It was a rough season in 2014 for the Sioux Falls Canaries. The team finished last in the North Division, and had the worst record in the American Association at 33-67. It was a tough year, which led the team to decide that manager Steve Shirley would not remain at the helm. A change was needed and it was going to occur in all facets of the roster.
This off-season the Canaries have already made some key changes that should bolster their chances for next season. They are in arguably the toughest division in the American Association, but have already made some moves that should bode well for the team on the field.
One of the most important moves the team made was to hire a new manager, and in January they turned to Chris Paterson to lead the team. At just 29-years-old, Paterson is a fairly young man to be heading a baseball team, but he has already put together a very impressive resume making, him the ideal selection for Sioux Falls.
In 2012, Paterson’s managerial skills were already getting noticed, as he was named by Ebaseballworld.com as one of the top 10 managers in all of independent baseball. Paterson was the manager of the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings, where he has managed the last three seasons. He was the Manager of the Year in 2014 in the United League, after guiding his team to a 51-27 record and the league’s title.
Canaries CEO/President Tom Garrity is thrilled by the hire. “We feel Chris is an up-and-coming manager who can help put a winning product back on the field,” explains Canaries CEO/President Tom Garrity. “After going through an extensive search, Chris stood out amongst all the other finalists as someone who is a great leader and has a great eye for talent. We are confident in his ability to find top talent and make the Canaries a contender once again.”
Even before the team chose Paterson to run the Canaries on the field, they began to start building their roster for the 2015 season. On November 17, Sioux Falls re-signed right-hander Kye Winter. Winter made 20 appearances in 2014, starting three games, and posted a 2-3 record with a 6.90 ERA. He struggled out of the bullpen, but looked good in his three August starts and will get a shot to make the rotation. The right-hander was a late addition to the team last year, after graduating from Augustana College in May.
One week into December, the Canaries brought back another late season addition from 2014 when infielder Ty Forney was re-signed. In Forney’s rookie season he hit .237 in 39 games, and drove home 11 runs. He can play both short and second.
Just before the New Year, the Canaries made a major deal with the Laredo Lemurs, with the two teams exchanging nine players in all. Popular first baseman AJ Kirby-Jones was sent south, along with Joe Testa and John Brebbia. It was a big price to pay, but the return added both depth and skill to the team.
The key for Sioux Falls, was the addition of right-hander Jeremy Strawn, the American Association’s Rookie of the Year in 2014. Strawn was lights out for the Lemurs last season, posting a perfect 9-0 record and a 2.45 ERA. He made 10 starts, and 14 total appearances, completing three games, second most in the league. He will jump to the top of the Canaries’ rotation for the upcoming season.
Joining Jeremy is brother Josh, also a pitcher. Josh made 24 appearances in 2014, 20 as a starter, and posted a 6-9 record with a 4.00 ERA.
The windfall of quality arms did not end there. Two relievers came from Laredo as well, Byron Minnich and Tyler Pearson. Minnich joined the Lemurs late in the season, pitching in five games, where he gave up 4 hits and 1 earned run in 5 innings of work. Pearson split time between the rotation and the bullpen, making 14 starts and 15 relief appearances. He finished the season 7-8 with a save and a 4.27 ERA. He has good stuff, allowing just 81 hits in 101 innings of work, while striking out 97, but needs better command, as he walked 72 batters.
Joining the four pitchers are first baseman Gerardo Avila and outfielder Harrison Kain. Both of these hitters will add some pop to the Canaries lineup. Avila is an 11-year veteran of professional baseball, who appeared in 38 games for Laredo last season. He hit .329 with 3 home runs, 22 RBI and scored 15 runs. He should be a big bat in the DH role and play spot duty at first.
Kain is a speedster, who can play all three outfield positions. He hit .256 in 87 games last season, with 47 runs scored and 26 RBI. He also stole 18 bases in 24 attempts. The one major concern in his play is that he made 15 errors, so this will likely be one of the new manager’s main areas of focus.
On January 13, the team brought back infielder Sam Lind. Lind hit .242 last season for Sioux Falls, but had a very respectable .344 on-base percentage in his rookie season with the team. Lind played in 57 games, scored 26 run and drove home 20 more.
Nearly a week later, the Canaries re-signed utility man Shelby Ford. Ford was having a monster year for Sioux Falls, hitting .336 with 6 home runs and 19 RBI in his first 30 games, but on June 22 he suffered a head injury that shelved him for the remainder of the season. Ford says that he is feeling great now, and is expecting to be out on the field helping this team win in 2015.
By Robert Pannier