opener.
The Keys will feature four of the organization's top-10 prospects, as picked by Baseball America. Last season, they never fielded one such prospect for so much as a game. "We're trying to develop skills as well as a winning attitude," Rodgers said.
"Being competitive night after night and putting them in winning situations as much as you can is really more of a concern than the won-lost record. We feel that if they're developing and playing the game of baseball correctly, they're going to win their share."
Leading the way will be starting pitchers Rammi Lewis, Richard Stahl and John Maine. Lewis, who went 1-2 with 25 saves and a 2.15 ERA after being converted from a starter to a closer, will return to his starter's role. With stellar command for his experience level and a fastball clocked around 93 mph, the left-hander will look to round out his repertoire by improving his change-up and curve.
Right-hander Maine (2-2, 1.45 ERA, 60 strikeouts, seven walks in 10 games with Aberdeen and Delmarva last season), was once Conference USA pitcher of the year for Charlotte who dropped to the sixth round in last year's draft after a disappointing junior season.
Another lefty, Stahl, will be trying to rebound after missing nearly all of last season because of surgery to remove a bone spur in his left shoulder. Third baseman Tripper Johnson (.260, 11 HR, 71 RBI, 19 steals at Delmarva last year) rounds out the list.
The Potomac Cannons, who will open their season April 4 at Salem, have also experienced an offseason of upheaval.
After six years as the Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cannons signed a two-year agreement with the Cincinnati Reds last fall. The Reds will be the Cannons' sixth major league affiliation since 1978. As a result, the Cannons have imported a new coaching staff and a new roster.
The team has struggled of late, finishing 59-81 last season -- its fifth losing season in six years with the Cardinals. But new manager Jayhawk Owens, a former major league catcher who has won league titles in each of his three seasons as a minor league coach, said the Reds organization is committed to succeeding at the minor league level.
"I am aware of the past of the Potomac Cannons, and I definitely want to change the direction" of the club, he said in a phone interview from Florida. "Our number one priority is to develop young players, but we stress winning very strongly with the Cincinnati Reds. When push comes to shove, I'm developing players, but I'm developing winners, too, and we want to win."
The Cannons will replace the Stockton Ports as the Reds' high Class A affiliate. Last year, the Ports claimed the California League championship and finished 89-51, tops among full-season minor league teams. They were one of three Reds' affiliates to qualify for postseason play. Owens guided that club, and was named manager of the year for high-A classifications. New Cannons hitting coach Jamie Dismuke was also with the Ports.
"We had good fundamentals, we played good defense, and behind good pitching we were able to put it together and win that championship," Owens said. "My number one rule is that you have to have fun. My second rule is you have to be aggressive. You can't have fun if you don't play aggressive. You're supposed to have fun, and sometimes people get lost in technicalities."
Rosters were not set at press time, but prospects Tony Blanco, a 21-year-old third baseman from the Dominican Republic, and William Bergolla, a 19-year-old second baseman who hit .352 in rookie league play last season, are candidates to join the team at some point this year.