Gary Southshore RailCats Report: Off-Season Update
The Gary Southshore RailCats saw the 2014 season come to a very disappointing end when Lincoln got hot down the stretch and took the Central Division title. It left a bad taste in the mouth of the team from Indiana, a taste they will want to wash out with a big dose of winning. This off-season Gary has been one of the more active clubs in the American Association, and with only one outfielder on their roster, it is clear that the RailCats are not done yet.
A month after the season came to an end the team named Brian Lyter to be their new general manager. Lyter had been serving as the team’s assistant GM the previous three seasons, and the RailCats thought he was the ideal choice to be Gary’s sixth GM in team history.
“Simply put, Brian has earned this opportunity,” team President Brian Laven explained. “Since joining the RailCats he has exceeded expectations in his approach to every aspect of the operation while immersing himself in the community like a seasoned veteran.”
On December 16, Dennis Pelfrey, who had been a coach for Gary for the last four seasons, was named the manager of the Florence Freedom. Pelfrey played six years of professional baseball. He thanked the organization for the opportunity and experience they had provided him. “From ownership to the fans, this has truly been a phenomenal experience.”
With a new GM in place, the team wasted no time in looking to make improvements to the 2015 squad. On October 27 the RailCats announced that they added three players to their roster: pitchers Paul Mittura and Kevin Sweeney, and first baseman Michael Schroeder.
Schroeder is a local boy, growing up in Crown Point, and attended Lewis University in Romeoville, IL. He had a career average of .336 there, and finished with 12 home runs and 79 RBI in his two seasons with the school.
Mittura was signed as a free agent after he spent last season with the Frontier Greys of the Frontier League. The righty pitched in 22 games, posting a 2-4 record with a save and an impressive 2.10 ERA. Sweeney made just one appearance for the Kansas City T-Bones following an impressive college career at Drury University. The two will clearly add some quality depth to the Gary bullpen.
On December 11, the team announced the return of three members of their 2014 squad. Infielders Zac Mitchell and Danny Pulfer, and catcher Ryan Babineau will return to Gary Southshore for the upcoming season, and infielder Caleb Palensky signed as a free agent.
Mitchell was an all-star last season, hitting .262 with a home run and 49 RBI. He also scored 55 runs in 94 games and stole 17 bases. Mitchell has been a RailCat since 2012, and is a career .252 hitter.
Pulfer has been with Gary for the last two seasons, and 2014 was his best year in Indiana. He hit .307 in 99 games, with a league leading 88 runs scored, 7 home runs and 61 RBI. He also walked 47 times and finished the season with an impressive .383 on-base percentage.
Babineau had a big season from behind the plate for Gary. He hit .292 with 4 home runs and 55 RBI in 84 games. He combined with Craig Maddox to form arguably the best catching duo in the American Association, and pitchers loved the way he called games.
The team is just a year removed from being crowned American Association champions, and Manager Greg Tagert sees the re-signings of the three as keys to the team returning to a championship level. “Every Championship caliber team has to have an exceptional core group of players. Players who lead on and off the field at the highest level. We’re fortunate to have 3 of these players returning to the RailCats in 2015. Ryan, Zac, and Danny were keys to our ’13 Championship and were instrumental in our ballclub continuing to compete at a high level in 2014.”
Palensky had a brief stint with the RailCats in 2014 before being released in June. He had 12 at-bats and 2 RBI in his short stat with the team. Palensky had been a standout at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
When Pelfrey became the new manager of Florence, one of the first things he did was trade outfielder Adam Taylor and pitchers Chris Cummins and Chris Squires to his former team for outfielder Cody Bishop and pitcher Ethan Gibbons. Taylor had played for Gary last season, before being released on June 22. He was signed by the Freedom where he hit .282 with 4 home runs and 20 RBI in 55 games.
Cummins and Squires are two more quality arms for the bullpen. Cummins was 1-1 with a 4.61 ERA last season, while Squires was 2-4 with a 7.20 ERA.
The calendar had not flipped to 2015 yet, and the RailCats had made a series of moves to improve the team, but they still wanted to make one more before the ball dropped. On New Year’s Eve, Gary was involved in a three-way trade that brought right-hander Jessie Snodgrass from the Windy City Thunderbolts. Snodgrass had an impressive 2014 campaign, appearing in 48 games, and posting a 3-1 record and a 2.61 ERA. He also struck on 62 batters in 76 innings pitched. The righty was a former teammate of Mitchell’s at Belmont University, and so a reunion will likely bring out the best in both players.
It was a quiet January for the Indiana club, but on February 5 the team re-signed two from their 2014 team and locked the newly acquired Cummins under contract. Infielder Ryan Brockett hit .245 last season with 2 HR and 21 RBI. He also scored 22 runs in 45 games for Gary.
Fellow infielder Roger Bernal appeared in just three games, going 1-3 after being acquired from the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings. He appeared in 79 games there, hitting .302 with a homer and 35 RBI.
On November 5, the team announced the tragic death of former player Brad Halsey, who died at 33-years-old. Halsey pitched in 20 games for the RailCats in 2010, posting a 7-7 record and a 3.82 ERA. Halsey was killed in a climbing accident. His loss was mourned by the team. No word on if any memorial will be conducted by the team during the season.
By Robert Pannier