New York-Penn League preview

Tigers open shop in Connecticut; Yanks eye title defense

Dennis Holmberg returns for a ninth season as Auburn's manager. (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

By Jed Weisberger / Special to | June 17, 2010 6:58 AM ET

Every year since 1966, Damaschke Field in Oneonta, N.Y., has been a fixture in the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League. Last season, however, just 23,521 fans attended games at the 70-year-old ballpark, prompting a move by the Tigers to Norwich, Conn.

When the 2010 NYPL season -- its 72nd -- begins Friday, the newly minted Connecticut Tigers will open on the road in Tri-City before making their much-anticipated home debut at Dodd Stadium on June 26.

Among the league's 2009 stars were Tri-City's J.D. Martinez, who won the batting title with a .326 average, and Lowell's Jose Alvarez, who went 8-3 with a league-low 1.52 ERA. Others such as Lowell's Ryan Westmoreland, Hudson Valley's Alexander Colome and Staten Island's Arodys Vizcaino also sparkled.

Who will emerge in 2010 and follow in their footsteps at the NYPL All-Star Game on Aug. 17 in Staten Island? Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect this season:

Aberdeen IronBirds (Baltimore Orioles)
2009 Results: 30-44, fourth in McNamara Division
Manager: Gary Kendall
Kendall returns for a third season, and pitching coach Scott McGregor is in his sixth campaign. The Orioles have not signed any of their Draft picks as of yet but plan to welcome back infielder Michael Gioioso, who appeared briefly for the IronBirds last season. Pitching could be a strength with right-handers Vito Frabizio and Jose Barajas and lefties Tyler Sexton and Asher Toliver, the last a fifth-round pick from 2009, back in Ripken Stadium. The Ironbirds were second in the NYPL in attendance in 2009, drawing 247,061 fans.

Auburn Doubledays (Toronto Blue Jays)
2009 Results: 26-49, sixth in Pinckney Division
Manager: Dennis Holmberg
Holmberg returns for a ninth season but this time with new hitting coach, Kenny Graham. Vince Horsman returns as pitching coach. Last year was an unusual down season for Auburn, which has won six division titles under Holmberg. Auburn fans can expect to see recently signed right-handers Aaron Sanchez, a second-round pick who starred at Barstow (Calif.) High School, and Noah Syndergaard, a third-round selection from Legacy High in Mansfield, Texas. Also in the fold and candidates to play at Auburn are third-rounders Marcus Knecht from Connors State Junior College in Oklahoma and Christopher Hawkins from North Gwinnett High in Sewanee, Ga.

Batavia Muckdogs (St. Louis Cardinals)
2009 Results: 37-39, fourth in Pinckney Division
Manager: Dann Bilardello
Bilardello steps into the manager's role with the Muckdogs, joining returning coaches Joe Kruzel and Ace Adams. The Rochester Red Wings continue to manage the operations of the franchise, which drew 35,620 fans to Dwyer Stadium in 2009. Three players bound to help the Muckdogs are 2010 fifth-rounder Nick Longmire, an outfielder from Pacific University, and right-hander Nick McCully, who has some full-season experience.

Brooklyn Cyclones (New York Mets)
2009 Results: 45-30, second in McNamara Division (Wild Card)
Manager: Wally Backman
Backman returns to manage in organized baseball, Rich Tomlin is back as Cyclones pitching coach and Benny DiStefano rounds out the field staff. The Cyclones remain the only Class A Short-Season team a fan can take the subway to see play as the famous Stilwell Avenue Terminal is a block from MCU Park. The 2009 Cyclones again led the NYPL in attendance, drawing 264,102 fans. The 2010 season will be their 10th. Third-round pick Cory Vaughn, an outfielder from San Diego State, will be a key member of the squad. Two newly signed right-handers -- eighth-rounder Kenny McDowell (College of Southern Nevada) and ninth-rounder Jacob deGrom (Stetson) -- could eventually anchor the pitching staff.

