The 21st season of minor league baseball has arrived at Hank Aaron Stadium. However, it was not a celebration of the past at the Mobile BayBears’ media luncheon.
Those connected to the organization made an effort to point out everything new going into the 2017 campaign. The biggest change, by far, is the switch to a different Major League parent club.
After spending the previous 10 years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the BayBears are now the Class AA farm club of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Mobile will remain a member of the Southern League.
“This is a big change for everyone,” Chris Morgan, BayBears general manager, said. “The Angels had their Class AA for 20 years in Arkansas. At least 10 of our guys played there last year with the Travelers.”
In addition to fresh faces on the field, there is also a new group of coaches, led by manager Sal Fasano.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him,” Morgan said. “He played in the majors for 11 years, and was well respected.
“Jeff Pearlman of ESPN gave him an enormous compliment. He said, ‘When I think of Sal Fasano, however, I think of greatness. Not of Willie Mays or Ted Williams greatness, but of a uniquely excellent human being who, were class and decency the most valued standards of a career, would be the easiest Hall of Fame inductee of all time.’”
Fasano has been coaching for seven seasons. Named the Eastern League’s Manager of the Year in 2011, he has spent the last two years as pitching coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I am so happy to be here,” said Fasano, as well known for his Fu Manchu mustache as for his playing skills. “I think the minor leagues are the purest form of baseball. You are so close to making it to the big leagues, but you haven’t been changed by all the money and prestige.”
Completing his staff are hitting coach Ryan Barba, pitching coach Buddy Carlyle, assistant coach Ryan Sebra, athletic trainer Matthew Morrell and strength coach Adam Auer.
Carlyle’s name may sound familiar to BayBear fans, as he was part of Mobile’s Southern League championship in 1998. He posted a team-best 14-6 record with an earned run average of 3.38 that season. Carlyle spent nine seasons as a pitcher in the majors.
Fasano named his top starting pitchers at the media luncheon. The right-handed hurlers are Tyler Carpenter, Osmer Morales, Luis Diaz and Jordan Kipper. The remaining pitchers are Cody Buckel, Abel De Los Santos, Jon Fitzsimmons, Eric Karch, Ronnie Muck, Chris O’Grady, Eduardo Paredes and Brandon Peterson.
Paredes, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, is listed as the Angels’ No. 16 prospect by MLB Pipeline. He was on the Angels’ 40-man roster before being optioned to Mobile in March.
Other pitchers on the prospect list are De Los Santos (19), Morales (21) and Kevin Grendell (23). Grendell is starting the year on the 7-day disabled list.
Just as the season started, left-hander Greg Mahle was assigned to the BayBears staff. He pitched in 24 games with the Angels last season. In a corresponding move, right-hander Alex Klonowski was placed on the 7-day disabled list.
Behind the plate are Jose Briceno and Wade Wass. This is a homecoming for Wass, who grew up in Pensacola and played at the University of Alabama.
Fasano said he is fortunate all of his infielders can play two or three different positions. David Fletcher is No. 11 on the Angels’ prospect list. He is joined by Andrew Daniel, Zach Houchins, Hutton Moyer, Angel Rosa and Luis Tejada.
The final Top 30 prospect is outfielder Caleb Adams (28). Sharing the outfield with him are Forrestt Allday, Bo Way and Zach Welz.
“My goal is not to see these guys for the whole year,” Fasano said. “I want to get them promoted soon.
“We are going to put a good product on the field. I can guarantee you will see a lot of hustle.”
Morgan said he is very pleased with the upgrades to The Hank, particularly a new drainage system and sod.
“We lost a lot of games to inclement weather last year,” Morgan said. “We had a massive amount of rain on the first day the team arrived. By the time they were ready to take the field that night to practice, there was not a single puddle.”
Other improvements include 1,300 new grandstand seats (the rest will be replaced before the 2018 campaign), field-level public address speakers, a digital scoreboard and field-level netting to protect fans.
“We may be the first stadium in the minors to protect 100 percent of our fans from line drives,” Morgan said. “We had about a dozen people hit in the last few years. This gives us all peace of mind.
“We could not have done all this work without the support of our City Council and the mayor’s office. I would like to thank council members John Williams, Fred Richardson, Levon Manzie and C.J. Small for being here today to see the results.”
Weekly promotions will continue this season and include Sunday Fun Day, Every Monday Matters, 2 for Tuesday, Dollar Dog Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday, Wind Creek Friday Night Fireworks and Autonation Saturday Night.
There will be an additional fireworks show after the game on Tuesday, July 4. Other special events include Star Wars Night on May 6, Santa Claus Night on July 22, Halfway to Mardi Gras Night on Aug. 5 and Fan Appreciation Night on Sept. 2. Visit www.MobileBayBears.com for more information.
The BayBears started their season last week on the road at the Chattanooga Lookouts. The home schedule begins Wednesday against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp at 6:35 p.m.
There will be 70 home games through Labor Day, Sept. 4. For ticket information, call 251-479-BEAR (2327).