VISALIA, CA - The Visalia Rawhide and the Arizona Diamondbacks announced today Visalia's Opening Day Roster for the 2018 season. The Opening Day squad includes four of the top ten prospects in Arizona's farm system and six of the top 30, as ranked by MLB Pipeline.
The highest-ranked prospect to begin the season in Visalia is the number two D-backs prospect: 1B Pavin Smith. Smith was Arizona's first-round draft pick, seventh overall in the 2017 draft, out of the University of Virginia. Smith quickly made his presence felt with Short-Season Hillsboro in the Northwest League following the draft, taking what many scouts call an advanced approach at the plate and turning in a .318 batting average with 17 extra base hits in 51 games. Smith was named a Northwest League Mid-Season All-Star and a Baseball America Short Season All-Star for his efforts in 2017. MLB Pipeline said this about the first baseman, "Smith rarely swings and misses and drives the ball to all fields well from the left side of the plate. While he didn't homer until the end of the postseason, most feel it will come when he learns to turn on balls in good counts." Smith homered more than he struck out while he played collegiate baseball at Virginia, finished sixth all-time on the Cavaliers' career home run list, and is second on their all-time RBI list.
The fifth-ranked prospect in Arizona's system, OF Marcus Wilson is set to make his debut in Visalia in 2018. A Los Angeles native that was drafted in the Competitive Balance Round in 2014 out of Junipero Serra High School, Wilson has steadily advanced through the D-backs affiliates until enjoying a breakout season in 2017 with Class-A Kane County. He posted a .295 average with a career-best nine home runs, 54 RBIs, and 21 doubles while nearly doubling his carrer high by appearing in 103 games. Wilson also scored 56 runs and stole 15 bases. He was rewarded with nods as both a Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star in the Midwest League and a selection as a D-backs MilB Organization All-Star. "… it started to click in 2017 as Wilson may have made a larger step forward than anyone in the system," said MLB Pipeline. "Wilson has one of the best approaches at the plate of anyone in the (D-backs) system…. He's starting to make more consistently hard contact and … he runs well enough to steal bases and cover plenty of ground in the outfield."
C Daulton Varsho is the son of former Major Leaguer Gary Varsho and is the sixth-ranked prospect for Arizona in 2018. Drafted as the 68th overall pick in 2017, Varsho was first assigned to Short-Season Hillsboro. Through 50 games with the Hops, Varsho batted .311 with 26 extra-base hits that included seven home runs, 16 doubles, and three triples that amounted to a .534 slugging percentage and a .902 OPS. He was honored as a Northwest League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star, a Baseball America Short-Season All-Star, and a MiLB.com D-backs Organization All-Star. The 5-10, 190-pound product of Wisconsin-Milwaukee put together an impressive final collegiate season by leading the Horizon league in batting average (.362), slugging percentage (.643), triples (6), and walks (46). He was named a Third-Team All-American by Baseball America. MLB Pipeline says, "While it's unclear exactly where Varsho will play defensively long-term, few question his ability to hit. He has a short, strong stroke from the left side and knows the strike zone well, with some thinking he could be a plus hitter. He also has a natural ability to backspin the ball, which leads to plenty of power."
Ranked as having some of the best raw power in the 2017 draft class, 3B Drew Ellis was Arizona's second-round pick (44th overall) in 2017. Ellis was drafted out of Louisville, along with fourth-overall pick Brandon McKay, and it was Ellis who led the Cardinals in batting average, home runs, and RBIs in 2017. Ellis was assigned to Hillsboro out of the draft and put together impressive power numbers. In 48 games he hit eight home runs and clubbed eight doubles while driving in 23. "(Ellis) has easy raw power to all fields and has shown some feel to hit," said MLB Pipeline. "He managed his strikeouts for the most part in college, drawing walks, and that carried over in Hillsboro before he started to press and got out of his approach…. The D-backs were pleasantly surpsied at how he handled the hot corner (in Hillsboro) and don't have any concerns about his future there."
