The third season of Salem Red Sox baseball begins at LewisGale Field on Friday, April 8, and it is time to unveil the players that will step inside the chalk on Opening Day. Under the direction of new manager Bruce Crabbe, the 2011 squad will feature a fascinating variety of speed, power, and potential.
Among the position players are a bunch of high draft picks with an abundance of talent, including Boston's top selection from the 2010 draft. Third-baseman Kolbrin Vitek, chosen with the 20th overall pick, advances to Salem after playing in Lowell and Greenville during his professional debut a year ago. An All-American and Conference Player of the Year award winner at Ball State, Vitek hit .270 in 68 games for the Spinners and Drive. Shortstop Derrik Gibson arrives in Salem after leading the South Atlantic League in fielding percentage (.960) in 2010. A second round pick in 2008, Gibson also stole 39 bases for the Drive last year.
Reynoldo Rodriguez, Michael Almanzar, Zach Gentile, and Vladimir Frias also join the Salem infield. Rodriguez led last year's Greenville squad with 14 homers and earned SAL Player of the Week honors on three separate occasions. Almanzar, the son of former Major League pitcher Carlos Almanzar, led the Drive with 120 hits and hit a career-high ten round-trippers.
Salem's outfield features the most prolific minor league base-stealer that Boston's farm-system has seen in 30 years. Jeremy Hazelbaker, a college teammate of Vitek, recorded a remarkable 63 steals in 2010. If that was not enough, the Indiana-native also led the organization with nine triples and bopped 12 dingers. Joining Hazelbaker in the pasture are Ronald Bermudez, Peter Hissey, David Mailman, and Shannon Wilkerson, with all but the latter returning to Salem for a second season. Hissey, a defensive wizard in center-field, played 112 games last year for the Salem Sox, while Bermudez and Mailman were on the field for 24 and 23 appearances, respectively. Wilkerson, who won the Division-II National Player of the Year award as a student-athlete at Augusta State in 2009, joined Boston's organization as a sixth round pick in the '09 draft.
Dan Butler and Matt Spring open the year as Salem's backstops, the former of which is a familiar face in the Roanoke Valley. Butler appeared in two games for the Sox in 2009, then piggy-backed a monster 2010 first-half for Greenville by joining Salem for 35 games in the second half. Overall, Butler led all Red Sox farmhands with a .310 batting average last season, earning All-Star honors in the South Atlantic League. In spring training, Butler's bat ascended to the major league level, and the undrafted catcher from the University of Arizona belted a two-run homer in Boston's final exhibition game, a 10-0 triumph over the Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Joining the 13 position players are a dozen pitchers, nine of which are poised to make their Advanced-A debuts. Left-hander Drake Britton and righties Ryan Pressly, Pete Ruiz, and Kendal Volz ascend to Salem after being regulars in the 2010 Greenville rotation, each making at least 20 starts for last year's Drive club. Chris Balcom-Miller also was a top arm in the South Atlantic League last season, making all but one of his 20 starts for the Asheville Tourists, a Rockies affiliate. Boston acquired Balcom-Miller in exchange for big-leaguer Manny Delcarmen at the 2010 trade deadline.
Other newcomers to the Salem pitching staff include Anatanaer Batista, Jeremiah Bayer, Tom Ebert, and Chris Hernandez. A trio of lefthanders, Cesar Cabral, Mitch Herold, and Will Latimer, return to the Roanoke Valley for a second straight year.
The Salem Sox begin their quest for a Carolina League Championship with a six-game homestand at LewisGale Field, as the Frederick Keys come to town to begin the 140-game schedule on Friday, April 8 at 7:05.
Once again in 2011, every Salem Red Sox game, both home and away, can be heard live on NewsTalk 960 WFIR and online at www.salemsox.com with 3rd-year "Voice of the Red Sox" Evan Lepler.