Bill on Baseball: Hoppers got Rolling on the Road Tonight…

NEW! Bill on Baseball: Hoppers on the Road Tonight
from Bill Hass at
The Grasshoppers opened the 2011 South Atlantic League season tonight in Delmarva with Kevin Randel filling in as manager for Andy Haines. After the Hoppers’ media day Monday, Haines flew out Tuesday to Tennessee to be with his wife, Erin, for the birth of their second daughter. Labor was to be induced Wednesday. According to the Hoppers’ office this morning, the delivery went well and everyone is fine.

Haines plans to stay home through Sunday, fly out early Monday morning to Philadelphia and find a way from there to Lakewood, N.J., where the Hoppers open a four-game series.

“My wife is a saint,” Haines said. “She’s the one doing everything. I just show up and say ‘good luck, let’s have the baby.’ Then I leave.”

Haines said he told the players that if he had done his job well in spring training, they wouldn’t miss him for a few days. And he has full confidence in Randel, the hitting coach, for the series against Delmarva and, if needed, the first game against Lakewood.

It will be Randel’s first shot at managing. He filled in for several games in the third base coach’s box last season after Haines was hit in the eye by a batted ball before a game at West Virginia.

This year’s roster is the oldest I’ve seen in Greensboro for many years. The Florida Marlins, the parent club, usually draft a lot of high school players and in the past have started them in Greensboro for their first full season. The adjustment can sometimes be harsh.

Only two players on this roster were playing high school ball at this time last year — No. 1 pick Christian Yelich and No. 3 pick Jacob Realmuto. Both should be everyday players, Yelich in the outfield and Realmuto behind the plate and at designated hitter.

Realmuto is making the transition to catcher and will likely start there four games a week, DH two more and get a day off. Haines said the staff will monitor how his body holds up and then make any necessary adjustments.

Haines said he likes the depth and flexibility of this team, which means he’ll try to get everyone as many at-bats as possible. When Realmuto isn’t catching, either Wilfredo Gimenez or Aaron Dudley will be. Dudley can also play first base, another way to get in the lineup.

To begin the season, Brian McConkey will be at first, either Noah Perio or Daniel Black at second, Pedro Mendoza at shortstop, Ryan Fisher at third, Yelich in left, Isaac Galloway in center and Marcell Ozuna in right.

Brent Keys will also play the outfield and Joe Bonadonna will be the super utility man, capable of playing second, third, short, left field and center field.

Galloway is a familiar name. He played 83 games here in 2009 (.268, 3 home runs, 15 stolen bases), missing time because of an injured wrist. Last year in Jupiter, he suffered a lacerated kidney in an outfield collision and played only 30 games.

Another familiar name is tonight’s starting pitcher, Kyle Winters, who pitched here in 2007 (8-4, 3.95 ERA). After moving up the organization ladder as high as Double A, Winters missed all of last season with a torn labrum. Healthy now, he’s starting the season here with the goal of pitching his way up to Jupiter or Jacksonville as quickly as possible.

The starting rotation is all right-handed. Winters will be followed by Alan Oaks, Jheyson Manzuela, Robert Morey and Zach Neal.

“We’ve got a lot of college guys,” said pitching coach Willie Glen. “I think their understanding of what’s ahead of them is probably a little bit better (than high school players). The one thing we saw in spring training is they all do a good job of throwing the ball over the plate.”

The closer is slated to be Sean Watson, a pickup from the Reds’ organization. The other relievers are Michael Brady, Grant Dayton (the staff’s only left-hander), Michael Ojala, Jared Rogers, Chris Shafer and Adam Veres.

Glen said the bullpen roles will sort themselves out.

“Right now, everybody is a reliever,” he said. “When your number is called, let’s go and get them.”

More on the roster in the days leading up to the home opener on April 15.