Veteran slugger Scott McClain returns for his third season in the Central Valley, and will anchor manager Dan Rohn's lineup in 2009. McClain enters the 2009 campaign with 291 career home runs in the Minor Leagues, including 60 over the last two seasons with the Grizzlies. The California native, and former PCL Most Valuable Player is the only active Minor Leaguer with 1,000 career RBI and 1,000 career runs scored, and established a Fresno single-season record with 108 RBI in 2008.
McClain will be joined in the heart of the order by a newcomer to the Giants organization, infielder Jesus Guzman. The 24-year old Venezuelan is coming off a sensational 2008 season in which was an All-Star in the Double-A Texas League, and named the Most Valuable Player of the Venezuelan Winter League where he broke a 35-year old VWL record with 67 RBI.
Middle infielder Kevin Frandsen returns to the Grizzlies in 2009 after missing almost the entire 2008 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Frandsen, a Bay Area native who attended San Jose State, was with Fresno for parts of the 2005, 2006, and 2007 seasons, and has compiled a .331 batting average over the course of 110 games in a Grizzlies uniform.
2008 California League All-Star Matt Downs will open the season with Fresno after a brief stint with the club last summer. Ranked as the 24th best prospect in the Giants farm system by Baseball America this winter, Downs ranked among the organization leaders in home runs (t3rd), RBI (4th), and batting average (10th) in 2008.
Rounding out the Fresno infield will be newcomer Ryan Rohlinger, who collected 42 extra-base hits last year, and made his Major League debut, and Jake Wald, who played 59 games with the Grizzlies in 2008.
The Chukchansi Park outfield will be manned by a trio of returning players, and one newcomer to open the season. John Bowker became just the 8th Giant to homer in his Major League debut when he went deep against St. Louis at AT&T Park last summer. The Sacramento native and Long Beach State product ranked among N.L. rookie leaders in several categories in 2008, and established franchise records for home runs in RBI at Double-A Connecticut in 2007.
Brian Horwitz and Clay Timpner, who both made their Major League debuts with San Francisco last season, return to Fresno in 2009. Both outfielders have spent at least portions of the last three seasons in a Grizzlies uniform.
The group is joined by newcomer Mike McBryde, who enters the 2009 season ranked as the 19th best prospect in the Giants organization by Baseball America, who also recognized him for having the Best Outfield Arm in the system. McBryde batted .295 with 73 runs scored, and 31 stolen bases for the Class A-Advanced San Jose Giants in 2008.
The 2009 Grizzlies will feature a pair of catchers with Major League experience, both of whom wore a Fresno uniform last season. Steve Holm and Eli Whiteside will open the season handling a talented pitching staff. Holm spent the majority of the 2008 season with San Francisco, collecting ten extra-base hits in 49 games with the big league club. Whiteside, who appeared in the Major Leagues with Baltimore, joined the Grizzlies mid-season in 2008 and is back for a return engagement.
On the mound, the 2009 Grizzlies feature a mix of youthful potential and veteran experience, led by 24-year old Kevin Pucetas. The South Carolina native was honored as the Pitcher of the Year in the California League last season, after being named Minor League Baseball's Most Outstanding Pitcher in 2007. He enters the season ranked as the 15th best prospect in the Giants organization by Baseball America.
Pucetas will be joined in the starting rotation by Steve Hammond, who was acquired in the 2008 trade that sent Ray Durham to the Milwaukee Brewers. The right-hander won five of his eight starts for Fresno following the trade.
Familiar face Matt Kinney returns to Chukchansi Park after a season spent playing professionally in Japan. Kinney pitched for the Grizzlies in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and ranks among the franchise's career leaders in starts (2nd), wins (2nd), strikeouts (2nd), and complete games (t1st ).
Ryan Sadowski and converted reliever Billy Sadler will round out the Grizzles starting rotation to open the season. Sadowski led Fresno with eight wins last summer, despite making just 11 starts. Sadler dominated Pacific Coast League hitters in 22 appearances with the Grizzlies in 2008, which led to an extended stint in the Giants bullpen during the second half of the season.
The Fresno bullpen features a wealth of Major League experience and will be led by 2008 Pacific Coast League All-Star Geno Espineli. Espineli posted a 2.66 ERA in 38 games for the Grizzlies last season, and was selected as a member of the United States Olympic Baseball Team but did not participate due to his first Major League call-up in July.
The majority of the relief corps has appeared in a Fresno uniform previously, but one important member will be newcomer Justin Miller. A free agent signee with the Giants this winter, Miller spent most of the 2008 season in the Florida Marlins bullpen, and has made 153 career appearances in the Major Leagues with Toronto and Florida. The right-hander also prompted Major League Baseball's creation of the "Justin Miller Rule", requiring him to cover his heavily tattooed forearms so as to not distract hitters.
24-year old Osiris Matos went directly from Double-A to the Major Leagues last season, but the Giants #26 prospect will start the season as one of the primary weapons in the Grizzlies bullpen. The Dominican right-hander has fashioned a 1.93 ERA in the Minor Leagues since being moved to the bullpen in 2006.
Patrick Misch and Steve Palazzolo, both worked out of the Grizzlies bullpen in 2008, and return to open the 2009 season in the Valley as well. The southpaw Misch ranks among Fresno's career leaders in starts (7th), wins (t7th), and strikeouts (7th). Palazzolo, at 6'10, is the tallest player in Grizzlies franchise history.
The pitching staff is rounded out by veterans Keiichi Yabu and Ramon Ortiz. Yabu has made 100 appearances in the Major Leagues with San Francisco and Oakland, and spent 11 seasons pitching professionally in Japan before coming stateside. Ortiz, a veteran of nine big league seasons, pitched in Japan in 2008, and was the Most Valuable Player of the 2008 Carribbean Series.
The Fresno Grizzlies open the 2009 campaign on Thursday, April 9th when they welcome the Portland Beavers to downtown Fresno for Opening Day, presented by Red Zone Sports Grill. Single-game tickets, season tickets or mini-plans are available now by visiting the new FresnoGrizzlies.com or calling the Grizzlies front office at 559.320.HITS.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.