Dragons 2018 Preview: Part 1--Catchers

(Nick Falzerano)

By Tom Nichols / Dayton Dragons | March 1, 2018 11:52 AM

Today in Goodyear, Arizona, minor league pitchers and catchers in the Cincinnati Reds organization will have their first official workout. Minor League pitchers and catchers were due at camp in Goodyear yesterday, while the remaining position players will report next Tuesday. From that large group, which will include well over 200 minor league prospects, the roster of the 2018 Dayton Dragons will be selected. 

Spring training games for the Reds minor league clubs will start on March 15. On that date, the players tentatively assigned to the Dayton club will battle the Burlington Bees working roster (Los Angeles Angels farm club). 

Interestingly, some players who will start the 2018 season with the Dragons have already appeared in a big league pre-season game with the Reds this spring. A collection of minor league players reported to camp early for special conditioning work, and Reds manager Bryan Price has given several of them some playing time in Major League games. Officially, the Reds have 65 players in Major League camp, but they have actually used 71 players in a big league spring training game. The biggest disappointment in camp so far was the thumb injury suffered by former Dragons star Jose Siri in the first game of the spring season. He injured his thumb as he attempted to make a leaping catch against the center field fence in Goodyear. His return date is unknown at this point.

Minor League rosters will change almost daily throughout the spring. As the Reds trim their Major League spring roster, it will create a domino effect with the Minor League rosters. For example, when a player is sent down from big league camp and assigned to the Triple-A Louisville Bats spring roster, a player from the Louisville team will be sent to Double-A Pensacola, and so on. The Dayton roster will not be set until the end of spring training. There is a complete listing of all Minor League players in camp with the Reds here at RedsMinorLeagues.com: http://redsminorleagues.com/2018/02/26/cincinnati-reds-minor-league-spring-training-roster/

The final Dragons spring game in Arizona is scheduled for Friday, March 30. Two days later, 25 players will fly into Dayton International Airport. They will practice for the first time at Fifth Third Field on April 3rd and 4th, and then open the Midwest League season on Thursday, April 5th in Bowling Green, Kentucky against the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Dragons home opener is Saturday, April 7 when they host Bowling Green at Fifth Third Field at 7:00 p.m.

Again this season, all 140 home and road games can be heard on radio on WONE 980 AM and on the internet at wone.com and the Dragons Mobile App. The Dragons will again televise all Saturday and Sunday home games, plus a few Friday night games, on the Dayton CW.

Over the next 26 days, we will provide an eight-part preview of the 2018 Dayton Dragons.

The Catchers

This is part one of an eight-part series previewing the 2018 Dragons. Players listed here are candidates for positions on the 25-man Dragons season-opening roster.

This preview is an unofficial projection of possible roster candidates. Minor League rosters are not established until April 2. Spring training variables including performance, injuries, trades, and additional player acquisitions will impact the roster accordingly.

Click links on each name for career stats and player information.

Candidates: Mark Kolozsvary, Cassidy Brown, Hendrik Clementina, Morgan Lofstrom, Pabel Manzanero.

The Dragons utilized four catchers over the 2017 season, but never had more than two on the roster at any time. The starter for most of the season, former first round draft pick Tyler Stephenson, will move up the ladder to Daytona. Cassidy Brown, who backed up Stephenson until taking over as the starter when Tyler injured his thumb on a slide into second base in mid-July, could move on to Daytona too, though he may return to the Dragons. Morgan Lofstrom appeared in just three games for the Dragons during the final week of the 2017 season, and he could be back. Mitch Trees, the primary backup to Brown after Cassidy took over as the starter, was released by the Reds in the off-season.

Looking ahead to 2018, Mark Kolozsvary (pronounced COAL-suh-vary), a member of the 2017 NCAA national champion Florida Gators, appears to be locked in at the catcher position for the Dragons. Kolozsvary, a college teammate for two years with former Dragons pitcher Scott Moss at Florida, had an interesting college career. Over his first two seasons, he was stuck behind two All-Southeastern Conference catchers in Mike Rivera and J.J. Schwarz, who split time behind the plate and rotated as the team's designated hitter when they were not catching. That limited Kolozsvary to a total of four starts and only 35 at-bats over two seasons in 2015 and '16. Entering the 2017 season, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan went on record saying that Kolozsvary, now a junior, "has really come a long way" and would "play a lot" for the Gators, even with both Rivera and Schwarz back for their third seasons. 

