Jeff Smith talks to the media with high hopes for a successful season.
NEW BRITAIN, CT - With the Minnesota Twins making moves in the off-season to fill their roster, several players were bumped down a level. As a result, the Rock Cats will open the 2012 season with an experienced team and a dash of youthful talent. That could lead to another contending season for the 'Cats.
Headlining the 2012 Opening Day roster are five players who have Major League experience as well as a duo of highly touted prospects and former first round draft picks - pitcher Alex Wimmers and outfielder Aaron Hicks. This year's squad will also boast three of Baseball America's Top 15 and five of the Top 30 Twins' prospects.
Manager Jeff Smith, a former catcher for the Rock Cats, returns for his third season at the helm. Smith put a difficult Eastern League debut managerial season behind him - in which the Rock Cats finished in last place in 2010 - to bring the team back among the top teams in the Eastern Division. In 2011, the Rock Cats finished 72-70 and just two games shy of the playoffs. This season, a significant portion of his roster returns. Smith will be assisted by veteran pitching coach Stu Cliburn and hitting coach Rudy Hernandez, who coached in the Hardware City in 2010.
Andrew Albers (L)- The University of Kentucky product made a stop in independent ball in the Quebec Can-Am League in 2010 before signing as a free agent with the Twins prior to the 2011 season. The southpaw turned in an impressive debut season in the organization, posting a combined 8-2 record with a 2.16 ERA and 80-strikeout-to-14-walk ratio in 35 games between Ft. Myers and New Britain.
(L)- The 23-year-old
southpaw rapidly climbed through the system since
being selected by the Twins in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. In 2010, he appeared in 11 games for
Elizabethton in the Appalachian League, posting a 2.08 ERA with 32
in 34 2/3 innings. Last season, he started six games for Beloit (2-2,
15 for Ft. Myers (803, 4.17) before earning a promotion to New Britain.
1-1 with a 5.58 ERA but posted an impressive 20K/4BB ratio in 30 2/3
Luke French (L)- The 26-year-old has plenty of experience under his belt - French was originally an eighth round draft pick by Detroit in 2004 and came through the Eastern League in 2008 as a member of the Erie Sea Wolves. He enters the 2012 season with eight pro seasons on his resume, including 23 Major League games. French appeared in seven games for the Detroit tigers and also pitched 16 games (13 starts) for the Seattle Mariners in 2010. He compiled nine MLB wins and a 4.99 ERA. Last season, he went 9-9 with a 6.27 ERA for Triple-A Tacoma. French will get the ball on Opening Night on Thursday, April 5 at New Britain Stadium.
Hirschfeld (R)- The 26-year-old
provides the Rock Cats with yet another veteran arm
with experience both out of the bullpen and as a starter.
Hirschfeld, who was originally drafted by Montreal (2004) and
Colorado (2005) but opted not to sign with either team, was eventually
by the Twins in the ninth round of the 2007 Draft. He made his Rock
in 2010, but was eventually limited to 22 innings -32 total innings on
season - after suffering a shoulder injury and then a lower leg injury
resulted in the removal of a non-cancerous tumor. In 2011, he came back
to turn in a solid first full season in New Britain, posting an 8-8
a 3.73 ERA in 30 games.
Alex Wimmers (R) - The Rock Cats' starting rotation is rounded out by the 23-year-old Wimmers (pictured at right). The 2010 first round draft pick (21st overall) arrives in New Britain with a career 3.14 ERA with 34 hits allowed and a 63-strikeout-to-28-walk ratio in 57 1/3 career innings. Wimmers made his professional debut in 2010 with High Class-A Ft. Myers and went 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 23K/5BB ratio in 15 2/3 innings. Last season, he hit a bump in the road after walking six-straight batters to open the 2011 season in Ft. Myers. Wimmers was pulled from the game in the first inning and eventually sent to extended Spring Training to work on mechanics. He returned to finish the season a 2-3 record and 4.20 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 22 walks in 40 2.3 innings with the Miracle. The highlight of his season came in September, when he tossed a seven inning no-hitter. It was his first no-hitter since completing the feat as a star pitcher for Ohio State, that one coming against rival Michigan.
(R)-Had it not been
for a freak injury on the mound last season, the
Eastern League would likely be in Bromberg's rearview mirror. Bromberg
arrived in New Britain in 2010 after leading his league in strikeouts
2008 and 2009 and being named Twins' Minor League Pitcher of the Year
In 2010, Bromberg went 5-5 with a 3.62 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 17
the 'Cats. He also earned his first taste of Triple-A, posting a 1-4
with a 3.98 ERA in nine starts. Last season, he entered the season as
of the New Britain staff but suffered a broken forearm after being hit
line drive that caused him to be limited to 42 total innings. He makes
transition to a relief a role this season.
