'09 Preseason Preview: Orleans Firebirds

by Dave B. in

orleans-firebirdsWebsite: www.orleanscardinals.com Manager:   Kelly Nicholson (5th year)

Team USA invitees and statistical info is as of May 21.

Orleans entered the 2008 playoffs with a record of 25-17-2, good for a league-best 52 points. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their stay in the playoffs was short-lived as eventual champion Harwich swept their Eastern division series, winning by scores of 4-3 and 1-0. The latter game was a classic that took 18 innings to complete.

Now known as the Firebirds, Orleans will look to compete this year with an interesting mix of returning players and newcomers. Six players return from last year's team. In addition to those returnees, Rob Catapano (Orleans '07) and Devin Lohman (Chatham '08) add more Cape League experience to the roster. Catapano was forced to sit out this college season when he transferred from North Carolina to Tennessee.

PITCHERS: The staff is evenly divided with seven righthanders and seven lefties. With a few exceptions, Orleans' pitchers have not put up outstanding numbers this spring.

Deck McGuire, the 6'6" righthander from Georgia Tech has earned an invitation to the Team USA trials by posting a 10-1 record with a 3.15 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 91 innings.

Opponents have batted only .195 off Cole Cook, a 6'7" righthander from Pepperdine. Cook was a 36th round pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 2007 MLB draft.

Mike Ness (RHP; Duke) has earned three saves to go with a 2.53 ERA. Jimmy Reyes has gone 7-0 for Elon, despite a 5.27 ERA. Matt Packer (Virginia) led the nation with a 1.14 ERA in 2008 when he won 6 games and opposing batters hit only .202 against him. This year, the junior lefty went 3-4; 4.30. Josh Poytress is a talented lefthander from Fresno State. The freshman went 2-2 with a 4.30 ERA but he allowed 58 hits in 42 innings and struck out 30 while issuing 28 walks.  

After those six, there was a drop-off in productivity. Xavier Esquivel earned All Star honors while playing for the St. Cloud River Bats in the Northwoods League last year. This spring at Loyola Marymount, he struggled to a 2-4 record with a 5.07 ERA. Casey Gaynor (Rutgers; 2-9, 5.57 ERA), Rob Rasmussen (UCLA; 6.28 ERA) and Brett Weibley (Kent State; 6.56 ERA) posted rather unimpressive numbers. Weibley was added to the roster when potential returnee Martin Viramontes (Loyola Marymount) was dropped.

Kelly Nicholson came to Orleans as their pitching coach in 2001 before taking the reigns as manager in 2005.  His teams have had good pitching in the past, leading the league in team ERA three times in his eight years. It would not be a surprise to see major improvement in his pitcher's numbers from their college season through the Cape League season this year.

CATCHERS: Hampton Tignor (Florida) returns for his third season behind the plate at Eldredge Park. In 2007, he batted .139 for the Cardinals. While splitting time at the position last year, Tignor batted only .132. Tignor did not play much for the Gators this year, starting in only 10 of the 28 games he appeared in while batting just .227. Matt Koch (Loyola Marymount) is the other catcher listed on the roster. Koch was expected to be the starting catcher for LMU but he suffered an injury during the preseason and did not play this year.

INFIELDERS: After playing part of the 2008 season in Chatham, Devin Lohman (Long Beach State) moves a few miles up Route 28 to anchor what should be a solid infield for the Firebirds. Lohman batted .341 and had a .481 OBP in his 13 games with Chatham last year. Sophomore Jaren Matthews batted .328 and hit 6 homeruns for Rutgers. He was a 17th round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2007. Freshman Riccio Torrez had a solid season at Arizona State, batting .308 for the Sun Devils. Danny Muno Fresno State) led the Bulldogs with a .372 average. As a freshman in 2008, he broke into the starting lineup as the shortstop early in the year.....  a year that culminated with the Bulldogs winning the College World Series. His brother, Kevin, batted .305 but was limited to playing in only 17 games at San Diego. Michael Olt (UConn) was a late season addition to Orleans' roster last year. Olt will be returning for a full season on the Cape after batting .304 for the Huskies. Olt set a single-season school record with 61 RBI in 2008. A wrist injury limited Olt to playing in 38 of the Huskies 60 games this spring. Olt was the winner of the Home Run Derby at last year's New England Collegiate Baseball League All Star game.

OUTFIELDERS: The outfield looks to be a strength for the Firebirds. Sophomore Matt Newman from Arizona State had a big year in which he hit .345 while driving in 45 runs. He batted .339 for the Alaska Goldpanners last summer. Newman has been invited to the Team USA trials. Gary Brown was picked as a Freshman All American by Baseball America in 2008 and he followed that up by batting .222 for Orleans last year. Now he is coming off a season in which he batted .319 for CS-Fullerton. Expect better production from Brown this year. Milton, MA. native Alex Hassan also returns to Orleans. A key contributor to the run to the playoffs last year, Hassan is finishing a solid season at Duke in which he batted .346 while also going 2-2 with 8 saves. In adition to being a regular in the outfield last year, Hassan inherited the closer's role for Orleans part way through the season and he earned 5 saves. Expect to see Hassan doing double-duty once again for the Firebirds. Hassan's Blue Devil teammate, Jeremy Gould, should be a big part of the outfield mix. Gould batted .345 this spring, just .001 behind Hassan. Michael Lang produced a .343 average and hit 8 homers for Rutgers. Lang and Scarlet Knight / Firebirds teammate Matthews were first and second in average for Rutgers.

NOTES: Ex-Orleans star Nate Freiman became Duke’s all-time home run leader with his 43rd career home run. The record setting blast was hit over the Blue Monster at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park during the ACC Tournament in a 10-4 win over Clemson on May 22.

Ness will be looking to erase the memory of his last appearance for Duke. In an ACC Tournament game against Virginia on May 23, he entered the game in the seventh inning with the score 4-4, with two out and two runners on base. Ness proceded to surrender two doubles and two hit batsmen sandwiched around an error and did not record an out. He was charged with 5 of Virginia’s 6 runs in the inning as the Cavaliers went on to eliminate Duke from the tournament in an 11-7 win.

McGuire has been chosen as one of 30 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award which is presented to the nation's premier amateur baseball player.

Gaynor was named the New Jersey High School Pitcher of the Year by the Star Ledger in 2006. Another claim to fame is that as an 11 year old, Gaynor played on the Toms River (NJ) East America All-Star team which won the Little League World Series championship in 1998. He was a teammate of former Rutgers and Chatham A's star Todd Frazier.

Gould played for the Peninusla Oilers in the Alaska Baseball League last year. His manager? New Brewster head man Tom Myers.   

Potential returnees: Elliot Glynn (UConn), Rob Rasmussen, Hampton Tignor, Michael Olt, Gary Brown, Alex Hassan and Rob Catapano ('07).

Team USA invitees: Deck McGuire and Matt Newman.

The Firebirds first game will be played at Yarmouth-Dennis on Friday, June 12 at 5:00. Orleans home opener will be the next day when they host the Brewster Whitecaps at 7:00.