OF Anfernee Grier stands in as the 21st-ranked prospect for the D-backs after spending a full season with Kane County in 2017. Grier, who was drafted out of Auburn as the 39th overall pick in 2016, put up career bests in every category last season, hitting .251 with four homers, 36 RBI, 20 doubles, three triples, and thirty steals, which ranked second in Arizona's system. He was named a 2017 Mid-Season All-Star in the Midwest League after hitting .271 in the first half, but he tailed down the stretch. 2018 will mark Grier's third season of pro baseball, and he has yet to repeat a level in the minors. Though he is a strong overall player, "Grier's carrying tool is his speed. It allowed him to finish second in the organization with 30 steals a year ago and also helps him cover a lot of ground in center field, where he should be able to stay defensively long-term," said MLB Pipeline. "There is swing and miss to his game, but his approach is improving and the D-backs believe he will increase his walk rate and decrease his strikeout rate as he matures."
RHP Wei-Cheih Huang rounds out the top-30 prospects on the Rawhide Opening Day Roster, checking in as the 29th ranked player in the organization. Huang made his second appearance with the Rawhide in 2017 after he was moved to the bullpen prior to the season. He appeared re-invented as a reliever, putting together ten solid appearances with a 2.19 ERA and 32 strikeouts over 24.2 innings. Between Kane County and Visalia last year, Huang went 2-1 with a 1.81 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 64.2 innings, all the while walking only 20. The native of Taipei, Taiwan is in his fourth year with the D-backs after signing as an international free agent in 2014, and made such an impressive pro debut that he was a Futures Game participant in 2015. Huang hasn't added the strengh to his profile that Arizona had initially hoped, but, "…his stuff really spiked in the (bullpen) role," said MLB Pipeline. "His fastball sat in the mid-90s and his curve was filthy at times, with straight downer action. He has a good changeup, but didn't throw it as much in this role, with his fastball-curveball combination more than good enough."
The Rawhide starting rotation will feature a familiar face in 2017 Cal League All-Star RHP Bo Takahashi, who was the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game and was named the Cal League Pitcher of the Week twice last season. RHP Connor Grey, who made one start for the Rawhide in 2017, will also return in the rotation. Grey made headlines last year when he pitched the first perfect game in Kane County Cougars history on September 1. RHP Emilio Vargas, RHP Sam McWilliams, and RHP Riley Smith will join Takahashi and Grey out of the rotation.
Along with Huang, relievers LHP Miguel Aguilar, RHP Keegan Long, RHP Austin Mason, and LHP Josh Taylor return to the Rawhide. LHP Junior Garcia, RHP Kevin Ginkel, and RHP Tyler Mark will join Visalia for the first time in their careers. Taylor is coming back to Visalia after a full season with Class-AA Jackson last year.
C Dominic Miroglio will join Varsho behind the dish for the Rawhide. Miroglio was drafted out of the University of San Francisco in the 20th round in 2017 and put up impressive numbers in Rookie-Advanced Missoula, hitting .317 with 13 doubles in 37 games while throwing out 40% of would-be base stealers.
Around the infield, SS Raymel Flores comes back to Visalia after a four-game stint with the Rawhide last year. The lanky shortstop's best work came in Kane County, where he hit .206 with 12 runs scored in 32 games. Newcomers SS Camden Duzenack, 3B Ramon Hernandez, and UTIL Adam Walton round out the infield corps. Duzenack was a ninth-round selection out of Dallas Baptist last year and hit .288 with 16 doubles and 34 RBI in 58 games with Hillsboro. Hernandez, who appeared in one playoff game for Visalia in 2016, had a career year with the bat in 2017, hitting .294 with 13 home runs and 72 RBIs for Kane County. As a free agent signing out of Illinois in 2016, Walton will debut with the Rawhide after his first full-season last year. Over 72 games, he hit .266 for the Cougars.
The outfield crew that features two top-30 prospects will be bolstered by returner Jason Morozowski, who played in 113 games with the Rawhide last year. Morozowski batted .252 with seven home runs overall, and served as a staple at all three positions in the Visalia outfield when it became injury-stricken down the stretch. Mark Karaviotis, who will serve as a utility player, also comes back to the Rawhide. The Kihei, Hawaii, native suffered injuries after his mid-season promotion from Kane County and only appeared in 28 games for Visalia. Still, he put together a .289 batting average and hit a career-best 17 doubles last year.
