With spring training underway, Crushers look to find right mix
AVON - Baseball has returned to All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon with the official start of Lake Erie Crushers spring training under first-year head coach Jeff Isom.
After spending the past six years coaching in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization, Isom is back in the Frontier League for the first time since 2006 and said he is working to get another championship back to Avon.
"They've had success in the past and I want to continue to build off that success and bring a championship here, that's my number one goal," Isom said. "What I'm going to bring to this is you're going to have a professional club on and off the field and one that the fans know. I can't guarantee wins or losses, and I never will do that, but I guarantee they're going to be competitive and they're going to play the game the right way."
Friday afternoon was day two of the Crushers training camp leading up to first pitch on May 17 against the Gateway Grizzlies. Isom said a lot of work needs to be accomplished in the mean time, but likes the look of his team early on in camp.
The first two days of camp have featured a lot of work with fielding on All Pro Freight's turf field. Isom said these past couple of days have been his first experience with a field like this and is pleased with the way his team has been fielding early on.
"We've been getting a lot of ground balls in and maybe it's just this turf field, but I feel like everyone is getting the ball in the glove and we're looking very good defensively," Isom said. "I've been very impressed with the time we have spent working on the defensive side and just the way they are moving and fielding the ball."
Offensively, the Crushers have spent some time taking batting practice and yielding very positive results. Isom said he is "pleasantly surprised" with his team's bats so far with a lot of line drives and quick wrists.
So with both offense and defense coming out strong, Isom said he already has the hard job of limiting down players for his final roster in two week's time.
"At this point, I think we've got 19 position players and we're going to have to cut that number down to 12 or 13, whatever we are going to go with, and I'm thinking where am I going to find these seven guys?" Isom said. "The games always answer those questions, but at this time, if I had to make a decision I couldn't do that. Now, that's a good problem to have."
As Isom put it, he is the coach, the scout and the general manager of this team for the season and so far the stars are aligning for a powerful lineup. Veteran infielder Andrew Davis, who led the team least season with 14 home runs and 67 RBIs, is back to Isom's surprise after finding out Davis had signed a contract with the team.
The Crushers have 10 other players returning from last season that have a lot to offer in terms of talent and tenure at the ballpark. Several other players that have Frontier League experience have been on hand as well as a couple of rookies and a handful of players with minor league experience.
Veteran infielder Juan Sanchez has so far been Isom's go-to guy because of the two's history. Sanchez spent last season in Triple-A in the Brewers' system and dealt with Isom.
Early on, outfielder Daniel Bowman has been turning heads at camp and really making a name for himself in Isom's eyes with little professional experience.
"My goodness, this guy [went] undrafted out of Costal Carolina, I said 'how in the world does a guy like this get overlooked in the draft?'," Isom said. "I was in rookie ball last year with the Brewers and I'm thinking this kid could have been on my club easily and been one of my better players."
So while the offense and defense gets set, Saturday will be the first time the team will face live pitching with a short four and a half inning exhibition game to get the team back into the flow of things. Sunday, the Crushers will host a tryout to anyone interested from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m.
"We start in the morning with all the guys that are coming in, then with the open tryout guys we will cut that list down to a manageable number and we are going to play a scrimmage with our guys versus the tryout guys," Isom said. "We only have a two week spring training and you're limited in the time you have to see live pitching."
"Number one, I like having open tryouts. Tryouts are my favorite because you never know what you're going to get; maybe there's that diamond in the rough and number two we get into the game part of it and I like to see as much live pitching in game situation."