Deolis Guerra (R)- The last player standing from the Johan Santana trade with the New York Mets a few years back, Guerra is the Twins' last chance at salvaging something from that move. Guerra brings plenty of talent to the mound - including a change-up rated by Baseball America as the best in the organization - but has struggled to put it all together. Still young - he will turn 23 on April 17 - he already has six professional seasons under his belt (42-54, 4.95 ERA). He spent parts of the 2009 and 2010 and a full 2011 season with the Rock Cats. Despite finishing last year with a hefty 5.59 ERA, it was a move to the bullpen that resurrected his career. Once Guerra switched to a relief role, he posted a 2.77 ERA and held opponents to a .191 average in 27 relief appearances.
Brett Jacobson (R)- The 25-year-old returns for his second season with the Rock Cats. Originally selected by the Detroit Tigers in the fourth round of the 2008 Draft, Jacobson had an impressive 2010 season with Federick (High-A) - posting an 8-1 record with a 2.79 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 71 innings - before moving to the Minnesota organization via the J.J. Hardy trade. In 2011, he split his time as a starter and reliever for the 'Cats, finishing with a 5-6 record and 4.56 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 58 walks in 100 2/3 innings in his Double-A debut.
Bobby Lanigan (R)- The 24-year-old Staten Island native returns for his third stint with the Rock Cats. Lanigan was selected by the Twins in the third round of the 2008 Draft. He split the 2010 season between Ft. Myers and New Britain - including posting an impressive 2.15 ERA with a 41K/7BB ratio in 54 1/3 innings with the Miracle - before spending the entire 2011 season with the Rock Cats. In 27 starts last season, he finished with a 4.45 ERA and 101 strikeouts. Lanigan makes the move to the bullpen this season.
Blake Martin (L)- After splitting the past two seasons between Ft. Myers and New Britain, the 25-year-old returns to the Hardware City. Martin had a rough AA debut in 2010, finishing with an 8.10 ERA in 13 1/3 innings in eight appearances. In 22 appearances with the Rock Cats last season, he posted a 6.23 ERA while walking 58 compared to striking out just 45 in 60 2/3 innings.
Lester Oliveros (R)- The hard throwing right hander, whose fastball is rated as the best in the Twins' farm system, originally signed with Detroit as a 17-year-old free agent in 2005. Now the Venezuelan native, who will turn 24 in May, will take the mound for the first time in a Rock Cats uniform with Major League experience on his resume. Last season, he pitched in 19 MLB games, including 10 out of the Twins' bullpen, and posted a combined 4.64 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings. Oliveros also has E.L. experience on his side, having pitched for Erie in 2010 and 2011, including going 2-0 with a sparkling 0.53 ERA with a 28K/4Bb ratio in 10 bullpen appearances with the SeaWolves last season. He spent the majority of 2011 season with Toledo before being traded to the Twins on August 16.
Luis Perdomo(R)- The 27-year-old came up with the Cleveland Indians and pitched in the E.L. for Akron in 2008. He also pitched in the big leagues in 2009 and 2010 for the San Diego Padres (4.87. 55K/34BB, 61 IP). He has notched one win in 36 relief outings in the majors. Signed by the Twins as a free agent in off-season, Perdomo will work out of the Rock Cats bullpen.
(R)- Originally selected by the
San Francisco Giants in the 8th round of the
2007 Draft, the now
25-year-old arrives in New Britain with five professional seasons under
belt. Turpen has put in time with San Francisco, Boston, and Colorado,
a combined 18-16 record and 3.25 ERA in 204 minor league games. He
2011 season with Double-A Tulsa (Rockies), going 2-4 with a 4.83 ERA
saves in 48 appearances. He only managed 33 strikeouts while walking 35
Chris Herrmann; Danny Lehmann
The 24-year-old Herrmann returns for his second season. Herrmann split the 2011 season between Ft. Myers and New Britain, batting a combined .269 with eight homers and 62 RBI in 121 games. Originally selected by the Twins in the sixth round of the 2009 Draft, he provides the team with another outfield option as well.
Lehmann, a Rice University product, spent parts of the past three seasons with New Britain, including batting .309 (17/55) in 20 games with the 'Cats last season. The 26-year-old gives the Rock Cats a solid defensive catcher behind the plate.
1B: Chris Colabello, Nate Hanson
Colabello makes his Rock Cats debut after spending the past seven season playing independent ball for the Worcester Tornadoes. During his tenure, he posted a .317 mark in 583 games with the Tornadoes. He was named the Can-Am League MVP last season after batting a career-high .348 with 20 home runs and 79 RBI. The 27-year-old spent most of his playing time at first base during his independent ball days but also saw action at third base and in the outfield. Colabello becomes the local boy of the team, having attended nearby Milford High (Milford, MA) and Assumption College.
