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Behind the plate is one new addition and new former player from years ago making his return. Dusty Ryan got the bump up from Lakeland last season, and he will be sharing the duties with Max St. Pierre. St. Pierre was a long time member of the 'Wolves, making his home behind the plate at Jerry Uht Park from '03 to '05.
Moving around the diamond, much of the core Lakeland infield from '07 will make up the group in '08. Ryan Roberson takes over at first base, while the up-the-middle combo of Will Rhymes and Danny Worth (both of whom saw action in Erie last year as well) will man the spots this season. Kody Kirkland returns to man the hot corner, which will be his third go-round with Erie.
The attention of that group will obviously focus on Worth, a member of the TigsTown Top Ten who jumped straight from college ball to high-A, then up to Double-A in his first taste of pro ball. Worth can already play big league defense, and has the potential with his bat to be a solid gap hitter. Playing at the 'Uht' should also give him plenty of opportunity to work on those skills in an ideal hitter's park.
Despite playing in relative pitcher parks in Fifth Third Ballpark and Joker Marchant Stadium, Scram put up very impressive offensive numbers, especially considering his smaller build. Scram's gap power should once again be helped by the 'Uht". Meanwhile, Wilkin Ramirez spent '07 making the transition from third base to the outfielder, and despite his seemingly endless time in the Tiger farm system, he's still just 22 years of age.
A former Sea Wolf rounds out the position player group, as Jeff Frazier returns to the organization to fill in as the final outfielder.
Meanwhile, the newcomers to the group are lefties Luke French and Daniel Christensen and righty Ben Fritz. French didn't put together a great record for Lakeland in '07, but his peripherals looked much better and with more offensive support French could see a significant bump in his win totals.
The surprise of the team comes in the bullpen, which has a number of impressive arms – three of whom find themselves ranked in the TigsTown Top 50. Those are closer Brett Jensen and righties Casey Fein and Matt Rusch.
Jensen was absolutely dominant for West Michigan in 2007(5-1, 23 saves, 66K, .227 average against), which is the explanation for why Jensen is skipping high-A Lakeland altogether and moving straight to Erie. Fein on the other hand didn't have the same dominant numbers, but was identified by manager Jim Leyland this spring as one to watch, and someone that could be called up sometime this season should the need for bullpen help arise.
Tom Brookens leads the 'Wolves in his first season as the skipper in Erie – Brookens has been moving up the organizational ladder, as he was the man in charge for a year each in Oneonta and West Michigan, respectively. As for the rest of the staff, Glenn Adams comes back for his second season as the Hitting Coach and Ray Burris joins Brookens from West Michigan as the Pitching Coach.