PENSACOLA, Fla. (MILB) -- After a successful first season in Pensacola, the Blue Wahoos return to the Gulf Coast with high expectations in their second campaign. New manager Delino DeShields will lead the team after spending the last two seasons as the skipper for Low-A Dayton.
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This year's preliminary roster features seven players ranked in the top 30 of Baseball America's annual organizational prospect rankings (rank in parentheses). Returning right-handed pitcher Kyle Lotzkar (12th) is the highest-rated prospect and is joined in the top 30 by outfielder Donald Lutz (18th), outfielder Ryan LaMarre (21st), catcher Tucker Barnhart (23rd), infield Devin Lohman (25th), and pitchers Curtis Partch (27th)and Chad Rogers (28th). Barnhart, rated the organization's best defensive catcher, is expected to be behind the plate for Opening Day with Rogers projected to be the other half of the battery.
Rogers is joined in the rotation by a strong set of starters in right-hander Tim Crabbe, southpaw Ryan Dennick, righty Daniel Renken, and Yohan Pino. Crabbe returns to Pensacola, where he started last year, after a season in which he ranked second in the farm system in strikeouts with 153.
The bullpen appears to be a strength of the 2013 Blue Wahoos, led by the aforementioned Lotzkar. Returners Drew Hayes, Chris Manno, Josh Ravin are joined by Josh Smith, Lee Hyde, and Loek Van Mil to round out the bullpen. Van Mil, a native of the Netherlands, is the tallest player in professional baseball standing at 7'1".
New hitting coach Dick Schofield will have a great mix of speed and power on his hands for the 2013 campaign, led by Lutz, who smashed 22 home runs between three levels last year. Lutz will be surrounded in the lineup by returner David Vidal and newcomers Travis Mattair and Steven Selsky, who between the four of them hit 77 homers last season.
Speed is also a big element of this team, and although Billy Hamilton advanced to Triple-A to start the campaign, Wahoos fans will still be excited to see outfielder Theo Bowe, who ranked fourth in all of Minor League Baseball with 70 steals last season. LaMarre, who stole 30 bases a year ago, returns to the outfield along with Bryson Smith. Smith hit .310 between Bakersfield and Pensacola last year.
Ray Chang and Brodie Greene join Mattair , Lohman and Vidal in the infield with Danny Vicioso splitting time with Barnhart behind the plate.
This squad is extremely experienced at the Double-A level, with all but seven members on the 25-man roster having played Double-A ball or higher before. In addition, 13 of the 25 appeared in at least one game for the Wahoos last season. This roster is still subject to change prior to Thursday's season opener.
DeShields will be joined by returning pitching coach Tom Brown who enters his seventh season in the Reds system. Schofield will lead the position players after working in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization for the last two years. Charles Leddon returns as the team's athletic trainer with Frank Renner joining the team as the strength coach.
The team will arrive from Spring Training at Pensacola International Airport on Sunday, March 31 at 3:30 p.m. All fans are encouraged to welcome the team upon arrival.
The Wahoos will have Monday off before Tuesday's 1:00 p.m. practice, which is open to the public. The team will also have an open practice on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. in anticipation of Thursday's opener at 7:00 p.m. against the Tennessee Smokies. Tickets for Opening Day are sold out but there are still some available for the rest of the weekend through Blue Wahoos TicketShare. Fans are encouraged to check ticket availability online frequently in the event any tickets become available.