2006 New Hampshire Fisher Cats Preview

Monday, April 03 2006 @ 08:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Rob

Well, 2005 wasn't as good as 2004 for our friends in Manchester. Despite moving to a new ballpark which I'm sure is much nicer than old Gill Stadium, the team did not make the playoffs as they did in 2003 (going to the finals) and in 2004 (winning the whole thing). A 68-74 finish put an end to the playoff streak.

Let's meet the key players on the 2006 team, with the assistance of Fisher Cats radio broadcaster Mike Murphy:

Quite simply, these are any members of the Batter's Box Top 30 Prospects List.

As an outfielder, Adam Lind (5) is a pretty good hitter. Consider, if you will, a tale of two batters:
.312/.371/.477, 1.5 K/BB, 1 walk per 11 AB.
.313/.375/.487, 1.6 K/BB, 1 walk per 10 AB.
You don't have to guess which one is Adam Lind and which one is Adam Lind, do you? The only issue here is how well he will hit in Manchester. It was a severe pitcher's park last year, though not so much for left-handed hitters. Lind, I think, will do just fine.

Davis Romero (11) was ranked higher here than at Baseball America (28) or by John Sickels (20). At the risk of sounding simplistic, it's probably due to the fact that we see good numbers while BA sees an undersized lefty. Even so, I don't expect greatness from Romero this year, at least not right away. The expectations might be a little high.

(A fact I did not know: he pitched in one game for Panama in the World Baseball Classic, giving up two hits in a third of an inning vs. the Netherlands -- in other words, two hits more than Shairon Martis had in that entire game!)

Curtis Thigpen's (12) numbers in New Hampshire look worse than his Lansing ones from last year, but remember that his average was 100 points higher after the first two weeks of his Double-A campaign. He may or may not stick at catcher eventually -- he "was certainly overmatched defensively last year" -- but he worked closely with manager and "catching guru" Mike Basso to improve his defense. Thigpen's apparently athletic enough to move to second, third, or either outfield corner if the situation calls for it. We'll see how he does behind the plate this year, as I expect his hitting to improve over last year's results in New Hampshire. In fact, Mike goes as far to say that if you "could put [backup catcher Eric] Kratz's defense with Thigpen's bat, you would have the Blue Jays' catcher for the next decade."

Chip Cannon (13) had high numbers in two statistics: HR and SO. Expect more of the same, but if he doesn't improve on his 58 strikeouts in 170 AB in Manchester, I can't see him sustaining his power stroke. With that said, Mike adds that "he could be fooled by an off-speed pitch, make less-than-solid contact, and the ball would still reach the warning track if not the seats.

"And if the Blue Jays keep Cannon at Double-A for a full season, he should compete for the Eastern League HR crown."

Jamie Vermilyea (22), a personal favourite of mine (and Mike's), continued his fine relief work for the Fisher Cats last season, and I'm somewhat chagrined to not see him in Syracuse. Though, as our own Jordan Furlong said last fall, his upside is a contributor in the Pete Walker role. While that is valuable, it's below the potential that Casey Janssen has, and certainly lower than David Purcey's ceiling. So I understand the decision, even if my personal views tend otherwise.

Anyway, Vermilyea should pitch very well for New Hampshire. "He was popular enough last year," says Mike, "but I imagine Fisher Cats' fans will think even more of him now that he is a 'former Red Sox' player." He's had two good years in a row; I hope he dominates and gets a promotion to Syracuse, followed by a Very Special Rogers Centre Appearance.

Miguel Negron (23) returns to New Hampshire for another go-round. That number in parentheses refers to his ranking as a Batter's Box prospect, but keep in mind that it is also his age. I have a feeling, not backed up by anything substantive, that last year was the worst we'll see out of Negron for a while. In 2005, he started off...well, he started off terribly, to be honest. .158/.213/.193 in April, .214/.274/.248 through May, and then somewhat better in the warmer weather. Expect another slow start from him, but if he's sitting on a .280 average at the end of the year with decent power, don't be surprised. Or do be surprised, because there's really no reason for that to happen. Again, just a feeling. He's also very good defensively, which can only bode well for his future.

These are players worth a look, but they are not on the same track as the ranked ones above and consequently, the capsules are a little smaller.

Eric Arnold had his breakout year with Dunedin in 2005, knocking 19 homers and 28 doubles in 379 AB. He's struck out over 100 times each of the last two seasons, however, and he'll be 26 halfway through this season. With Cannon and Lind, Arnold will "be expected to supply the right-handed pop."

Another Arnold's stock has fallen quite a bit in this organization. Once mentioned in the same breath as Dave Bush and Dustin McGowan, Jason Arnold has yet to sniff the majors, despite 27 starts and 219 innings in Syracuse -- essentially, an entire season of AAA pitching. He's no longer a prospect, not at age 27 (on May 2), but he pitched well for the Fisher Cats during their championship run in 2004.

Carlo Cota was demoted last year after posting a .301 OBP and .375 SLG in New Hampshire -- "like a splash of cold water" according to Mike. We already know he can hit in Dunedin, so his results from the FSL aren't very important. It's almost like he had a lost year in 2005, and at his age, he can't have another one.

Ron Davenport hit very well in Dunedin in 2004, but his first season in Double-A was not as kind to him, especially since he missed over a month due to injury. He finished well, so he should improve this year. As for his defense, Mike said, "I remember he dropped a fly ball in New Britain in July. When I asked him about committing his first error of the year, he added that it was the first time he ever committed an error [in over 130 games for Dunedin and New Hampshire] playing for Mike Basso."

There's your look at the prospects, now what about the team itself?

Well, Mike certainly agrees that the fans have been spoiled with a new ballpark and a championship after just two years of baseball. Not only that, but they were also "able to accomplish in one season what their arch-rivals Portland (Red Sox) and Trenton (Yankees) have never done -- raise a pennant. The championship season was followed by the opening of beautiful Fisher Cats Ballpark in 2005, perhaps the most luxurious home in the Eastern League. With a spacious clubhouse and a state-of-the-art venue, players and fans alike have been graced with a palatial permanent residence."

That palatial residence, though, is in a cold location -- hitting coach Gary Cathcart dubbed it the "Shiver by the River" -- and is quite tough on hitters, especially righties. One theory last year was that the construction of the Hilton Garden Inn affected the wind. "In fact, the main reason the park was difficult on right-handed batters last season was the winds whipping off the Merrimack River."

The hotel's influence on the wind currents is one thing, but Mike's looking forward to some entertaining situations. "I predict we will get some interesting scenarios -- everything from home runs careening off upper-floor windows to the taunting of outfielders from some very 'happy' hotel customers."

Anyone who knows a thing or two about certain uninhibited guests at the former SkyDome Hotel can probably guess where this is going, but we'll let Mike say it anyway. "Naturally, the press box will be equipped with binoculars in search of that first honeymooning couple to pull a SkyDome on our family-friendly audience." And if it happens, you know Mike and his broadcast partner Bob Lipman will inform all online listeners of the official scoring.

Speaking of Mike and Bob, be sure to tune to all home games in this year at nhfishercats.com. Opening Day for New Hampshire is Thursday the 6th at 10:35 am against New Britain, and the home opener is the following Thursday, April 13th, at 6:35 against the same Rock Cats. For access to the game stories we include in our minor league updates, check out the Union Leader and also Kevin Gray's articles.