While the 2016 club doesn’t project to have record breaking performance on the field, they should be more entertaining and more competitive than the 2015 version. A opening day roster with a significant veteran presence should allow Erie to get out of the gate strong and wait for reinforcements to come from Lakeland as the summer moves along.
Behind the dish, Erie fans will see a familiar face in backstop Austin Green, who should solidify the positional defense while providing a little pop at the plate. He will be backed up by Drew Longley who is a solid player that can help manage a veteran pitching staff and give Green a rest a couple of times per week.
“Green’s a bit of an underrated guy,” noted an NL scout. “He does some good things with the glove; I like the way he frames, and he’s not a zero at the plate. I like him enough to think he could have a big league career.”
The SeaWolves infield should receive a boost from several talented veterans that can put in strong performances in a league such as this. Headlined by the return of speedy shortstop Gustavo Nunez, the infield corps will also host experienced middle infielders Alberto Gonzalez and Tyler Bortnick, both of whom own versatile defensive skill sets and some ability to contribute offensively.
In addition to the veterans, the Tigers have assigned two talented second basemen to the roster in Harold Castro and Kody Eaves. Castro is well known to those who have followed the Tigers minor league system in recent years, and there are still some believers in his overall tool set. Eaves joined the Tigers in exchange for third baseman Jefry Marte, and he offers some thump at the plate and enough ability with the glove to handle second base long term.
SeaWolves infielders will have the benefit of an exceptional defensive first baseman in Dominic Ficociello, as he returns to Erie following a solid second half to the 2015 season. Ficociello impressed in big league camp this spring, and there were several scouts that liked what they saw from him last summer.
“That kid can flat pick it at first,” stated a veteran scout in a recent conversation. “You don’t have to worry about what happens with any throw heading his way; he just ends up with it in his glove. There’s some bat speed and a little power potential there too. I won’t go so far as to say he’s a James Loney type, but I wouldn’t rule out a big league role if he can continue to find some innings at other positions.”
Designated hitter Dean Green comes back to Erie to try and pummel Eastern League pitchers yet again. He should be the driving force behind the Erie offense, but he will receive some help from shortstop JaCoby Jones once he returns from his suspension. Jones will receive plenty of attention from Tiger fans this summer, as many view him as a key piece of the club’s future.
Around the outfield the ‘Wolves will start the season with Jeff McVaney in left, Jason Krizan in right, and Connor Harrell in center most nights. McVaney and Krizan lack prospect pedigree but are quality Double-A players that can help lengthen the Erie lineup. Harrell, though not a top flight prospect, handles center field well with good instincts and a strong arm, and though he hits for a low average he can drive the ball for extra-base hits when he does connect.
On the mound Erie features a good mix of prospects and veterans with the rotation including right-handers Tommy Collier, Myles Jaye, Austin Kubitza, Cory Riordan, and Brennan Smith. Jaye stands as the top prospect of those in the rotation, profiling as a potential back-end starter or middle reliever at the highest level. Kubitza will look to rebound from a horrific 2015 campaign that saw his prospect stock all but vanish, and Brennan Smith enters the year trying to elevate his standing as a potential fringe big league arm.
A minor league free agent, Riordan returns from multiple seasons pitching in Korea, and while he arrives with little fanfare, there are scouts that see potential in the 6-foot-4, 200 pound righty.
“I liked him a bit before he left,” said one evaluator. “He pounds the strike zone with a solid arsenal, is a durable kid, and even though he’s nearly 30-years old, I still think he could carve out a little time as a middle reliever.”
The ‘Wolves bullpen should offer some intrigue in the late innings as right-handers Paul Voelker, Confesor Lara, Gabe Hemmer, and Lendy Castillo can all bring it with quality secondary stuff, and left-hander Joe Mantiply who has his own solid fastball and quality changeup. This combination of relievers, along with a few veteran arms, should help secure wins in the late innings.
As the season progresses, the SeaWolves roster could be augmented by the return of injured/suspended players, and the promotion of some from High-A Lakeland. As JaCoby Jones comes back from suspension, he could be joined by left-handed starters Kevin Ziomek and Anthony Fernandez, who iares currently struggling with an arm injuries.
Coming from Lakeland could be future relievers Edgar De La Rosa, Jairo Labourt, and Joe Jimenez, all of whom can pump fastballs in the mid-90s and have the potential to pitch in high leverage situations. In addition to those fire balling arms, Erie could be the beneficiary of promotions to outfielder Mike Gerber and catcher Grayson Greiner. Gerber is the more likely of the two to receive a promotion, and he could bolster an Erie offense that may need some help in the season’s second half.
All told, the 2016 version of the Erie SeaWolves should be competitive throughout the first half of the season thanks to a solid blend of veterans and intriguing young players, followed by the second half of the season that could see an influx of highly talented young prospects to bolster the roster. After a disappointing 2015 season that ended with a poor record and few prospects on the roster, fans in Erie can expect a much different club this time around; one that could compete for an Eastern League division title.