The Syracuse Sicilians returned to the playoffs last year, making that 4 appearances in 5 years (including 3 Divisional Championships) under the current GM.
The Sicilians have perennially found their strength in pitching and defense, while they have struggled to find a consistent offense. In Year 19 they did show improvement at the plate, however, finishing 7th in the league in runs scored. This followed 4 years where they finished 14th, 14th, 12th and 14th in the same category. The Sicilian pitching staff stumbled slightly and gave up the 6th fewest runs in the league in Season 19. This followed 4 seasons where they were 3rd, 1st, 3rd, and 3rd in runs allowed. During the past 5 seasons the boys from Syracuse have flashed spectacular glove-work, finishing 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd and 1st in fielding percentage.
As a new Opening Day approaches Syracuse fans are optimistic that their teams pitching and defensive strengths will remain just that and that their offensive improvement will continue.
With a Top of the Rotation trio of Mario Hyers (Career .533 pct/3.87 ERA), Buzz Andrews (.606/3.41) and Manny Huang (.600/3.86) the Sicilians sport one of the league's best threesomes. Gray-beard Vernon O'Rourke can still miss bats, shown by his Year 19 13-7 record and 3.62 ERA. Young gun and future ace Everth Cantu rounds out the rotation. He had a rocky run after he came up last season but impresses all with his poise, stuff and cerebral pitching approach. Expect a breakout season from him.
After 12 MLB seasons Julian Furcal still sports one of the league's elite bullpen arms and will again lead a productive set of relievers. Cy McDowell had a fine rookie campaign in the closer role. After a rough initiation upon callup he finished with 19 saves in 23 chances and he was unscored on in 3 Post-Season appearances. Yorvit Sanchez returned to form last year but vet Jin-Chi Shinjo struggled badly. He was eventually set down to AAA to find his form. He responded there with an ERA of 1.26 in 7 starts. He carries that confidence forward into the new season. Shinjo is vying with rookie lefty Roger Shave for one of the pen positions. After a promising stint in Year 18, Tomas Borbon struggled some in season 19, but still went 6-3 with 7 saves. He will primarily appear as a LR again. Veteran Eric Rakers was a FA aquisition this spring. He won 20 games with Cinncinati as a fulltime starter over the past 2 seasons but will be a swingman with the Sicilians and adds an experienced, professional approach. Much is anticipated of rookie Peter Shin, who is penciled in as one of the primary set-up throwers, along with Furcal. Shin has terrific stuff, a very lively arm and a bit of wildness. Batters dig in at their own peril against Shin but as closer in AAA he surrendered only .98 WHIP. He should be fun to watch.
1B: The Sicilians employed a platoon arrangement at 1B in year 19. It worked wonderfully well! Veteran Tyler Buhner manned the position against righties. He ripped away at a .328 clip with a .395 OBP and a .488 slg%. He also proved to be a terrific mentor for rookie Will Lee, who started against lefties. Lee hit 25 homers in 257 AB's and slugged .615. The Dynamic Duo is no longer Batman and Robin, but Buhner and Lee!
2B: FA aquisition Lonny Martin is a polished and experienced veteran. He will hold down 2B early in the season. However, it is expected that rookie Jim Darwin will get an early call-up and take over the position. Darwin brings a slick glove and plenty of pop for a MIF. He is penciled in as the Season 21 Sicilian SS. It is possible that he and Martin may platoon at the position after his callup, with Darwin getting the RHP starts. Expect 20 homers from Darwin.
3B: Rolando Lee was handed the 2B position in year 19 and responded with .300 avg. and slick glove work in his first season manning a position full-time, after 4 campaigns where he was used in a utility role. Lee is shifted back to 3B this season where his quick reactions and powerful/accurate arm are well suited. Lee brings little power but is a terror against lefties. Another season in the .300 neighborhood is highly probable.
SS: Cesar Cornejo is one of the league's premier defenders and won the Gold Glove at SS in Season 19. It was his second GG award. He also whacked out a career high 15 homeruns. He's back to suck up nearly everything hit on the left side of the infield. Veteran Ken Hodges backs him up and also sees time at 2B, 3B and CF. He also brings first-class leather work along with his shaky bat.
LF: Former rookie sensation Josias Terrero slipped a bit in year 19. His .768 OPS was a career low. His 22 homers were also far below the 33 and 32 he had hit in his first two seasons. But he still totalled 65 extra-base hits, 113 runs and stellar LF play. A bounce-back year is widely expected from him. If so, look out.
CF: Veteran Fred Redding has appeared in at least 160 games in each of his 4 full Syracuse seasons. His 21 homeruns and .225 BA were his Sicilian lows but he again patrolled CF with grace and speed. Redding is the clubhouse leader for this squad and is expected by all to return to his former numbers. Expect 25+ taters and a .250+ average.
RF: Donn Newman is also one of the games premier defenders. He won his 2nd RF Gold Glove last season and also had his best season at the plate, hitting career highs in avg. (.281), homers (21), OBP (.351) and slugging (.450). He is a fan favorite for his clutch hitting and his headlong crashes into OF walls!
Utility OF: Wilfredo Hernandez was a disappointment in Season 18, when he manned 1B fulltime. However, as the 4th OF in year 19 he was very productive. In 202 AB's he hit 13 homers, slugged .550 and had an OPS of .892! He will fill that role again this year, as well as being a primary PH'er.
C: Clayton Rollins is one of the league's supreme catchers. Last year he hit .329, had an OBP of .394, and slugged .482, all while getting in a career high 560 AB's. In his 4 fulltime seasons he has made three All-Star teams. Rollins is, in short, a stud. He was helped last year by the presence of veteran defensive wizard Alex Brito. Brito managed the late-inning duties, aided the pitching staff with his vast experience, and managed to hack out .304 average in his 102 AB's. While he probably won't hit that well again this season he will still bring all those other intangibles.
Ladies and gentlemen, please give a hand for your Season 20 Syracuse Sicilians!