Savannah, GA - The Class A Savannah Sand Gnats, in conjunction with the New York Mets, have announced the 2014 coaching staff. Field manager Luis Rojas will return to Historic Grayson Stadium to defend the South Atlantic League Title. Strength and Conditioning coach Jason Griffin will remain on Rojas' staff. Joining the staff will be pitching coach Marc Valdes and athletic trainer Eric Velazquez, both of whom spent 2013 with the Mets Class-A Short-Season Brooklyn Cyclones. The club will also welcome first-year hitting coach and former Mets slugger Val Pascucci.
Luis Rojas enters his ninth season with the Mets organization and his third as manager of the Savannah Sand Gnats. Rojas led the 2013 Savannah Sand Gnats to its first title in 17 years defeating the Hagerstown Suns, three games to one, in a best-of-five series. "I feel blessed to come back as the Sand Gnats manager. 2013 was truly a memorable season," said Rojas. "We'll compete in the 2014 season inning by inning to defend our title."
Before his coaching career, Rojas spent time as a player in the Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins, and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals minor league systems. Rojas comes from the famous Rojas / Alou baseball family. Luis's father, Felipe Alou, was a three-time all-star in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, spending time with the San Francisco Giants and the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves. Felipe later went on to become the first Dominican-born manager in the majors and earned Manager of Year honors with the 1994 Montreal Expos. Luis's uncle Matty, uncle Jesús, and brother Moises were also successful players in the majors.
"Having Luis Rojas come back to defend the South Atlantic League title is phenomenal for the organization," said Sand Gnats team president, John Katz. "While our fans get to enjoy seeing the future stars of the Mets year in and year out, fans also have the opportunity to watch a great baseball man and rising coaching star teaching these ballplayers."
This off season, Rojas returned as the bench coach with El Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League (LIDOM). The Chosen Lions, as it is translated in English, are currently pushing towards their third consecutive LIDOM championship. As bench coach, Rojas is coaching former, current and future major leaguers such as Julio Lugo, Carlos Santana, Pedro Ciriaco, Chris Leroux, Starling Marte, Pedro Florimon and Gregory Polanco.
Pitching coach Marc Valdes enters his eighth year in the Mets organization and his third overall in Savannah. Valdes spent 2009 and 2010 with the Savannah Sand Gnats. Valdes returns to the club after coaching with the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League in 2013 and the Double-A Binghamton Mets of the Eastern League in 2012. Valdes, a Tampa, FL native, spent time in the Major Leagues pitching for the Florida Marlins, Montreal Expos, and Atlanta Braves. Marc spent part of his professional career pitching in Japan for the Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. He played his college ball at the University of Florida and was the Marlins' First Round draft pick in 1993.
Hitting Coach Val Pascucci enters his first year coaching after a 13 year playing career that included a stint in the Japan Pacific League. Pascucci was drafted in 1999 out of the University of Oklahoma by the Montreal Expos. The 6'6" outfielder and first baseman hit his way to the majors in 2004 with the Expos and again in 2011 with the Mets. Pascucci, a Bellflower, Calif., native, won the 2012 Triple-A All Star Game Home Run Derby as a member of the Buffalo Bisons.
Athletic trainer Eric Velazquez enters his fourth season with the Mets organization, after working with the Brooklyn Cyclones during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Velazquez brings with him championship experience as he was the trainer with the Dominican National Championship and Caribbean World Series winning Leones del Escogido. Velazquez is a native of Los Angeles, CA and resides in Round Rock, Texas.
Strength and conditioning coach Jason Griffin will return for his third season with the Mets organization and the Savannah Sand Gnats. Griffin served on the Oakland Raiders staff in 2011 before joining the Mets Organization in 2012. Griffin is from Harvey, Ill., and has been active with his charity, the Jason Griffin Foundation. The Foundation, founded in 2007, works to create better lives for youth community and schools in various communities throughout the country.
"It'll be great to have Griff and Marc back in Savannah with Luis this season," added Katz. "Having familiar faces and personalities around the ballpark is always a positive for the fans, the players and the staff."