Connecticut Tigers (Detroit Tigers)
2009 Results: 35-39, second in the Stedler Division (as Oneonta Tigers)
Manager: Howie Bushong
Bushong returns for another season, along with pitching coach Jorge Cordova. The Tigers will play in Dodd Stadium, which housed Yankees and Giants Double-A affiliates since 1995. A player to watch in Norwich could be former Georgia Tech first baseman Tony Plagman, Detroit's recent ninth-round selection and a player with a lot of power. Catcher Eric Roof adds an experienced hand. Right-hander Clemente Mendoza, who was 5-5 with a 3.19 ERA for Oneonta in 2009, is scheduled to return to the NYPL as a 19-year-old.

Hudson Valley Renegades (Tampa Bay Rays)
2009 Results: 38-37, third in McNamara Division
Manager: Jared Sandberg
The question for Renegades fans is when will highly regarded Tampa Bay first-round selection Justin O'Connor, a catcher from Cowan High in Muncie, Ind., who commanded a $1,025,000 bonus, appear in Dutchess Stadium. If not at the start of the NYPL season, he should arrive quickly. Second-round pick Derek Deitrich, a Georgia Tech product who adds power at third base, appears to have Hudson Valley as a landing spot, as does right-hander Kyle Ayers, who was 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA in seven appearances (five starts) for the Renegades in 2009.

Jamestown Jammers (Florida Marlins)
2009 Results: 34-42, fifth in Pinckney Division
Manager: David Berg
Berg assumes the managerial duties with returning coaches Frank Moore and Steve Watson. Lefty reliever Stephen Richards, who was 0-1 with a 3.14 ERA for the Jammers in 2009, is back, as is catcher Mark Wyatt, who appeared in 11 games for Jamestown last summer. Righty Rett Varner, Florida's sixth-round pick from Texas Arlington, signed quickly and could anchor the starting rotation. He throws a fastball that has topped out at 96 mph. Alan Oaks, an eighth-round pick from Michigan, has hit 94 with his fastball and appears set to start as a Jammer as well. And, though he may be playing in Boston now, the Jammers will distribute Jeremy Hermida shirts to fans Saturday night.

Lowell Spinners (Boston Red Sox)
2009 Results: 45-30, first in Stedler Division
Manager: Bruce Crabbe
Crabbe is back at the helm for the first time since 2006 for the two-time defending Stedler Division champs. George Lombard is the new hitting coach and Lazaro Gutierrez the pitching coach in a revamped staff. Boston quickly signed its top two picks, infielder Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) and outfielder Bryce Brentz (Middle Tennessee State). Expect both to become key members of the Spinners. Lefty Hunter Cervenka and righty Garrett Rau are scheduled to anchor the pitching staff. Catcher Chia-Chu Chen, one of many Taiwanese prospects Boston has signed over the past few years, returns after hitting just .188 (12-for-64) in 23 games with the Spinners in 2009.

Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland Indians)
2009 Results: 49-27, first in Pinckney Division
Manager: Travis Fryman
Fryman returns for his third season after Mahoning Valley made a run to the 2009 NYPL finals, falling to Staten Island. Pitching coach Ken Rowe returns for his seventh season with hitting coach Dennis Malave completing the staff. Cleveland has not signed any recent Draft picks, but expect the return of catcher Moises Montero, who played in four games with the Scrappers last summer, along with RHP Kyle Smith, who was 0-2, 3.00 with Mahoning Valley in 2009. Whenever Cleveland signs 2010 top pick Drew Pomeranz, a durable lefty from the University of Mississippi, expect him to debut in Northeast Ohio.

State College Spikes (Pittsburgh Pirates)
2009 Results: 38-38, third in Pinckney Division
2010 Manager: Gary Robinson
Robinson returns after steering State College to 20 more wins than in 2008. Pittsburgh filled the Spikes roster earlier this week with a combination of signed 2010 draft picks and some players who debuted in the Gulf Coast League last summer. Lefty Justin Ennis, Pittsburgh's 33rd-round pick from LSU-Shreveport, will vie for innings with right-hander and 39th-rounder Kevin Decker, from the College of Charleston. Righty Ryan Beckman and lefty Zachary Fuesser lead the contingent from the GCL. Catcher Matt Skirving, Pittsburgh's 30th-round pick from Eastern Michigan, is in the mix for the Spikes, as is infielder Chase Lyles, taken from Northwestern (La.) State in the 32nd round. Also on the State College roster is Gift Ngoepe, a native of South Africa who played two games with Class A Advanced Bradenton in April.

