Clinton, IA - The Clinton LumberKings, in conjunction with the Seattle Mariners, have announced their 25-man roster for Opening Night 2011, the official start of the franchise's 75th season. Twelve players who spent time in Clinton in 2010 are back, while 14 new faces, including Mariners' 2010 second-round pick Marcus Littlewood, will don the black and green for the first time.
Today's announcement includes a temporary change at the managerial post. Jesus Azuaje, the hitting coach for the LumberKings in 2009, will fill in as interim manager while Eddie Menchaca and his wife Lacy prepare for the birth of their second son in Phoenix, AZ. Azuaje, a fifth-year coach in the Seattle system, managed the rookie level Peoria Mariners last year and will return to that post once the Arizona League season begins. Menchaca is expected to miss about two weeks. The rest of the staff, including pitching coach Rich Dorman, hitting coach Terry Pollreisz, trainer Jake Naas and performance specialist Will Lindholm remain unchanged.
The Familiar Faces
Azuaje's opening cast will include several integral players from last year's West Division Championship team. First-baseman Mickey Wiswall, the man whose colossal two-run homer in Game 3 of the West Division Championship Series lifted the Kings past Kane County, brings his left-handed pop back to the lineup. Wiswall, Seattle's seventh-round selection in 2010 out of Boston College, hit .301 with four home runs and 18 RBI in 33 regular-season games with Clinton. First-baseman Tim Morris, the man who fielded the final groundout of that same Game 3, also returns after hitting .250 with 46 RBI in 83 games last season. Carlos Ramirez, a utility infielder who played in just three games with Clinton - two coming in the playoffs - is also back.
Outfielder Matt Cerione, whose highlight-reel catches and torrid month of August (.427, 7 HR, 23 RBI) helped lead the LumberKings to a playoff spot last year, anchors the outfield. The 13th round pick out of the University of Georgia in '09 hit .287 with 12 home runs, 42 RBI and a .502 slugging percentage with Clinton last year.
Catcher Steven Baron, Seattle's supplemental first-round pick in 2009, returns to Clinton after a red-hot Spring Training. The 20-year-old defensive whiz hit .500 (7-for-14) with a double, home run and three RBI in 12 Cactus League games for the Mariners. That eye-opening performance is a continuation of Baron's second-half progress last year: after hitting just .182 with four extra-base hits in 45 Midwest League games, he went on to become a Northwest League Postseason All-Star with Everett, hitting .253 with 12 doubles, three homers and 22 RBI in 53 games. Behind the plate, he led all Minor Leaguers in catcher caught stealing, nabbing 45.6% (63 of 128) of potential base-stealers.
Right-hander Forrest Snow, the Mariners' 36th round pick out of the University of Washington last year, makes the transition from Clinton closer to starting pitcher. The 6'6" Snow will make the Opening Night start against Burlington on Thursday. Last year, he posted a paltry 1.35 ERA in his 15 Midwest League relief appearances, going 0-1 with six saves and limiting opponents to a .132 average. Right-handers Tyler Blandford (1-2, 3.67 ERA in 7 starts), Matt Bischoff (0-1, 7.50 ERA, 1 save in 4 playoff games), Brandon Maurer (0-1, 2.08 ERA in 2 games) and Fray Martinez (0-1, 9.00 ERA in 12 games) and left-hander Jason Markovitz (0-0, 4.50 ERA in 9 games) also provide Midwest League experience to Dorman's staff. Right-hander Jonathan Arias (0-1, 4.09 ERA in 4 games) will open the year on the disabled list.
The New Arrivals
Littlewood, a 19-year-old shortstop and the #8 prospect in the Mariners system according to Baseball America will make his professional debut with the LumberKings. The St. George, Utah native became the highest player ever drafted from that state when the Mariners selected him in the second round out of Pine View High School. Utah's High School Player of the Year in 2010, Littlewood hit .538 with 10 doubles, eight home runs and 27 RBI during his senior season. He'll be joined on the infield by Ramon Morla, the #14 prospect in the system. The Dominican-born Morla was Pulaski's Offensive Player of the Year in 2010 after hitting .323 with 17 doubles, an Appalachian League-high 17 home runs and 49 RBI in just 62 games.
Anthony Phillips (.204, 11 doubles, 2 HR, 12 RBI in Everett) and Stefen Romero will round out the infield. Romero, the 12th round pick out of Oregon State University, will make his pro debut after a right elbow injury kept him out of action last year. Catcher Carlton Tanabe, the 24th round pick out of Pearl City (HI) High School in '09 will be Baron's backup.
The Offensive Player of the Year for the Northwest League Champion Everett AquaSox will be a fixture in the Clinton outfield. Kevin Rivers, a non-drafted free agent out of Franklin Pierce (NH) University in 2009, is coming off a season in which he hit .332 with 13 doubles, 11 home runs and 48 RBI. His .466 on-base percentage was tops in the NWL. Julio Morban, a 19-year-old who played just 10 games across four levels a year ago, will also be in the outfield. Morban hit .266 with five homers and 23 RBI two seasons ago in the AZL.
The pitching staff will feature two bright left-handers that played starring roles in Everett last year, Anthony Fernandez and Edlando Seco. Everett's Pitcher of the Year and a Northwest League Postseason All-Star, Fernandez went 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 15 starts. He led the NWL in fewest baserunners allowed per 9.0 innings with a 10.26 mark and also finished amongst leaders in wins (T-1st with 8), innings pitched (2nd with 83.1 IP), WHIP (2nd at 1.12). Seco, despite going just 3-3 in 14 starts, finished second in the NWL and amongst all Mariners' farmhands with a 2.48 ERA. The Calabozo, VZ native also ranked amongst NWL leaders in lowest opponent average (1st at .169), strikeouts (3rd with 73), WHIP (3rd at 1.20) and strikeouts per 9.0 innings (3rd at 9.52).
Right-handers Tyler Burgoon (10th round in '10 out of the University of Michigan), Willy Kesler (18th round in '10 out of the University of New Mexico) and Stephen Kohlscheen (45th round in '10 out of Auburn University) are new Clinton arms from last year's draft. They'll be joined by South Korean right-hander Seon Gi Kim and Dominican right-hander George Mieses.
A breakdown of the 2011 Opening Day Roster:
RH Pitchers (10+1):Jonathan Arias (DL), Matt Bischoff, Tyler Blandford, Tyler Burgoon, Willy Kesler, Seon Gi Kim, Stephen Kohlscheen, Fray Martinez, Brandon Maurer, George Mieses, Forrest Snow
LH Pitchers (3):Anthony Fernandez, Jason Markovitz, Edlando Seco
Catchers (2):Steven Baron, Carlton Tanabe
Infielders (7):Marcus Littlewood, Ramon Morla, Tim Morris, Anthony Phillips, Carlos Ramirez, Stefen Romero, Mickey Wiswall
Outfielders (3):Matt Cerione, Julio Morban, Kevin Rivers
The 2011 LumberKings will play an intra-squad game that will be free to the public on Wednesday, April 6 at 5:00 PM. Members of the media are invited to attend. The LumberKings open the season at home on Thursday, April 7 at 6:30 PM as they host the Burlington Bees. Fans attending will receive 2011 Schedule Magnets courtesy of Espresso, Cigars & Food and AM 1390 KCLN / MAC 94.7 FM.
For tickets, merchandise and more information, contact the LumberKings at 563-242-0727 or visit www.lumberkings.com