Could 2018 Be the Year of the RailCats?

Could 2018 Be the Year of the RailCats?American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, with four veterans added to the team’s roster, Robert Pannier asks if this is the year of the Gary Southshore RailCats?

Is This the Year of the RailCats

Ah, the good ole days. It wasn’t really that long ago when the Gary Southshore RailCats were a team loaded with rookies. In 2015, Manager Greg Tagert had 13 pitchers on his staff to close out the season, 10 of which were rookies, and there were four other rookie position players. The only player classified as a veteran was starter Charle Rosario.

Oh, how times change. Early this off-season, we addressed how the RailCats Manager had clearly constructed his team around a core group of players looking to make a run for a championship this year, much in the same way that he built his 2013 team that won the American Association title. Now, with four veterans on his team, it looks like more than ever that Tagert has decided that 2018 is the year of the RailCats.

The Philosophy of a Champion

No manager gets more value out of his players than Greg Tagert. The Gary Southshore Manager builds a team that is focused on the fundamentals and doing all the little things correct. It is what makes his team so difficult to beat. One G.M. described them like playing against a bunch of gnats, annoying and picking at you until you have finally had enough.

While it may be annoying, the proof is in the pudding as they say. The RailCats have been in the playoff hunt in three of the last four seasons, and were the wild card winners last year. You simply can’t beat success.

The Final Pieces of a Champion?

While playing with a lot of rookies and second and third year players will bring you a great deal of enthusiasm and heart, the truth is that veterans play a major role in any championship team. Just consider last year’s World Series champs. The Astros have an incredible nucleus of young players, but it was the addition of long time star pitcher Justin Verlander that gave them that edge they needed to win it all.

It is those pieces that Tagert hopes he has added this year. Besides having a group of guys who have been under his system the last two or three years, including first baseman Alex Crosby and starter Alex Gunn, there are a group of veterans on this team who should have a dramatic impact this season.

It starts with Wilfredo Gimenez, who was with the Gary Southshore RailCats last season and even brings a little coaching experience to the team. Gimenez is only 26, which is old for this team, but he adds a lot of toughness, and is a really smart player – behind the plate, at the plate, and in the locker room.

Tyson Gillies has 11 seasons of playing experience, including the last three in independent ball. He hit .294 for Ottawa (Can-Am League) last season and is a career .282 hitter in the minors. Gillies has speed and is a good outfielder, the perfect combination for a Greg Tagert player.

There are two veterans who will be with the pitching staff to start the season, including Japanese star Yasutomo Kubo. Kubo has played in the Japan Professional League and the Japan Central League for 13 seasons and comes with an impressive resume, posting a .530 winning percentage and a 3.70 ERA. He is a control pitcher, walking just 398 batters in 1540.1 innings pitched, who expects his fielders to make plays. That is the perfect kind of pitcher for the RailCats style of play, as they preach the fundamentals better than anyone, so expect a lot of ground ball double-plays this season.

Gabe Perez is the fourth veteran, and he has some solid credentials of his own. Perez has pitched the last four seasons in independent baseball, the last two of which have been in the American Association. The right-hander was with the Kansas City T-Bones last year, where he was 8-6 with a 4.63 ERA. Perez can bring the heat, striking out 114 in 107.0 innings pitched.

So, Is This the Year of the RailCats?

The Gary Southshore RailCats won 57 games last season, and that was with a roster that concluded the season with nine rookies and only one player classified above an LS-2, which was Gimenez. This team was already a contender, and maybe just needed that Verlander type player to take them to the top.

This season, they have four such guys, and in roles where they can have a huge impact. That should make the team one of the top two or three in the American Association North Division and very well may make this the year of the RailCats.

American Association Daily Notes

The Sioux City Explorers signed LHP Taylor Hyssong. Hyssong has two seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization, both at rookie ball where he put up solid numbers, combining to go 1-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 26 total appearances. The team also announced the signing of RHP James Dykstra and 1B Dex McCall. Dykstra has six seasons of minor league experience under his belt, including the last two in the Texas Rangers organization. He pitched in 2017 at AAA-Round Rock and can both start and work out of the bullpen, including close games. McCall has been with the Houston Astros organization since 2014. Last season, he split time between High-A Buies Creek and AA-Corpus Christi, combining to hit .236 with 10 homers and 35 RBI in 91 games…The St. Paul Saints signed LHP Jeff Malm. Malm pitched for the Saints last season, appearing in 12 games, going 1-3 with a 4.19 ERA…The Chicago Dogs signed RHPs Kaohi Downing and Tyson Perez. Downing has starred in independent baseball since 2012. Last season he was with Lancaster (Atlantic League) where the right-hander was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in 54 appearances. He gives manager Butch Hobson a real workhorse out of the pen. Perez is a former Astros prospect, who was in AAA-Fresno all last season. The righty was 3-0 with a 5.48 ERA in 31 appearances.

By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA

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