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Former Hogs labor in the land of weird mascots

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Sea Dogs, Jumbo Shrimp, and Lugnuts.

Those are three minor-league rosters where you’ll find former Arkansas baseball players early this season.

Arkansas fans know about Andrew Benintendi, who’s destined to become a fixture in Boston after spending less than two years in the minors. They’re also likely aware James McCann is developing into a star in Detroit, where he’s added some offensive punch to his immense defensive skills as a catcher.

We can add Barrett Astin of Forrest City to the list of former Razorbacks to make the majors along with McCann, Benintendi, Dallas Keuchel, Logan Forsythe, Drew Smyly, Blake Parker and Craig Gentry.

Astin, 25, retired the only batter he faced to help the Cincinnati Reds win on opening day. He then got a lesson in the business aspect of baseball when he was sent back to the minors, recalled for one game with the Reds, then demoted again despite pitching two scoreless innings against Milwaukee.

Astin will likely spend most of the season with the Triple-A Louisville Bats, whose logo features a bat with its wings spread wide and with its feet on a baseball bat.

Yep, bizarre. I don’t have proof, but I am convinced the move to legalize marijuana began with people who name minor league baseball teams.

So, what about the other former Razorbacks who are still rising prospects chasing big-league dreams? Let’s take a peak at a few of them, beginning in Triple-A where one phone call can change a young man’s life.

RYNE STANEK

RHP, Durham Bulls (Triple-A)

Ah, the Durham Bulls. The mascot is more traditional and the movie is a better visual than the Louisville Bats with Susan Sarandon taking swings in the batting cage.

Stanek, 25, who began his pro career as a starter, is now being groomed as a reliever by the Tampa Bay Rays organization. That’s probably a good idea after he finished 4-10 last season with a 4.30 earned run average.

DJ BAXENDALE

RHP, Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A)

Baxendale could follow Astin into the majors this year if he performs anything close to last season at Rochester, where he was 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA in 23 games.

Baxendale, 26, has some flexibility as a pitcher with 76 starts in 126 career games in the minor leagues.

DOMINIC FICOCIELLO

3B/1B, Erie Seawolves (Double-A)

Ficociello, 25, got a taste of the big time when he hit four home runs and batted .229 with Detroit in spring training games. The Tigers like his versatility as a corner infielder with solid defensive skills.

He’s off to a slow start with the bat at Erie, but he should be able to reach Triple-A Toledo sometime this summer.

They’re the Mud Hens, if you’re keeping track.

BRIAN ANDERSON

3B, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Double-A)

Jumbo Shrimp, an oxymoron of the tastiest order.

Anderson, 23, is batting over.300 after hitting .243 in 86 games last season for the Jumbo Shrimp.

JALEN BEEKS

LHP, Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A)

Beeks, 23, is ranked No. 27 on a list of Boston’s 30 top prospects to begin the season. He pitched five scoreless in his first start, but the Red Sox view him more as a middle reliever if he makes it to the big leagues.

ZACH JACKSON

RHP, Lansing Lugnuts (Class A)

Hey, I get it. Michigan has long been known as the automobile capital of the world.

But could you possibly come up with a less intimidating or less inspiring name for a sports team than lugnuts? Jackson, 22, badly needs a quick exit from lugnut land and a promotion to Toronto’s Double-A team, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

The Fisher Cats are a vast improvement over the initial nickname, the New Hampshire Primaries, which featured a logo of an elephant (Republicans) and donkey (Democrats) holding a baseball bat. Someone’s awful idea is proof that people who attempt to mix politics with baseball do so unsuccessfully.

Except for George Will, of course.

Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.

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