Joe Mather will take the reigns as Field Manager for the Rawhide. Mather is serving in his second managerial role with the D-backs and is in his fourth year as a coach in Arizona's farm system. Mather began his managerial career with a bang in 2015, when led the Rookie-Advanced Missoula Osprey to a 42-33 record, a Pioneer League North Division Title, and ultimately a Pioneer League Championship. He returned to manage Missoula in 2016 and served as the Coach for Class Double-A Jackson last year. Mather, 35, was a third-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2001 draft and enjoyed a four-year Major League Career, playing stints with St. Louis, the Atlanta Braves, and the Chicago Cubs. He spent 12 years in the Minor Leagues, where he appeared in 922 games.
Reigning California League Coach of the Year Jeff Bajenaru will serve as the Pitching Coach for the third straight season. Under Bajenaru's tutelage, the Rawhide led the Cal League in ERA (3.79) and strikeouts (1,346) while holding opposing hitters to a league-best .247 average against and posting nine shutouts. This will be Bajenaru's eighth year in the Diamondbacks organization. He previously worked as the Pitching Coach in Missoula for two seasons, where he helped guide the Osprey to a Pioneer League championship in 2015. A native of Pomona, California, Bajenaru was a 36th round selection by the Chicago White Sox in the 1999 draft. He made Major League appearances with the White Sox in 2004 and 2005, and also came up briefly with the D-backs in 2006.
Another new face on the Rawhide coaching staff will be World Series Champion Franklin Stubbs, who will serve as Visalia's new Hitting Coach. Stubbs is in his third season as a coach with the D-backs and his 22nd in a coaching capacity. Last year he was the Hitting Coach for Class Short-Season A Hillsboro, and has been a hitting coach in every season since 2005. Stubbs played a 10-year Major League Career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he won a World Series championship in 1988, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, and Detroit Tigers. In 945 career games, Stubbs slugged 109 doubles, 104 homers, and drove in 248 runs.
Travis Denker joins the Rawhide staff as the Coach in his coaching debut. Denker played a 12-year Minor League career across six organizations, with a 24-game taste of the Major Leagues with San Francisco in 2008, and finished his playing career last year with the D-backs and Double-A Jackson. Over 1,133 career Minor League Games, Denker accrued a .274 average as well as 136 home runs and 577 runs batted in. He previously made five appearances in the California League as a player with Inland Empire, San Jose, and Rancho Cucamonga between 2007 and 2011.
Chris Schepel and Derek Sommerville will round out the Rawhide Coaching Staff in 2018 as the Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach respectively. Both will be in their second year with Visalia.
The Rawhide will open their season on at home April 5th against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes as a part of a seven-game homestand, the Opening Week Fanfest presented by Bank of the Sierra. Fans are invited to join the Rawhide for the Fan Fest itself on April 8 from 11-1 PM at Rawhide Ballpark's South Parking Lot. The Fan Fest will include a Taco Truck, Beer Garden, a live DJ, and more. For tickets and more information, please visit RawhideBaseball.com.
Full 2018 Visalia Rawhide Opening Day Roster:
Pitchers: Miguel Aguilar, Junior Garcia, Kevin Ginkel, Connor Grey, Wei-Chieh Huang, Keegan Long, Tyler Mark, Sam McWilliams, Riley Smith, Bo Takahashi, Josh Taylor, Emilio Vargas
Catchers: Dominic Miroglio, Daulton Varsho
Infielders: Camden Duzenack, Drew Ellis, Raymel Flores, Ramon Hernandez, Pavin Smith, Adam Walton
Outfielders: Anfernee Grier, Mark Karaviotis, Jason Morozowski, Marcus Wilson
The Visalia Rawhide are a professional baseball team in the Class A Advanced California League and are the only professional sports team in Tulare and Kings counties. The team has been an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2007 and is entering their 72nd year of play in 2018. The Rawhide renovated their home at Recreation Ballpark in 2009 and have since become the largest gathering of individuals in Tulare County, having set an attendance record for the seventh time in the past eight season in 2017. In 2018, the Rawhide look to continue their reputation for hosting competitive baseball while providing affordable family entertainment. To be a part of the 2018 Visalia Rawhide season, please contact the Visalia Rawhide Ticket Office at 559.732.4433, visit us online at rawhidebaseball.com, or follow us on Facebook (TheRawhide), Instagram (@VisaliaRawhide), and Twitter (@VisaliaRawhide).
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.