The Visalia Rawhide and Arizona Diamondbacks announced the Rawhide’s 2017 Opening Day Roster. The roster features 15 players from the 2016 Rawhide team that reached the postseason for the fourth consecutive year and captured their 13th California League Northern Division Championship. Visalia will also have two top-30 prospects in the Arizona Diamondbacks system as ranked by MiLB.com to kick off the year.
The highest ranked prospect on the roster at #15 in the Diamondbacks system is SS Sergio Alcantara. Alcantara is returning to Visalia after playing four games for the Rawhide at the tail end of the season and through the 2016 playoff push. A native of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, the 20-year-old will compete in his third full-season campaign after impressing with his defensive ability over the past two seasons and shining in the Dominican Winter League this year. MiLB has this to say about the young middle-infielder, “Alcantara will be able to defend at the Major League level. He’s a no-doubt-about-it shortstop, with the strongest arm in the system combined with good hands and above-average range, even though he doesn’t have a ton of speed. Offensively, he has a solid approach, drawing walks and not striking out very often. He is continuing to work on adding strength, and while power will never be a part of his game, he needs it so he can at least find the gaps more frequently.”
The next highest ranked prospect to start the year with the Rawhide is Justin Donatella, who checks in as the #26 prospect in the Diamondbacks organization. Donatella was a 15th round draft pick out of UC San Diego in 2015 and will be returning to Visalia for the second straight year after going 6-4 with a 3.03 ERA and 54 strikeouts in the hitter-friendly California League last season. The six-foot-six right-hander was all but untouchable in the friendly confines of Rawhide Ballpark last summer, putting up a 3-1 record with a 1.84 ERA and a .85 WHIP in home games. Here’s the MiLB scouting report on the 22-year-old native of Panorama City, CA, “Donatella uses his 6-foot-6 frame well to throw his heavy sinking fastball, which touches 94 mph, downhill. He keeps it down in the zone consistently and gets ground balls early in counts. He combines it with a solid average slider he throws in the mid-80s, and while his changeup is his third pitch, it’s a usable offering. He is a big-time strike-thrower who doesn’t miss a ton of bats but also rarely hurts himself with walks.”
Along with Donatalla, returning to the pitching staff from the Northern Division Champion 2016 Rawhide will be pitchers Bud Jeter, Cameron Gann, Kirby Bellow, Joel Payamps, and Nick Baker. Rounding out the pitching staff are Visalia newcomers Ivan Pineyro, Trevor Simms, Keegan Long, Cody Clark, and Miguel Aguilar, as well as Mason McCullough, who split the 2015 season between Visalia and Kane County.
The catching corps will feature Matt Jones, who played in 13 games with the Rawhide to go with stops at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, and Francis Christy, who will be spending his first season in Visalia. Jones owns a career .232 batting average but was limited to only 23 games in 2016. Christy, who was a 7th round draft pick out of Palomar JC in California, spent his first full season with the Class-A Kane County Cougars in 2016. He batted .244 with 11 doubles, two home runs, and 17 RBIs while throwing out 36% of would-be base stealers.
The infield will feature four more returners and one newcomer alongside Alcantara. First baseman Austin Byler, corner infielder Marty Herum, third baseman Fernery Ozuna, and middle-infielder Galli Cribbs will come back to Visalia for the second straight year, while Daniel Lockhart will be making his first stop with the Rawhide. Byler, who was selected in the 11th round of the 2015 MLB draft by Arizona out of the University of Nevada-Reno, split his time between Kane County and Visalia last year, batting .254 with eight home runs, 11 doubles, and 36 RBIs over 83 games. Herum appeared in 96 games for the Rawhide last year and quickly became a fan favorite, finishing among the team leaders by hitting .294 with eight homers and 46 RBI. His performance earned him Cal League Postseason All-Star and Diamondbacks Organization All-Star nods. Arizona signed Cribbs out of Bellevue University in 2014, and he made his first foray into full-season ball last year. Between Kane County and Visalia, Cribbs hit a combined .230 with six triples and 35 runs batted in. Ozuna signed with the D-backs as an undrafted free agent in July of 2012 and has been steadily climbing the organization’s ladder since. He hit .263 with Kane County last year, his second with the Cougars, while driving in 28 runs in 86 games. Ozuna was called up to Visalia for their playoff run last year and hit .261 with a pair of home runs in six games. Lockhart is in his first season with the Diamondbacks organization after being selected in the minor league round of the Rule 5 Draft last December. The son of former Major Leauger Keith Lockhart, Daniel had been ranked as high as 30th in the Cubs’ farm system as recently as 2014. He split time between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee last season, hitting .226 with 13 doubles.
