MANCHESTER, N.H. - For the first time in team history, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats are expected to have a native son roaming the grounds at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Nashua native Kevin Nolan is among the new and returning faces placed on the Fisher Cats projected Opening Day roster by their parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays. Nolan is part of a group that will open the 10th Anniversary Season on Thursday evening at 6:35 p.m.
"What an exciting announcement for baseball fans across New Hampshire," said Fisher Cats President Rick Brenner. "Not only do we get to see a player from our own state, but the Blue Jays have once again provided us with a talented bunch of prospects who will help us create a magical summer for our fans."
While the Granite Stater's return home is the highlight of the new roster, it is by no means the only bright spot among an eclectic group of position players that includes speed, power, hitting ability, and defensive prowess. Nolan himself provides many of those attributes, as he became a Florida State League All-Star a season ago, hitting .316 with 12 stolen bases in just 77 games. The former Nashua High School South star has a .285 career average in four seasons since being drafted in 2009.
Joining Nolan on the infield is a mix of new and familiar faces. After posting a career high in hits a year ago, John Tolisano will begin his third season at the Double-A level. Ryan Schimpf is also back to New Hampshire after making quite an impression with eight home runs in just 33 games in a late-season call-up in 2012. Former first-round draft pick Kevin Ahrens makes his Double-A debut this season as the primary Fisher Cats third baseman. He'll be joined across the diamond by a new Blue Jay, Clint Robinson, who made his major league debut a season ago with Kansas City. Amadeo Zazueta brings with him the ability to play multiple positions - and perhaps the most entertaining name on the roster. Old friend Ricardo Nanita, who hit .299 for the 2011 champion Fisher Cats, is looking for his fourth straight above-.300 season after helping his native Dominican Republic win the World Baseball Classic this spring.
The outfielders are a mix of new and veteran Double-A players. Brad Glenn returns after leading the Fisher Cats in home runs and RBI in 2013. Adam Loewen, a 2010 Fisher Cat, is also back after rejoining the Blue Jays organization in the off-season. Most recently with the Mets, Loewen hit .246 for New Hampshire in 2010 before making his major league debut with Toronto a year later.
The two new outfielders could be the most exciting players on the roster. Kevin Pillar was named MVP of the Midwest League with Lansing a year ago, despite playing in just 86 games before a promotion to Dunedin. He is a career .331 hitter and stole 51 total bases in 2012. One of the few minor league players who stole more bases than Pillar is Kenny Wilson, who swiped 55 last season between Lansing and Advanced-A Dunedin, and will make his Double-A debut this season.
Behind the plate, both catchers on the roster are looking at their first full seasons in Double-A. Sean Ochinko joined the team in May of 2012 after injuries plagued Brian Jeroloman and A.J. Jimenez. He parlayed his successful first stint in New Hampshire to a roster position in the Arizona Fall League. Fellow backstop Jack Murphy has reached Double-A twice already, but has appeared in just 11 games between 2011-12. Like Nanita, Murphy was crowned a champion this off-season as he hit .319 for a Canberra team that won its first Australian Baseball League title.
Despite a busy off-season in which the Blue Jays traded several top prospects, the pitching staff should be solid once again. Returning starters Deck McGuire and Ryan Tepera are looking to build off their first full season of Double-A ball with the Fisher Cats in 2012. They'll be joined in the rotation by former Reading Phillie Tyson Brummett and new Blue Jay Austin Bibens-Dirkx. Righty Marcus Walden, a 14-game winner in 2012, will round out the rotation in his first season in Double-A.
The entire relief corps has had experience in New Hampshire - whether pitching for or against the Fisher Cats. Righties Chad Beck and Joel Carreno reunite in New Hampshire after each played a key role for the 2011 champions and spent time in Toronto during the last two seasons. Trystan Magnuson and lefty Matt Wright spent the bulk of their playing time with the Fisher Cats last summer. Clint Everts and Randy Boone each donned a Fisher Cats jersey in years past, albeit it the former as a reliever and the latter as a starter. Rounding out the 'pen, former Portland Sea Dog Tommy Hottovy gives manager Gary Allenson a second lefty reliever. Hottovy joined the Blue Jays in January after making it to the major leagues with Boston in 2011 and Kansas City in 2012.
By the numbers, the projected roster contains one active player on the Blue Jays' 40-man roster (Robinson), while several more are expected to begin the year on the disabled list. Seven players have already made their major league debuts (pitchers Beck, Brummett, Carreno, Hottovy, and Magnuson, infielder Robinson, and outfielder Loewen). Of the 25 active players, 17 have been reared through the Blue Jays' minor league system, including four first round picks (McGuire, Ahrens, Loewen, Magnuson) and two second-rounders (Tolisano, Wilson). Overall, 20 of 25 players have played at the Double-A level prior to 2013.