2013 Lake Erie Crushers team preview
The Crushers are ready to start the regular season after two weeks of spring training. They will be taking on the Gateway Grizzlies in the home opener tonight, and will be doing so with an almost entirely different roster.
Just as with any offseason in the Frontier League, the Crushers’ roster faced a lot of turnover. Only seven of the ten players in camp from last season made the final roster, that’s just 29 percent of last year’s team. Despite all the turnover, Crushers manager Jeff Isom feels good about his roster, and is optimistic that the team can compete this year, just as every manager should be as his team approaches opening day.
Without further ado, let’s dive in to the 2013 edition of the Crushers roster.
The Starting Pitching
Trevor Longfellow is currently a long ways away from his home in San Bernardino, California. The right-hander is the ace of this staff, although manager Jeff Isom told his team at practice on Thursday that all of his starting pitchers are number one starters. Longfellow pitched in 28 games for the Crushers last season, starting 12, and accumulated a record of 11-2 with a 3.35 ERA. He pitched 99.1 innings last season, but that number should rise as he takes over as this year’s opening day starter.
Matt Rein pitched in one inning for the Batavia Muckdogs of the Miami Marlins organization last season before getting injured. He is now looking to revive his baseball career as the second starter on this year’s Crushers team. Rein is the first of two southpaws in the rotation, and was one of three pitchers described as “locks” for the staff by Isom just one week ago.
Right-hander Alex Kaminsky was the third lock for the rotation that Isom talked about. The Ohio native has made his way closer to home after he was acquired by Isom in a trade with the Grizzlies in exchange for right hander Jeff Sullivan. Kaminsky pitched in 18 games last season for the Grizzlies, all starts, and finished with a 10-5 record and 3.73 ERA. His first start will be on Sunday against his former team.
The only other left-handed arm on the Crushers’ roster, Dave Middendorf, is the fourth starter on the staff. Middendorf was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 22nd round of the 2011 draft, and pitched last season in the Pioneer League with the Royals’ single-A affiliate the Idaho Falls Chukars. Middendorf pitched 22 games in relief last season, ending the year with a 2-1 record and 5.18 ERA before being released.
Isom and pitching coach Chris Mongiardo will not name a fifth starter until the need arises. Because of an off-day on Monday, the team can roll with four starters until May 26th when they take on the River City Rascals. Devyn Rivera, Matt Smith, and Doug Shields are all candidates for the last spot in the rotation, although my guess is that it will come down to either Rivera or Smith.
Rivera, the right-handed rookie from California Baptist University, will start the year on the injured list. If Isom and Mongiardo feel he is healthy enough by May 26th, the job may be his. Otherwise, they will turn to Smith, another right-hander who pitched in four games late last season for the Crushers. In those four games, three starts, Smith pitched 14 innings with an ERA of just 0.64 and an average of one strikeout per inning. He will be a capable fifth or spot starter for the team this season.
The four already established members of the starting rotation have accumulated much experience and look to be a stable force for this team. If they can pitch five or six innings each game before turning it over to the bullpen, then the Crushers should have the opportunity to win a lot of ball games this season.
Isom and Mongiardo wouldn’t disclose much information when it came to their bullpen. Comprised of eight right-handers, the absence of a lefty specialist is not necessarily a detriment to the team. There was speculation that former Cleveland Indian farmhand Dale Dickerson would close for them, although they may use a bullpen by committee to open the season.
Other relief pitchers who have impressed in spring training include Brad Duffy, who pitched in eight games with the team last season but is still considered a rookie, and Matt Suschak who pitched in the Atlanta Braves organization last season with the single-A affiliate Rome Braves. The rest of the ‘pen will be made up with Jordan Wellander, Michael Jahns, Spencer Clifft, most likely Shields, and either Rivera or Smith.
The relief corps has less experience than the starters, as only Suschak and Dickerson are not considered rookies, but should be an effective group in 2013. The sooner he decides on a full-time closer, the better off this group will be as they will be able to grow comfortable in their own roles and, hopefully, finish off plenty of wins this season.
Emmanuel Quilles was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, but teamed up with Isom as a member of the Helena Brewers in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system last season. The organization released Quilles, but Isom was impressed enough that he brought him along to be the starting catcher for the Crushers this year. Quilles hit .249 last year in 49 games, driving in 30 runs.
Quilles will get the majority of the playing time this season, but David Roney will be the primary backup. Isom anticipates that he will get 25-30 starts. Isom called him a very capable backup, and said that he “has the ability to be a starter on other clubs.”
The strength of this team is in the infield, specifically at the corners. First baseman Russell Moldenhauer and third baseman Andrew Davis will be the key components in the middle of the lineup. Davis, a switch hitter, has been with the Crushers since their beginning in 2009 and has consistently been the team’s best hitter. In 361 at bats last season, Davis hit .276 with 14 home runs and 67 RBI. Moldenhauer is also returning to the Crushers for another season. The left-handed hitter is a professional hitter who led the Frontier League in doubles last season while also hitting .300.
The Crushers don’t lose anything up the middle either. Left-handed hitting second baseman J.C. Figueroa returns for another season with the club after hitting .260 last season. Figueroa is a solid defender and a patient hitter, as his walk/strikeout ratio last season was 25/23. Shortstop Juan Sanchez is another import from the Brewers farm system. Sanchez is a very good defensive shortstop who will hit down in the order for Isom. Rookie Max Casper will serve as the utility infielder whom Isom can plug into any game with confidence and know that he will succeed in the field and at the plate. Casper has plenty of experience from the four starters to soak in, as this group of infielders will be the most stable part of the team.
While the infield is filled with experience, the outfield is made up almost exclusively of rookies. Of the starters, who all are classified at rookie-2 status, Daniel Bowman has the most experience, serving in 52 games for the Crushers last season and hitting .309 and swiping 13 bases. Gauntlett Eldemire, a native of Shaker Heights, Ohio spent last season with the Lakewood Blue Claws, a single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. He will likely be the leadoff hitter in Isom’s lineup.
Another Ohio native, Ricardo Lizcano of Toledo, rounds out the starters. He should be a force in the middle of the lineup along with Davis and Moldenhauer. Seth Granger, the McNeese State University product in his first professional year, is the only pure rookie on the team and will be the fourth outfielder. Kevin Berard can play both in the outfield and the infield, and provides an extra factor of speed for Isom. The final import from Milwaukee’s farm system has the ability to spell Eldemire at the top of the lineup.
The outfield is the youngest bunch on this year’s Crushers team, but they have the speed and instincts necessary to make up for their youth. This group will cover a lot of ground in the outfield and it will be fun to see them progress as the season rolls on.