Colin Bray, Grant Heyman, and Zach Nehrir will make their returns to Recreation this park in the outfield this summer, and they’ll be joined by Matt McPhearson. Bray, who was a sixth-round draft choice out of Faulkner State Community College in 2013, appeared in 109 games for the Rawhide last year, good for third most on the team, and clubbed nine home runs and 18 doubles, both of which were good for fourth on the club. The Diamondbacks selected Heyman in the eighth round of the 2014 draft out of the College of Southern Nevada. He was promoted to Visalia from Kane County in 2016 and hit .262 with 16 doubles and drove 30 runs home in 65 games with the Rawhide. Nehrir enjoyed a brief, 18-game stint with Visalia in 2016 but spent most of the season at Kane County. Selected by Arizona in the 16th round of the 2015 draft, he will begin his second full-season with the Rawhide after hitting a combined .239 between Class-A Kane County and Advanced-A Visalia last year. McPhearson is the only newcomer to join the outfield on the Opening Day roster. The former fourth-round draft pick played across three levels in 2016, including a three-game call-up to Triple-A Reno. McPherson his a combined .228 last year while appearing in only 33 games.
Shelley Duncan, 37, will spend his first season as the Manager of the Rawhide in 2017. Duncan, who enjoyed a seven-year Major League career for the Yankees, Indians, and Rays, was a member of the 2009 World Series Champion Yankees and a part of five Minor League championship teams. Duncan hit 43 homers, 42 doubles, and drove in 144 runs in 330 games at the Major League level, and tagged 236 long balls over his 14 year professional career. This will be his third season as a skipper with the D-backs, having spent the past two seasons as the Manager of Short-Season Hillsboro. Duncan led the Hops to a league championship in his first year at the helm in 2015, and guided Hillsboro back to the playoffs last season. He owns a career 87-64 record. Duncan attended the University of Arizona and still holds school records for career home runs (55) and homers in a single season (24 in 2001). Not surprisingly, he was named a First Team All-American following the 2001 season. Duncan is a native of Tuscon, Arizona.
Jeff Bajenaru, 38, returns to Visalia for his second season as Pitching Coach in 2017. Bajenaru is from Pomona, California, and was a 36th round selection by the Chicago White Sox in 1999. He made Major League appearances with the White Sox in 2004 & 2005, and also came up briefly with the D-backs in 2006. Two seasons ago, he was at short-season Missoula, where he helped guide the Osprey to a Pioneer League championship. 2017 will be his 7th coaching year in the D-backs farm system.
Vince Harrison also begins his 2nd season as Rawhide Hitting Coach, and his 4th in the D-backs organization. The 37-year-old Lexington, Kentucky native spent parts of 9 seasons in the Minor and Independent Leagues. He is the older brother of Josh Harrison (a 2014 All-Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates) and is the nephew of 2-time World Series champion John Shelby.
Eddie Oropesa will start his first season with the Rawhide and his second with the D-backs. He served as a coach Double-A Mobile in 2016 in a new coaching role, serving as both a coach and as an interpreter for Yoan López. Oropesa played in four Major League seasons with the Phillies, D-backs, and Padres. In 125 relief appearances, he owns an 8-4 record with a 7.34 ERA and 78 strikeouts. In 2012 and 2013, Oropesa was a coach and interpreter for Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers.
The Rawhide will spend a week on the road before returning to Recreation Park for their home opener on Thursday, April 13 against Inland Empire. The opening homestand will also feature the first Fireworks Friday and All-American Saturday of the season on Friday, April 14th and Saturday, April 15th, respectively. For tickets and more information on the opening homestand and the rest of the Rawhide 2017 schedule, please visit rawhidebaseball.com or call (559) 732-4433.