April 3, 2017 - Pacific Coast League (PCL) - Omaha Storm Chasers
PAPILLION - The Omaha Storm Chasers in conjunction with the Kansas City Royals have announced their "preliminary roster" for the upcoming 2017 season. The list boasts 14 members of the 2016 Storm Chasers squad, including 2014-16 Omaha infielder Whit Merrifield, and last year's team leader in home runs Jorge Bonifacio. Other notable names include top Royals prospect Josh Staumont and 2015 Triple-A All-Star Peter O'Brien.
Merrifield has played in 280 career games with Omaha, posting a .286 average (326-1139) while scoring 186 runs, and was a member of the 2014 Triple-A National Championship squad. His 63 steals in that period match Irving Falu for most by a Storm Chasers player in the Werner Park Era (since 2011). Middle infielder Ramon Torres is also back for 2017, while Ryan O'Hearn, who is rated the eighth-best prospect and "Best Power Hitter" in the Royals system, and Corey Toups will get their first looks at the Triple-A level. Dean Anna and Garin Cecchini, who played in the PCL last year with Memphis and Colorado Springs, respectively, round out the list of infielders.
Bonifacio, who crushed a team-best 19 longballs last season, headlines the group of returning outfielders that includes fellow 2016 Storm Chasers in Bubba Starling and Billy Burns. O'Brien is also familiar with Werner Park, having played in the First National Bank 2015 Triple-A All-Star Game in Omaha en route to being named the PCL's Top Star that evening. He also finished runner-up in the 2015 Triple-A Home Run Derby Powered by OPPD and slammed 24 roundtrippers last season, good for fourth in the league.
Staumont prior to this season was rated the Royals' top prospect by Baseball America, and also possesses the "Best Fastball" in the organization with the ability to throw triple-digits heat. He is likely to be part of a rotation that includes southpaw Jonathan Dziedzic, who paced the 2016 club in strikeouts, along with right-handers Luke Farrell and Jakob Junis. Staumont (167) and Junis (143) also ranked first and second, respectively, among Royals minor leaguers in strikeouts last season, with Staumont also ranking second among all minor league pitchers in 2016.
Fellow returnees Scott Alexander, Yender Caramo, Malcom Culver, Andrew Edwards, Kevin McCarthy and Mark Peterson are likely to anchor the bullpen, with that group combining for 28 saves in their Omaha careers. Al Alburquerque and Bobby Parnell, both of whom sport significant Major League experience, as well as left-hander Eric Stout, are the new faces to the back end of the pitching staff. In total, 13 pitchers are listed on the preliminary roster, nine of whom wore an Omaha uniform last year.
Working alongside the hurlers are catchers Cam Gallagher and 2008-09 Omaha Royals backstop Brayan Pe=F2a. Gallagher is considered the 17th-best prospect and "Best Defensive Catcher" in the Royals system after playing the entire 2016 campaign with Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Pe=F2a in his two years with Omaha combined for a .304 average (98-322) in 82 contests, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience accrued over his 12 Major League seasons played.
Manager Brian Poldberg is set to arrive for his fourth season at the helm for the Storm Chasers, with Hitting Coach Tommy Gregg and Pitching Coach Andy Hawkins also coming back. Dave Iannicca will serve as Athletic Trainer for his seventh consecutive year in Omaha, while Strength and Conditioning Coach Phil Falco will begin his first season with the Storm Chasers.
The team will begin the season on the road in Colorado Springs before starting their 2017 home slate with an eight-game homestand on Tuesday, April 11 versus the Round Rock Express. First pitch for Opening Night at Werner Park is slated for 6:35 p.m.
Single-game tickets for that evening and all 71 home contests can be purchased online at www.omahastormchasers.com, or by calling the Werner Park Ticket Office from noon until 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday at (402) 738-5100.
The Omaha Storm Chasers are the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at Werner Park in Papillion, Sarpy County, Nebraska. For more information please visit www.omahastormchasers.com and follow us on Twitter @OmaStormChasers and "like" us at www.facebook.com/omahastormchasers.