2011 Roster released
The construction of the roster is a bit different than last year’s. In 2010, the only American-born players with experience in the Houston organization had played in Tri-City the previous year. This year, five American players join the team after spending last season in Greeneville (or, in one case, the Gulf Coast League). They come largely at the expense of international players – whereas 11 foreign-born players suited up on Opening Day a year ago, only six are on this year’s roster.
The two youngest members of the team will be two of the most interesting pitchers to watch. Fifth-round draft pick Nick Tropeano and Venezuelan righty Juri Perez are the only 20-year-olds on the roster, and each currently seems likely to claim a spot in the starting rotation. Perez is not a prototypical pitching prospect, standing at just 5’11”, but 60 strikeouts in 51.2 innings as an 18-year-old at Greeneville in 2009 earned some attention. Perez missed most of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can come back at full strength. Tropeano also does not fit the standard model – his fastball tops out around 90 mph from the right side – but he has excelled at Stony Brook and the Cape Cod League, thanks to advanced secondary pitches and command that could serve him well in the NY-Penn League.
Sixth-round pick Brandon Meredith headlines a group of experienced position players that includes just one foreign-born, infielder Hector Rodriguez. Meredith and first baseman Zach Johnson had two of the better bats in college, while tall center fielder Andrew Muren was throwing darts to home plate last night. Outfielder Kellen Killsgard, formerly a two-sport athlete at Stanford and once one of the nation’s top QB recruits, returns to action after missing the 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
I was a little surprised that reliever Travis Blankenship was assigned to Tri-City for a second season. Blankenship posted the second-lowest ERA for the ValleyCats last year in 30.2 innings of relief, and while he certainly doesn’t have the most powerful stuff, I’ve always thought he profiled well as a situational lefty – he throws from a low arm slot and relies heavily on offspeed stuff that breaks to the glove side. He had some command problems last season, but hitters did not make good contact off him, and I would have expected him to get a shot to test himself against tougher hitters. He could be one of the first players to be called up from Troy if an opening appears in the Lexington bullpen.
Joan Belliard and Adam Champion join Blankenship as returning players to the Tri-City pitching staff. Belliard always felt like a shaky option in relief – five homers in 36.1 innings will do that – but his performance was actually strong – a 3.72 ERA and a strikeout per inning. Though he had a rough July, allowing at least one run in every appearance, he gave up just two runs (one earned) in 17.2 innings in all other games. Belliard logged more innings than any other Tri-City reliever in 2010, just as he did at Greeneville in 2009.
Jacke Healey and Ryan McCurdy are the returning position players. McCurdy appears to be returning to a third-string catcher role behind Miles Hamblin and Bubby Williams, while Healey will see time as a powerful shortstop in a versatile infield.
Ebert Rosario, who will start his first full season on the mound, has taken the long road to Tri-City. Rosario was a third baseman in the Astros’ system for four and a half seasons but was converted to the bullpen in the middle of 2010. He struck out 12 batters against only two walks in 10.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League. Last year, the ValleyCats saw a similar project – converted shortstop Jorge De Leon – succeed in the bullpen. De Leon saved six games and led Tri-City with a 0.64 ERA; he is having success this year in Lexington, with seven saves, a 2.81 ERA and a reduced walk rate.
The ‘Cats arrived in Troy last night, and had their first workout at Joe Bruno Stadium. They will meet the press at Media Day tomorrow afternoon, and on Friday, the 78-game season begins against the Vermont Lake Monsters.