We have been introducing you to each of the Devil Rays minor league affiliates and highlighting a few of the players that we will be tracking over the course of the season. Today: The Visalia Oaks

Visalia Oaks

Apparently Visalia is in California, and NOT in Spain, like we thought. Who knew? We began the first two minor league posts (Durham Bulls and Montgomery Biscuits) with introductions to the team’s mascots, and problems we had with both. Today we introduce you to Chatter the Squirrel. And quite frankly, we can’t come up with anything we don’t like about it. Its cute, its cuddly, its got big eyes, and they may carry “plague and animal-borne diseases”. Oh. Our bad. We are glad they decided to go with a squirrel and not a tree. Apparently Tree mascots don’t know how to behave. Let’s get to the team.

The Visalia Oaks are the “Advanced-A” minor league team for the D-Rays. In the past, teams had B-teams, C-teams and even D-teams. Now there are “Advanced-A”, “A”, “Short-Season-A” and “Rookie League”. Our report cards would have looked a lot better if schools followed the same sytem. The Oaks are managed by Stu Cole, who played nine games with the Kansas City Royals as a middle infielder.

Key players we will be keeping tabs on throughout the season

Reid Brignac, 20 years old, SS. Brignac was the second round pick of the D-Rays in the 2004 amateur draft. After a promising debut season in 2004, he struggled last season at Southwest Michigan (.264-15-61-5). Hopefully it was just a sophomore slump and Brignac begins to show everyone why he was worthy of a high draft pick, and his nickname, “The Cajun God of Baseball.” Umm? Ok.

Christopher Mason, 21, RHP. Mason was the second pick of the D-Rays in the 2005 amateur draft, out of UNC-Greensboro, and possesses a 95 mph fastball. Used sparingly out of the bullpen last season, he posted strong numbers and will try to build on those in his first full professional season. Look for Mason to be in Montgomery midway through this season.

Francisco Leandro, 25, OF. Leandro has only two years of professional ball under his belt and his numbers have been impressive. He spent the second half of 2005 in Visalia and batted .355, with a .449 OBP and .569 SLG. Overall, he has batted .320 in his career. Look for Leandro to receive a quick promotion to Montgomery and possibly Durham before the season is over.

Fernando Perez, 22, OF. Perez is considered one of the fastest players in all of baseball. He led the Midwest League last season with 58 stolen bases in 134 games and batted .289 with a .361 OBP.

Tomorrow: Southwest Michigan Devil Rays

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