The Peoria Chiefs will kick off their 2017 Class-A Midwest League season this Thursday in Burlington, Iowa as they take on the Bees.
After a successful spring training, the Chiefs will begin their quest to repeat as first-half champions in the Western Division with an almost entirely new roster.
The roster is made up of a group of extremely young and talented players, highlighted by a pair of No. 1 Cardinals draft picks, outfielders Dylan Carlson and Nick Plummer. It also includes a third-rounder, pitcher Jordan Hicks, and only six returnees from Peoria’s 2016 squad.
Those returnees include catchers Brian O’Keefe and Ryan McCarvel, starting pitchers Ronnie Williams and John Kilichowski along with relievers Brady Bowen and Dailyn Martinez.
O’Keefe, who is the team’s longest tenured player, is excited to take on the role of veteran leader for the team.
“I’m looking forward to being that veteran guy who has been here for a while, and to be able to show some of the younger guys how we handle ourselves around here,” O’Keefe said. “Being around for a while definitely helps with the comfortability factor. When we go on the road I already know where we’re going to stay and where we’ll go out to eat and things like that so it helps me get into a set routine.”
In addition to the almost entirely new team, Thursday’s game will also be the debut of Chiefs manager Chris Swauger. Swauger was the skipper of the Cardinals’ rookie league team at Johnson City last summer, where the club won the Appalachian League title.
While this will be the first time Swauger is managing this team, he notes that he has worked with about 10 of them in the past so he knows just how talented they are.
“If there’s one thing I know it’s that we’re talented - so if we don’t win games, it’s my fault,” Swauger said. “There are guys on this team who have the potential to do some really special things. They buy in and go about their business the right way so I’m just trying to keep them going down the right path.”
“There are guys on this team who have the potential to do some really special things." - manager Chris Swauger.
Swauger, 30, is a former minor-league outfielder and first baseman who was drafted by the Cardinals in the 26th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. According to him, his experience in the minors helps him to relate to his players.
“I bounced around in the minors a lot. One year I changed teams six times, so I know what they are going through and just how hard playing in the minors can be sometimes,” Swauger said. “I’m just trying to get the best out of them and I do that by only having two rules: to be on time and to play hard.”
Hicks and Carlson are two players about whom Swauger specifically commented on just how excited he is to lead.
Hicks will be taking the mound on Thursday for the Chiefs as Swauger named him the opening day starter for the team and loves the right-hander’s competitive demeanor. The 20-year-old said that it gives him confidence knowing that his manager trusts him enough to get the ball on opening day, even though the spring weather in the upper Midwest will make it a completely new environment for him.
“Thursday will be the first time I will have ever had to pitch in below 40-degree weather. But it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with and get through,” Hicks said. “I want to throw a lot of first pitch strikes so I can work my curve ball and changeup in off that. If I can do that I think I’ll be able to do pretty well.”
Carlson, the second of three first-round picks of the Cardinals in 2016, is as excited as anyone to be a part of the organization and for the season to get underway.
“My biggest strength is being a team player and I pride myself on doing whatever the team needs,” Carlson said. “I think that’s what the Cardinals saw in me, that I played the game the right way, and that’s why they drafted me. I’m excited to be a part of both this organization and the Chiefs. I’m ready to get out there on Thursday under the lights.”
After a two game road trip, the Chiefs will return home to Peoria Saturday for Opening Night when they face off against the Burlington Bees at Dozer Park.
Editor’s Notes: Chiefs outfielder Bryce Denton required surgery to address appendicitis and will open the season on the disabled list. St. Louis’ second-round pick in the 2015 draft was replaced on the Peoria active roster by another 2016 Chief, Craig Aikin.
The full six-man starting rotation, in order following Hicks,will be RH Ronnie Williams, LH Ian Oxnevad (Saturday home opener), RH Steven Farinaro, LH John Kilichowski and RH Bryan Dobzanski.
Check the Peoria Chiefs roster (and all Cardinals minor league affiliates) here at The Cardinal Nation.
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