With Opening Day right around the corner, the 2011 Lowell Spinners have arrived in town and workouts have begun at LeLacheur Park.
The 2011 squad features a number of faces already familiar to Spinners fans, as well as a mix of new talent primed to make an impact in Lowell this summer. The squad will be led by an entirely new coaching staff for 2011, led by first-time manager Carlos Febles. Febles will be joined by long-time Red Sox great Rich Gedman, in his first year back in the organization as the Spinners hitting coach, and 13-year Major League veteran Paul Abbott in his first year as the team's Pitching Coach.
Among those players returning to Lowell are a trio of starting pitchers - each of whom improved as the season went on as teenagers in 2010. Headlining the group is right-hander Madison Younginer, a seventh round pick in 2009, who posted a 3-7 record with a 4.79 ERA in 14 starts with Lowell in 2010. Named the No. 20 Prospect in the New York-Penn League by Baseball America in 2010, Younginer allowed three earned runs or less in each of his last eight starts, posting a 3.05 ERA from July 20 through August 31.
Joining Younginer is fellow right-hander Tyler Wilson, a 14th round selection in 2008. Wilson was solid throughout the season for the Spinners in 2010, posting a 3-4 record with a 4.20 ERA. He struck out 41, leading the team with 64.1 innings pitched. From July 31 through August 27, Wilson recorded a league best 1.01 ERA, allowing one earned run or less in each outing. The two right-handers will be joined by southpaw Hunter Cervenka, who ranked fifth amongst all Red Sox minor leaguers in 2010 with a 3.59 ERA. Cervenka led the Spinners with 55 strikeouts, but also led the team with 42 walks. After starting the season in Low-A Greenville, Cervenka is eager to prove that's where he belongs.
Amongst the new pitcher's joining the Spinners staff are a trio of 2011 Draft Picks: Kevin Brahney (11th round out of Chico State), Mike McCarthy (14th round out of CSU Bakersfield) and Miguel Pena (6th round out of San Jacinto Junior College). Each brings the experience of pitching against top level competition at the college level.
Joining the staff from Extended Spring Training are a number of promising young arms highlighted by Raynel Velette, who's 2.54 ERA led the GCL Red Sox in 2010 and was seventh in the league, Jason Garcia, a 17th round selection in the 2010 draft out of high school who pitched well in eight starts for the GCL Red Sox in 2010, and Luis Diaz, a right-hander from Venezuela who will be jumping from the Dominican Summer League to the New York-Penn League in 2011.
Look for Luis Bastardo, Chris Huseby, Swen Huijer (Follow him on Twitter (@SwenHuijer)) and Nefi Ogando to pitch in clutch innings out of the bullpen for a versatile Spinners staff.
Behind the plate two familiar faces return as 2010 Spinners teammates Jayson Hernandez and Carson Blair should handle the bulk of the catching responsibilities. Blair, who started the season in Greenville before suffering an injury to the same hand he hurt with the Spinners in 2010, is looking to get comfortable with regular playing time, while Hernandez brings his fist-pumping leadership back behind the plate. Non-drafted free agent Tim Roberson, signed out of Florida Gulf Coast University rounds out the catching trio.
Amongst the infield group is 2006 New York-Penn League All-Star Zach Daeges, who finally escapes Fort Myers as he continues his return from a myriad of injuries. Daeges, who's hit .311 over four minor league seasons, last played with the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2009 when he appeared in just nine games before losing the remainder of the season and all of 2010 to injury.
Top prospect Garin Cecchini knows a thing or two about injuries as well, having missed his senior season at Barbe (LA) High School due to injury. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Cecchini signed on deadline day and did not play in 2010. Despite the layoff, he was rated the No. 7 overall prospect in the Red Sox organization by Baseball America and brings a Team USA pedigree, having won a Pan American title with the U-18 team in 2009.
Joining Daeges and Cecchini will be 2011 draft picks Travis Shaw, a 9th round selection from Kent State and son of former Major League All-Star Jeff Shaw, and first baseman Braden Kapteyn, a two-way star from Kentucky selected in the 15th round. Kapteyn will be joined at first base by Australian Boss Moanaroa, who played the previous two seasons with the GCL Red Sox.
Manning the middle infield will fall to Jason Thompson, an 11th round selection in 2009, who also started the season in Greenville before suffering an injury. Thompson tied for the GCL Red Sox lead with 10 doubles and finished third on the squad with five home runs in 2010. He will be joined by 3-time Spinner JT Garcia and Roberto Ramos, who played the previous three seasons in the GCL. Non-drafted free agent Nick Natoli out of Towson University will help provide flexibility across the infield.
The infield could have a big assist to start the season from third baseman Will Middlebrooks, a 2009 Spinner, who is rehabbing from Double-A Portland. Middlebrooks has improved in each season since leaving Lowell, earning and All-Star nod in 2010 in the Carolina League.
Manning the outfield will be 2009 Red Sox Latin Player of the Year Keury De La Cruz, who led the GCL in 2010 in triples (7) and total bases (94), Matty Johnson, a speed demon signed out of the Frontier League where he was Baseball America's No.1 Independent League Prospect in 2010, Moko Moanaroa, older brother of first baseman Boss, Seth Schwindenhammer, returning to the Spinners after playing in 33 games in 2010, and Drew Turocy, a 24th round selection from Akron in 2011.
It is sure to be an exciting season and you never know who from the above will be the next to follow the path from Lowell to Fenway.