New Look Goldeyes Look to Rule American Association Again
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 moves that Winnipeg Goldeyes Manager Rick Forney has made to return Winnipeg to the top of the American Association.
A Year of Transition
There have been some significant changes in the American Association since the Kansas City Monarchs won the 2021 championship. There is a new team in the league, new division alignment, and a new playoff format. The league is definitely going to have a new look.
One of the league’s signature franchises is going through some changes as well. The Winnipeg Goldeyes have a new logo and uniform colors for the 2022 season. They will also play the entire season in Manitoba for the first time since 2019. That should give fans a lot of excitement heading into the season.
However, it is the product on the field that is going to see some dramatic changes. This is a club that prided itself on keeping together some of its premier talent, players who helped this club win the 2016 and 2017 American Association championships. Players like Reggie Abercrombie, Josh Romanski, Mitch Lambson, and Kevin McGovern became legends in the city. However, Forney has made dramatic changes to the club this season, looking to return the team to the playoffs for the first time since winning the title in 2017.
You Can’t Tell the Players without…
The last time the Winnipeg Goldeyes stepped onto the field in 2021, first baseman Kyle Martin was finishing off a historic campaign that saw him set franchise records for homeruns (31) and RBI (106). In fact, his 106 runs driven in was a new American Association record.
Martin will not be with the club, however. His contract was purchased and he is already playing in Mexico. That leaves just a few players from last year’s team to help restore this club. Players like Raul Navarro, Max Murphy, and Logan Hill. It is a small handful, meaning that there could be as many as 20 new players when opening day begins on May 13. It is going to take fans a little while to learn the names of this group.
Born to Hit and Run
Not knowing the players does not mean that there isn’t talent here. The Goldeyes Manager has put together an outstanding club, starting with the replacement for Martin. David Washington comes over from the Milwaukee Milkmen where he played for two seasons. Washington appeared in all 60 games in 2020, clubbing only eight homeruns while driving and 34. However, last season he made a monster come back, hitting 17 home runs and driving and 61 in just 62 games. Washington hit .325 and added 35 extra-base hits and 39 runs scored. His 1.029 OPS instantly moves him into the cleanup spot in the Goldeyes order. While no one will make Goldeyes fans forget Martin, Washington will make the loss a lot more palatable.
In front of Washington is going to be an outstanding group. Murphy and Hill return, and both have proven that they can get on base, acting as catalysts for this offense. Murphy hit .307 with a .359 on-base percentage last season. He also homered 13 times and stole three bases, but is capable of recording double digits, stealing 12 bases for St. Paul in 2019. Hill had an off year in 2021, hitting just .233 with a .304 OPP. However, he hit .270 for Winnipeg in 2020 with a .344 OBP. No doubt we are more likely to see those types of numbers.
Kevin Lachance also returns. He is the veteran of the club, entering his fourth season in Winnipeg. Lachance hit .326 last season, appearing in 97 games where he drove in 49 and scored 57. He could also find himself batting somewhere near the top of the order as he stole 14 bases last season.
Raul Navarro played for the Goldeyes last year, and he could find himself batting leadoff this season, moving Murphy to No. 5 or 6 in the order. Navarro had a monster year for Winnipeg, hitting .310 with 48 runs scored and 45 RBI. Most importantly, he posted a .393 OBP and stole 20 bases.
Three players will be battling for the final infield spot. Dakota Conners played for Winnipeg last season, hitting .235 with 24 runs scored and 15 RBI and 66 games. Andrew Martinez joins the club after spending two seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organization. He hit a combined .172 in 106 games, scoring 50 runs and driving and 36. Ian Sagdal likely has the inside track on either the third or second base position. Sagdal reached the AA level for Washington, and has six seasons of minor league experience, hitting a combined 277 with 284 RBI and 273 runs scored in 550 games.
The 2022 Goldeyes are likely to be a speed based team. Reggie Pruitt and Eric Rivera will be battling for the final outfield spot, with the loser likely moving to the DH position. Both have a lot of speed, as Rivera combined to steal 18 bases last season while Pruitt stole 13 bags. Both were in the Toronto Blue Jays system, with Pruitt reaching AAA-Buffalo and Rivera hitting High-A Vancouver last year.
In the current roster, it is likely that only Washington and Murphy will hit double-digit homeruns. This team will be scrapping out runs, but they have the speed and ability to get on base to make them one of the more difficult and annoying teams for opponents to face.
A Whole New Staff
Gone are names like Lambson, McGovern, and Victor Capellan. The 2022 Winnipeg Goldeyes are going to have a pitching staff that is going to be unrecognizable to most fans. Only Travis Seabrooke returns from 2021. The return of Seabrooke is a no-brainer, as he was spectacular for Winnipeg, going 6-0 in 44 appearances for the club. He tossed 45.2 innings, striking out 54, an average of 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
The rotation is going to have a veteran look, starting with right-hander Josh Lucas. Lucas has 22 games of Major League experience for St. Louis, Oakland, and Baltimore. Last season he pitched for AAA-Reno (Arizona Diamondbacks). He appeared in three games for the Goldeyes in 2020.
Luis Ramirez will likely be the closer this season. He has 20 seasons of professional experience, reaching as high as AAA and playing 16 seasons across the globe, including in Mexico, Venezuela, and Italy. Ramirez has 144 career saves, including notching 25 in 2012. He can bring the heat, averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings over his 639 career games. The right-hander has made 105 starts in his career, and he may be looking for an opportunity to join the rotation as well.
Erasmo Pinales spent seven seasons in the Houston Astros organization, reaching AA in 2017-19. He is coming back from an arm injury looking to get his career back on path, but has put together some solid numbers, posting a 3.28 ERA in 133 appearances. The right-hander also knows how to bring the heat, averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Alex Minasa has been with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization since 2017, appearing in 80 games, 41 of which were starts. His numbers have not been a solid, posting a 4.33 ERA in 313.2 innings pitched. However, he throws strikes and Forney knows how to tweak a pitcher to get him to another level in his game. Minasa made it to AAA-Indianapolis last season.
José Vasquez is another who is looking to get his career back on track. The right-hander spent five seasons in the Detroit Tigers organization before shutting it down in 2020. His numbers have not looked great, posting a 4.05 ERA overall, but he has good stuff and will become another project for Forney.
Austin Krzeminski, Freisis Adames, Tasker Strobel, and Jhon Vargas are all looking to establish themselves as professional pitchers. Strobel pitched for Gary in 2019 and 2021, combining to go 3-5 in 34 appearances. He had a 3.71 ERA last season for the RailCats. Adames is the only other one of the group with professional experience, pitching four seasons in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. He has a 4.05 ERA in 90 games, 36 of which are starts.
The men looking to guide this group will be Hidekel Gonzalez and Deon Stafford. Gonzalez has a lot of professional experience, joining the Colorado Rockies organization in 2014. Last season he played for Boise (Pioneer League), where he hit 308 with five homers and 33 runs driven in and 52 games. He put together some solid numbers behind the plate, throwing out 34% of runners in his six minor league seasons. Stafford appeared in 27 games for the Goldeyes last season, hitting .309 with four homers and 21 runs driven in.
Sink or Swim?
The Winnipeg Goldeyes finished 50-49 last season, 12.5 games out of first place. After four straight seasons of missing the playoffs, it was clear that Rick Forney was going to make some dramatic changes to put this team back in the running to win a title. If a few of these young arms develop and he is able to resurrect the careers of a couple of others, this is going to be one of the most fun and exciting teams to watch in the American Association this season.
By Robert Pannier