Tomorrow’s Just A Day Away

By Matt Appel

Looking for a gift for Dad on this Father’s Day? Well, in addition to that lovely tie or brand new razor, you can remind him that the ValleyCats’ 2013 season begins tomorrow. That should do the trick.

In just a little over 24 hours from now, the reigning Stedler Division Champions will kick off their 2013 campaign at Joseph L. Bruno stadium against the Vermont Lake Monsters. The players have been working out, hitting, throwing, and getting to know each other since they started arriving in Troy on Thursday. While only two players are returning from last year’s franchise-best 51 win team (3B Ryan Dineen and OF Dan Gulbransen), there is plenty of reason to believe that the talent on this year’s squad will be plentiful.

Offensively, it appears that speed will be the name of the game for the ‘Cats in 2013. Much like last year’s team that led the New York-Penn League in stolen bases, many members of the projected lineup for Tri-City have excellent speed tools. No one better fits this description than 2B Tony Kemp. The 2013 SEC Player of the Year, Kemp was taken as the 5th round selection of Houston in this year’s MLB Draft. In addition to hitting .391 (!!!) this past year for Vanderbilt, the 5’6″ Kemp stole 34 bases. While not a home run threat, Kemp has gap power that should play well here at The Joe.

In what is one of the bigger story lines for this team early on, and will probably remain that way for the entire season, Kemp will be joined in Tri-City by his right-side-of-the-infield counterpart, Vandy 1B Conrad Gregor. The 4th round pick of the Astros this year, Gregor is no slouch in the speed department himself. Gregor swiped 21 bags this past year for the 51-9 Commodores, and in terms of getting on-base, there were few better players in the nation. The Carmel, IN native finished the year with a .440 OBP, and nearly walked twice as often as he struck out (54:29). It will be interesting to see if Kemp and Gregor can replicate the college-teammate success started last year by Brady Rodgers and Andrew Aplin, who played together at ASU.

The team takes a knee on the infield to listen to instructions from manager Ed Romero

The team takes a knee on the infield to listen to instructions from manager Ed Romero

The outfielders on this ValleyCat team, at least from what we have seen in batting practice, could be major parts of the hitting attack. James Ramsay (7th round, USF), Jon Kemmer (21st round, Brewton Parker College), and Ronnie Mitchell (38th round, Dallas Baptist) will all be making their professional debuts here in Tri-City. Ramsay, a CF at USF where he attended college, hit .337 with an OPS of .858 this past season and was named to the All-Big East team. Ramsay’s speed was apparent both at the plate, with 12 SB, and in the field, where he was one of the best defensive outfielders in all of Division-1 according to advanced fielding statistics. A 1-2 combination of Kemp and Ramsay at the top of the ValleyCat lineup could work out rather handsomely for new manager Ed Romero and his hitting coach, Russ Steinhorn. Kemmer played at NAIA Brewton Parker College, and by watching his batting practice so far, he can hit ’em as far as anyone. A line drive hitter with a ton of raw power, Kemmer slugged at a .717 mark (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) for the Barons, mashing 12 HR, 13 2B, and even legging out a triple, all in only 45 games. Kemmer also drew more free passes than punchouts, but might have to close up his stance to avoid more K’s at this level. As for Mitchell, his power has also been on fully display so far in the few sessions of BP I’ve watched live. An exaggerated leg kick is a key component to Mitchell’s swing, and even though he only hit 4 HR in 60 games this year for Dallas Baptist, he might find his longball stroke here for the ‘Cats. Mitchell was teammates at Dallas Baptist with 2012 ValleyCat Catfish Elkins.

Much of the success of last year’s team was due to great pitching, and it is yet to be seen if this team can replicate that staff’s performance, but there are certainly many hurlers on the ’13 ‘Cats roster capable of dominating hitters at this level. The headliners on this staff are Kevin Comer and Adrian Houser, a 1st rounder and 2nd rounder, respectively. Comer was taken in the 1st round in 2011 by the Blue Jays, and was dealt to the Astros as a player to be named later in the J.A. Happ trade in 2012. Comer has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a power curve. Houser was the 2nd round pick of the Astros in the 2011 draft, and projects to have a plus fastball and plus curveball as he matures. Both should have no problem getting hitters out this summer.

The ‘Cats have a number of pitchers on this roster that will be throwing in their first professional games this season. Pat Christensen (27th round, La Salle), Randall Fant (29th round, Arkansas), Albert Minnis (18th round, Wichita State), Zach Morton (32nd round, Northwestern) and Kyle Westwood (13th round, University of North Florida) were all drafted less than two weeks ago, and find themselves in the middle of what promises to be a very competitive pitching staff, under the guidance of new pitching coach Doug White.

The player who has received the most media attention so far is RHP Christian Garcia, who in from the Capital District. A 2009 graduate of Saratoga Central Catholic High School, Garcia was drafted by the Astros in the 29th round of the 2012 draft, and spent last year in Greeneville. Garcia, from Gansevoort, NY, is expected to come out of the bullpen for the ValleyCats.

One player flying under the radar to keep an eye on is IF Chan Moon, born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. Moon signed as an international free agent with Houston in 2009, and has made his living as a slick-fielding infielder who plays primarily at short, but might get looks at third and even first for Tri-City. Moon, who is a lanky 6’0″, 160, has shown good line-drive capabilities in BP, and could very valuable as a utility guy on this team.

Tomorrow’s starter for Ed Romero will be 4th year-pitcher Evan Grills, a lefthander from Whitby, Ontario. We will give you a full scouting report of Grills in tomorrow’s 2013 inaugural “Pregame Meal.” A very happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and with ValleyCat baseball officially back tomorrow, how can it not be?

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