It's that time of year again. The big-leaguers are ready to play for keeps, and the young prospects are itching to strut their stuff. The Batters Box minor league reporters are ready too. We welcome Pistol and Thomas Ayers to our team. We begin our coverage with previews of the 2006 seasons for each of the full-season affiliates-Lansing, Dunedin, New Hampshire and Syracuse.
This is Lansing's 2nd season as a Jay affiliate in the low A Midwest League. 2005 had its share of highlights for Lugnut fans, with the stellar pitching of Casey Janssen and the hot hitting of Chip Cannon perhaps tops among them. What can we look for in 2006? The official Lansing roster was released yesterday. Let's take a closer look.
The Lansing rotation should feature Chi-Hung Cheng, Aaron Wideman, Yesson Berroa, and Kristian Bell, with one of Russ Savickas, Edward Rodriguez and Po-Hsuan Keng rounding out the rotation.
Chi-Hung Cheng returns to Lansing as their ace to start the season. The lefty Cheng from Taiwan is still only 20 years old, and put up a nice 7-6, 3.15 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning, courtesy of a nasty curveball. He will be working on his fastball and his control in Lansing, but very well might be promoted early in 2006. Countryman Po-Hsuan Keng struggled in his pro debut, but may do better after a year of adjustment. Lefty Aaron Wideman from Mississauga also returns to Lansing. Wideman pitched fairly well in his full-season debut, but was victimized by the long ball. Like Cheng, he is only 20 years old.
The bullpen will likely include Adrian Martin, Aaron Tressler, Paul Phillips, and Jordan Timm. The Jays have high hopes for 2005 9th round pick Phillips, who was Auburn's closer last year, and struck out over a batter per inning with an ERA of 2.29 and 13 saves in 13 opportunities. He figures to have the same role for Lansing in 2006.
Catcher- Josh Bell will probably share the catching duties with Brian Bormaster for the Lugnuts in 2006. 5th round pick Bell hit well in college, but struggled in his pro debut in Auburn, putting up a .238/.258/.387 line.
First Base- Joey "Big City" Metropoulos brings big-time power to the lineup. He will probably share first base with David Hicks, as well as DHing.
Second base- 20 year old Sean Shoffit made a nice debut in Auburn after being drafted in the 15th round out of junior college in 2005, and earned a promotion to Lansing.
Shortstop- Jesus Gonzalez and Chris Gutierrez played well for Pulaski, with the 21 year old Gonzalez displaying significant power, and earned the promotion to Auburn late in 2005. Both will be tested at the plate in the Midwest League.
Third Base- Anthony Garibaldi, who played third last year for Auburn, gets the call here.
The Outfield- Centerfielder Yuber Rodriguez will probably return for another attempt at turning his formidable tools into skills. Controlling the strike zone remains the first order of business for Yuber. He is joined by 3rd round 2005 pick rightfielder Brian Pettway, who struggled in his pro debut in Auburn, leftfielder Jacob Butler who hit well in rookie leaguelast year, and slugger Cory Patton.
Fans in Olds Park should be treated to some home-run hitting from Metropoulos and Pettway, and some fine pitching from Cheng and Phillips. The shape of the Lugnut season will be determined though, by the development of their core of young players down the middle of the diamond, Josh Bell, Sean Shoffit, Jesus Gonzalez and Yuber Rodriguez. It is incidentally an easy straight run to Lansing for many of our Southwestern Ontario readers, and well worth the trip.