Armed with some of the top hurlers in the organization, the Tampa Yankees kick off the 2011 season with their eye on a third straight Florida State League title.A particular strength, according to returning manager Luis Sojo, is the starting rotation of Sean Black, Josh Romanski, Jose Ramirez, Jairo Heredia and Brett Marshall.
"The rotation is very good with those five guys," said Sojo. "I think the hitters are going to have a tough time when we pitch these guys. There is no doubt our pitching is our biggest strength."
Sojo is particularly optimistic about Ramirez, who has 12 strikeouts in eight innings with an opponents' batting average of only .148.
"I think he is still learning how to pitch, but there is no doubt he has great stuff," said Sojo. "When he grows as a pitcher, he is going to be real tough."
Despite a few early struggles, Sojo also see big things for Marshall.
"I'm looking for him to calm down a little bit. He's very anxious. He knows he's good, and I like that, but in the meantime, you have a job to do, you have to take care of yourself, take it easy, don't try to do too much, and things are going to be OK."
Tampa's bullpen started the season with a very familiar face to baseball fans -- former Chicago Cubs hurler Mark Prior. The 30-year-old right-hander, who's since been promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is once again attempting to make it back to the Majors after suffering numerous arm ailments in recent years.
Although Prior's brief stint in Tampa impressed Sojo, everyone remains cautious.
"[Prior] throws a lot of strikes. He was at 89, 90 [mph], which I think is good. He's not ready, and I think we all know that. But down the road, I think he will be OK. We all hope so."
Despite a solid starting rotation and high expectations, Sojo doesn't worry too much about wins and losses. For him, managing Tampa means instilling the Yankees' tradition.
"We worry about making these guys better players. They'll grow as a player and as a person. But in the meantime, we have to build that winning attitude. I think that is very important for these guys -- and they are doing a great job so far."
Despite whatever decisions he makes as manager, Sojo knows another FSL title boils down to the players themselves.
"The players have to put a lot of work on it and so far, so good," he said. "It doesn't matter what kind of job we do as a coach. We have to motivate those guys, but for the most part, they have to do the job to get better off the field and on the field."
Who's hot - team: The St. Lucie Mets have blazed out of the gate. Led by pitching ace Matt Harvey and his 16-inning scoreless streak, the South Division leaders won 10 of their first 12 games with a team ERA under 2.00.
Who's hot - player: Clearwater Threshers first baseman Joe Savery is hitting over .500 in his first 11 games. A converted pitcher, Savery leads the league in batting, on-base percentage and OPS.
Who's back: Charlotte Stone Crab shortstop Hak-Ju Lee finally made his Florida State League debut after sitting on the shelf with a case of the chicken pox. Lee, who has three hits in seven at-bats so far, was acquired by the Rays in the Matt Garza trade and assigned to Charlotte during Spring Training.