The 2014 Vermont Lake Monsters will begin their season this Friday when they travel on the road to Lowell, Massachusetts to take on the Spinners. The Lake Monsters are in their third season as the A's short-season affiliate. They made the playoffs in 2012 but finished out of the post-season last year.
Vermont will field an entirely new coaching staff, led by first-year manager David Newhan. Newhan spent the past three seasons as the hitting coach for the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm in the San Diego Padres' organization. He was a 17th-round pick of the A's in 1995 and Newhan played in eight major league seasons, most notably for the Baltimore Orioles.
Newhan will be joined by former A's first baseman Tom Everidge, who will be making his professional coaching debut as the Lake Monsters' hitting coach. Everidge was a 10th round pick of the A's in 2004 and he appeared in 24 games with Oakland in 2009. Everidge last played affiliated baseball in 2010, when he finished that season on the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats' roster. He played the 2011 and 2012 seasons with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League.
Newhan's pitching coach will be right-hander Steve Connelly, who was a draft classmate of Newhan's, going in the 24th round to the A's in 1995. Connelly appeared in three games for the A's in 1998. He split his professional career between the A's and San Francisco Giants' organizations. This will be Connelly's professional coaching debut. He several years as a scout for the Kansas City Royals and for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Lake Monsters' current roster is mainly a mix of 2013 draft picks and players from the A's Dominican Academy. There are currently no members of the A's 2014 draft class on the roster, but that is likely to change in the next week or two as more players sign, report to Arizona and get in enough workouts to be game-ready.
Lake Monsters' Pitchers
There are several young players on the Lake Monsters' roster, but no player is younger than right-hander Jesus Zambrano, who will be making his US debut in the New York-Penn League. Zambrano, who signed out of Venezuela before the 2013 season, made his professional debut last year in the Dominican Summer League. The then-16-year-old had a 4.40 ERA and a 48:12 K:BB in 61.1 innings for the DSL A's. He pitched at the A's US fall Instructional League camp and had been in Arizona for extended spring training. Zambrano, 17, is only 5'11'' and he doesn't yet throw that hard, but he has excellent command, advanced secondary offerings (for his age and level of development) and a solid delivery.
Left-hander Victor Veliz (20), left-hander Kevin Ferrera (20) and right-hander Jesus Rivas (20) are also making their US debuts with Vermont. Veliz spent the past three seasons in the Dominican Summer League. His best year came in 2013, when he posted a 1.39 ERA and walked just 18 in 71 innings. Ferrera spent three seasons in the DSL before getting the call stateside this season. He had a 0.99 ERA in 27.1 innings last season. Ferrera saved five games and posted a 36:12 K:BB. Rivas made the switch from being an outfielder to a pitcher last season with the DSL A's and he had a 3.95 ERA and seven saves in 13 appearances (13.2 innings). Rivas struck-out seven and walked one. He also appeared in two games as a hitter and had two hits in six at-bats.
Several pitchers will be returning to Vermont after spending various parts of the 2013 season with the Lake Monsters. Trevor Bayless, Lee Sosa, Jerad Grundy, Jose Torres, Dominique Vattuone, Joe Michaud, Cristhian Perez and Fernando Cruzado all return to Burlington.
Bayless, Sosa and Vattuone have all spent time on the Beloit Snappers' roster this season. Bayless had a 9.00 ERA in nine innings for the Snappers. He was an All-Star with the Lake Monsters last season when he had a 1.10 ERA in 16.1 innings. He had seven saves and a 21:5 K:BB.
The hard-throwing Sosa had a 9.75 ERA in 12 innings for Beloit earlier this season. He has outstanding stuff, but has struggled with his command as a pro. Last year, he walked 33 in 44 innings while posting a 4.09 ERA in 2013. Vattuone tossed 7.1 innings for Beloit earlier this season. He had a 6.14 ERA and walked eight in 7.1 innings. Bayless and Vattuone were selected in last year's draft, while Sosa was drafted in the 2012 draft.
Grundy, Torres, Michaud and Cruzado have all spent the first part of the season at extended spring training. Grundy was the A's 10th-round pick last season. He struggled with injuries while with Vermont last season and posted a 7.14 ERA in 29 innings. The left-hander, if healthy, should be an important part of the Vermont pitching staff as a polished collegiate southpaw with a deep arsenal of pitches.
Torres missed time with injury last season, as well, although he did return before the end of the year. The 20-year-old left-hander had a 2.64 ERA and a 21:12 K:BB in 30.2 innings for the Lake Monsters last year. He has an excellent curveball and an improving change-up.
Michaud, a 33rd-round pick last season, spent most of his pro debut with the AZL A's, but he did make two appearances with the Lake Monsters last year. During those two appearances, he allowed four runs in 4.1 innings, but he struck-out six and walked one. In 14.1 innings with the AZL A's, the Bryant alum had a 3.77 ERA and a 24:9 K:BB.
Perez split his 2013 season between the AZL A's and Vermont. The right-hander made his US debut last year after pitching three seasons in the Dominican Summer League. Perez had a 3.92 ERA in 43.2 innings for the AZL A's last season. He struck-out 36 and walked just five. In 17 innings with the Lake Monsters, Perez had a 5.29 ERA and a 7:4 K:BB. Homeruns were a problem for Perez last year, as he allowed nine in 60.2 total innings.
