With many veteran placeholders taking up spots on the Triple-A Reno Aces roster, the greatest concentration of Arizona Diamondbacks appears on the Double-A squad. Five of the top 10 Arizona Diamondbacks prospects ranked by FutureBacks.com will appear on Mobile's Opening day roster. To look even deeper, nine of the top 20 will start the season in Mobile, or 10 of the top 20 if you remove the recently traded Brooks Brown from the rankings.
Venezuelan superstar outfielder Gerardo Parra, who hit .275 while driving in 33 runs for the BayBears last season,
returns for the beginning of 2009 at least. Parra also manned center field for the Venezuelan squad during the recent World Baseball Classic
and hit .400 in big league camp this spring.
Also joining the BayBears is Arizona's first-round draft pick from last season, Daniel Schlereth. The son of ex-Denver Broncos offensive lineman Mark Schlereth only pitched in 12 innings between Missoula and South Bend in 2008, but quickly racked up 20 strikeouts to go with a 1.50 ERA. Daniel showcases a mid-90s fastball and the best curve in the organization.
Infielder Mark Hallberg will also don the navy and crimson colors of the BayBears this season. Hallberg, the top-rated middle infielder in the D-backs' system, missed more than two months of last season with a torn ligament in his thumb before rebounding to hit .283 for Visalia. With West Oahu in the Hawaiian Winter League, Hallberg belted out a .362 average including a ridiculous .436 clip against lefties to win league MVP honors.
Thirteen previous members of the BayBears will return to the club in 2009, including three men from the 2007 squad: reliever Daniel Stange, outfielder Chris Rahl, and infielder Ricardo Sosa. Back from last season are Parra with fellow outfielders Cyle Hankerd and Rahl. Infielders Bryan Byrne and Yunesky Sanchez returnalong with catcher Orlando Mercado. Starting pitchers Hector Ambriz, Matt Torra, and Cody Evans will toe the rubber for the BayBears once again this season, as will relievers Vince Bongiovanni and Jason Urquidez.
New to the team this season are starting pitchers Bryan Augenstein and Barry Enright, each of whom pitched terrifically last season. Relievers Scott Maine, Kyler Newby, Schlereth, and Clay Zavada will work out of the pen for the first time in Mobile this season. Catcher James Skelton is in his first season with the BayBears after being plucked by the Diamondbacks out of the Tigers' system in the Rule 5 Draft. In order to keep Skelton in their system since he was not offered a spot on the major league roster out of camp, Arizona dealt former BayBear Brooks Brown to Detroit last week.
Also new to the BayBears around the infield are Hallberg and Pedro Ciriaco, who swiped 40 bases in Visalia last season. Outfielders Evan Frey and Pete Clifford will also move up to Mobile after successful 2008 seasons at the Single-A level.
For the second consecutive season, the BayBears will be managed by Hector De La Cruz, who guided the Visalia Oaks to the California League playoffs in 2007. Mobile native Turner Ward returns as BayBears hitting coach while former big leaguer Jeff Pico is once again the team's pitching coach.
The BayBears' home opener is on Tuesday, April 14 at Hank Aaron Stadium when the Carolina Mudcats come to town. Tickets are available by calling the BayBears at (251) 479-2327 (BEAR) or by visiting www.mobilebaybears.com.
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