Manager Luis Rojas, pitching coach Frank Viola and coach Joel Fuentes led the single-A Gnats to a 69-67 record last season, finishing fifth overall in the 14-team South Atlantic League. Savannah narrowly missed the first half pennant with a 41-26 record (-4.5).
"I'm really excited to have our entire coaching staff back for 2013," said Sand Gnats team president, John Katz. "Luis, Frank and Joel did a tremendous job developing our talent last season, and we expect to have another dynamic pitching staff for the fifth-straight season. Veteran leadership in the clubhouse is critical to success at this level, and we have a great foundation for a winning club."
Luis Rojas is entering his eighth year with the New York Mets. He continues his successful baseball career as a third-year manager, which means good things for the Sand Gnats and the rest of the Mets organization.
Rojas played in the minor league for four years (Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins, Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals) before taking coaching and managing roles. He continues to carry his family's well-known baseball legacy. Rojas' father, Filipe Alou, played for 17 years and is currently the Special Assistant to the General Manager of the San Francisco Giants. Rojas' brother, Moises Alou, also played for 17 years. His uncles, Jesus Alou and the late Matty Alou, both played for 15 years in the Major Leagues.
"It is a blessing, and I'm very excited to be coming back to Savannah," said Rojas. "We'll put together a strong Sand Gnats team as usual to compete all the way through the post-season."
Frank Viola found his niche as a pitching coach for the Brooklyn (A) of the New York-Penn league in 2011 after previously managing and coaching at the collegiate and high school levels, respectively. His pitchers boasted a 3.33 ERA in the 2012 season, which finished in the top spot in the South Atlantic League. Savannah also had a league best ERA in 2011 (3.26) and has been in the top two in each of the last four seasons.
Viola enters this season with professional baseball experience dating back to 1981, having won both a World Series title and the World Series MVP award in '87. He earned the American League Cy Young Award the following year. Frank totaled 15 seasons as a MLB pitcher, including stints with the Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays. His daughter, Brittany, a member of the USA Diving team, competed in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. She is a 2011 graduate of the University of Miami.
"I'm excited to be back in Savannah," says Viola. "There were a lot of positives last year and there will be a lot more positives this year with the new incoming kids. It will be great being around John [Katz], Luis, Joel, Tom [Truedson] and Griff [Jason Griffin] for another year and being able to help out everyone involved."
Joel Fuentes begins his seventh year with the Mets organization. This will be his third year as a coach with the Sand Gnats. He began his coaching career in 2007 in Savannah, but joined the St. Lucie Mets staff in 2008. He spent 2009 and 2010 coaching in New York for the Brooklyn Cyclones and returned to St. Lucie in 2011.
Fuentes played for seven years (1997-2003) in the San Francisco Giants organization. He is community service oriented in his hometown, and developed baseball clinics in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico for children ages 7 to 11 in 2006.
Tom Truedson, the South Atlantic League's Athletic Trainer of the Year in 2011, and Strength and Conditioning Coach Jason Griffin are also returning. 2013 will be Truedson's fifth season in the Mets organization, his third consecutive with the Sand Gnats. This will be Griffin's second season with both the Mets and the Sand Gnats.
The Sand Gnats open the 2013 season at Historic Grayson Stadium on April 4 at 6:35pm against the Rome Braves.