December 22, 2016 - Frontier League (FL) - Florence Freedom
Florence, KY - The Florence Freedom, presented by Titan Mechanical Solutions, have begun to shape their 2017 roster over the past few weeks, including the resigning of 14 from the 2016 team.
Last season, the Freedom went 18-11 over their final 39 games, posting one of the strongest finishes in the Frontier League. Returning the core of the 2016 season excites Freedom manager Dennis Pelfrey.
"I believe we were the best team in the second half last year," Pelfrey said. "Our outfield has a chance to be very dynamic with returning all-star Andrew Godbold, Collins Cuthrell has the chance to be one of the best outfielders in the league and Andre Mercurio is ready to turn some heads as a second year pro."
Pelfrey, set to begin his third season as skipper of the Freedom, has signed a total of 24 players so far this offseason, including two trades with other independent leagues.
Returners that have inked contracts already for next year include: ï-
Outfielders Josh Henderson, Andrew Godbold, and Andre Mercurio. ï-
Infielders Jordan Brower, Danial Fraga Brett Balkan, Javier Matricorena and Evan Bickett. ï-
Catcher Garrett Vail ï-
Pitchers Ethan Gibbons, Tony Vocca, Pete Levitt, Zach Wendorf, Patrick McGrath and Jordan Kraus.
Josh Henderson hit over .300 for most of the season, finishing at .298, and figures to share time in the outfield and as a designated hitter. Daniel Fraga returns to anchor the infield. Fraga was an all-star during his rookie season in 2015 when he hit .284 and stole 29 bases, but regressed in 2016, hitting .239. His finish to last season left optimism for a bounce back 2017 according to his manager.
"After a slow start, Daniel really bounced back in the second half and showed how much of a spark plug he could be at the top of the order," Pelfrey said. "He is a real matchup problem for teams with his base running ability and we look forward to seeing him on base a lot in 2017."
Among starters, Jordan Kraus, Tony Vocca and Cody Gray figure to occupy the first three spots in the rotation. Kraus is considered the leader of the staff as the Freedom traded for him from Lake Erie mid-2016. Kraus went 4-4 with the Freedom and posted a 2.86 ERA in 11 starts.
"Jordan is one of the best pitchers in our league," Pelfrey said. "Vocca can pitch in any situation and always gives us a great chance to win, and Cody Gray is bulldog, he's going to compete at a high level for you every time out."
Newcomers that have signed include: ï-
Outfielder Clay Ragland ï-
Infielders John Ascenzia, Mike Morris and Jonathan Reyes. ï-
Pitchers Mark Smyth, Jalen Miller, Sam Brunner, Matt Pobereyko and Marty Anderson
There is a familiar face to the "newcomer" list in that Matt Pobereyko will rejoin the Freedom after being signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016 mid-season. The right-hander put up a 1.33 ERA and struck out 31 batters in 20.1 innings for Florence before the Diamondbacks picked him up. He made it to high-A with Visalia and had a 2.08 ERA at that level for Arizona last season.
Jalen Miller is a Louisville, Kentucky native with a 90+ mph arm that will "help lock down the back end of the bullpen" according to Pelfrey.
Trades this offseason include Taylor Oldham being sent to the Quebec Capitales of the Can-Am League on October 12. The Freedom received RHPs Sam Brunner and Mark Smyth. Brunner went 1-1 with a 2.05 ERA for Quebec last season, appearing in 22 innings and 12 appearances. Smyth went 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 14 appearances and five starts.
Two days prior on October 10, the Freedom sent OF Shaun Cooper and LHP Braulio Torres-Perez to the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the American Association to complete a previous trade made during the 2016 season.
"Losing a player like Taylor Oldham will hurt," Pelfrey said. "But one of the things I'm looking forward to most is the competition at 3rd base."
Javy Marticorena, Mike Morris, Jonathan Reyes and John Ascenzia all figure to compete for that spot in spring training.
The Freedom open up the regular season on Wednesday, May 17. Currently, group tickets and season ticket plans are on sale for the 2017 campaign. Fans can guarantee seating for premium promotional dates by calling the Freedom at 859- 594-4487.
The Freedom are members of the independent Frontier League and play all home
games at UC Health Stadium located in Florence, KY. The 2017 season will be 13th
for the Freedom, and opening day is schedule for May 17 against the Southern