Sioux City Explorers Ready to Showcase New Look Offense
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 revamped Sioux City Explorers lineup as they look to rebound after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
A Proven Track Record of Success
For over 100 years, if you asked any manager in baseball what were the keys to winning games, they would tell you it was pitching and defense. Sioux City Explorers Manager Steve Montgomery has embraced that philosophy as well, adding speed as another ingredient to that formula. It has served the team well, as the Explorers had made the playoffs in six of the nine seasons with the manager at the helm.
However, it has not always been these three factors that have helped the team win. Over the years, Montgomery has used a strong veteran presence, a strong power hitter, and a versatile lineup to be able to generate runs. It led to a group of familiar faces donning the Explorers uniform. Players like Nate Samson, José Sermo, and Michael Lang, among others, who have put on the uniform for multiple seasons.
All of those long time Sioux City players are gone and, in fact, on the current roster there were only three who were in the batting order last season. This is going to be a different kind of Sioux City Explorers club as the Manager looks for a return, not only to the playoffs, but to the top of the division.
Jack Kelly, Catcher
One of the biggest differences for this team is going to be at the catching position. Jack Kelly was with Sioux City last season, appearing in 24 games where he hit .194 with four homeruns. Kelly was fresh out of college, playing five seasons in the Big Ten, including the last three at the University of Minnesota. He hit .324 in his senior season with eight home runs and 45 RBI in 51 games.
Kelly did not put up big numbers in his debut with the club, but he has a proven track record of success in college, posting a career .261 batting average. Now that he has some professional experience under his belt, expect Kelly to adjust and be a big addition to this team.
Wilfredo Gimenez, Catcher
Wilfredo Gimenez is that other addition. Gimenez is no stranger to American Association fans as he joined the league in 2017 with the Gary SouthShore RailCats. Gimenez was originally drafted by the Florida Marlins and spent seven years with the organization, reaching AA-Jacksonville in 2014.
He was out of baseball for two seasons, but returned in 2017 and has been in the American Association since, playing for the RailCats, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and, last season, for the Lake Country DockHounds. Last year, the catcher hit .234 for the DockHounds, clubbing eight home runs and driving in 42 in 79 games. The homer and RBI numbers were single season-highs.
Malek Bolin, 1B/3B
Malek Bolin is fresh out of college, spending five seasons playing for the Mary Harden-Baylor Bears where he was a solid hitter, hitting .326 with 33 homers in 164 college games. Bolin had a monster senior season, hitting .349 with 15 homers and 55 RBI. It will be interesting to see how his game translates to the professional ranks but, if his newly found power continues, look for him to be a huge addition for the Explorers.
Daniel Perez, 1B/CF/RF
Daniel Perez comes from Cuba where he played the first seven seasons of his professional career. He hit .306 playing in the Cuban National Series, including hitting .352 in 74 games last season. He is not a huge power hitter, hitting just 11 homeruns in his career, but is an on-base machine. Last season, he walked 46 times in 74 games to earn a .447 on-base percentage. His versatility will definitely give Montgomery some options.
Miguel Sierra, SS/2B/3B
Miguel Sierra is one of the other three to return from last year’s club. Sierra was an outstanding addition after signing late, hitting .317 in 13 games. Sierra struck out 16 times in 53 at bats, but also walked seven times. A lot will be expected of him, and Sierra is a very good shortstop and second baseman, giving his manager options on how to use the 24-year-old.
Sierra began his career in the Houston Astros organization, reaching AAA-Sugar Land in 2021. In his six seasons in the minors, Sierra hit .217 with 52 homeruns and 182 RBI and 462 games.
Kelvin Melean, 3B/2B
Kelvin Melean was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Diego Padres in 2016. He reached AAA-El Paso in each of the last two seasons, and has solid minor league numbers, hitting .247 in 454 games.
Melean will likely begin the year at second base, moving Sierra to short in creating what should be a very solid double-play combination.
Chase Harris, OF
One of the exciting things about this group of outfielders is that all three can play any position in the outfield and do so quite fluidly. While Montgomery will likely add at least one more outfielder, he can have confidence in this group, starting with the return of Chase Harris.
Harris will have more experience with Sioux City than any other player in the everyday lineup, playing two seasons with the club. He joined in 2021, hitting .251 in 89 games. At this point, Harris looks like he will be the speedster of the club, recording 33 stolen bases in 2021. That number dropped to 13 last season, but he moved from 5 to 7 home runs and hit .282 last year.
Jake Sanford, OF
Jake Sanford has three years of professional baseball under his belt. He began in the New York Yankees organization, reaching High-A Hudson Valley in 2021, producing a .285 batting average between two levels. Last year, Sanford joined Ottawa (Frontier League) where he starred, hitting .311 with 22 homeruns and 73 RBI in 91 games.
Sanford has a lively bat and an outstanding arm. He is another one who will have a huge impact on the success of Sioux City this year. If Sanford hits 20 home runs, this team is going to produce a lot of runs.
Eury Pérez, OF
Eury Pérez is the biggest signing of the off-season for Montgomery. Perez has played four seasons at the Major League level, most recently in 2015 with the Atlanta Braves. In 73 Major League games, Perez hit .254.
The outfielder also has seven seasons of the AAA experience, posting a career .303 batting average. He has some speed, recording 355 career stolen bases in 12 minor league seasons, and will hit near the top of the lineup, if not in the leadoff spot.
Looking for a New Pathway
The Sioux City Explorers have built a reputation for scoring lots of runs each year, but that did not materialize in 2021. The club finished 11th in runs scored (496) and were ninth in on-base percentage (.344). In response, Montgomery has clearly blown up the formula, looking for a different feel for his club this season.
Depending upon the seasons that Sanford and Bolin have, this team could have two who hit 20 homers. They will likely not have a player with 30 stolen bases, but the Explorers should be in the top three in doubles. It will be a different look for sure, and one that Explorers fans hope finally leads this team to its first championship.
By Robert Pannier