When Chris Morgan stepped to the lectern to discuss the recent success of the Mobile BayBears, the new general manager hit one out of the park with the Class AA baseball team’s accomplishments:
Five straight trips to the Southern League playoffs (one short of a league record);
• Two teams being crowned as SL champions in 2011 and 2012;
• Forty players having earned positions on major league rosters;
• Forty-one players being named to the Southern League All-Star Game (most among SL teams during this streak);
• Two BayBears earning Southern League Player of the Year honors;
And two skippers being named SL Manager of the Year.
“The level of baseball the last five seasons has been incredible,” Morgan said. “I think the make-up of this team is pretty incredible, too.”
Morgan has taken over the day-to-day operations of the Arizona Diamondbacks farm team after spending the previous 16 years with the Senior Bowl. Prior to joining the all-star football game, he had worked two seasons with the BayBears as the Community Relations and Marketing Manager.
While there are several new faces on the BayBears’ roster this year, the cupboard is definitely not bare. Five of Arizona’s six minor league franchises advanced to the playoffs in 2014.
“I am excited to be here,” said Robby Hammock, the BayBears’ new manager. “I am very familiar with some of the players from my time as manager in Visalia (California). We also have a good group joining them.”
Hammock is replacing Andy Green, who has been promoted to be the Diamondbacks’ third base coach. In 2014, Hammock led Visalia to a 75-65 record and a wild card berth into the California League playoffs. The Class A-Advanced club fell one victory shy of capturing the championship.
Hammock started his coaching career in 2012. He had played for the Diamondbacks from 2003 through 2011. On May 18, 2004, he caught Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson’s perfect game against the Atlanta Braves.
“It is a great opportunity to be a manager,” Hammock said. “It is really something to see these guys move on to the big leagues.”
After the D-Backs released their opening day roster, they designated nine of their Top 30 prospects to Mobile. Six of the BayBears’ 13 active pitchers are on the list, including No. 2 Braden Shipley and No. 4 Aaron Blair.
Shipley was the D-Backs’ first-round draft choice in 2013. After seeing action last season with Class A South Bend and then Visalia, the right-hander finished in Mobile. He struck out 18 batters in his 20 innings here.
Blair, another right-hander, was also a first-round pick in 2013. He played in South Bend and Visalia before shining with the BayBears, hurling 46.1 innings for a 1.94 earned run average.
Also in the starting rotation are Brandon Sinnery, Gabriel Arias and Yoan Lopez. A right-hander who defected from Cuba in December, Lopez is the D-Backs’ No. 6 prospect that spent much of spring training with the D-Backs before being assigned to Mobile. In Cuba, he had a 3.12 ERA for top-rated Isla De la Juventud.
The bullpen will consist of Jimmie Sherfy (No. 18 prospect who also spent spring training with the D-Backs), Enrique Burgos (No. 24), Will Locante (No. 30), Andrew Barbosa, RJ Hively, Adam Miller, Patrick Schuster and Seth Simmons.
“We’ve got a lot of great pitchers,” Hammock. “Some can throw 100 miles per hour, and others around 80. We’ve got lefties and righties. It is a good mix.”
Three position players are among Arizona’s top prospects. Infielder Brandon Drury is at No. 7 on the D-Back list. After being named a Mid-Season All-Star at Visalia, Drury came to Mobile and hit .476 over the final 29 regular season games. Drury, who plays both second and third, was selected to the Arizona Fall League and named a Fall League Rising Star.
Outfielders Socrates Brito (No. 17) and Mitch Haniger (No. 23) are also on the list. Brito stole 38 bases plus hit 10 home runs and 62 RBIs at Visalia. Haniger opened last year with the Huntsville Stars, but finished the year in Mobile with a .333 batting average and .458 slugging percentage.
Utility player Tom Belza, outfielder Zach Borenstein, infielder Gerson Montilla and catcher Mark Thomas all return for the BayBears. New additions include infielder Rudy Flores, catcher Ronnie Freeman, utility player Ryan Gebhardt, outfielder Alex Glenn and infielder Raul Navarro. Opening the year on the Disabled List are pitchers Edgar Garcia and Caleb Clay plus infielder Sean Jamieson.
“We have a very versatile group,” said Hammock, who has Wellington Cepeda as his pitching coach and Jason Camilli as the hitting coach. “Many can play multiple positions, and that can really help during the season.
“I am excited about this team, and the Diamondback organization is excited about this team. I am really looking forward to this season.”
The BayBears opened the season at the Birmingham Barons. The first home games will be this week against the Biloxi Shuckers (the former Huntsville farm club). Because of construction of the new shopping center along Satchel Paige Drive, traffic turning off Government Boulevard must use McVay Drive to reach Hank Aaron Stadium.
For more information on game dates or tickets, call 251-479-BEAR (2327) or visit www.MobileBayBears.com.