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First-half champs have been tough to quack

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Dewd, the mascot for the Down East Wood Ducks, participates in a game in between innings of the Wood Ducks' game against the Winston-Salem Dash on July 2, 2019.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, July 4, 2019

KINSTON — Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told Down East Wood Ducks vice president Wade Howell that he thought the Wood Ducks might have the best outfield in all of minor league baseball.

The Wood Ducks, in their third season playing high Single-A baseball in Kinston, then calmly and efficiently won the first half of the Carolina League Southern Division regular season with a 50-20 record.

Daniels might have been correct. Howell and fans in eastern North Carolina are enjoying the ride.

“When I start hearing comments like that before the season, and we never really quite know who we are going to get here, but that gave us some indication and other people started saying that we were going to have a pretty talented roster here,” Howell said.

The team’s record was the best first-half record in the minor leagues. It also was the second-best mark for a half-season in Carolina League history.

It guaranteed that the Wood Ducks will host playoff games again this year, beginning Sept. 6 at Grainger Stadium. They will be looking to take the Carolina League championship for the second time in three years, having already won in 2017.

“We thought we would be pretty good, but probably a little surprised that we were the best team in minor league baseball,” Howell said of the team’s 50-20 record for the first half ahead of the second-place Winston-Salem Dash (38-26) in the Southern Division. “You don’t think about anything like that. It was fun to watch, and then we knew that also meant we would start losing players to Double-A (the Frisco RoughRiders).

“It felt like with the Rangers’ system overall and the process we’ve been going through the last couple of years with making trades and getting prospects, we’re building for the future. There is talent in the minor league level.”

The outfield Daniels referenced in Kinston this summer has featured three of the organization’s top six prospects in power-hitting 23-year-old Julio Pablo Martinez (No. 4 prospect), Bubba Thompson (No. 5) and Leody Taveras (No. 6).

Taveras was called up to Frisco, but Martinez and Thompson remain with the Woodies. No. 3 prospect Anderson Tejeda, 21, a middle infielder from the Dominican Republic, also is in Kinston.

Although a slew of players have moved on to Double-A to advance their careers, there is more promise personified in the Texas Rangers’ top two prospects both being pitchers and in low Single-A. They could be coming to Kinston soon.

Down East entered Wednesday night tied for first place in the second-half standings.

Winning certainly can help with attendance and internally with a minor league team, but team records are only part of the equation. There is always balance of developing individual players correctly within the team concept.

That balance has proved effective for the Wood Ducks this summer, which Howell said has already created a unique season.

The Woodies begin a series at the Salem Red Sox today and will return to Grainger Stadium for a six-game homestand beginning July 10.

“The response that we are getting of people already purchasing tickets for the postseason kind of shows that people are excited about it,” Howell said. “It’s completely different from 2017. People are getting on board now and excited for the playoffs and want to come to the games and support the team.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

TEXAS RANGERS’ TOP PROSPECTS

1. Hans Crouse, 20, RHP, low Single-A Hickory

2. Cole Winn, 19, RHP, low-Single-A Hickory

3. Anderson Tejeda, 21, INF, Wood Ducks

4. Julio Pablo Martinez, 23, OF, Wood Ducks

5. Bubba Thompson, 21, OF, Wood Ducks

6. Leody Taveras, 20, OF, Double-A Frisco

7. Joe Palumbo, 24, LHP, Triple-A Nashville

8. Jonathan Hernandez, 22, RHP, Double-A Frisco

9. Brock Burke, 22, LHP, Double-A Frisco

10. Taylor Hearn, 24, LHP, Texas Rangers

According to MLB.com

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