The 2016 season was a banner year for the Pacific Coast League. It saw marked improvement in attendance numbers, fan experience, player development, stadium additions, and more. Here is a quick recap of the top eight teams in the PCL from last season and what each can look forward to in 2017:
Pacific Coast League Preview: Part One
1) Nashville Sounds (Oakland Athletics):
The Nashville Sounds finished 2016 with a league-best 83-59 record and team percentage of .585. They captured the American Southern division title and fell just short of the PCL Championship Series after losing to the eventual PCL runner-up Oklahoma City Dodgers in the American Conference Semifinals, three games to two.
The Sounds also enjoyed a nearly 20-win improvement over their last-place 2015 season. Major additions were also unveiled at First Tennessee Bank Park, including a new tiki-bar lounge, cajun-style food concession stand, and kids play area. With the new minor-league contracts recently signed by the A’s, along with the current roster of players, the Sounds are hoping that they can further improve and capture the PCL title, which eluded them in 2016.
2) Oklahoma City Dodgers (Los Angeles Dodgers):
Oklahoma City was two games behind Nashville in the PCL standings, with an 81-60 record and a team percentage of .574, and won the American Northern division handily. The Dodgers also defeated Nashville to reach the PCL Championships, but lost in four games to the 2016 Pacific Coast League champion El Paso Chihuahuas.
The Dodgers saw attendance at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark reach a 10-year high, with almost 600,000 visiting the stadium. Late season call-ups of top level talents cost them the PCL title, but the OKC Dodgers are planning on recent roster additions to draw an even larger crowd and bolster the team for another winning season.
3) Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Mariners):
Last season was exciting for the Rainiers, with a third place finish in the PCL, a record of 81-62, and team peecentage of .566. They also captured the Pacific Northern Division title. While they lost to El Paso in five games, they had a great season that many analysts said wouldn’t happen. The team underwent many roster changes, mostly with guys coming up from Double-A Jackson and High-A Bakersfield, but proved the talent level of the Mariners system.
Cheney Stadium, which was constructed in 1959, also got a major facelift, with new seating, bullpens, lounge options, and outfield wall. The Mariners are hoping their new “closer to home” approach to the minor league affiliates will improve the players and teams, changing several affiliates to the closest available team in each league this offseason.
4) Reno Aces (Arizona Diamondbacks):
Though the Aces had a very late 15-game winning push, they fell just short of the postseason, posting a 4th place 76-68 record and .528 team percentage. Many roster call-ups to help the ailing parent club hurt their chances of making the playoffs. Despite the almost-average season record, the Aces continued to grow attendance during the season, with Aces Ballpark seeing nearly 550,000 people enter its gates. The Aces also continue to grow the ballpark, adding new electronic signs, videoboards, and seating, which will also be shared by the new soccer team in Reno. Key trades and free agent signings are good signs the Aces (and the Diamondbacks) will be better in 2017.
5) El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres):
A fifth-place tie in season record (73-70) with the Fresno Grizzlies was actually great for the Chihuahuas. They also won the Pacific Southern division by two games over the Albuquerque Isotopes. The Chihuahuas have drawn a huge following in El Paso, with the opening of Southwestern University Ballpark bringing in nearly two million fans in just two short seasons.
Talented players moved up from the lower level affiliates saw the Chihuahuas win 14 of their final 17 games, a division title, and the PCL championship. They came up short of a Triple-A National Championship, with a 3-1 loss to the International League champion Scranton/Wilkes Barres RailRiders. A steady roster and additions from the other affiliates are what the Chihuahuas hope will lead to a repeat as PCL champions and a redemption shot at the Triple-A Championship.
6) Fresno Grizzlies (Houston Astros):
Tied with the El Paso Chihuahuas 73-70 season record and .510 team percentage, Fresno unfortunately saw a dip in their regular season record and finished third in the Pacific Northern division. Coming off a 2015 PCL Championship and a Triple-A National Championship over the International League’s Columbus Clippers, expectations were certainly high for the the Grizzlies.
The season saw attendance at Chukchansi Park spike due to several of the new promotions, including Taco Tuesday, a home park specialty every Tuesday home game, highlighting the Central Valley’s culture. With that and other promotions continuing into 2017, the Grizzlies are expecting an even higher attendance level and a return to the PCL Championship.
7) Albuquerque Isotopes (Colorado Rockies):
Despite another regular season tie, this time with the Round Rock Express at 71-72 and a .497 team percentage, the Isotopes improved upon their previous season 61-93 record and saw attendance at Isotopes Park climb over 500,000 for the first time in three years. This season, the Isotopes are celebrating their 25th anniversary and are hoping recent high-profile roster and coaching additions will earn them a PCL title.
8) Round Rock Express (Texas Rangers):
Another team added to the PCL within the last decade, the Round Rock Express have enjoyed their success in Texas, seeing an average of around 625,000 annual attendance. Although the team ended one game under .500 in 2016, the Express are planning on an even better 2017 with the addition of a new playing surface at Dell Diamond, new seating options down the first-and-third base lines, and recently acquired free agents and Rule 5 Draft picks.