Quad Cities River Bandits 2011 Preview

Our Jon Popham shares his first impressions of the St. Louis Cardinals 2011 Midwest League club.

The Quad Cities River Bandits have arrived in Davenport and are ready to start the season on Thursday. First pitch is set for 7 P.M. with the unconfirmed starter as Trevor Rosenthal. Members of the media were invited to meet the team in a cattle call sort of setting. I set out to ask a few questions of as many players as I could. In the time allotted to us, I was able to have a quick chat with half of the players.

In no particular order, this is what I learned:

Catcher Cody Stanley is a confident but selfless team player. Even when I pressed him to name who he thought was the best pitcher, hitter, or defensive player he very diplomatically declined to answer. He insisted that everyone on the team is good at what he does. When I asked him what he expects for a batting average this year he stated .320 with no hesitation.

Packy Elkins
Infielder Packy Elkins, whose given name is Patrick, pointed out that the team in Johnson City last year was a good team and they want to continue that winning attitude into this year. He said that his goal is to hit over .300. He named Cody Stanley, Jonathan Rodriguez, and Nick Longmire as the best hitters. He was a little more vague when I asked about the pitchers - he chose Seth Blair, Jordan Swagerty, Trevor Rosenthal, and everyone! On defense he expects a good year from Greg Garcia, Yunier Castillo, and Victor Sanchez.

Shortstop Greg Garcia is planning to do his best everyday and let the chips fall where they will. I suspect that he's not as casual as he sounds when he gets to the field. His other goal this year is to win another championship. When asked about his batting average, he simply said that he will hit the ball hard every time but he wouldn't put a number on his goal. He also said that he couldn't pick a "best" on the team - he said that it's just an exciting team.

Kyle Conley started last year in Davenport but quickly realized that a hand injury was worse than he thought it was and the outfielder spent most of the season in rehab. He said that last year he came in with the idea that he'd be the best player ever to hit the field but after an entire year off, he's taking a different perspective. Conley is going to work hard, play hard, and have fun this year and really enjoy the game. He wants to hit .300 with some pop in his bat. Kyle thinks that Jon Rodriguez is the hot hitter this spring and said that the defense centers on the backstop so he is looking to Cody Stanley to lead the team in that aspect.

Frederick Parejo
Frederick Parejo said that he is planning to play better and better every day and help the team as much as possible. His goal this year is an average above .300 and a short stay in Davenport before he gets promoted.

Nick Longmire played last year in Batavia. The outfielder wants to get better at every aspect of the game. He's a student of the game and of his job. Longmire wants to win and to be productive every day. He's predicting a personal batting average of .300+ as well. Nick chose not to name a best hitter on the team; I suspect that is at least in part due to the fact that a lot of his teammates said that he is the best. Defensively he said that Victor Sanchez will be the best first baseman we've seen here.

Victor Sanchez said that he wants to advance to the next level by playing his most consistent game every day. He sees himself in the .290-.300 range. Sanchez named Seth Blair as the hottest pitcher on the roster and he said that Yunier Castillo has a lot of raw talent defensively.

Michael Swinson spent most of 2010 in Davenport, too. The outfielder's goal is to contribute to winning lots of games and getting back to the playoffs. He wants to go deeper into the post season this year, too. Swinson admitted that his batting average suffered last year but said that .260 is a good goal for him this year. His choice for best hitter is Kyle Conley. He names Jon Rodriguez as the best on defense.

Oscar Taveras
With the help of Freddy Parejo as translator, Oscar Taveras said that he wants to play well, help the team, and win another championship. The outfielder is glad to be part of a good team with good players. My Spanish is very limited but when I asked what his goal was for batting average, I understood. He said, "Tres ciento!" Oscar also tagged Sanchez as the best on defense.

Kevin Siegrist was the first pitcher I got to meet. He played in Batavia and Johnson City last year. The left-hander set simple goals. He wants to log lots of innings and win games. Kevin projects an ERA of less than 3. His choice for best bat on the team is Nick Longmire and named Greg Garcia as the top defenseman.

Trevor Rosenthal said that his goal this year is to win every start - it's that simple. He's aiming for a sub-2 ERA and 10 Ks per nine. Trevor is looking for good hitting from Jon Rodriguez and Oscar Tavares. He also chose Greg Garcia as the best at fielding balls.

Reliever Andrew Moss said his goal was to do his best all year. He's looking for an ERA below 3 and at least one K per inning. It started to sound like a broken record when I asked about the best batter (Longmire) and the best D-man (Garcia).

Seth Blair
Seth Blair is going to be the hometown favorite this summer since he grew up about 40 miles from Davenport. The right-hander from Arizona State spent some time in Batavia last summer but didn't actually play so this is his first taste of professional baseball. He refused to put any numbers on his year for ERA or K's but I have no doubt that he's going to draw big crowds to watch this rising star. As many of his teammates, Blair also chose Nick Longmire as the power bat on the team.

In the 45 years that I've been an all-out baseball fan, I've developed a sense for which teams are going to do well. I base this feeling on how cohesive they are as a group when they arrive for the start of the season. I've seen "teams" that looked more like several small cliques but that wasn't the case when I met this team. At one point, I even used the word "family" to describe them because they seem closer than a "team." I saw a group of brothers who were more than willing to praise each other, and who tried to deflect any praise they were given. As always, I saw a lot of young men with great baseball talent that got them to the game but more than that, I saw a lot of GOOD young men who have a good shot at becoming "old" men in this game.

The team batting average should be around .300 if these guys are all predicting their own skills accurately. The pitchers are going to be nearly unhittable! Everyone on the team should be an All-Star when Quad Cities hosts the mid-summer classic in June. I just love hearing the team set their goals!

So, steam the hot dogs, pop the corn, salt the pretzels and pour the beer! Mow the grass and paint the baselines. All feels right in the world again - opening day is almost upon us! Let's play ball!

Link to full Quad Cities 2011 roster.

Links to other articles in this preview series:
Memphis Redbirds
Springfield Cardinals – coming soon
Palm Beach Cardinals

Starting next Tuesday, our weekly reports on each of the Cardinals' four full-season affiliates will begin, with Quad Cities on Tuesday, Springfield on Wednesday, Memphis on Thursday and Palm Beach on Friday. Don't miss them!

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