As fate would have it, Rivera broke his hand and was out for a month. Schwarz spent most of his time at first base after an injury to another infielder forced some shuffling, and Kolozsvary got his opportunity to play. He started 35 games and batted .276 with a .440 slugging percentage, connecting on three home runs in 116 at-bats, and picking up 26 RBI. As the Gators advanced to the College World Series, all three catchers were drafted, with Kolozsvary taken in the seventh round by the Reds.

After Florida wrapped up the national title, Kolozsvary signed with the Reds and reported to Billings, Montana to play for the Billings Mustangs. He played in 28 games at Billings and batted .305 with one home run in 95 at-bats, posting a .411 slugging percentage. He threw out 33 percent of base stealers, better than the league average of 30 percent and the Mustangs team average of 29 percent. Reports on his defense overall are excellent. Kolozsvary is smaller than some of the Dragons catchers have been in recent years, standing 5'9", 190 lbs., so he has a somewhat similar build to former Dragons catcher Tucker Barnhart, now with the Reds. Kolozsvary will be 22 years old on opening night and is from Tavares, Florida, about an hour northwest of Orlando.

The assignment of Cassidy Brown in 2018 may be tied to the fate of former Dragons catcher Chris Okey, who endured a disappointing 2017 season at Daytona in which he played through a hand injury. If Okey, the Reds second round draft pick in 2016, makes the jump to Double-A, it will open a spot in Daytona for Brown, playing behind Stephenson. If Okey returns to Daytona, Brown will likely return to Dayton, where he spent the entire 2017 season. If Brown returns, he and Kolozsvary would make up a strong Dayton catching duo.

Brown followed a strong season at Billings in 2016 with a tough year at the plate with the Dragons in 2017. He finished the season with a batting average of .166 with four home runs in 83 games totaling 277 at-bats. He did produce two of the biggest hits of the year for the Dragons. On June 17 at Fort Wayne, in the final series of the first half, Brown's two-run double was the key hit in the Dragons 4-1 win over the TinCaps on the night when Dayton clinched a playoff berth. Then on September 8 at West Michigan, Brown had arguably the most important hit of the year for Dragons in the third and deciding game of the opening playoff series with the Whitecaps. Brown led off the top of the 11th inning in a 3-3 game with a double to right field and eventually scored what turned out to be the winning run in a 4-3 Dragons victory that sent them onto the league semi-finals. If Brown returns to the Dragons, expectations would be high that he could show big improvement in his second year in the league.

Brown is a native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (suburb of Akron) and played at Walsh Jesuit High School, where he was named the 2013 Ohio High School Player of the Year by Max Preps. Brown played three seasons of college baseball at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. As a junior in 2016, he led the team with a .325 batting average and added six home runs to earn 2nd Team All-West Coast Conference honors.

Brown was drafted by the Reds in the 12th round in 2016 and assigned to Billings, where he hit a home run in his first professional game. He finished the 2016 season at Billings batting .322 in 149 at-bats with a .409 on-base percentage. 

If Brown ends up with Daytona instead of Dayton, it will open a spot on the Dragons roster for another catcher to back-up Kolozsvary. When the Dragons needed an extra catcher late in 2017, it was Morgan Lofstrom who got the call from Billings. Lofstrom is a 22-year-old native of Kelowna, British Columbia in Canada who has been in the Reds organization since 2013, when he was drafted in the 20th round as a 17-year-old. Lofstrom played in just three games with the Dragons in 2017, going 3 for 10. The rest of his career has been spent with Reds Short-Season clubs, either Billings or the AZL Reds in Goodyear, and he has hit a combined .218 with five home runs in 162 games. Lofstrom hit .202 with one home run in 84 at-bats at Billings last summer.

Hendrik Clementina was acquired by the Reds in a trade with the Dodgers last summer along with Triple-A outfielder Scott Van Slyke in exchange for big league relief pitcher Tony Cingrani. Prior to the trade, Clementina was playing for Ogden in the same league as the Reds top Rookie-level affiliate, Billings, and was batting a robust .370 in 24 games to earn a spot in the Pioneer League All-Star Game. He remained in the league after the trade and was assigned to Billings, where he cooled off, batting .240. For the year, he played in 51 games and hit .303 with six home runs and 45 RBI. Clementina is a native of Curacao, home to former Dragons shortstops Didi Gregorius and Calten Daal. He is 20 years old.

Pabel Manzanero actually got the highest number of at-bats (99) of anyone in the crowded catching group at Billings last season. Manzanero hit .242 with three home runs in 30 games in his first year at Billings after four seasons at lower levels of the Reds organization. He batted over .300 in both 2015 (Dominican Summer League) and 2016 (AZL Reds in Goodyear). The 6'3" native of Venezuela is 22 years old as he enters his sixth season in the Reds system.

Next up: First Basemen

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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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