Outlook: After two seasons at the helm, manager Sal Fasano has moved on, but in his place comes another former big league catcher and familiar face in former Red Sox backstop Gary Allenson.
Allenson brings a bit more fire and big league spit to his approach, but like most skeptical skippers in a new post he will let things play out on the field before deciding the fate of his squad.
With that being said, the Fisher Cats return some familiar faces that most thought would have come and gone by now, most notably pitchers Deck McGuire, Chad Beck, Chad Jenkins and Joel Carreno.
The feel good story at the start of the season is the arrival of Nashua native Kevin Nolan who, at age 25, makes his Double-A debut in his own backyard, becoming the first player from the state of New Hampshire to play for the Fisher Cats.
John Tolisano, a 2007 second round selection, returns to anchor a solid core of infielders, while Brad Glenn will be the vet of a young outfield core.
Thoughts: This year’s Fisher Cats roster seems to contain about as big a mix as you will see on this level. From the veteran presences of reliever Tommy Hottovy and INF/OF Ricardo Nanita to the fresh faces of outfielders and table-setters Kenny Wilson and Kevin Pillar, it will be interesting to see how it all meshes.
That in mind, the balance seems to lie in those players that have been here before, the McGuire’s and Tolisano’s of the world, who are in that in-between ground of knowing what to expect in New Hampshire while working harder than ever to advance.
I would expect that a good majority of the pitching staff will turnover throughout the season, but much of the bats will need to stick around for some more seasoning on this level as there aren't any sticks that standout as big-league or next-level ready.
Player to watch: Marcus Stroman – Currently serving a suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy by testing positive for an over the counter energy stimulant that he says he unknowingly ingested, he will not hit the mound until May. Then it is game on for the 2012 first round pick (22nd overall) out of Duke who is ranked by Baseball America as the Blue Jays third best pitching prospect. His fastball is a plus-pitch that can reach the high-90s and consistently maintain in the mid-90s throughout an outing. After being promoted to New Hampshire last year, he proved he could handle the big jump by striking out 8 batters in 8 innings of relief work, while posting a 2-0 mark. When he returns you can bet that he will once again feel that he has something to prove.
Strengths: Power from the right side – New Hampshire boasts five right-handed bats who had double digit home run tallies a year ago, one switch-hitter (John Tolisano) who did the same and a couple of other righty sticks who have done so in years past.
Weaknesses: Depth - If the Fisher Cats can get back guys that they currently have listed on their disabled list, as well as Stroman, then things will start to even out nicely. But until that time, things may get a little thin on the bench. Pitchers Evan Crawford, Chorye Spoone and Jenkins will eventually provide a boost to a decent staff of arms. The bigger concern may be, ‘When can catcher A.J. Jimenez return to action after missing much of last season following Tommy John surgery?’ Now considered by most as the top catcher in the system, the Blue Jays will be anxious to see what he can do upon his return.
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