Manager Phil Warren and the Gateway Grizzlies have announced signings for the 2018 season.
Experienced veterans, talented newcomers and a host of first and second year players help round out the current 18 members of the Gateway club. The Grizzlies, who finished at the bottom of the Frontier League in 2017, are optimistic about the upcoming campaign.
“Last season is in the past,” remarked the 12-year tenured skipper Warren. “We have a ton of guys who are hungry and want to win, many of which have won at different levels in their playing careers. Add that with the talent and experience this roster has – it is going to be a fun 2018.”
Headlining the list of returners are outfielders Blake Brown, Cody Livesay and Terry McClure. Brown, a Frontier League All-Star and team MVP, finished 2017 near the top of many hitting categories in the FL and led the club in homers (18). Livesay, a speedy Jonesboro, Illinois native, will look to build on his highlight-reel defensive reputation and base running ability in his 3rdyear with the team. McClure, who hit .295 with 41 RBI in ’17, rounds out Warren’s true outfield.
“I think I can speak for everyone when I say we are ready to put in the work,” noted Georgia native McClure. “We are ready to have some fun playing for the great crowds and organization.”
Fellow outfielder and southpaw Livesay echoed McClures comments.
“Towards the end of last year we really started to click in the clubhouse. We are ready to have some fun and put together a great summer.”
Though Gateway enjoyed little team success in 2017, 21-year-old utility player Matt Hearn turned heads as the Grizzlies Rookie of the Year. Hearn hit for a .331 average while breaking the single season team steals record (30). Much of the club’s success will hinge on his ability as a table setter and everyday centerfielder.
“Matt has rare ability on the base paths and at the dish,” added Warren about his second year speedster. “He will be a big part of what we do next year and is a great option at many positions.”
Rookie-2 and hometown kid Dan Holst adds depth near the track, completing the early season outfield group.
Warren’s infield is reliant on young, but athletic gloves – Joel McKeithan and Brent Sakurai. McKeithan, a 6’3, 215 lb. shortstop, hit .289 and posted a .957 fielding percentage in the hole last season, while Sakurai notched 52 games as a rookie with 19 runs, 5 stolen bases and a .318 OBP. New Grizzlies masher and veteran Kristian Brito (Mariners organization) adds power and experience at 1st base.
With several staple pieces and a wealth of utility, the Grizzlies will rotate the infield defensively in 2018 to find the best stoppers.
“We are fortunate to have great gloves and athletes at a bunch of positions,” remarked Warren of his infield versatility. “Last season we moved guys around from the hot corner to the hole – to second to outfield. Our club has rare speed and understanding at a bunch of positions. It makes our job easy.”
Rookie Jhonniel Alvarez (Acarigua, Venezuela) is the lone listed catcher on the preliminary roster. Alvarez comes to the Grizzlies by way of the Ranger’s organization, posting a career .267 average in 33 games. The 5’9, 195 lb. backstopper showed potential in affiliated assignment, reaching AAA with the Round Rock Express.
“Alvarez has talent – he is a great thrower of the baseball and can defensively get it done,” Warren explained. “He will battle it out for the position, but has the ability to be stout and a good contributor.”
The Grizzlies’ rotation will need to reload in the coming season with the departure of veterans Javaun West and Vince Molesky – both ending last season in the FL’s top 10 in strikeouts. Helping make the needed transition will be returning hurlers William Anderson (RHP), Michael Elwood (RHP) and Alec Kisena (LHP).
“To be honest, our rotation is probably our biggest variable right now,” admitted Warren of his current staff. “We have so much talent and potential. There is no defined “ace” but we might have five of them. Guys are going to step up.”
Rookies, Tanner Cable (RHP), Josh Glick (RHP), Justin Murphy (RHP), Kyle Richards (RHP) and Dalton Shalberg (RHP) all afford right handed talent to the battery. 6’6, Manchester, Missouri native Austin Sweet (RHP) also returns in 2018.
The Grizzlies’ 24-man roster is now at 18. Frontier League spring training rules allow for 32 roster spots before season play.
The Grizzlies will open 2018 on Friday, May 11 against the Schaumburg Boomers.