Thursday, April 10, 2014

Long Island Ducks: 2014 Pond Preview

From the desk of: THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE

2012  2013

LONG ISLAND DUCKS: How Can They Possibly Top Last Year's Improbable, And Astonishing Championship Run?

Last year's Atlantic League playoffs ended with a most improbable conclusion.  The circuit's top team, the Sugar Land Skeeters, ran roughshod over the competition, and posted a league best 95-45 record.  They were undone in sweeping fashion however, in the Freedom Division playoffs by the Somerset Patriots, who finished second to the Skeeters, with a similarly impressive 90-49 record.

The Liberty Division's members weren't nearly as formidable.  Each of the four teams finished below the .500 mark.  The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs ultimately won the overall division standings with a 65-74 record.  In the first round of playoffs, they faced the second place Long Island Ducks

In 2011, the Ducks sported the league's most potent offense, but bowed to the York Revolution in the championship series.  Long Island prevailed in 2012 however, to win their first Atlantic League title in a decade.  The organization captured its first championship back during the 2004 season.

Last year, there was a noticeable limp in the Long Island Ducks waddle.  They struggled throughout, and ended the regular campaign with a less than pedestrian 63-77 overall record.  They finished the first half with a 30-40 record, then managed to gain a playoff berth by capturing the Liberty Division second half flag with a dubious 33-37 mark.

Long Island then proceeded to sweep the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the divisional round in three games to advance to their third straight championship series.  As noted, Somerset treated the Sugar Land Skeeters likewise, setting the stage for a Ducks/Patriots showdown.

The first four games were all decided by one run.  Long Island jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the series.  Somerset then battled back to win a pair of extra-inning games, tying the series at two. Long Island won the decisive Game Five by a 6-4 final, to repeat as Atlantic League champions.

Into The Pond: 2014 Preview

The 15th season of Long Island Ducks baseball will begin shortly.  After three straight appearances in the Atlantic League championship series, and winning back-to-back titles, what can we expect from the club in 2014?

General Manager Michael Pfaff is the lead architect, and his body of work speaks for itself.  But, even he would agree, change is the name of the game at Bethpage Park this season.  Some of the more popular veterans and crowd favorites have either retired, or for other various reasons, will not be returning.

The most glaring departure is that of all-time Long Island Ducks great, Ray Navarret, who's eight year career with the club ended with his retirement at the conclusion of last season.  Other notable regulars of the last few years, Kraig Binick and Rob Zimmerman will also be absent from this season's roster, as well as last year's team leader in home runs, Bill Hall.  In fact, near half the roster will be comprised of new faces.

Positional players returning to Long Island are Adam Bailey, Ryan Strieby, Joash Brodin, and of course, shortstop Dan Lyons.  Lew Ford is also due back, and is currently listed on the Ducks roster as an outfielder/hitting coach.

On the mound, eight pitchers from last year's staff return.  Bobby Blevins, Matt Way, John Brownell, and Shaun Garceau will likely form part of the starting rotation.  Third year Duck Leo Rosales will be back to close games.  The bullpen will also include Eric Niesen, Jared Lansford, and Josh Lansford.

In recent months Michael Pfaff busied himself traversing the baseball landscape in search of talent. He imported outfielder Jon Myers, and pitcher Casey Barnes from the Frontier League, and pitcher Fernando Hernandez was brought over from Somerset.
  • Barnes posted a 7-3 record and 3.68 ERA in 20 games for the River City Rascals last season.
  • Michael Pfaff needed to resupply his power, and the hope is Jon Myers, 26, can provide a measure of voltage in the middle of the order.  He batted .283 for the Gateway Grizzlies last season, led the circuit with 25 home runs, and drove in 64 runs in 361 at-bats.  He hit 20 home runs the year prior.
  • Fernando Hernandez, 29, last pitched in the major leagues (3 games) in 2008 for Oakland. He spent portions of the 2013 season playing affiliated ball with New Hampshire of the Eastern League, with Laredo of the independent American Association, in Mexico, and lastly with the Somerset Patriots.

Newly acquired backstops Keith Castillo and Brian Peacock, will take over catching duties from last year's tandem of Ramon Castro and Ralph Hernandez.  Castillo, 26, spent the last three seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays system - last year in AA.  Peacock, 29, is an eight year minor league veteran, formerly of the Washington Nationals organization, and most recently of the Cincinnati Reds system.

Pitchers Jeremy Accardo, Steve Garrison, Brett Lorin, and Saul Rivera, outfielder Quincy Latimore, and infielders Cody Puckett and Sergio Miranda have also been added to this year's roster.
  • Relief pitcher Jeremy Accardo, 32, is an eight year MLB veteran, who last pitched pitched with the Oakland A's in 2012, before spending 2013 in AAA.  He has 284 innings of MLB experience, with 205 strikeouts.  He owns a career 4.30 ERA with 38 career saves.
  • Steve Garrison, 27, and a local New Jersey kid, had his lone moment in the major leagues with the New York Yankees.  In 2011, he pitched 0.2 innings, and that's it.  An eight year minor league vet, he spent 2012 in the Seattle Mariners system.  He played in the Arizona DBacks system, for Mobile in the Southern League last season, and posted a 3.30 ERA in 43.2 innings pitched, with a 10.1 K/9 average, 8.2 H/9, and 2.9 W/9 averages.
  • Brett Lorin, 27, also comes to Long Island from the Arizona DBacks system.  At 6'7" and 245 lbs., he is an imposing specimen.  In a split season between Mobile-AA, and Reno-AAA, he posted a combined 5-2 record, with a 2.96 ERA in 51.2 innings pitched, with 38 strikeouts.
  • Saul Rivera, 36, spent four full seasons spanning 2006-2009 relieving for the Washington Nationals, and made a quick pit stop in 2010 with Arizona.  Last year, he pitched 28.2 innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters, and posted a 2-0 record, with a 2.20 ERA.  He allowed 20 hits, and fanned 17 batters.
  • Outfielder Quincy Latimore, 25, split the 2013 season between AA and the Frontier League.  He batted a combined .231 with 12 home runs, 52 RBI in 446 at-bats.
  • Cody Puckett, 27, spent five years in the Reds organization, then the last two in the Chicago White Sox system.  In a combined AA and AAA season, he batted .251, with 17 home runs and 52 RBI, in 367 at-bats.
  • Infielder Sergio Miranda, 27, was not active last year.  He played sparingly in 2012 during a very brief stay in the Atlanta Braves system.

The Long Island Ducks open their season April 25th, on the road in Somerset, where the Patriots will no doubt be looking to exact a measure of revenge.  Long Island's Opening Day will take place on May 2nd, against the York Revolution.


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