Hanson returns to the Rock Cats for a second go-around. The University of Minnesota product split the 2011 season between Ft. Myers and New Britain, batting .267 with four homers and 29 RBI for the Miracle and .238/2/22 for the 'Cats. He also has experience at third base.
2B: Estarlin De Los Santos; Darin Mastrioianni
De Los Santos, 25, returns to the Rock Cats for the first time since 2010, when he spent 64 games in the Hardware City. The Dominican native struggled in his Eastern League debut, batting just .177 while committing 22 errors in 64 games. Last season, he was limited to just 27 games. The once highly-touted prospect looks to rebound from an injury-plagued 2011 season and breakout this season.
Mastroianni should sound familiar to Rock Cats fans, as the former New Hampshire slugger often feasted on Rock Cats' pitching throughout the 2009-11 seasons. He was a one-man wrecking crew in 2010, batting .367 (33-90) with 5 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers and 12 RBI against the Rock Cats. Mastroianni, who made his Major League debut with the Toronto Blue Jays last season, going 0-2 on August 24 vs Kansas City, was picked up off waivers by the Twins in the off-season. The speedster is making the transition from outfield to infield and will play both second base and outfield.
SS: James Beresford, Pedro Florimon
The Rock Cats will feature another Australian native, this season in the form of the 23-year-old Beresford. He has collected a career .282 average in five seasons, including a career-best .297 with Beloit in 2010.
Florimon returns to the Eastern League with four Major League games and one big league hiot under his belt. The 25 year old played against the Rock Cats the past few seasons as an Orioles prospect at Bowie.
3B: Deibinson Romero
Romero provides the 'Cats with experience at the hot corner. The 25-year-old returns for his second stint with New Britain after spending the entire 2011 season with the Rock Cats. He looks to improve on a solid debut season (.256, 11 HR, 55 R, 27 2B, 58 RBI, 121 games) in which he committed 20 errors in 109 games at third base.
Evan Bigley, Aaron Hicks, Mark Dolenc
Bigley returns for his third stint with the Rock Cats. The 10th round draft pick by the Twins back in 2008 made his E.L. debut in 2010, batting an impressive .336 with four home runs and 15 RBi in 27 games to close out the season. In 2011, he spent the entire year with the 'Cats, hitting .253 with seven homers and 56 RBI in 133 games. He spent the majority of his time in right field, although did put in time in all three outfield spots.
season, the Rock Cats seem to have at least one top prospect roaming
outfield. This year, that honor goes to Hicks
who is rated by Baseball America as
the fourth-best prospect in the Twins' system and 45th
in all of the
minor leagues. The former first round draft pick (15th
in 2008) has collected a .266 average with 21 homers and 60 stolen
bases in 349
career games (four seasons). Hicks, 22, is also ranked by BA as the
Defensive Outfielder and Best Outfield Arm in the Twins' system. The five-tool stud,
who brings blazing
speed to the outfield, has been compared to former Rock Cats outfielder
American League All-Star Torii Hunter.
The 27-year-old Dolenc provides the Rock Cats with a seasoned veteran in the outfield. Dolenc spent the past two full years in New Britain, turning in solid seasons both times. In six professional seasons, the Minnesota State University-Mankato product has collected a .265 mark in 592 career games.
KEEP AN EYE ON:
These players may be a couple years away from New Britain, but remain exciting young talent to keep an eye on in the farm system:
3B/SS Miguel Sano - Rated the #1Twins' prospect by Baseball America, the 18-year-old (he will turn 19 on May 11) Dominican native enters his third professional season. He has already collected a career .299 average with 27 home runs in 127 games. He is also ranked as the Best Power Hitter in the organization.
2B/OF Eddie Rosario - The 20-year-old is rated the third-best prospect and Best Hitter for Average in the Twins' organization by Baseball America. The Twins selected the Puerto Rican native in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft. Since then he has batted .319 with 39 stolen bases, 26 homers and 86 RBI in 118 career games. Last season, he hit .337 with 60 RBI and 21 home runs in 67 games with the Elizabethton Twins.
OF Oswaldo Arcia - The 20-year-old Venezuelan has successfully climbed through the Twins' system since being signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2008. As a 19-year-old, he batted a career-high .375 with 14 homers and 51 RBI in 64 games with Elizabethton. Last season, he split the season between Beloit and Ft. Myers, batting a collective .312 with 13 homers and 51 RBI (including two games with the Gulf Coast League Twins). Arcia - the #5 prospect in the Twins' organization - is the closest of the up-and-coming prospects to making his Double-A debut. He will start the season in Ft. Myers.
SS/2B Levi Michael - Rated the sixth-best prospect in the Twins' organization, Michael was the Twins' first-round draft pick in 2011 out of the University of North Carolina.
P Hudson Boyd - The Twins selected the 6-2/235-lb. righthander with the 55th overall pick in the 2011 Draft. Baseball America gave him the title of Best Curveball in the organization.