Iron Pigs have new manager, but lots of familiar faces
When the IronPigs kick off their home season tonight, there will be many familiar faces on the field from the previous season, but there will be one distinct new face in manager Gary Jones. As Lehigh Valley’s fifth manager in its 11 seasons, Jones brings a wealth of experience that includes being named minor league Manager of the Year four times and earning a World Series ring with the Cubs in 2016.
Last year’s team was filled with a group of young, talented players that have made it to the big leagues. This year’s IronPig team has a group of talented players that are very versatile in the field. In the infield, major league veteran Alexi Amarista, and holdover from last year’s ‘Pigs, Jesmuel Valentin, anchor a talented group that includes organizational prospect Mitch Walding and minor league veteran newcomers Dean Anna and Joey Meneses
“The good thing about this team is that these guys can move around pretty good. It’s a versatile team,” Jones said. “Just look around the infield, Walding can play third and first, Dean Anna can play all the positions, Amarista can play third, second, and short, and Valentin can play all of them.”
Another newcomer brings a local flavor that fits right into the versatile theme of this year’s IronPigs. Former Bethlehem Liberty High School player Matt McBride will be seeing action at multiple places around the diamond. “He can catch, play first base and corner outfield,” Jones said.
The outfield has a crop of five solid outfielders that include leadoff speedster prospect Roman Quinn, who has a 172-minor league stolen bases. Andrew Pullin, who smacked 43 doubles last season between Reading and Lehigh Valley will match consistency with newcomer Danny Ortiz (.270, 15 HR), who hit well in Indianapolis last season, and Collin Cowgilll, who has 317 major league at-bats.
Slugger Dylan Cozens returns with a specific purpose: To be more consistent at the plate. The streaky power hitter slumped at the plate last season, hitting just .210 and striking out 194 times, yet hit 27 home runs.
“I have to work on putting the ball in play more and not strike out as much, and that is pretty much it,” Cozens said of his goals for the year. “I just need to figure out a good two-strike approach I feel confident in so I can put the ball in play when I want to.”
The strength will see IronPig veterans Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, and Tom Eshelman anchor the rotation. Cole Irvin (2016, 5th round) makes the jump to Triple-A after just 13 starts in Reading last season, and offseason acquisition Enyel De Los Santos to round out the rotation. Brandon Liebrandt and Drew Anderson will get their fair share of starts.
Eshelman (13-3, 2.40 in 2017) looks to repeat last season’s success at Lehigh Valley. “I spent time at home in sunny California, worked on some stuff that translated into spring training, and hope it translates into the season.”
Tonight, the IronPigs square off against Louisville to start a three-game week end series. The homestand ends with a three-game series with Norfolk starting on Monday.