Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lancaster Season Preview and Opening Day Roster

Over the last two days I've posted season previews for Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi.  Today, we'll look at the High A California League Lancaster JetHawks. This one will be easy. I predict that the JetHawks will repeat as California League Champions. So, there you have it. Glad I could be of service. What, you want more details? Well, if you insist, but you really should just take my word for it.

I'm going to be very interested in seeing how the pitching tandems shake out in Lancaster because there are actually ten pitchers on this team who were used primarily as starters last season. Tyson Perez and Blair Walters are the only two starters on the team who spent time at Lancaster last season. Perez definitely held his own at the level and really impressed with his post-season performance. Walters didn't fare quite as well in his limited time at Lancaster.

Luis Cruz, Chris Devenski, Jonas Dufek, Mike Foltynewicz, Alex Gillingham and David Rollins are all getting promoted from Low A where they had varying degrees of success. Lancaster is a very hitter-friendly park where flyballs which would be routine outs elsewhere often become wind-driven home runs. In looking at which of these promoted Low A pitchers have the best chances of succeeding in that environment, I looked at groundball rate and strikeout rate.

Alex Gillingham is an extreme groundball pitcher and should fare well as should Luis Cruz who has definite groundball tendencies to go along with a decent strikeout rate. Chris Devenski has the lowest groundball rate of that group, but he has the highest strikeout rate. He will need to rely on location and getting key strikeouts, something he is more than capable of doing. In between lie Dufek, Foltynewicz and Rollins who each have a small tendency toward more groundball outs than air outs and decent strikeout rates. It is refreshing to see that there are no extreme flyball pitchers in the mix. I expect each of these pitchers will have to make adjustments and may struggle to begin, but they should all be capable of handling the Lancaster conditions. If Folty shows us anything remotely like what I saw in the Astros final exhibition game last weekend, I know he's up to the task.

The final two starting pitchers, Aaron West and Brady Rodgers, are being promoted directly from the Tri-City short season club where they each had outstanding seasons. Rodgers in particular is well-suited for Lancaster with his definite groundball tendencies and his excellent command. West also tends toward more groundball outs and is definitely capable of getting a key strikeout when needed.

Carlos Quevedo is the only bullpen arm with prior experience at Lancaster. Quevedo was with Lancaster for his final 15 games with Lancaster in 2012 and had great success. He has excellent command and a high strikeout rate. Travis Ballew, T.J. Geith and Tommy Shirley are all tailor made for Lancaster as well.

On the offensive side, Rafy Valenzuela, Delino DeShields, Andrew Aplin, Chris Epps and Drew Muren all spent time in Lancaster and all had varying degrees of success there. DeShields and Aplin should benefit from more time at the level. I look for both of them to put up very strong numbers and end the season in Corpus Christi.

The group of players who have been promoted from Low A Lexington bring a lot to the table. Matt Duffy and Brandon Meredith are both going to hit a lot of home runs in Lancaster. Nolan Fontana (65 walks in 49 games) is going to continue to get on base as will Duffy (41 hit by pitches) and Zach Johnson (108 RBI) is going to drive them in.

Add in the trio promoted from Tri-City, Preston Tucker, Tyler Heineman and M.P. Cokinos, and you're looking at a very talented line-up. I know virtually nothing about the final player rounding out the roster, IF Raoul Torrez, an off-season pick up by GM Jeff Luhnow.

Now for prediction time! Last season's team ERA was 5.00 and the WHIP was 1.458. The 2013 team will beat both of those numbers easily. Last season's team batting line was .283/.353/.448. The 2013 team will have a slightly higher batting average, a modestly higher on-base percentage and a significantly higher slugging percentage. Last year's record was 74-66. This year, I'm calling for a somewhat slow April before things start to take off culminating in a final record of 85-55 and a second California League Championship. I'm not going to be timid in this prediction because even if key players are promoted during the season, there are a ton more talented players waiting in the wings. This is the first time in a very long time that one can say that about the Astros farm system.

This is the opening day roster as we know it today. I will update it with any changes that may be made before tonight's opening game which will be at home vs. High Desert. The schedule can be found here and the radio feed is available here with the inimitable (and ever entertaining) Jason Schwartz calling the action.


PITCHERS
Travis Ballew
Luis Cruz*
Chris Devenski
Jonas Dufek
Mike Foltynewicz
T.J. Geith*
Alex Gillingham
Tyson Perez
Carlos Quevedo
Brady Rodgers
David Rollins*
Tommy Shirley*
Blair Walters*
Aaron West

CATCHERS
M.P. Cokinos
Tyler Heineman#

INFIELDERS
Delino DeShields
Matt Duffy
Nolan Fontana*
Zach Johnson
Raoul Torrez
Rafael Valenzuela*

OUTFIELDERS
Andrew Aplin*
Chris Epps*
Brandon Meredith
Andrew Muren*
Preston Tucker

*Left-handed
#Switch hitter

Next Up: Low A Quad Cities River Bandits. I hope to have it ready on Friday.

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