COLUMBIA, S.C. - The New York Mets released the Fireflies 2017 Opening Day roster on Sunday. The star-filled unit features six of the top 28 New York Mets prospects (as ranked by MLB.com and Baseball America), Columbia native and former University of South Carolina Gamecocks outfielder Gene Cone and two-time BCS National Champion Tim Tebow.
Outfielder Desmond Lindsay (#4, Baseball America), right-hander Merandy Gonzalez (#14, BA), infielder Luis Carpio (#16, MLB.com), catcher Ali Sanchez (#21, MLB), infielder Milton Ramos (#23, MLB) and right-hander Harol Gonzalez (#28, BA) make up the list of Mets prospects on the roster.
Furthermore, Jose Leger returns to manage a team that also features 10 former top-10 round draft picks and three Mets Sterling Award winners (given annually to the best player at each Mets minor league level).
Cone - who led South Carolina to a Super Regional in last year's NCAA tournament - returns to his hometown after being selected by the Mets in the 10th round last June. Cone's 31-game hit streak during the 2016 season was a USC school record and the longest streak in Division-I baseball last year. The 22-year-old played his high school ball at Spring Valley, just 20 minutes from Spirit Communications Park.
Another Palmetto State star joins Cone in Columbia this season. Infielder Michael Paez helped Coastal Carolina capture the 2016 College World Series last June, defeating Arizona in the best-of-three championship series. Paez' walk-off base hit against LSU in the Super Regional punched the Chanticleers' first-ever ticket to Omaha.
In addition to Cone and Paez, other former top-10 round draft picks include Lindsay (Out-of-Door Academy, 2015 - 2nd round), infielder Blake Tiberi (Louisville, 2016 - 3rd), Ramos (American Heritage HS, 2014 - 3rd), right-hander Austin McGeorge (Long Beach State, 2016 - 7th), infielder Dash Winningham (Trinity Catholic HS, 2014 - 8th), righty Colin Holderman (Heartland CC, 2016 - 9th) and right-hander Witt Haggard (Delta State, 2015 - 10th). Left-hander Blake Taylor was drafted in the 2nd round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 and was acquired by the Mets in a trade the following year.
After being selected by the Mets in the 2nd round two years ago (New York's first selection, though, in the 2015 draft), Lindsay posted two superb seasons. The Floridian hit .303 in 2016 with both Brooklyn and the Gulf Coast League Mets (rookie). Baseball America describes Lindsay as "already physically mature for a teenager" and projects him to be the Mets starting centerfielder in as soon as three years.
Both Harol and Merandy Gonzalez (no relation) anchor a stellar pitching staff. Harol was named a New York-Penn League All-Star after leading the league in ERA (2.01) and strikeouts (88). The 22-year-old's seven wins were a team-high for Brooklyn. Baseball America predicts Merandy Gonzalez to be New York's "breakout prospect" in 2017. Keep an eye on Joseph Zanghi out of the bullpen, too, after the right-hander led all Brooklyn relievers with a 1.23 ERA. His eight saves were tied for third in the New York-Penn League.
Brandon Brosher (Brooklyn-best five home runs in 2016), Anthony Dimino (Kingsport-best .325 batting average in 2016) and Ali Sanchez (2014 Dominican Summer League Sterling Award winner) create a more-than-capable trio behind the plate.
Winningham returns to Columbia after pacing the Fireflies with 12 home runs and 69 RBIs during the club's inaugural season. Three other 2016 Fireflies - Ramos, Haggard and Brosher - will also call Spirit Communications Park home to start the year (not including left-hander Seth Davis and catchers Jose Garcia and Natanael Ramos who will begin the season on the disabled list).
In addition to Leger, pitching coach Jonathan Hurst (a Spartanburg, South Carolina, native) and hitting coach Joel Fuentes return to Columbia's dugout this season, as does Athletic Trainer Kiyoshi Tada. Tanner Miracle joins the staff as the new Strength and Conditioning Coach.
The Fireflies open the 2017 season on Thursday, April 6 against the Augusta GreenJackets (San Francisco Giants). The four-game series continues through April 9 before the Fireflies welcome the Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) to town for a three-game set from April 10-12.
