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IronPigs start year with a veteran roster

Those looking for top prospects on this season’s Lehigh Valley IronPigs’ roster aren’t likely to find many.

The biggest prospect on the team is pitcher Hans Crouse, who was acquired last season along with Kyle Gibson from the Texas Rangers. Crouse started Saturday’s game and came out blazing - only to hit a wall and exit after 3 2/3 innings, giving up three earned runs.

First baseman Darick Hall is another member of the team with a good status as a prospect. Though only able to play first base, Hall may be limited in his opportunities with the big-league club. On Friday, Hall hit a long home run to the signage on the back wall of the ballpark for the IronPigs first home run of the season.

While there are few true prospects, the Pigs do have some interesting players to watch. One who has emerged early is center fielder Dalton Guthrie. Guthrie played just 13 games in center coming into the season and was better known as a middle infielder. With a lack of center field prospects to rely on, the Phillies moved Guthrie to center, and he has surprised defensively while getting off to a good start at the plate.

The 26-year-old was taken by the Phillies in the sixth round of the 2017 MLB Draft and is hitting .400 (10-for-25) out of the leadoff spot. He has already turned in a couple of very athletic plays in center field and has natural instincts to play the position.

“I enjoy moving around to different positions,” said Guthrie, who has played at second, third and short in the minors. “I have to say that I am enjoying center field. I get to use my speed and athleticism, and it’s completely different than being on the infield. It’s been a nice change.

“The big thing isn’t where I play, it’s just getting to play and having the opportunity to show what I can do.”

The Pigs’ roster is made up of more veteran type players, many of whom have spent some time in the majors. There are 13 players on the roster who spent at least some time in the majors as recently as last season, and others who have reached the top level prior to last season and are looking to get back.

One of the veterans still fighting for his chance to be a major leaguer is pitcher Mark Appel. The right-hander was the first overall pick of the Houston Astros in 2013 and had superstar written all over him. His minor league career lacked the glitz that most expected and he wound up with the Phillies in the 2015 offseason deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros. Appel, 30, stepped away from baseball following the 2017 season and came back to the Phillies just last year.

“My journey has been pretty strange and not what I imagined, but God and my faith in Him has gotten me through it. I feel fortunate to just be pitching and have a wonderful family and be able to pitch and enjoy what I do,” said Appel, who admits to dreaming about a potential MLB debut. “I certainly think about it. After all, that’s why we are all here, and I want it just as much now as I did back when I was drafted, but I do have a different perspective on it.

“I think that if it does come, I will truly be able to appreciate what it means more than I would have back then.”

BACK IN TOWN ... Former fan favorite Andy Tracy was back in town as the manager of Columbus Clippers when the IronPigs opened their 14th season at home last week. Tracy - who played with Lehigh Valley from 2008-2010 - and his Clippers split the opening series with the Pigs, with both teams winning three games

ISN’T IT IRONIC? ... The Phillies have had a rash of injuries to center fielders. After re-signing Odubel Herrera, the plan was for him to play center, but he went down with an oblique injury. Mickey Moniak took over with a hot spring and broke his hand when he was hit by a pitch in the final spring training game and is out four to six weeks. That left the Phils to summon Simon Muzziotti from Double-A Reading because they had no room on the 40-man roster to add another player - like Guthrie. Muzziotti - who has only played 20 minor league games in the past two seasons - was already on the 40-man. The irony is that to fill the hole created by injuries, the Phillies re-signed often injured center fielder Roman Quinn to a minor league deal. Quinn is on the IronPigs roster after being activated on Sunday.

MEET THE NEW BOSS ... The new “Boss Hogg” in Lehigh Valley is Anthony Contreras, 38. Coming from the Padres organization, this is the first Triple-A opportunity for Contreras as a manager. The rest of the staff are all former IronPigs players, including bench coach Greg Brodzinski (2016), pitching coach Cesar Ramos (2017), and hitting coach Joe Thurston (2012). At 42, Thurston is the oldest member of the new coaching staff.

The IronPigs' Dalton Guthrie has gotten off to a fast start, hitting .400 over the team's first seven games. CHERYL PURSELL/LEHIGH VALLEY IRONPIGS