ALLENTOWN – With rosters finalized the elite of the Phillies farm system is going to be at center stage tonight as the Lehigh Valley IronPigs kick off their third season by hosting the Reading Phillies.
The exhibition game at Coca-Cola Park will feature this year's version of the IronPigs that may prove to be the best since their inception. If that is the case, the team should improve on last season's 71-73 record.
"We can hit and run, we can steal some bases," IronPig manager Dave Huppert said. "It should make us a little more exciting."
There are some hold-overs from previous years. The most notables are first baseman Andy Tracy, starting pitcher Brian Mazone, outfielder Rich Thompson, and relievers Jake Woods and Jason Anderson who are starting their third year with the IronPigs.
Mazone will sit a top the rotation. After winning nine games for Lehigh Valley in 2008, the crafty left-hander started the year with the Dodgers before finding his way back to the IronPigs.
Behind him, former Kutztown University star Ryan Vogelsong returns to America after spending the last three season in Japan. Nate Bump (7-1, 2.38 ERA for Toledo AAA) will follow. Prospect Joe Savery combined for 16-wins at Reading and Lehigh Valley and to round out the rotation, Brandon Duckworth returns to the Phillies organization.
At some point, Drew Carpenter, who is filling in for the injured Joe Blanton, will find his way back to Lehigh Valley.
"The three years that I have seen it, I think it is the most solid we've had here from top to bottom," Mazone said.
Coming out of the bullpen are two players, Scott Mathieson and Mike Zagurski, who had their careers altered for the past few years due to injury.
"They are getting better each time out," Huppert said. "Their command from lack of pitching time in the last couple years isn't there. They still show their stuff, they just have to locate a little better."
Brian Gordon, Alexander Concepcion, and Elven Wasserman will join them in the "Pig Pen".
The outfield will have plenty of speed. Former Pirate prospect Chris Duffy, John Mayberry, and defensive wizard DeWayne Wise will join Thompson in roaming Coca-Cola Park.
The infield will feature two former opening day starters. Last season, Cody Ransom started at third base for the Yankees in place of the injured Alex Rodriguez. This season he joins former Giant shortstop Brian Bocock in the IronPig infield. Luis Maza and Wilson Valdez will share second base and anchoring the infield and the team is the IronPig stalwart first baseman Andy Tracy.
Tracy batted .254 ripping a team leading 26 homeruns with 96 RBI and drawing an International League leading 76 walks. He has hit 20-or-more homers in each of the last seven seasons and looks to be the team leading run producer again this season.
"When it comes down to it, he comes to play everyday," Mazone said. "He takes young guys under his wings, he's a great clubhouse guy."
Ryan Hoover will get most of the starts behind the plate with Dane Sardinha taking a few starts each week.
"I think it's a real good combination of youth and experience," Mazone said. "If you look at our lineup, you've got speed at the top and speed at the bottom with power in the middle."
Neil Sellers, who was an Eastern League All-Star who batted .317 with 17 homeruns and 86 RBI, will come off the bench as a corner infielder and serve as a designated hitter.
"There are guys coming off the bench who could start for three-quarters of the Triple-A teams out there," Mazone said. "It's exciting! I think we've come together quickly to try to get off to that hot start that we haven't had here."
Tonight, LHP Joe Savery will start for the IronPigs, while Yohan Flande will start for Reading with the first pitch at 6:35 p.m.