Cruzado has been in the A's system since signing as an international amateur free agent in 2007, but it wasn't until last year that he finally advanced past the complex leagues. In 2013, Cruzado notched 21 appearances out of the Lake Monsters' bullpen, posting a 4.99 ERA. He had a 24:17 K:BB.
The newcomers to the Lake Monsters are A.J. Burke, Jon Massad and Alex Nolasco. Burke was the A's 31st-round pick last season out of Western Oregon. The right-hander pitched all of 2013 with the AZL A's, posting a 7.84 ERA. He struck-out 18, walked six and allowed just one homerun.
Massachusetts native Massad returns to the Northeast after spending his pro debut campaign pitching for the AZL A's. The right-hander from Southern New Hampshire University was the A's 25th-round pick last season. In 30 innings in the AZL in 2013, Massad had a 3.90 ERA and a 24:5 K:BB.
Nolasco made his US debut last season with the AZL A's after spending four years in the DSL. The 6'4'' left-hander had a 5.66 ERA in 41.1 innings in the AZL last year. He struggled with his command, walking 33.
Lake Monsters' Hitters
Nineteen-year-old shortstop Yairo Munoz is the youngest position player on the Vermont roster. Munoz received a six-figure signing bonus in January 2012. He spent that season in the DSL and last year in the Arizona Rookie League. In 67 AZL at-bats, he hit .194/.286/.284 with a homer and three doubles. Munoz had a 7:11 BB:K. He is raw at the plate but has a plus throwing arm, soft hands and good range at short. Munoz hasn't run much as a pro, but he has above-average speed, as well.
Chris Wolfe, Joe Bennie, Gabriel Santana and Ryan Huck will join Munoz in the Vermont infield. Both Wolfe and Huck spent time on the Vermont roster last season, while Bennie and Santana will be making their short-season A debuts.
Wolfe was the A's 30th-round pick in 2012 out of Grambling State. A grinder with excellent plate discipline, Wolfe had a 12:19 BB:K for Vermont after posting an 11:11 BB:K in 2012 for the AZL A's. Wolfe, a switch-hitter, is versatile and can play at short, second and third base.
Huck returns to Vermont after starting the season with Beloit. The hulking first baseman hit .238/.341/.369 with three homers in 160 at-bats with Vermont last season. He also had a .475/.533/.850 line in 40 at-bats with the AZL A's. Huck began the year as the Snappers' first baseman, but he hit .202/.312/.311 in 119 at-bats before being sent back to extended spring training. Huck should be in the number three or four spot in the line-up on most nights for the Lake Monsters.
Bennie was the A's 28th-round pick last season. He battled a leg injury during his pro debut, but still appeared in 20 games for the AZL A's. He hit .246/.380/.369 with a homer and a 14:22 BB:K. Like Wolfe, Bennie a tough out who works the count well and offers defensive versatility. With his legs healthy, Bennie should do more running this year than he did with the AZL A's.
Santana is making his debut in a non-complex league after four years in the DSL and one season in the AZL. Last year, he hit .267/.305/.342 in 161 at-bats for the AZL A's. Santana had a 4:19 BB:K last season, but he walked more than he struck-out over his last two years in the DSL. He can play every position in the infield.
The Lake Monsters are carrying five outfielders on their Opening Day roster: Justin Higley, Ben McQuown, Dayton Alexander and Brett Vertigan. None of the five played for Vermont last season, although Vertigan and Alexander both played for Vermont in 2012.
Higley was the A's 13th-round pick last season out of Sacramento State. The Northern California native flashed some promising tools last season with the AZL A's, showing power, speed and the ability to hit for average. He also struck-out a lot (57 in 153 at-bats), something he will have to work on to succeed in the upper levels. Still, Higley should be one of the Lake Monsters' top offensive players. He had a .275/.363/.490 with 17 extra-base hits for the AZL A's last year.
McQuown, another 2013 draft pick (round 30), is also making his short-season debut. A speedster with an excellent eye at the plate, McQuown stole 10 bases in 12 chances and walked 22 times in 33 games for the AZL A's last season. He hit .277 and had a .417 OBP. McQuown should see some time in center.
Alexander and Vertigan are both coming off of injuries that kept them out of the early part of the season. Alexander was the A's sixth-round pick in 2011. He started last year at extended spring training before finishing the year with the Beloit Snappers. He hit .236/.313/.338 with two homers and seven stolen bases in 53 games. Alexander is an excellent athlete with plus speed.
Vertigan was the A's 10th-round pick in 2012. The UC-Santa Barbara alum was one of the Lake Monsters' top players in 2012, when he served as the team's lead-off hitter and he hit .266/.338/.375 with 12 stolen bases. He also had a solid glove in centerfield. Last year, Vertigan spent the entire season with Low-A Beloit, hitting .243/.333/.321 with 21 stolen bases and 55 walks in 123 games. Vertigan is a strong candidate to be placed on a full-season affiliate roster once there is an opening at some point during the season.
The catching duties will be handled by Kyle Wheeler and Andy Paz. Wheeler was the A's 26th-round pick last year. He spent his pro debut with the AZL A's, and he hit .269/.328/.423 in 52 at-bats. Wheeler is a solid defender and he has some pop in his bat.
Paz, the native of Cuba who played his high school ball in France, spent part of the early season with the Beloit Snappers. In 57 at-bats with Beloit, he hit .158/.279/.193. Paz has an excellent eye at the plate and he hit better than .300 in each of his first two pro seasons (in the DSL) before hitting .228/.304/.337 for the AZL A's last year.