In the past two weeks, St. Paul Saints Manager George Tsamis has been busy shoring up his pitching staff. The team has seen several key pieces depart, including three from its rotation, Pedro Hernandez, Dustin Crenshaw, and Kramer Sneed, as well as its main setup guy, Mike Zouzalik. That left some gaping holes, especially in the bullpen.
The Saints Manager retained 12-game winner Robert Coe, and it looks like 13-game winner Jeff Shields will also be in the Saints rotation next season, but there were still three spots to fill. The addition of Mark Hamburger looks to have filled one of those spots.
Hamburger is a former Saints player, who made it to the Majors in 2011 with the Texas Rangers. In 2012, the St. Paul native was released by the Houston Astros and signed with the St. Paul Saints. In one season in St. Paul he was 6-8 with a 3.26 ERA in 21 starts. His numbers were solid, especially the 120 strikeouts he had in 149 innings, a Saints franchise record, and that earned him a recall to affiliate baseball, signing with the Minnesota Twins organization in 2014.
This last season, Hamburger was at AAA-Rochester, where he was a key piece of the team’s bullpen. In 45 appearances, which included four spot starts, the righty was 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA. He brought the heat there as well, striking out 63 in 68 innings.
Though surprised that he is available, the Saints Manager is glad to have the righty back. “Mark is coming off a good season in AAA,” explained George Tsamis. “He wants to come in and be a starter for us. We are happy to have him back and expect him to be one of the top starting pitchers in the league.”
While there are still two spots to fill, the top three arms in this rotation each have the capability of winning 12-games. Shields and Coe have already delivered this last season, and it would not be a surprise to see them put up numbers like that this year. Hamburger has electric stuff that could make him a 12-game winner as well.
A few days before Hamburger joined the team, Tsamis signed RHP Gene Escat as a new piece to the bullpen. The Saints Skipper had already brought two outstanding left-handers in the week before when Caleb Thielbar and Cody Wheeler were signed, but Escat’s addition could make this the most formidable bullpen in the American Association.
Escat was with the Baltimore Orioles organization, and was actually recommended by Zouzalik to Tsamis when he became available. The right-hander has proven to be a very dependable arm no matter where he has been. He has primarily worked out of the bullpen, but has made eight spot starts as well.
In 2015, he split time between AA-Bowie and AAA-Norfolk. Combined he went 1-6 with a 4.91 ERA. Walks have been a nemesis for the righty, but Saints pitching coach Kerry Ligtenberg is a whiz with helping pitchers harness their stuff.
Escat will join the two lefties along with RHPs Chris Peacock and Ryan Rodebaugh in what should be a very formidable bullpen. These group should make scoring after the sixth inning incredibly difficult, and the three starters should make it a serious chore prior to that. This staff has ERA title written all over it.
Saints Notes: The St. Paul Saints lineup took a big hit when Brett Harper signed to play in Mexico. He was looked upon to be a big left-handed bat to replace Angelo Songco. Now the team is out looking again…the answer to the missing left-handed bat may be Songco, himself. He was signed to play in Mexico, but has been delayed in reporting. It is no mystery that he loves playing for the Saints and it would not be a surprise to see him back in St. Paul this summer…the Saints outfield looks complete now that Breland Almadova has been signed. The Honolulu native is another speedster who will join Alonzo Harris and Willie Argo. Balls hit to the outfield will be entering a black hole, as these three have great speed and judge balls well off the bat.
Featured Image Courtesy of Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff
By Robert Pannier