Beloit's Opening Day roster features a bunch of changes, just as every other minor league club does this time of year. But what the Snappers have that not many others do is a manager that has coached every player on the roster at one point in their careers.
Veteran Oakland A's minor league coach Rick Magnante has moved up to the Midwest League after spending the past eight seasons at short-season locales in Vermont and Vancouver, bringing with him a wealth of experience tutoring prospects in the lower rungs of the organization.
"I'm familiar with all of them and I'd say we have a mix of young players and veteran guys, with some repeaters on the pitching staff," Magnante said. "It's a little bit of a mix of young and old, but in terms of experience I'd say we lean more towards the younger side."
Magnante is joined in Wisconsin by pitching coach Craig Lefferts and hitting coach Lloyd Turner, who he also had at his side last summer in the New York/Penn League.
Beloit opens the 2014 season with a four-game homestand against Burlington, starting Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. Right-hander Bobby Wahl, Oakland's fifth-round selection in last June's draft, will take the hill in the opener.
Oakland's aggressive assignments of infielders Ryon Healy and Chad Pinder, a pair of high 2013 draft picks that have skipped Beloit entirely to begin the 2014 campaign in Stockton, led to some unexpected shake-ups to the Snappers' roster.
"This is a function of analytics and metrics that our front-office used to determine the rosters at Stockton and Beloit," Magnante said. "At the beginning we felt we would be bringing Pinder as the shortstop and Healy as our third baseman, but their springs were so impressive that the front-office decided based on their analytics that they might be better served going to Stockton.
"As a result, B.A. Vollmuth is coming back after a year and a half in Stockton. We're hoping to get him on track to being the player he can potentially be. He's a corner guy that can play first or third. He can be very streaky and has some power."
Vollmuth is returning to Low-A ball for the first time since early 2012 when he manned the hot corner for Burlington. A third-rounder in the 2011 draft, Vollmuth will try to re-establish his prospect status after posting a disappointing .212/.301/.408 slash line last year at Stockton.
Instead of having Pinder in his everyday lineup at shortstop, Magnante will turn to Melvin Mercedes at the position. The middle infielder managed just a .228/.331/.248 slash line in 49 games at short-season Vermont last year, but he hit .381 in Rookie ball in 2012. A Futures Game participant as a Burlington infielder in 2012, Chih-Fang Pan returns to the Low-A level and starting position at second base after an injury cost him all of last season.
"Mercedes is a switch-hitting middle infielder and can play second or short," Magnante said. "He plays the small-ball game and can hit-and-run. Pan was out all last year rehabbing and I had him in Vermont in 2011. He has a unique hitting style, has a real feel for the bat and is a solid defender."
Oakland's 27th-round selection in last year's draft, Ryan Huck, moves up a level to Beloit after posting a .238/.341/.348 line with three homers and 15 RBIs across 46 short-season games.
"Huck is a big kid with a lot of power potential," Magnante said. "Our concern with him is he hits well enough to realize his power, so there's frequency as well as raw power."
Utilityman Sam Roberts returns to the Snappers after hitting .204 in 65 games in a similar role last season. Roberts is a solid defender and he has an excellent eye at the plate. Corner man Michael Soto gets his first taste of Low-A ball and is slated to back-up Vollmuth and Huck. He had a .524 SLG for the Rookie League A's in 2012.
Another somewhat surprising move by the A's front office was jumping last year's first-round pick Billy McKinney from short-season Vermont to a starting assignment in Stockton this spring. The move led to corner outfielder Ryan Mathews being sent back to Beloit. Mathews will be paired in the outfield with centerfielders B.J. Boyd and Boog Powell. Boyd and Powell were the co-MVPs of the Vermont Lake Monsters last season.
"Billy is truly a bonefide blue-chip prospect and also had a very impressive spring, so a lot of people got to put eyes on him and see what he could do," Magnante said. "He got a lot of at-bats in big-league camp and was impressive there. With the high school guys, you'd rather bring them to a warm weather environment to start off their first full season, where they don't have to battle the elements.
"He certainly earned that promotion and that created a situation where Ryan Mathews, who had a solid year here last year and was a big contributor, came back here to repeat. That doesn't necessarily mean he will be here all year."
A fan favorite in Beloit who made an appearance at a Snappers' hot-stove meeting this winter, Mathews posted a solid .260/.337/.446 slash line in 122 games last season. The former NC State standout tied for the team lead with 32 doubles and hit 14 homers while driving in 55 runs.
Oakland's fourth-round selection in 2012, Boyd gets his first taste of full-season ball after posting an 817 OPS in 71 games at Vermont. The muscular 5-foot-10 outfielder recorded 23 extra-base hits under Magnante last summer.
Powell, a 20th-rounder in the same draft, posted a .283/.364/.344 slash line with the Lake Monsters. Not known for his power stroke, the centerfielder legged out seven doubles and three triples, while stealing 14 bases in 20 attempts.
"B.J. Boyd and Boog Powell both spent last season with me in Vermont in their first real season in baseball," Magnante said. "They had both been in the Arizona League in 2012. They had solid years in Vermont. Powell is the true centerfielder that's a stellar defender with average throwing arm and plus accuracy. He and Boyd are top of the order table-setter guys. One will hit first and the other will hit second."
