Lamarr Rogers Wastes No Time Preparing for 2023 Season
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier looks at the job Gary SouthShore RailCats Manager Lamarr Rogers is doing in building his roster for the 2023 American Association season.
When to Jump into the Market
If you have been a fan of the American Association for more than a handful of years, then you have become aware that there are some managers who are more hesitant about jumping into the market to build their team for the upcoming season. Some have become notorious for waiting until late April, even into early May to sign the vast majority of their players. Yet, they still find a way to win.
Then there are those who methodically build throughout the off-season, starting in November and adding 3-7 players every month until they reach the 28 the team is allowed to carry into spring training. This group of managers seems focused on getting a player right when they know that they are available.
While the vast majority of managers fall into one of these two categories, there is that one or two who will dive into the market quickly, wanting to get the vast majority of their roster filled before Major League Baseball even begins spring training. That has been the track that Gary SouthShore RailCats manager Lamarr Rogers has chosen, as he has 23 players already signed for the upcoming season.
A Brief Recap of 2022
Until late July, the RailCats had one of the best pitching staffs in the League. In fact, they had the second-best ERA through the first 2-½ months, but the group wore down. The RailCats finished 10th in ERA (5.40) as the bullpen could no longer live up to the early-season expectations.
The offense had the greatest power season in Gary SouthShore history, hitting 92 homeruns, which was still 11th in the American Association. Sam Abbott set a team record for home runs in a season, clubbing 20, the first player to hit that mark in franchise history. Thomas Walraven would have set the mark, as he had 16 last year, but Abbott became the standard bearer.
Despite the increased power, the team still finishing ninth in runs scored (511) and were last in slugging percentage (.400) and batting average (.254). It became apparent that the team needed more guys getting on base and a little deeper pitching staff for the 2023 season.
Building off the Foundation
This is the goal, and it seems clear that Rogers is content with building from the foundation he laid last year with the RailCats. On January 27, he signed 16 players, all of whom were with the team last year. That group joined the two others from last year’s team who have already been re-signed for this upcoming year.
However, Rogers also wanted to make some improvements, and has done so by adding three new pitchers, a new catcher, and an infielder.
Starting with last year’s group, Rogers had the benefit of a solid group of starters. Harrison Francis and John Sheaks each went 5-8 last season and the two combined to make 36 starts. That is a lot of innings, 194.1 to be exact, which is roughly about 20% of the total innings for the club last season. Chris Erwin came out of the bullpen to join the rotation as well and went 3-5 in 15 starts, tossing another 83.0 innings. Now the club waits to see if Adam Heidenfelder, the ace of the staff from last season, will return to the team. If he does, this will be a solid 1-4 in the starting rotation.
The bullpen also looks very strong. Jack Eisenbarger was an All-Star before arm soreness and fatigue diminished his effectiveness over the last six weeks. However, he has exceptional stuff and joins Julio Vivas, Aaron Phillips, Reyson Santos, and Yeison Medina in what should be a very good base to this bullpen.
Rogers added three solid arms to the group. Matt Leon was acquired in a trade and was extremely impressive for New York (Frontier League) last season, going 5-1 with five saves and a 1.80 ERA in 20 appearances. He allowed 13 hits and six walks in 15 innings, striking out 23, and will likely move into the closer’s role to start the year. DJ Wilkinson played in the Major League Baseball Draft League last year, posting a 2.70 ERA in 19 appearances. He allowed 18 hits and nine walks while striking out 22 in 20 innings.
Then there is Onas Farfan, who was spent the last two seasons in the Atlantic League. Last year he was 3-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 46 appearances. Farfan did make three starts in 2022, so he may get an opportunity to join the rotation. However, if the left-hander remains in the bullpen, look for him to be the primary set up guy late in ballgames.
A Solid Lineup
To acquire Leon, the team had to trade Walraven, who had his most productive season as a professional last year, hitting 16 homers and driving in 55 in 86 games. That made a huge hole in the lineup that needs to be filled, but the addition of Carlos Martinez may be just the ticket.
Martinez will likely take over the primary catching duties. He was with Trois-Rivières (Frontier League) last season, where he hit .336 with 16 homers and 62 RBI in 70 games. Martinez has an impressive resume, reaching AAA-Gwinnett (Atlanta Braves) in 2021 and is a career .244 hitter in 358 minor league games. The 70 games he played in 2022 was the most in a season, and he added 38 games in the Colombian Winter League this year as well. He may be stronger and better than ever.
That is good news for this lineup, as they will be looking to build off of last year’s power numbers. Abbott only hit .218, but clubbed 20 homers. He has struggled to stay above the mythical Mendoza line in his career, but the team will likely settle with a .220 batting average if he is going to hit 20+ homers.
Emmanuel Tapia joins the team out of the Atlantic League as well, playing for Gastonia the last two seasons. Tapia hit .277 last year with 15 homers in 83 games. That came a year after hitting 17 homers and posting a .284 batting average in 99 contests. This should give this club three players capable of hitting 15+ homers, even in the spacious US Steelyard.
Setting the table, as of this date, will be some familiar faces. Daniel Lingua is one of the best all-around players in the American Association and is coming off a season where he hit .271 with 29 stolen bases and 57 runs scored in 96 games. Victor Nova hit .270, and Michael Woodworth hit .294 in 99 games, scoring 75 runs, stealing 23 bases, and posting a .359 on-base percentage. That means this infield is set with Abbott likely being the DH. Plus, the team has Sherman Graves returning after he hit .255 in 16 games with the club. This is shaping up to be one of the best in fields in the league.
Just two spots are set in the outfield right now with LG Castillo and Lester Madden returning. Castillo was a true find for Rogers, hitting .318 with seven homers and 37 runs driven in in just 47 games. He could easily move into the No. 3 slot in the batting order or move down as low as No. 6. He should have a huge RBI season regardless. Madden hit only .157 in 14 games, and it is likely that Rogers will be focusing on filling at least two of his final few roster spots with outfielders.
One of those will likely be Jesus Marriaga, who the team exercised his option but he has not signed with the club. Marriaga is one of the best young outfielders in the American Association that few have heard of. He hit .307 in 71 games last season, scoring 54 runs, driving in 61, and stealing 21 bases.
That leaves one more spot for Rogers to find another solid, veteran player for next year and he is in a great position. Only two of the players currently under contract have veteran status, meaning he has at least three more spots he can fill with a veteran player. Let him get one more big bat to fill that outfield, a guy who could hit 15 homers, and he could get 70+ homers from just four players on this team.
Look Out East Division
The Gary SouthShore RailCats finished the 2022 American Association season at 42-58, fifth place in the East Division. It was a tough ending to a promising season, but the 2023 version of the RailCats promises to be as good as we have seen from this team in years. This looks like it is a lineup that can compete with teams like Chicago and Cleburne, and has a pitching staff that, should they continue to progress, can battle a team like Kane County and Milwaukee.
This is definitely a club that is going to be a threat in the East Division. Teams may find that they are going to be “Railcatted” Lamarr Rogers style.
By Robert Pannier