Minor League Preview: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

InsidethePark.com's Joseph A. Yencich takes an in-depth look at the 2004 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Want to know who is new to the team? Who is the staff ace? Who is the best player? To find out how the T-Rats will do in the upcoming season, become a subscriber and check out the preview.

Despite appearing in the playoffs as a wildcard last season, the T-Rats were hardly a complete team, lacking offensive punch and infield defense. The Midwest League is traditionally hard to compete in, but the combination of a weak Everett team and a strong Peoria team last season will bring the best elements of both to Wisconsin in 2004. The pitching will be solid from top to bottom and the offense will feature a number of players capable of hitting for a high average, using their speed to take advantage of the expansive parks the league is known to feature. Still, with a number of players making the jump from Peoria, questions will be raised about how capable each player will be able to adapt to the move, and not just considering the climate. The tenth anniversary of Wisconsin Timber Rattler baseball looks to be one of the best.

2004 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Roster

RH-Nibaldo Acosta
RH-Kenly Chang
LH-Ryan Feierabend
RH-Bryan Heaston
RH-Mike Hrynio
LH-Jason Mackintosh
RH-Brandon Moorhead
LH-Eric O'Flaherty
LH-Thomas Oldham
RH-Juan Ovalles
LH-Brandon Perry
RH-Bryan Stitt

Chris Collins
Brenton Metheny
Justin Ruchti

2B-Evel Bastida-Martinez
3B-Michael Cox
1B-Jeremy Dutton
SS-Adam Jones
SS-Oswaldo Navarro
2B-George Sandel

LF-Wladimir Balentien
RF-Samuel Bradford, Jr
CF-Chris Colton
CF-Joshua Womack

Manager: Steve Roadcap
Pitching Coach: Dana Williams
Hitting Coach: Brad Holman

Projected Starting Rotation
1. Thomas Oldham
2. Michael Moorhead
3. Ryan Feierabend
4. Eric O'Flaherty
5. Nibaldo Acosta

The lefty trio of Thomas Oldham, Eric O'Flaherty, and Ryan Feierabend will take the top 3 spots in some order, with Oldham the likely opening day starter. Oldham and Feierabend were used primarily as starters in Everett and Peoria, respectively, but O'Flaherty split his time in and out of the pen and seems to have impressed enough to get a legitimate shot in the rotation. The back end of the rotation is less concrete having two converted relievers taking to the rotation. Michael Moorhead will make the transition from being a closer and Costa will switch from his middle relief role. Right-handers Randall Frye and 2003 draftee Aaron Jensen could step in and take a starting spot after breaking from extended spring training.

Projected Bullpen

1. Brian Stitt
2. Kenly Chang
3. Bryan Heaston
4. Mike Hrynio
5. Jason Mackintosh
6. Juan Ovalles
7. Brandon Perry

The Rattlers bullpen is full of unproven relievers but do feature a group top arms and could fight through a rough start to mesh into a solid corps. Left-hander Brandon Perry and right-handers Brian Stitt, Kenly Chang and Juan Ovalles have what it takes to close and Mike Hrynio tackles the new challenge of pitching for a full season for the first time. Jason Mackintosh could provide a quality swing man to bridge the starters to the setup men.

Projected Lineup
1. Evel Bastida-Martinez
2. Joshua Womack
3. Jeremy Dutton
4. Wladimir Balentien
5. Samuel Bradford, Jr
6. Adam Jones
7. Justin Ruchti
8. Michael Cox
9. Chris Colton

Bastida-Martinez or Oz Navarro seem to be the best options to leadoff, after displaying solid plate discipline and speed in 2003. The two-hole in the T-Rats lineup figures to be between Colton, Womack, and Jones, all of whom saw time there over the course of last season, but the job will probably go to Womack who is one of the better hitters for average in the lineup. Dutton was primarily used at third and second base last season, though this year he should be taking over at first. If he can make progress in adjusting to the wooden bat, he could be an asset there. The heart of the lineup figures to have some solid pop to it, as Bradford and Balentien led their respective teams in home runs, Balentien even going so far as to break the league home run record. Jones will bring a good mix of average, power, and speed to follow them. Both Ruchti and Cox are both seen as players whose defense is their strongest asset, but both have some power and could be useful in some clutch situations. The ninth spot goes to Colton, who will bring some good speed to the bottom of the order. Colton, along with Bradford, could play every outfield position, though he'll probably see center the most, with Womack and Balentien roaming left field. Whoever isn't playing in the outfield in any given day will probably be the DH. Navarro could make the move to 2B, which would make him the starter in front of Bastida-Martinez. Utility duties will go to Metheny, who will bring solid offense to any position he takes.

The Engineer:
Steve Roadcap returns to manage Wisconsin this year after a couple of years in San Bernadino. Roadcap took the 66ers to playoff appearances in both seasons as manager there. Roadcap previously managed the Wisconsin team in 1999, before taking over as a roving catching instructor for three years.

The Best Of the 2004 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Best Hitter for Average: Adam Jones, Joshua Womack
Best Hitter for Power: Wladimir Balentien
Best Baserunner: Adam Jones, Oswaldo Navarro
Best Defensive Outfielder: Samuel Bradford, Jr., Chris Colton
Best Defensive Infielder: Oswaldo Navarro, Michael Cox
Best Arm: Samuel Bradford, Jr., Adam Jones
Most Exciting Player: Wladimir Balentien, Adam Jones
Best Fastball: Eric O'Flaherty, Brandon Perry
Best Slider/Curve: Eric O'Flaherty
Best Changeup: Ryan Feierabend
Best Overall Prospect: Adam Jones

2004 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Prediction: 70-75 wins, and contention for a playoff spot.

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