Jaycob Brugman (17th-round, 2013) and Tyler Marincov (eighth-round, 2013) are also getting their first look at the Midwest League and will be eased into game action as reserves. Brugman played in 49 games last season at Vermont and posted a .261/.301/.382 line, while Marincov struggled offensively in his 62 games with a .215 batting average.Beloit's primary catcher Phil Pohl is moving back a level after 54 games in largely a backup role in Stockton. The 28th-round selection in 2012 posted a .227/.290/.407 line with the Ports. Although he has never played above Rookie ball, Andy Paz will man the backup position in Beloit. The 20-year-old native of Cuba and French national made his US debut in 2013 and hit only .228 in the Arizona Rookie League.
"Phil is a veteran guy who has all the intangibles you would hope for our in a catcher, in terms of his leadership skills, ability to call a game, being a good receiver and possessing a serviceable bat," Magnante said.
"Paz is a youngster who is from Cuba and immigrated to France and lives in Paris. He played on the French National Team and spent most of his time last year in the Arizona league. He's still learning how to catch and throw, and will probably begin in a backup role."
Pitching StaffOnly two pitchers (#4 starter Dylan Covey and #3 starter Kyle Finnegan) in Beloit's season-opening five-man rotation have starting experience in the Midwest League.
A fourth-round selection in last June's draft, Covey pitched to uneven results in 10 starts. Covey was, at times, brilliant, but was also, at times, inconsistent with his command. He struck-out 15 and walked only one in 12 shut-out innings with short-season Vermont, but Covey came back to earth a bit with Low-A Beloit, as he posted a 4.75 ERA and a 31:17 K:BB in 47.1 innings.
Finnegan started two games at the end of Beloit's playoff run last season after being selected in the sixth round of June's draft. Although the results were not what he was looking for (9.82 ERA in 7.1 innings of work, with 5:6 K:BB rate), Finnegan had a solid off-season and spring to put himself in position for another shot at Low-A. The slight 6'2'' right-hander was much better in 11 starts at short-season Vermont, allowing just 15 earned runs on 43 hits in 50 innings with a 35:12 K:BB rate.
Another high 2013 draft selection – right-hander Bobby Wahl – will get the nod on Opening Night. He posted a stellar 28:8 K:BB rate across two levels in 2013, but allowed 28 base runners in 21.2 innings and posted an ERA of 4.15. Wahl was a top-100 draft prospect heading into his junior season with Mississippi, but fell to the A's in the fifth round after he battled through injuries during the college season.
Number-two starter Lou Trivino was drafted in the 11th-round of last June's draft and heads to Beloit after an encouraging stop at Vermont. In 60.2 innings, Trivino posted a 3.12 ERA and posted a K:BB of 47:20, while demonstrating an ability to induce ground balls with a 1.46 GO/AO.
Although he may not get the attention of Beloit's other starting pitching prospects, number five starter Ronald Herrera will be one to watch. Herrera made his professional debut as a 17-year-old with the A's in 2012 in the Dominican Summer League. The 5'10'' right-hander posted a 2.47 ERA and a 44:20 K:BB in 58.1 innings as a 17-year-old in the DSL.
Herrera followed that up with 70.2 innings for the AZL A's in 2013, posting a 3.82 ERA and a 58:11 K:BB. The A's gave Herrera a taste of the New York-Penn League at the end of the season and he made two appearances for the Lake Monsters, allowing one earned run in his first outing (five innings) and four earned runs in his second (2.2 innings).
"I had Wahl last year in Vermont and he has a power arm," Magnante said. "He's a big, strong, physical kid with a three-pitch mix. Trivino is also a big guy with a power arm and true sink and heaviness to the fastball. Finnegan is a wiry lightweight righty with a good arm, feel for a change and developing breaking ball.
"Covey has a history. He was a first-round draft pick out of high school by the Brewers and was diagnosed with diabetes, so he elected not to sign and went to USD for three years and we picked him up last year. He's a two-seem, four-seem guy with a slider and change. Herrera is a young pitcher with a very clean delivery. He probably has the best mechanics of all five starters. His fastball is average-plus and he's got a curveball and change."
After an unsuccessful run early in the 2013 season at Beloit, Brent Powers returns to the Midwest League this spring and will get plenty of innings out of the bullpen. Last year was the second straight season that Powers dealt with a demotion from Low-A to short-season ball. The left-hander was one of the best starters in the New York-Penn League in 2013, posting a 2.43 ERA and a 69:18 K:BB in 77.2 innings. He allowed just three homeruns and opposing batters hit just .243 against him.
It was a successful 2013 debut for 18th-round selection Sam Bragg, who returns to the Beloit bullpen after a late-season cameo last summer. The right-hander pitched at three levels in his pro debut campaign. Bragg was used out of the bullpen during his pro debut and threw 29 innings between the AZL, New York/Penn League and Midwest Leagues, posting a 1.24 ERA and 37:11 K:BB.
Chris Lamb, Stuart Pudenz and Trevor Bayless finished 2013 with Beloit and are headed back to Wisconsin in bullpen roles this spring, while Lee Sosa and Matt Staclup will be first-time relievers in the Midwest League.
Lamb pitched in 49.2 innings across 32 games and posted a 4.53 ERA last season with a 39:22 K:BB rate. Pudenz, who is the favorite to handle the closer duties early on for Magnante's club, posted a 2.40 ERA in 41.1 innings of relief work with a 35:15 K:BB rate. Before his promotion to the Snappers, Bayless served as the Lake Monsters' closer and made the New York-Penn League All-Star team by posting a 1.10 ERA in 16.1 innings. He struck-out 21, walked only five and allowed just 14 hits. He earned a late-season promotion to Low-A Beloit.