January 7, 2014 - Frontier League (FL) - River City Rascals
O'Fallon, MO- After finishing fourth in the Frontier League West Division, three games out of a Wild Card Playoff spot with a record of 50-46, the River City Rascals look to turn their fortunes around in 2014. During the offseason, Manager Steve Brook lost his leading hitter and 2013 Jason Simontacchi Award winner, Danny Canela, who was signed by the Chicago Cubs following his first season in the Frontier League. The Rascals also lost their two leading power bats, Phil Wunderlich and Will Block, who hit a combined 27 homeruns in 2013. However, with a host of returning players and a light sprinkling of new young talent, the Rascals have more than a fighting chance to change their luck this season.
While a few players pursue their baseball careers elsewhere, a majority of the 2013 roster returns to T.R. Hughes Ballpark this season. The 17 returning players helped lead the Rascals to a 28-16 record after the All-Star break. According to Manager Steve Brook, "we pitched and played defense well all year, but at the All-Star break, our hitters seemed to figure it out." Among the 17 returning is River City's 2013 Pitcher of the Year, Gabe Shaw, who had the second most saves in the Frontier League with 26 a season ago. The elite closer will play in the league for his fourth consecutive season where he has amassed a career 3.00 Earned Run Average. 2013 Frontier League All-Star pitcher Nick Kennedy also returns for his third summer in O'Fallon after both he and Casey Barnes, who also re-signed with the Rascals this off-season, led the team with seven wins apiece. With veterans Tommy Mendoza and Patrick Crinder once again joining the Rascals' pitching staff, most roles seem filled heading into Spring Training this coming May.
Brook's 2013 backup catcher, Anthony Foulk, will reappear this season and again serve as a reliable second option. Veteran infielders Johnny Morales and Steve Carillo and last year's starting outfield crew consisting of Curran Redal, Eric Williams, and Evan Crawford, return as well.
ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ Even with a very experienced and versatile roster, Manager Steve Brook will have some new options to play with thanks to the Rascals fantastic free-agent signings. One key addition that will look to replace the departed All-Star first-basemen Phil Wunderlich is the powerful Matt Smith. Smith is fresh out of the Miami Marlins' system, where he belted 20 home-runs in 340 at-bats in 2012. Saxton Butler, recently added to the active roster as well, will assume the everyday catcher's role. As a Samford University graduate who spent two seasons in the Yankees' organization where he hit 18 homers and drove in 82, Butler will bring both a veteran presence and dangerous bat to River City. Another former Yankee, Daniel Aldrich, joins the team after hitting 11 homeruns with 46 RBIs in his final season at Charleston College in 2012. Aldrich adds further outfield depth and becomes part of what is poised to be the best outfield in the Frontier League this season.
The Rascals also bring in Frontier Greys' relief pitcher, and resident giant, 6'9" Kyle Brady. Brady brings closing ability as he locked down 12 saves in 2013, in addition to serving as a clutch setup man for the newcomer Greys. Young sinker-baller Andy Urban re-signed with the Rascals as well after a short stint in River City last season. His impeccable control and low 90s fastball should lead him to even more success in his first full season in the Frontier League. Right-hander Corey MacDonald from the Tampa Rays and the 6'6" lefty out of the University of Oregon, Tommy Orgon, will also compete for time on the mound this season. These new arms will only add to the returning 2013 bullpen, which was "as good as it gets for a manger," according to Brook.
One of the more interesting potentials comes in the form of St. Cloud University graduate Brian Hansen, who served two years as the team captain at St. Cloud while starting every single game in 2013. The "5 tool player" has drawn much praise both on and off the field for his leadership ability and contact-focused hitting. Finally, the last new face isn't quite that new. Infielder Kyle Jones returns to the Rascals after missing the entire 2013 season due to injury. Jones batted .265 with one homerun and 8 RBIs in 2012 before sustaining a season-ending injury.
With 31 of 34 contract spots filled in River City, Brook seems to be fairly relaxed heading in to the latter half of the off-season. At this point in the year, Brook knows that the team usually has only 23-25 guys under contract, so the long list of returning players creates a bit of a luxury for him and the rest of the Rascals' coaching staff. The tentative starters are as follows:
C: Saxton Butler
1B: Matt Smith
SS: Johnny Morales
3B: Steve Carillo
OF: Eric Williams, Curran Redal, and Evan Crawford
The almost complete lineup leaves only the second-base position up for grabs heading into training camp, but as Brook notes, "this is a brand new team, and a brand new season. We can't dwell on last year because last year doesn't matter."