Manager Jamie Quirk kept talking about how excited he is for the season to start and how excited he is about his Wilmington Blue Rocks team at the team’s annual media day.
On paper, the team looks to be an improvement over last year’s 54-84 last place finish in the Carolina League Northern Division.
Quirk is excited about his pitching staff, one he believes “has stuff”. He especially likes his starting staff, which includes returnee and Opening Day starter Foster Griffin (a lefty). He will be followed by the likes of right-handers AJ Puckett and Scott Blewett and lefties Emilio Ogando and Cristian Castillo. “Last year at the start, that (the starting staff) was maybe one of our weaknesses. The guys that we’re throwing out, Foster is 6’5 and (Scott) Blewett. They’re big boys and they come after you.”
The one thing Quirk has is an abundance of left-handed pitchers: seven to be exact. It will even out to four lefties and four righties in the bullpen. “The guys in the bullpen aren’t really matchup guys. At the higher levels they do that. It’s a just a more or less, when it’s your day thing here. I’m not going to worry about matching lefties on lefties. At this level, we’re just trying to get them experience, get them into games.”
The spacious outfield at Frawley Stadium will be manned by returness Brandon Downes, Anderson Miller, and Elier Hernandez. “It’s a big year for them (Downes and Hernandez). They know it,” Quirk said about two of his outfielders who will now have spent parts of three seasons in Wilmington. “They need to show that they can play. They have to have success. I just want to see them have some success and get that confidence and start rolling.”
The Blue Rocks infield defense should be better than how it ended in 2016, with up the middle guys Nicky Lopez and DJ Burt.
Wander Franco is back at third base, after missing the final month of the season. Quirk disclosed that they were worried about Franco last season, after he dropped to about 150 pounds. “Thankfully, there was nothing wrong. It was just his eating habits, or lack of, and the stress of the season.” Franco went to Arizona to get him eating right (he played some games in the AZL at the end of the season). “His weight is back up to 185-190. He’s got power. He had alot of RBIs for us in the time he was here. The rest of his game looks better. He looks more confident. Wander looked a lot better in spring training: he’s fielding better, he’s moving better. Hopefully repeating the league will help him get on the right track for his career.”
Roman Collins returns to the Blue Rocks, but at a new position: first base. It was a move they thought of doing last season, but never had a chance to. “Being left-handed, it’s natural for him. He’s adjusting to it. He’s getting better over there and he was all for it. It was all about getting him in the lineup.” Collins will exclusively be playing first base, as they want him to get comfortable there.
Opening Day is tomorrow, as Griffin will face division rival Potomac to start the season. Keep your fingers crossed that the game will actually be played (and without a rain delay).
*If you want to watch the entire press conference from Blue Rocks media day, click below: