As Major League Baseball begins its playoff season, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos are looking back at the season and are already making changes for 2019.
"I've never seen a team that were as bad as they were to start the year, and then, in a matter of a week, two weeks, kind of flip a switch and turn into one of the better teams I've seen" said Tommy Thrall, the team's lead broadcaster.
And Thrall has seen them all. He’s been the broadcaster for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos from their very first game in 2012. He says watching this team turn into a winner in the second half was fun to watch.
"There was some talent on this team, but nothing that I think (that was comparable) to teams like Mississippi (Braves) where it feels like half of their team is right now playing in the Major League playoffs. So, it was kind of funny to see (The Blue Wahoos) really turn around and start playing together as a unit. Once they started doing that they became unbeatable. It started to unravel and run out of steam towards the end (of the season), but still a fun year and a great group of guys."
The Blue Wahoos eventually won the wild card and went to the Southern League playoffs for the fourth season in a row. Thrall is always asked by fans if he sees any major league potential in any of the current players. He says there were a few prospects on the 2018 team, including their center fielder Jose Siri.
"He was one of the most exciting players I think I've ever seen come through here. He could run like a gazelle in the outfield, he had a cannon for an arm, and then he was always exciting when he came to the plate. And as he grows, he's got the potential to a superstar at the Major League level. But, he's got to put everything together so that's kind of a gamble. TJ Friedl is another guy I mentioned (as a prospect), and TJ might have been the most impressive out of the whole group. That guy for sure is a future major leaguer, and I think he's a guy that has a lot of potential as well. So he's going to be a lot of fun to watch. As far as pitchers go, Vladimir Gutierrez was electric. He was a guy that the Reds got from Cuba. I think he's a guy that's not far off and if he puts everything together, has a chance to be a top half of the rotation guy."
Of course, those players will be moving on to new teams next season. In fact, all the players on the 2019 Blue Wahoos will be coming from a new talent pool. Earlier this month the team announced has changed affiliations from the Cincinnati Reds to the Minnesota Twins. Blue Wahoos President Jonathan Griffith says after the season they got in touch with Major League Baseball. "We put in the notice that we were willing to look at other organizations and talk with other organizations. From that point on they gathered all the names for us and let us know who's available and we started the process."
The Reds quickly signed an agreement with a Southern League rival, the Chattanooga Lookouts, a team Cincinnati previously had a 20-year relation with. After the Reds, the only double a affiliations that were available at the time were the Twins and the San Diego Padres. While both organizations made pitches to the Wahoos, in the end, it was geography that won the day.
"The big thing was the location," said Griffith. "I think (Minnesota) being in the Central time zone when we're doing business is a big plus. And of course spring training. I think for the fans it's going to be awesome that they can drive 6 or 7 hours and go see the new Blue Wahoos (get ready for the season)."
The Twins hold their spring training in Ft. Myers, Florida. That’s also the location of their single an affiliate, the Ft. Myers Miracle in the Florida State League. The Reds also had their single A team, the Daytona Tortugas in the Florida State League. Griffith says it makes it easier to transfer players between teams. The Padres single A team is the Lake Elsinore Storm in the California League.
The bottom line is that when a Blue Wahoos player gets called up to the major leagues, he’ll now be wearing a Twins uniform instead of the Reds. And, speaking of getting called up to the major leagues.
"It's a dream come true to go up there," said Tommy Thrall. He got the call from the Reds this season to fill in during some late season Cincinnati Reds major league broadcasts.
"The experience was just so incredible," he said. "That part of it, in and of itself, just to realize a dream, is great. And then you factor in (that) I was sitting in Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman's chair and (filling in for him). That was something that just took it to a whole other level!"
Tommy Thrall is back in town now broadcasting UWF Football games, and will again be manning the mic at Blue Wahoos Stadium in April as the team begins a new chapter in 2019.