2012 Erie SeaWolves Season Preview

Manager Chris Cron returns to Erie for his second season at the helm, and he returns with a much different squad than the one he led last year. Gone are the elite prospects like Jacob Turner and Casey Crosby, and arriving are a host of experienced players poised to make some noise in the Eastern League in 2012.

"We've got lots of guys that have been around the block and know what to do," said Cron. "Now we just have to go out there and do it. It's a different club because of the experience level, but I like it."

The pitching staff will be led by veteran free agents James Avery and Zach Segovia, but returning let-hander Jay Voss will get the nod on Opening Day. Voss opened some eyes in 2011 as he came back from a tough 2010 season.

"I learned how to read hitters last year," noted Voss when asked what changed for him. "I learned how to work through a lineup. I just had a heightened focus that translated to better results on the field."

With that development and Voss' stated ability to "get sharp" this spring, he could be in line for another strong season in the Eastern League. SeaWolves fans may be familiar with Voss but just in case, they can expect an average fastball that touches 90 mph, backed by a breaking ball and change-up that Voss emphatically says he "needs to get over and throw for strikes."

Also in the starting rotation will be left-hander Jared Wesson who comes up from High-A Lakeland to try his hand against more advanced competition. The fifth spot in the rotation is a bit up in the air right now, as Kelvin De La Cruz was transferred to Lakeland over the weekend, but may be back after some late roster shuffling before Opening Day.

Cron likes what he sees in his starting rotation, noting "These guys have kind of been overlooked. They don't have the name recognition of last year's guys, but we know they can play. They just have to go out and prove it on the field."

Backing the starting rotation will be a strong bullpen. One player noted that they have "guys like [Michael] Morrison and [Kenny] Faulk that pitched the late innings in High-A and you add those to the guys returning that pitched the late innings for us last year."

One of those returning relievers will be power-armed right-hander Tyler Stohr. Stohr reached Erie last summer as he continued his recovery from 2010 Tommy John surgery that delayed his rise through the system.

"Last year was a different year for me," said Stohr on Tuesday. "I was coming off the surgery and was really just trying to stay healthy and prove to myself that I could still do it. This year I have to be a pitcher again. I have to throw strikes and get outs."

Though there are many candidates to work high leverage innings for the ‘Wolves this season, including Faulk, Morrison, Rob Waite and Robbie Weinhardt, Stohr stands out as the guy that could step up and snatch the closer's role.

"We don't quite have roles defined yet," acknowledged Cron. "We are sort of going to go bullpen by committee to start, but I think Stohr may eventually be that guy that closes out games for us."

Rounding out the bullpen will be versatile relievers Ramon Garcia and Jared Gayhart. Both pitchers have filled multiple roles throughout their careers and they could be looked upon to start, handle the middle innings out of the ‘pen or work the late innings.

Offensively, Erie returns catcher John Murrian, second baseman Brandon Douglas, corner infielder Rawley Bishop and outfielders Jamie Johnson and Brent Wyatt. That cast is aided by the arrival of guys like Tony Plagman, Rob Brantly and Jordan Lennerton that will add some punch to the lineup.

"Every manager likes three-run home runs," quipped Cron. "We just couldn't to that last year. Now, with guys like Bishop, Plagman and Lennerton, we have the ability to knock the ball out of the park. We have the potential to score runs in bunches."

Johnson will be flanked in the outfield by Tony Plagman, Ben Guez and Michael Rockett. Guez has been battling a hamstring problem during spring training and may be limited to start the year, but Plagman and Rockett should be a nice boost to the lineup.

Johnson in particular will be looking to improve on a solid 2011 performance in the Eastern League.

"Last year I led the league in runs and walks," said Johnson. "That's something I want to do every year. This year I want to do that again, but I also want to improve my batting average and do more of the little things like bunting and stealing bases, the things I've been working on since last year finished."

Veteran Brent Wyatt will also see time in the outfield, but he could work in as the team's utility player as the season evolves. Wyatt has experience all over the field and he acknowledges that such versatility may be his ticket to the big leagues.

Around the infield, Lennerton will be the primary first baseman with Rawley Bishop and Bryan Pounds mixing in at third base and designated hitter. That type of pop and experience from the corners is a luxury at any level of the minor leagues.

Up the middle the Tigers will have second basemen Corey Jones and Brandon Douglas and shortstop Niuman Romero.

"Douglas hit .280 last year and it was a really quiet year," commented Cron. "I think he'll be better this year. Romero is another nice piece. He has a little bit of big league experience and that should help us a lot.

Behind the plate, Murrian will be joined by arguably the organization's top catching prospect in Rob Brantly. Brantly raked with West Michigan last year and slowed down in the second half with Lakeland, something he was focused on correcting in the offseason.

"This spring I really tried to pace myself," said Brantly. "Instead of going out and leaving it all out there every spring game, I focused more on the process of getting ready for the season. I think that will really help me late in the year."

Overall, this edition of the Erie Seawolves has the potential to be extremely competitive in the Eastern League, largely because of the dangerous combination of talent and veteran experience.

"I think we have a chance to win a lot of games this year," said Cron in conclusion. "People always think we have to walk that line of winning and development, well, we want to develop winning ball players. We want to develop winners! I think we can do that!"

From a player's perspective, Wyatt summed things up nicely, noting "I think we have a lot of talent. I believe I have the ability to play in the big leagues, and I think I'm going to have to fight for at-bats this year, that's how much talent we have!"

While Erie fans may not look at the roster and recognize a host of top prospects, they should believe that this club is capable of winning plenty of games in 2012 and could be really fun to watch.

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