Over the last three days I've posted season previews for Oklahoma City, Corpus Christi and Lancaster. The last one up is the Low A Quad Cities River Bandits team. This one is going to be the hardest of all to predict. Yes, the team will be dripping with talent but much of that talent is still raw and inexperienced. The success of the team will be largely predicated on how quickly some of the younger players develop and how well they endure their first long season.
Out of the starting pitching staff, only Colton Cain has any significant experience at Low A or above, having spent the 2012 season at High A. Frankly, I was surprised to see Cain back in Low A this season, but he may be there precisely because of the overall lack of experience in order to anchor the rotation to start the year. Fellow lefty Kyle Hallock started last season at Low A Lexington, but was injured early on and only pitched in seven games at the level. I look for Hallock to have a very good bounce-back season though.
Of the remaining five starters, fellow lefties Joe Bircher and Brian Holmes both pitched for the short season Tri-City club with Holmes performing particularly well. (Yes, we're looking at four lefty starters on the team.) Vincent Velasquez also pitched for Tri-City in 2012 in his first action since having Tommy John surgery. I look for him to start climbing up the prospect rankings during the coming year. The final two starters will be Lance McCullers and Daniel Minor, each of whom pitched in Rookie League Greeneville last season. Minor had an excellent freshman season. McCullers was extremely limited in innings pitched, but put up some great numbers. McCullers is going to be a star eventually, but I would whole-heartedly approve if the Astros decide to use him judiciously in his early development.
If you're adding these up, you'll notice that this team only has seven obvious starters rather than the eight anticipated for the tandem pitching rotation. I am going to assume that the Quad Cities team is holding that final spot for Adrian Houser who was reported (by Baseball America) to be dealing with some minor injuries and was held back at extended spring training for the time being. Houser would be the most obvious choice for that 8th spot.
Out of the bullpen, Cameron Lamb played a handful of games at Low A in 2012, as did Mitch Lambson, both with solid results. The bullpen actually looks to be one of the strong points of the team and will be anchored by Mike Hauschild and Jordan Jankowski, who dominated at Greeneville last season; John Neely who put up solid numbers at Tri-City; and Gera Sanchez who excelled in the Gulf Coast League in 2012.
My guess is that some of these pitchers may struggle early as they adjust to the level and some may fade late as they endure their first 140-game season.
As to the position players, the grizzled veterans include the 20-year old Roberto Pena who split 2012 between Low A and High A and Jordan Scott who spent the 2012 season at Low A Lexington where he was unable to replicate his stellar 2011 season. Jobduan Morales, Teoscar Hernandez and Jesse Wierzbicki all played a handful of games at Lexington in 2012 and all held their own. Carlos Perdomo, an off-season pickup by Jeff Luhnow, spent 2011 and 2012 in the Phillies organization playing for their Low A affiliate in the Sally League.
Pena, in particular, will benefit from a season at Quad Cities. He was pressed into service at High A Lancaster due to injuries within the system because of his defensive abilities as a catcher, just as his bat was starting to catch up at the lower level. I look for good offensive improvements from Pena. Jordan Scott should make adjustments this season as well. Jesse Wierzbicki can flat out hit. And despite the fact that I have never seen Teoscar Hernandez play, I am a huge, huge fan. He has the tools to be an impact player.
Chase Davidson was limited to nine games at Tri-City due to an injury which was revealed by the Quad Cities announcer in tonight's game to have been nerve damage in his forearm. He is a mature hitter who should dominate at the level. Ryan Dineen and Joe Sclafani also come from the Tri-City team with Sclafani putting up very solid numbers, including a strong OBP.
Carlos Correa, Rio Ruiz, Terrell Joyce and Ariel Ovando are all coming from the Rookie League Greeneville team. Correa is expected to master the Low A level quickly, but keep your eye on Rio Ruiz. He is definitely another star in the making. Ovando seems to be fulfilling his earlier promise. It will be interesting to see what he will be able to do at the higher level.
Many of the posititon players may need to make adjustments at the plate to start the season, but once they make them, watch out. The offensive potential of this group is through the roof. They will also be a very strong team defensively. I predict that Carlos Correa, Roberto Pena and Teoscar Hernandez will be the defensive stars.
Ah, the prediction. So much depends upon how hardy the pitching staff proves to be over the long run. At the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer, I'm going to predict that this team will go 72-68 and will fall just shy of getting to the playoffs. If, however, everything goes right, no one gets injured, no one gets overly fatigued, I'll predict 78-62, playoff bound as a wild card and winning the whole dang thing.
This is the opening day roster. The season schedule can be found here and the radio feed is available here with Marco LaNave calling the action.