Saturday, August 09, 2008

Up From the Valley (Part 1)

My Dad has been a season ticket holder of the Hudson Valley Renegades almost since their inception. Actually, he attended the first game ever, and most every game in their inaugural season of 1994, but didn't purchase season tickets until the following year. He keeps score of every game he attends, and frequently verifies his scoring decisions versus the box score in the following day's Poughkeepsie Journal. Yes, he's almost as ridiculous a baseball nut as I am, and maybe even more fanatical in certain ways.

The Renegades actually relocated from Erie, Pennsylvania to Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, New York for the 1994 season, but as far as I'm concerned, their history began in that first year in Dutchess County. They were originally the Texas Rangers' Class A short-season affiliate, until the 1996 season, when they became a shared team between the Rangers and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Since 1997, though, they've been strictly the property of Tampa Bay.

As I was visiting my Dad last weekend, I came up with the idea to create a list of the ten most successful major league players who came through Hudson Valley. Now, we all know that the Devil Rays (or the Rays, as they're currently known) have had some tremendous young players come through their farm system. Unfortunately, because short-season A-ball is such a low level, most of them have skipped the Valley. Players who were drafted by the Rays, but never played for the Renegades, include Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes.

I'm going to do this in three parts, profiling 3-4 players in each installment. I'll present the list in chronological order, with the first part representing the Texas era, while the second and third parts will be exclusive to players drafted by Tampa Bay. In parentheses next to each player's name is the year he was in Hudson Valley.

Scott Podsednik (1995)Scott Podsednik
Scott Podsednik was drafted by the Rangers in 1994, playing for their Gulf Coast affiliate that year and Hudson Valley the next, before being traded to the Florida Marlins. After playing two seasons in the Marlins organization, he was re-acquired by Texas, where he spent three more minor league seasons before being signed, as a free agent, by the Seattle Mariners. He made his major league debut for the Mariners in 2001, but didn't really make a splash until 2003, when he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting after being claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Podsednik lead the majors in stolen bases with 70 in 2004, before the Brewers traded him to the Chicago White Sox. In 2005, he became the first former Renegade to play for a World Series champion. After four full seasons as a solid everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter from 2003 to 2006, Scott's playing time has dropped off considerably over the last two years. He is currently a reserve outfielder, although on the disabled list, for the Colorado Rockies.

In parts of eight major league seasons, Podsednik has batted .272, with 404 runs scored and 234 stolen bases, the latter two numbers leading all former Renegades. He made the American League All-Star team in 2005 and finished 12th in the MVP voting that year. He remains, at least for now, possibly the most successful Major League position player in Hudson Valley Renegades history.

Ryan Dempster (1995)Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster was drafted by the Rangers in 1995, and pitched only one game for Hudson Valley that year, after spending a little time with Texas' Gulf Coast affiliate. He was promoted to Charleston the following season, before being traded to the Marlins. He made his major league debut with Florida in 1998, and had his best season as a starting pitcher in 2000, going 14-10, with a 3.66 ERA in 226 innings. He went 15-12 the following year, but his ERA ballooned to 4.94, and in 2002, the Marlins shipped him to Cincinnati.

His career appeared to be nearing an end at just 26, when the Reds released him while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, following the 2003 season. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in the off-season, who converted him to the bullpen following his return from surgery in late 2004. The transition was a successful one, as he recorded 33 saves to go with a 3.13 ERA the following year. But, after two sub-par seasons, during which he struggled to hold onto the closer's role, the Cubs switched him back to the rotation for the start of the 2008 season.

That turned out to be another wise move, as he's parlayed the switch into an all-star game appearance this year, and is an integral part of a strong Cubs staff that has the team in first place in the NL Central. He currently has a 12-5 record with a 2.93 ERA, and 133 strikeouts in 150 innings pitched. His career marks of 71 wins and 87 saves are tops among Renegades alumni.

Craig Monroe (1996)
Craig MonroeCraig Monroe was drafted by the Rangers in 1995 and spent only part of the 1996 season in Hudson Valley, before being promoted to Charleston. He spent the next four seasons climbing Texas' minor league ladder before making his major league debut in 2001. After only 52 major league at bats, Texas released him and he was picked up by Detroit in the off-season.

Monroe enjoyed four solid seasons as a mostly everyday outfielder for the Tigers from 2003 to 2006, hitting at least 18 home runs and driving in at least 70 runs in each, and playing in the World Series in 2006. 2007 saw a drop-off in performance, then a trade to the Chicago Cubs. He was picked up by Minnesota in the off-season, but was released by the Twins this past week. Having cleared waivers, he is currently unemployed, but should find his way back to the majors after the September 1 roster expansions. He currently leads all ex-Renegades in major league home runs (112) and RBI (417).

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