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Vlad, Eloy Help Teams Move Merch

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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Photo by Ed Wolfstein)

The Triple-A Charlotte Knights weren’t sure when superstar prospect Eloy Jimenez was going to arrive in the Queen City, but they wanted to make sure they were ready. Just like last season, when Yoan Moncada started the year in the International League, the team made sure to have plenty of jersey shirts on hand in their team store for the occasion. The move marked a departure from the team’s past practices.

“I was hesitant. In my 37 years, it’s never really warranted that,” Knights COO Dan Rajkowski said. “I can’t remember the last time that we did it. You might order three dozen and you’d have two and a half dozen left, but Moncada was the exception. He had several re-orders. Then we did it with (Michael) Kopech this year, and we’re doing it with Jimenez now, and it catches on.

“People are buying our merchandise. It’s worked out well. I was surprised. I was not a believer that we were going to sell a lot, and I was wrong.”

The influx of prospects in Charlotte has also brought greater media attention to the team. Beyond appearing nightly on MiLB.TV, roughly a dozen Knights games have been telecast in Chicago.

“It really started last year with Moncada, and now we’ve got Jimenez and Kopech and other guys, but those are the ones who get the attention,” Rajkowski said. “But there’s a lot of good talent out there. I’m encouraged by the future.”

The same was true in Buffalo with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the game’s top prospect. When he started scorching the competition in the Double-A Eastern League, the folks in the Bisons’ front office knew it was only a matter of time before he made his way to the IL. The timetable was stunted by a knee injury that cost Guerrero roughly a month, but the Blue Jays committed to the move in August, after the Guerrero attended his father Vladimir Sr.’s Hall of Fame induction.

Now, when you visit the team’s Web site, there’s an advertisement beckoning fans to purchase one of three styles of Guerrero-branded jerseys and shirts. Even when he was sent back to Double-A New Hampshire after completing his rehab stint in Florida, Buffalo knew its day would come.

“It was exciting news, and the fact that the Blue Jays announced it the Saturday before he came was nice so we could build a little bit of momentum for his debut (that) Tuesday,” Bisons announcer Pat Malacaro said.

“We had a little advance warning, which made it nice so that we could have big crowds that week. He was the prospect who we’d hoped to see at some point this year. The fact that he was finally joining the team added a little extra juice to what was already a fun month of July.”

Guerrero debuted with the Bisons on July 31, and fans came out in droves to Coca-Cola Field. That night’s attendance was 9,477. The team’s average attendance this season was 7,796, but that mark has been goosed significantly by Guerrero’s arrival.

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In his first nine games there, Buffalo drew 88,889 fans, including four nights of more than 10,000. In the previous 48 games, the Bisons averaged 7,405 fans, meaning Guerrero’s week and a half with the team raised Buffalo’s average attendance by 391 fans per night. That might not seem like much, but it’s good enough to have jumped the team two spots to fifth in the IL.

Put another way, nearly 20 percent of Buffalo’s season attendance had come through Guerrero’s first nine games with the team.

“We had over 40,000 people, which was one of our biggest weekends of the year,” Malacaro said. “A lot of folks from southern Ontario have been very interested in following him, and it’s not easy to get to New Hampshire. So the fact that he was now an easy ride across the border meant that not only Buffalo sports fans but southern Ontario Blue Jays fans got to see him on the field. We noticed a nice bump.

“We already get a nice, healthy fan base from southern Ontario, but now it is even more (pronounced.”

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