It is always fun to pull up the O-Tigers box scores in the morning to check in and see how some of the newest Tigers' draft picks played. That will remain the same in 2009, but there will also be some exciting returning names to check up on.
Starting opening night for the Tigers will be Shelby Township native Jeff Gerbe. Gerbe jumped on the prospect radar after impressing Jim Leyland during spring training 2008, but was promptly shut down and underwent shoulder surgery that sidelined him for the entire season. His recovery has continued through April and May of this season, and he has been turning in some very nice starts in extended spring training. Gerbe's advanced approach on the mound, and his heavy sinker, should allow him to lead the rotation.
Backing him up in the second slot in the rotation will be another pitcher returning from injury, right-hander Gary Perinar. The University of Minnesota product underwent Tommy John surgery nearly right after being drafted, and he didn't take the mound at all in 2008. "He's finally putting it all together. His velocity is back up, and we'll see where he goes from there," said TigerTown Pitching Coordinator Greg Sabat.
Venezuelan right-hander Luis Sanz will also work in the rotation for Oneonta this season, after spending some time with West Michigan during May. In eight appearances for the ‘Caps, Sanz struggled, posting an abysmal 8.82 ERA with 21 hits and eight walks allowed in 16 2/3 innings. Sanz has enough stuff and know-how to be a quality starter for Oneonta; he just may have been over his head in West Michigan at this juncture.
Rounding out the rotation will be two recent draftees, left-hander Adam Wilk and right-hander Nathan Newman. Both pitchers have big-time college experience, and they should prove to be durable starters capable of keeping their team in the game. Wilk is the more promising prospect, and he could be a guy to keep an eye on as the summer progresses.
The bullpen will have four new draftees taking innings, including left-hander Kenny Faulk, and right-handers Wade Kapteyn, Cory Hamilton, and Kevan Hess. Faulk has closing experience, and he could be used in high leverage situations for the O-Tigers. Hess, the brother of Lakeland starter Andrew Hess, has gotten his heater up to 94 at times, but he is new to pitching and this season will most certainly be a learning experience for him.
The bullpen will also have three Latin American prospects making their stateside debuts. Right-hander Michael Torrealba is a ‘consistent strike thrower with average stuff across the board,' according to Sabat, and he should be a solid middle reliever for the team.
Jose Ortega could be an arm to keep an eye on, as he learns to harness his stuff. "He's got some juice in his arm. I've seen him up to 94 at times, and his slider and change-up are both good pitches," said Sabat. Ortega is aggressive on the mound, and he could be a critical piece to the late innings of the O-Tigers close games.
Clemente Mendoza was working as a starter in extended spring training, and he could be the bullpen arm most likely to get stretched out for longer outings. While it is a rare problem to have, Sabat says Mendoza almost throws ‘too many strikes.' He is consistently working in the middle of the zone, and the Oneonta staff will be looking to improve his ability to locate the ball.
Nick Cassavechia will get a chance to prove himself at a level higher than last year, working in the later innings of Oneonta's games. The staff in extended spring training has been working to increase his velocity this spring, with some success. "He's getting it up to 88-89 at times, but he's not completely comfortable with it yet. It was a shoulder angle thing with him, and he just has to get used to the tweaks we made." With increased velocity, and his ability to locate the ball, Cassavechia could take a step forward and become a more serious relief prospect.
Rounding out the pitching staff, right-hander Mike LaLuna looks to make his debut in affiliated ball. He will likely work in a middle role, typically tackling the sixth and seventh innings when needed. "He's another power arm. He just needs a little more command. He'll probably work in the middle and maybe the end of games," said Sabat.
The pitching staff has a good mix of veterans, polished college talent, and young arms, and it should be an exciting crew to watch. Make sure to watch closely as some more of the Tigers power arms look to harness their stuff and make strides towards moving up the minor league ladder.
Along with the variety presented by the pitching staff, the offense offers an interesting mix of its own. The Tigers will rotate three catchers behind the dish, with recent draftees Eric Roof and John Murrian, along with last year's free agent signing Keith Hernandez.
Murrian is known as a defensive whiz with ‘unlimited potential' according to one Big South Conference coach. He is a true grinder that understands the game and could develop into a solid player. His ability to work with a pitching staff and control the running game, should make him a regular in the Oneonta lineup.
Roof and Hernandez both bring a little more offensive potential to the plate with gap power and some knowledge of the strike zone, while also providing adequate defense.
Returning first baseman Wade Lamont will get most of the at-bats at the position, as he tries to establish himself as a legitimate organizational soldier. He is a very good defensive first baseman, and he should be able to help his infielders by picking the ball cleanly at first base.
Up the middle, the O-Tigers will have plenty of options, including Chris Sedon and Alden Carrithers at the keystone. Both players bring excellent offensive potential to the table, despite their small stature. They can both drive the ball to the gaps, run, and make things happen at the plate, which should provide some exciting moments for NYPL fans.
At shortstop, the Tigers will likely rotate returning players Luis Palacios and Carmelo Jaime (who both could also see time at second and third), with Eastern Michigan University product Jimmy Gulliver. All three players are solid defenders with the ability to work counts and hit for average. Jaime has shown extremely well during extended spring training, with one National League scout suggesting, ‘That kid has a chance to be a game-changer with his speed and overall ability.'
Potentially the most exciting players on the infield could be at the hot corner, with third round pick Wade Gaynor likely getting the majority of the at-bats. Gaynor is a mammoth player with tons of power in his bat and some surprising speed on the bases. If he can continue his monster collegiate campaign, he could make a push for not only the NYPL All-Star team, but potentially league MVP honors.
Another 2009 draftee, Rawley Bishop, brings a solid offensive approach and some pop to the table, and he has enough athleticism that he could see time at other positions before the summer is complete.
The infield should be able to provide some offensive punch while also making plays in the field, to help the pitching staff in multiple ways.
The outfield will be a mix of two college players with mature approaches in Jamie Johnson and Michael Rockett, along with another college player who is raw with plenty of tools in Matt Mansilla. They will be joined by another raw, toolsy outfielder, Venezuelan product Alexis Espinoza.
Comments from many sources out of extended spring training indicate that Espinoza has started to put things together, and that he put on some impressive power displays. One source was quoted as saying ‘He hit some of the loudest balls I've seen in a while!'
Rockett and Johnson bring multi-faceted games to the field, and they should be able to provide some extra-base pop along with some general on-base ability. Johnson could be one to watch in particular, as he is an exciting player that has an all-out style of play that endears him to fans and coaches.
Overall, this year's Oneonta squad is a talented mix of raw tools and actual baseball ability. Not only do they have the potential to flash some impressive performances from time to time, but they should also be capable of making the routine plays that will be necessary to win games in a competitive league. Expect the pitching to keep them in games, and the offense to be among the league leaders in production.