ALLENTOWN - In his first year as manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg guided the Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A affiliate to a franchise record 80 wins and into the International League post season for the first time in the club's history.
Just two shy of capturing the championship, what can Sandberg and the IronPigs do for an encore?
"I'm impressed, similar to last year, with just the quality of players that the Phillies have brought in to make up this team and to have guys waiting to go up to the big leagues at any position," he said in the team's locker room at Coca-Cola Park during Monday's Media Day. "For these guys it's a great opportunity. With that being said, everybody here wants to be the guy that's going good and be the guy that's called up.
"But it's also for us to continue to do a nice job here and continue with what we did last year. I like the talent that the scouting and organization brought here for this year.
"And of course you have to see what the full 25-man roster is here for opening day here and I won't find that out until Wednesday. After what I saw in the spring I think it'll be good stuff because of the players that were projected to be here but are trying to make the big club after having good springs."
Back from last year's team to start the season are outfielders Rich Thompson and Domonic Brown, catcher Erik Kratz, infielder Kevin Frandsen and relievers Michael Schwimer and Phillippe Aumont.
The starting rotation has a somewhat new look with Dave Bush, re-signed with the Phillies this off-season after signing as a minor league free agent with the club in mid-August last year, named the Opening Day starter. Bush was on the Rangers 2011 Opening Day roster before being released in early July. He went 3-1 with a 3.91 ERA in four regular season starts and earned the win in the IronPigs' first-ever playoff game last season.
Tom Cochran, was signed by the Phillies this off-season after a successful 2012 with the Louisville Bats. He was 7-4 with a 3.55 ERA in 27 games and 12 starts in the IL last season.
Scott Elarton has only pitched in 16 games the last three seasons with all of those appearances coming in 2010 in relief with the Charlotte Knights. His major league career has been marred by eight trips to the disabled list.
Austin Hyatt, 25, is the lone starter to come up through the Phillies farm system. A former 15th-round selection in 2009, Hyatt has been named an All-Star at three different levels in his first three professional seasons. Last year, he went 12-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 28 starts for Reading. He also led the league with 171 strikeouts.
Pat Misch joins the rotation after being a member of the Buffalo Bisons. Last season, he went 8-9 and posted a 4.00 ERA in 22 starts in AAA.
Right now, joining Schwimmer and Aumont to make up what looks like a strong bullpen, is Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst, David Purcey and Brian Sanches.
Diekman joins the IronPigs after an impressive 2011 campaign in Reading. He had a 3.05 ERA in 53 games while striking out 83 hitters in just 65.0 innings.
Horst was acquired by the Phillies this off-season in a trade that sent Wilson Valdez to the Reds. Horst made his ML debut with the Reds in 2011 and combined to go 0-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 12 appearances.
Purcey signed with Philadelphia as a minor league free agent this off-season after spending the 2011 season with three different organizations (Toronto, Oakland and Detroit).
Sanches returned to the Phillies organization this off-season after serving as a mainstay in the Florida Marlins bullpen each of the last three years.
"When I look at the bullpen I see any of these guys with the spring that they had, being a guy that can go up and help the Phillies," Sandberg said.
Checking out the rest of the roster, infielder Andres Blanco was signed as a minor league free agent Saturday just two days after being released by the Nationals.
Domonic Brown hopes to have a better start than last season, where he began on the DL with a broken bone in his hand and only managed to hit .252 with eight homers in 97 combined games with the Phillies and IronPigs.
Frandsen hit .303 in 77 games with the Pigs despite serving a 50-game suspension.
Tuffy Gosewischis coming off a career season with the R-Phils behind the plate where he set career highs in hits (91), home runs (13) and RBI (66).
Outfielder Derrick Mitchell makes his Triple-A debut after a solid 2011 campaign with Reading where he set career highs by hitting .265 with 19 home runs and 79 RBI in 135 games.
Luis Montanez, another outfielder, spent last season in the Cubs organization where he hit .321 in 92 games with Triple-A Iowa.
Cody Overbeck hit .415 over his final 20 games with the IronPigs and returns at an infield spot.
Then there is John Suomi, who returns to LV for his fourth season and provides the club with catching depth.
And just recently, Joe Thurston rejoined the Phils organization after signing as a minor league free agent late in March after having been released by Houston.
"We're healthy coming out of the spring so that's a good thing," Sandberg said, anxiously awaiting his 35th straight opening day. "This is the second year in a row we're starting here at home. We have a couple of workout dates and the game with Reading (tonight). It's a good way to start and get settled. It's the best of all worlds."
The home opener is Thursday with the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Yankees in town.