Staten Island Yankees (New York Yankees)
2009 Results: 47-29, first in McNamara Division (NYPL Champion)
Manager: Josh Paul
Paul hopes to steer the Yanks to another title with veteran coaches Ty Dawkins and Pat Danecker. Justin Pope, a former solid reliever in the Yankees system, is an addition to the field staff. The Baby Bombers will have plenty of reinforcements, including infielder Kevin Mahoney, a Canisius product and former MAAC Player of the Year, who filled in earlier this season at both Class A Advanced Tampa and Double-A Trenton, and catcher Francisco Arcia, who hit .314 (16-for-51) in limited action at Class A Charleston. There is a chance catcher J.R. Murphy may see some time at Staten Island, but indications are 2009 first-round pick -- outfielder Slade Heathcott -- will spend the remainder of the 2010 season with the RiverDogs. Lefty Gavin Brooks, who was superb in the bullpen (5-1, 0.82) for Staten Island in 2009, returns, as does righty Matt Richardson, who was 0-3 with a 6.56 ERA for Staten Island in 2009. As usual, expect a lot of movement early in the season as the Yankees sign their Draft picks. Eighth-rounder Kyle Roller, a first baseman with a power bat from East Carolina, could join the Baby Bombers quickly.

Tri-City ValleyCats (Houston Astros)
2009 Results: 27-48, fourth place in Stedler Division
Manager: Jim Pankovits
Pankovits is back for his second season. Houston was one of the first teams to stock an affiliate roster in the NYPL with players from the Rookie-level Appalachian League, extended spring training and the Draft. Certain to attract attention is supplemental first-round pick Mike Kvasnicka, a former University of Minnesota third baseman with power potential and experience at catcher. Righty Mike Foltynewicz, Houston's original first-round pick, signed out of Minooka (Ill.) High and will probably make an appearance in Joseph L. Bruno Stadium during the season. Expect righty Bobby Doran, the Astros' fourth-round pick from Texas Tech, and Ben Heath, a former Penn State catcher who was selected in the fifth round, to be key contributors for the ValleyCats.

Vermont Lake Monsters (Washington Nationals)
2009 Results: 34-41
Manager: Jeff Garber
Garber returns for his second season, joining third-year pitching coach Franklyn Bravo and rookie hitting coach Paul Sanagorski. As usual, several recently signed Washington Draft picks will occupy key positions on the roster, led by fifth-rounder Jason Martinson, who could play at shortstop or third base, and catcher Cole Leonida, the sixth-round pick who emerged at Georgia Tech this past season. If and when outfielder Bryce Harper, the club's first-round pick, signs, he could give the Lake Monsters some star power. Righties Aaron Barrett (ninth round, Mississippi) and Neil Holland (11th round, Louisville) will help anchor the pitching staff.

Williamsport Crosscutters (Philadelphia Phillies)
2009 Results: 42-34, second place in Pinckney Division
Manager: Chris Truby
Truby is back for his second season as manager, piloting a team that plays in Bowman Field, one of Minor League Baseball's gems. The 'Cutters will be an interesting mixture of veterans and highly regarded youngsters. For instance, righty Julian Sampson, who was 11-4 with a 4.33 in 25 starts with Class A Lakewood in 2008 and pitched for Clearwater of the Florida State League last year, will throw beside second-round Draft pick Perci Garner, whom the Phillies quickly signed out of Ball State. Catcher David Doss comes down from Lakewood after seeing limited action, joining rookie James Klocke and former Lakewood teammate Jeff Lanning behind the plate. Watch outfielder Gauntlet Eldemire, the Phillies' sixth-round pick from Ohio University whom some scouts think has as much raw talent as any player in the 2010 Draft.

Jed Weisberger is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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