The Silver Hawks only had one returning player on their opening day roster last season. This year, they have eight, speaking to the newfound depth of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. They return catcher Ryan Babineau, infielder Victor Estevez, outfielder Alberto Diaz, and pitchers Eric Smith, Keny Sosa, Yonata Ortega, Rafael Quezada, and Randy Rodriguez.
Diaz led the club in homers last season; both he and Estevez spent the whole year with the Hawks. Smith and Sosa started games one and two for the Hawks in last year's postseason series against the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Starting Lineup and Rotation
South Bend manager Mark Haley prides himself on mixing and matching to allow all of his roster ample playing time, but there is a clear hierarchy between starters and bench players this season.
Both Borchering and Davison will see time at the hot corner, while Stone will get some action at first base and the corner outfield spots. All three starting outfielders are versatile; expect Broxton to also see time in center and Inciarte to get some looks in left
Belfiore and Smith were the top two pitchers selected by the D-backs in last summer's draft. The reason you don't see Smith listed as the number two is because Brewer and Anderson were used mostly as relievers last year and may not be able to work deep into games right off the bat. They are staggered in the rotation to provide a break for the bullpen. Don't worry about Smith's psyche of being the #3 starter - he was the Hawks' Game One starter in the playoffs last season, so he knows that Haley and the organization are high on him. Several pitchers will be used in the fifth spot in the rotation.
Brian Budrow led Yakima with six saves last season and will likely see the majority of save chances in the early going. If Yonata Ortega can learn to command his mid-90s fastball, he could get his share of opportunities as well.
Errol Hollinger was signed as an undrafted free agent last summer and really struggled to hit in Missoula, batting .202 with just seven extra-base hits in 129 at-bats. Meanwhile, Tyson Van Winkle was a tenth rounder who had a little more success at Yakima, batting .244 with a solid .367 on-base percentage. He also enjoyed a cup of coffee with the Hawks last year. Nevertheless, Hollinger will back up Ryan Babineau while Van Winkle begins the season in Extended Spring Training.
Van Winkle injured his hamstring early in spring training, but it was a reportedly minor tweak. The organization is probably just being cautious with him. Babineau's backup will need to work a decent amount of games, as Babineau underwent hip surgery last April and won't be able to work behind the dish every day just yet. Both Van Winkle and Hollinger are very capable defenders, while Babineau is arguably the best defensive backstop in the organization when healthy.
Ryan Babineau and Mark Haley
Candidates for a Big Season
Bobby Stone has the raw power necessary to crush the ball out of any of the spacious Midwest League ballparks. So do Borchering and Davidson, but Stone also has two years of pro experience under his belt, and will have a better plan at the plate. Alberto Diaz provided glimpses of immense talent last season, but his overall numbers were underwhelming. Expect Diaz to show more consistency and put up some great power numbers.
Mike Belfiore has a four-pitch repertoire that led to a 2.17 ERA with Missoula last year - 1.82 as a starting pitcher. He should dominate the Midwest League and find himself in Visalia mid-summer. Yonata Ortega was shaky last year, coming off 2008 Tommy John Surgery. Still, he averaged a strikeout per inning with the Hawks and should be even more prolific now with the surgery further in the rear view mirror.
There is a lot of raw hitting talent and savvy pitching talent on this ballclub. This roster is more talented and more experienced than last year's iteration, plus there is more help waiting in Extended Spring Training to fill in for injuries and promotions. An eighth straight postseason berth is all but in the bag for the 2010 Silver Hawks.
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