2017 Roster Breakdown
Pitchers (14): Matt Blackham, Harol Gonzalez, Merandy Gonzalez, Cam Griffin, Witt Haggard, Taylor Henry, Colin Holderman, Jordan Humphreys, Max Kuhns, Gabriel Llanes, Austin McGeorge, Blake Taylor, Adonis Uceta, Joseph Zanghi
Catchers (3): Brandon Brosher, Anthony Dimino, Ali Sanchez
Infielders (5): Luis Carpio, Michael Paez, Milton Ramos, Blake Tiberi, Dash Winningham
Outfielders (4): Gene Cone, Desmond Lindsay, Tim Tebow, Jacob Zanon
Disabled List (3): Seth Davis (LHP), Jose Garcia (C), Natanael Ramos (C)
Top-30 Mets Prospects (7):
4. Desmond Lindsay (Baseball America)
14. Merandy Gonzalez
16. Luis Carpio
21. Ali Sanchez
23. Milton Ramos
28. Harol Gonzalez
Sterling Award Winners (3):
2016 - Desmond Lindsay (Brooklyn)
2015 - Adonis Uceta (Gulf Coast League Mets)
2014 - Ali Sanchez (Dominican Summer League Mets)
States/Countries Represented (15): California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Dominican Republic, Venezuela
Drafted, Signed out of High School: 6
Drafted, Signed out of College: 12
International Signings: 5
Undrafted Free Agent Signings: 2
Acquired by Trade: 1
2013 Draft Class: 3
2014 Draft Class: 4
2015 Draft Class: 5
2016 Draft Class: 7
Right-Handed Pitchers: 12
Left-Handed Pitchers: 2
Right-Handed Hitters: 7
Left-Handed Hitters: 5
Switch Hitters: 0
Majority of 2016 Season In:
Columbia (A) - 3
Brooklyn (short season-A) - 14
Kingsport (advanced-rookie) - 6
DNP (injury) - 2
DNP - 1
Opening Night 2017
Opening Night at Spirit Communications Park is April 6 at 7:05 p.m. against the Augusta GreenJackets (San Francisco Giants). Due to the high demand for Opening Night, the Fireflies are also excited to offer a Picnic in the Park ticket and dinner package for $25. The Picnic in the Park package comes with seating at a table on the Palmetto Pavilion down the right-field line, and includes all-you-can-eat hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken, house-made pulled pork, Pepsi products and sides from 6:00-7:30 p.m. A limited quantity of these tickets is now available for purchase in person at the box office, or by calling the Fireflies at 803-726-4487.
A limited number of Opening Night Tickets on the Bojangles' Berm are still available for $5. For fans that prefer to mix and mingle, or to sit / stand along one of the many drink rails surrounding the concourse, the Fireflies also offer Concourse Passes for $5. Seating at the drink rails is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Bojangles' Berm tickets and Concourse Passes are available at the box office, over the phone at 803-726-4487 and online at FirefliesTickets.com.
Individual game tickets for the remainder of the 2017 season, including the 2017 South Atlantic League All-Star Game on June 20 and the Total Eclipse of the Park on August 21, are on sale now and begin at $5 for the Bojangles' Berm, $9 for reserved seats, and $10 for Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union All-Star seats. The Fireflies are currently taking reservations for season ticket packages, including full-season (70 games), half-season (35 games), quarter-season (17 games) and mini-season packages (12 games). For more information on season tickets and to reserve your seats for the 2017 season, visit ColumbiaFireflies.com, or call 803-726-4487.
About the Columbia Fireflies
The Columbia Fireflies are the South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets. Winners of Ballpark Digest's Best New Branding and Logo Award in 2016, the Fireflies play games across the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions, including against in-state rivals in Charleston and Greenville. The team partnered with the city of Columbia and Hughes Development to construct Spirit Communications Park, a multi-use outdoor sports and entertainment venue at the center of the BullStreet development. The Columbia Fireflies are owned by Hardball Capital, owners of the Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Midwest League and the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League. For more information, visit ColumbiaFireflies.com, or follow the Fireflies on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
About Spirit Communications Park
Spirit Communications Park, the 2016 Ballpark Digest Ballpark of the Year, is a 365-day per year multi-use sports and entertainment venue located in the heart of downtown Columbia, SC. Spirit Communications Park is the home ballpark for the Columbia Fireflies, the South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets. Designed for baseball, concerts, football, soccer and a host of other activities, the venue seats approximately 9,000 for sporting events and up to 15,000 for major outdoor concerts. With 16 luxury suites and a 7,000 square-foot Club Level Lounge, Spirit Communications Park can also host everything from business meetings to wedding receptions, and everything in between. The venue is open 365 days a year and serves as a public park with the wrap-around concourse representing 1/3 of a mile for walkers and joggers. For more information, visit SpiritCommunicationsPark.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.