By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Judging success in minor league baseball isn’t necessarily the same as in the major leagues.
Yes, winning would be nice, but at an age where it’s more important to focus on development, a team’s strong win-loss record isn’t the ultimate goal.
“We want to first and foremost keep everybody healthy,” Charlotte Stone Crabs manager Michael Johns said. “Is that going to happen? Probably not. But if we can keep most of the guys healthy that’s a successful season. Number 2 would be getting guys to the big leagues, and Number 3, we want to win.
“I think I, and the Rays, feel player development and winning go hand and hand. Certainly, we’re going to try to win every night and give good entertainment value to the fans and Port Charlotte, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to get guys to the big leagues.”
As the Stone Crabs continue to develop, they’ll likely be able to win some games in 2017. With a roster which features five of the Tampa Bay Rays’ top 30 prospects, this year’s strong squad will make some noise in the Florida State League.
One of the more important players for the 2017 Stone Crabs is pitcher Genesis Cabrera. The left-hander will get the ball tonight as Charlotte hosts the Bradenton Marauders at 6:35 to begin the season at Charlotte Sports Park.
“He has electric stuff. His fastball is anywhere from 94 to 96 (mph),” Johns said. “There’s a reason he’s starting opening night because he’s not going to back down.”
The 20-year-old is projected to one day be a big league starter, as he features the kind of arsenal which will only continue to get better. In 22 starts last season with Low-A Bowling Green, Cabrera had an 11-5 record with a 3.88 ERA and 96 strikeouts.
A pair of outfielders behind Cabrera in Jake Fraley and Ryan Boldt will likely make a large impact on the top of the Stone Crabs’ batting order.
Boldt was a second-round draft pick (53rd overall) in 2016 out of Nebraska, and prior to attending college was one of the top high school position players in the 2013 draft.
Fraley was selected 77th overall by the Rays last year, and boasts both speed and the ability to get on base – exactly what you want from a top-of-the-order guy.
“I saw them a little bit in spring training and I saw them have a lot of quality at-bats,” Johns said. “Meaning they don’t chase pitches. They hit balls in the strike zone. They have tremendous bat speed and power. They both can really run and can play all three outfield spots.”
Another player who will make a big impact this year is third baseman Kevin Padlo. The 20-year-old hit 16 home runs and 22 doubles last season in Bowling Green.
During the Rays’ spring training this year, he not only got into games, but he started at third base.
“I think anytime you can get a kid to get up there in spring training and play in that environment, when they come back down they’re a little more comfortable with themselves,” Johns said. “For him to have started, it speaks volumes for what our organization thinks of him.”
If you need additional reasons to come out to the park this season, there are plenty of promotions. Beginning tonight, fans will receive a magnetic schedule.
There’s $2 Tuesdays, where parking, tickets, hot dogs and sodas all cost $2 each. Fridays are both $5 student night and Friday Feast, where fans can purchase all-you-can-eat vouchers for $10.
May 13 is a pink hat giveaway on breast cancer awareness night. May 22 is Bark at the Park night.
One thing to keep an eye is the Stone Crabs’ weekly post-game fireworks show. As of now, fireworks have been temporarily postponed due to safety concerns from a high drought index.
Charlotte County fire and EMS has revoked any fireworks permits until further notice, but as we know in Florida, it likely won’t be too long until the rainy season returns.
Baseball America and MLB Pipeline release a yearly ranking of each organization’s top-30 prospects. Here are how five Stone Crabs rank in the Rays’ organization:
Pos. Name Age Rank
3B Kevin Padlo 20 No. 19 (BA, MLBP)
C David Rodriguez 21 No. 22 (MLBP)
OF Ryan Boldt 22 No. 22 (BA)
OF Jake Fraley 22 No. 23 (BA)
SP Genesis Cabrera 20 No. 29 (MLBP)
Last year’s Stone Crabs team featured some highly-ranked Tampa Bay Rays prospects. How did they do in Charlotte last season and where are they beginning 2017?
Pos. Name Stats w/SC 2017 team
SP Brent Honeywell 4-1, 56 IP, 2.41 ERA, 64 K AA Montgomery
OF Justin Williams .330 BA, 4 HR, 31 RBI AA Montgomery
SP Greg Harris 10-6, 147 IP, 3.12 ERA, 134 K AA Montgomery
1B Joe McCarthy .283 BA, 5 HR, 31 RBI AA Montgomery
C Nick Ciuffo .262 BA, 0 HR, 15 RBI AA Montgomery
RP Jose Alvarado 201, 46 IP, 3.91 ERA, 51 K AA Montgomery
There are a few familiar faces returning from last year’s team. Here are some names you may remember:
Pos. Name Age 2016 games w/SC
SP Blake Bivens 21 2
SP Yoel Espina 24 2
SP Ian Gibaut 23 27
SS Jake Cronenworth 23 35
OF Nathan Lukes 22 21
Charlotte is where injured players in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization begin their rehab assignments. There are already a list of injured players who could likely be seen in a Stone Crabs uniform early in the season. Here are a some notable names:
Pos. Name Team
OF Colby Rasmus Tampa Bay Rays
SS Matt Duffy Tampa Bay Rays
RP Brad Boxberger Tampa Bay Rays
RP Shawn Tolleson Tampa Bay Rays
C Wilson Ramos Tampa Bay Rays
INF Ryan Brett AAA Durham
SP Jose De Leon AAA Durham
RP Jonny Venters AAA Durham
SP Grayson Garvin AA Montgomery
SP Ty Hensley A Bowling Green