Sand Gnats announce 2012 field staff

New manager Luis Rojas leads veteran group of coaches

By Savannah Sand Gnats | March 13, 2012 7:00 AM ET

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- In conjunction with the New York Mets, the Savannah Sand Gnats are pleased to announce their field staff for the 2012 baseball season, led by new manager Luis Rojas. Rojas, who served as the Savannah bench coach in 2010, will be joined by Major League veteran Frank Viola (Pitching Coach). Rounding out the staff will be Joel Fuentes (Coach).

"I'm excited for the opportunity to manage in Savannah," Rojas said from Mets Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "I'm happy to be coming back to Savannah, and we are looking forward to putting a championship-caliber team on the field at Grayson Stadium."

Rojas enters his seventh season with the Mets organization and his second as a manager. Rojas managed the Gulf Coast Mets (R) of the Gulf Coast League in 2011. Prior to the Gulf Coast Mets, Rojas spent the 2010 season alongside Pedro Lopez as a coach in Savannah. He spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons as a coach with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Mets. In 2007, Rojas served as a coach for the Mets Dominican Summer League team after spending the 2006 season as manager of the DSL Nationals.

The son of Felipe Alou, who is recognized as the first Dominican to play regularly in the Major Leagues, Luis is a member of one of the sport's most notable families of the late 20th century. His uncles, Matty Alou and Jesús Alou, and his brother Moisés Alou, all had successful Major League careers. Rojas, 31, played professionally with the Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos / Washington Nationals minor league systems from 1999-2005.

"Luis is the perfect guy to manage this club," said Gnats Team President John Katz. "Luis is low-key, but very passionate about the game and really intense."

Major League veteran Frank Viola will begin his 2nd year as a pitching coach on the professional level in 2012. Viola spent the 2011 season as the pitching coach with Brooklyn (A) of the New York-Penn League. Viola served as the manager of the Leesburgh Lightning in the Florida Collegiate Summer League from 2008-2010, leading them to the FCSL championship in 2009 and the championship game in 2010. Prior to coaching in the FCSL Viola was a coach at Lake Highland Prep in Florida from 1998-2007.

Originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 1981 Major League Baseball draft by the Minnesota Twins, Viola pitched in the Major Leagues for 15 years with the Minnesota Twins (1982-1989), New York Mets (1989-1991), Boston Red Sox (1992-1994), Cincinnati Reds (1995) and Toronto Blue Jays (1996). After spending less than a year in the minors, he made his Major League debut on June 2, 1982, quickly becoming a permanent fixture of the Twins' starting rotation for the next seven seasons, picking up 112 of his 176 career wins. Viola was nicknamed "Sweet Music", courtesy of a Minnesota sports writer who declared that when Viola pitched, there was "sweet music" in the Metrodome.

Viola helped pitch the Twins to their second World Series appearance and first World Series Championship in 1987, with a 2.90 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 251.2 innings. Viola brought his sweet music to the post-season, going a combined 3-1 with 25 strikeouts in 31.1 innings (despite a 4.31 ERA). Following the Twins' Game 7 series clinching win -- a game in which Viola earned the win, Viola was named the 1987 World Series MVP.

Many would say that 1988, Viola's last full season with the Twins, was his best year. In '88, Viola compiled an impressive 24-7 record, with seven complete games and two shutouts in 255.0 innings pitched, with a career-best ERA of 2.64. Viola led the league in wins and went on to win the Cy Young Award.

"Frank Viola was one of those guys I loved to watch pitch growing up, as long as he wasn't pitching against my favorite team," said Katz. "It'll be great to have him in our dugout, and our pitching staff is bound to benefit from such an accomplished Major Leaguer."

Coach Joel Fuentes begins his sixth year in the New York Mets organization and his second as a coach with the Savannah Sand Gnats. Fuentes spent last season with the St. Lucie Mets (A) of the Florida State League, and the 2010 and 2009 seasons on the staff of the Brooklyn Cyclones (A) of the New York-Penn League. He served the same role with St. Lucie in 2008 and Savannah in 2007. Fuentes signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1997 and played in their organization until 2003, advancing to Double-A. Fuentes is very active in community service and organized baseball clinics in Vega Baja, PR for children 7-11 years old in 2006.

Athletic Trainer Tom Truedson enters his fourth season with the Mets organization and his second consecutive in Savannah, while new Strength and Conditioning Coach Jason Griffin enters his first season with the Mets organization.

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

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