The start of the MLB season is already upon us, but the MiLB season is set to kick off on Thursday all across the country. The 2014 Wilmington Blue Rocks team is expected to be highly talented and a team many people are talking about because of all the “prospects” listed on the Opening Day roster.
When I asked new manager Darryl Kennedy (back after spending the last four seasons managing rookie level Arizona) about any “under-the-radar” players that we should watch out for this season, he was quick to say “In my mind, they’re all prospects. I’m not going to label anybody…I think all of these guys are going to prove to be prospects at the end of the season…In my mind, I don’t think any of them are under the radar.”
Between Kennedy’s high respect for the 25 guys that he will be putting out on the field on Opening Day (along with his confidence in them) and the team-first attitude of wanting to win a championship that exuded from Media Day participants Daniel Stumpf and Hunter Dozier, this could be an exciting year in Wilmington. It has been a LONG time since a Carolina League championship banner was hung at Frawley Stadium (1999 to be exact).
Here is a snippet of what Kennedy had to say about his players (who are all new to him):
“I think our pitching is going to be strong. I think we’re going to be able to play defense well. We’re going to supply some power. Hopefully we’ll turn this ballpark into more of a hitter’s ballpark. In the past, it’s always been a pitching ballpark. I think we have the weapons to do it this year.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Cameron (Gallagher) over the years. Very good game caller. Handles the pitching staff well. Good catch and throw guy. Offensively, has struggled a bit, but I think this year is gonna be a good year for him offensively. Zane has tremendous bat ability.”
Since Kennedy managed the Blue Rocks back in 2008, he has a little experience in the Carolina League and experience that he could indulge his players with:
“I talked to the hitters in spring training and the biggest thing is there’s only seven other teams in the league. On the offensive side, the other teams start figuring you out and they know where your weakness is pretty quick and you need to make adjustments. Once they figure out the weakness, you need to make the adjustment and make it a strength, and then they’re going to counter…I suggested those guys need to keep a record of their at-bats against certain teams and see how they’re pitching you. On the pitching side, it’s the opposite. That’s the great thing about this league. With that amount of teams, you’re going to have to make the adjustment. The guys that can make the adjustment, they’re not gonna be here very long, they’re going to move up to Double-A. That’s the beauty of this league.”
The Blue Rocks will begin their quest for a Carolina League championship on Thursday in Winston-Salem. Getting that Opening Night start will be Miguel Almonte. He will be followed in the four-game series against the Dash by Jonathan Dziedzic (pronounced Jedzik), Christian Binford, and Stumpf. After the Monday off day, Sean Manaea will make his much-awaited professional debut in the Blue Rocks home opener against Myrtle Beach (April 8th). There will be a six-man rotation to start the season, so Yender Caramo will start on Wednesday before the rotation repeats itself on Thursday.
Kennedy revealed what his starting lineup will look like (at least to start the 2014 season). Raul Mondesi will lead off and play shortstop. He will be followed by centerfielder Bubba Starling. The middle three in the order will be Dozier (at third base), Evans (as the DH), and Johermyn Chavez in right field. Jack Lopez will make the move to second base and bat sixth. Gallagher will catch and bat seventh, with Mark Donato (first base) and Daniel Rockett (left field) rounding out the order.
Dozier and Stumpf were both asked about making adjustments to a new league, new opponents, and a new ballpark.
“Talking to DK a little bit during spring training, he was like you’re going to love to pitch in Wilmington,” Stumpf said. “You can tell at each level that hitters get more aggressive. As a pitcher, your mistakes turn into mistakes when you leave the ball up. I have definitely adjusted to hitters…Just battling down. I like to fight for my teammates and the hitters do the same for me when I’m out there on the mound. We’re looking for a big year this year.”
“Last year I started in Idaho Falls and that was kind of an eye-opener. Getting drafted from college and going to pro ball and seeing how pro ball life was. Towards the end of the year, I moved up to Lexington and the competition was alot better and I had to make a couple adjustments and I am sure this will be the same thing. The competition is going to be better,” Dozier said. “Baseball is a game of adjustments and the people who succeed are the guys who can adjust.”
Dozier went on to talk about what he heard about Frawley Stadium:
“Everyone that’s played here says the ball doesn’t carry or anything here. And we were hitting BP yesterday and of course the winds were blowing 100 miles per hour in and the balls weren’t going anywhere. They said it’s not going to be like that everyday.”
Wilmington is supposed to be the “place to be” this summer because of all the prospects that are littered throughout the Blue Rocks roster and hopefully all the talent equates to wins and a fun team to watch play every night. You might not want to wait until the summer to get a good look because some of the players could see a promotion.