Rock Cats ramble home to open 2014


NEW BRITAIN — A pair of Connecticut products and some of the top prospects in the Minnesota Twins farm system highlight the roster as the New Britain Rock Cats head north from spring training in Ft. Myers, Fla.

The Rock Cats open the 2014 Eastern League season at New Britain Stadium on Thursday at 6:35 p.m. against the Richmond Flying Squirrels, Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

Today, at media day, the Rock Cats will introduce their 25-man roster, which features 13 returning players and 12 newcomers. Many are original Twins’ draft picks and international free agent signings. Some were acquired through trades and minor league free agent signings.

A good example of each are two left-handed pitchers with Connecticut ties: starter Pat Dean of Naugatuck and reliever Jim Fuller of Southern Connecticut State University.

Dean pitched for the Rock Cats last season before moving up to Triple-A Rochester, where he helped the Red Wings reach the International League playoffs.

Fuller, who spent six years in the New York Mets system, advancing no higher than Double-A Binghamton, once pitched at Southern Connecticut State University.

Last year’s Rock Cats sensation, third baseman Miguel Sano, starts 2014 on the disabled list.

Anther big prospect of note — literally — is 6-foot-5, 273-pound first baseman Kennys Vargas. He’ll be in New Britain for the first time since slugging 19 home runs and driving in 93 runs last year in the High-A Florida State League.

Often compared to Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Vargas is on the Twins’ 40-man Major League roster.

Elsewhere in the New Britain clubhouse, right-handed pitcher Lester Oliveros is the only player with Major League experience. He pitched for the Tigers and Twins in 2011 and 2012 and is coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Offensively, manager Jeff Smith’s team should have plenty of power. Joining Vargas in the lineup are Reynaldo Rodriguez, who led the Rock Cats last year with 21 home runs, and former Orioles’ farmhand Brandon Waring, who hit 25 homers in 2013 between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

New Britain’s starting rotation will be anchored by Dean and fellow returnees D.J. Baxendale, a 10th-round pick out of the University of Arkansas, and Matt Summers, a fourth-rounder from Cal-Irvine.

New to the rotation are Sean Gilmartin, a former first-round selection of the Atlanta Braves, and Taylor Rogers, an 11th rounder from the University of Kentucky.

Gilmartin, a lefty, was acquired in exchange for Ryan Doumit. Gilmartin was the 28th overall pick of the 2011 draft out of Florida State. He rose no further than Triple-A in the Atlanta system.

Fuller, Waring, infielder Tony Thomas and outfielder Corey Wimberly were signed by the Twins as minor league free agents. All but Fuller have played at the Triple-A level.

The following is a breakdown of the Rock Cats opening-day roster. Pitchers Chad Rodgers and Dan Turpen are on the DL along with Sano.

*Starting Rotation (listed alphabetically): RHP D.J. Baxendale, LHP Pat Dean, LHP Sean Gilmartin, RHP Matt Summers, LHP Taylor Rogers.

*Bullpen: RHP A.J. Achter, LHP Jim Fuller, RHP B.J. Hermsen, RHP Cole Johnson, RHP Lester Oliveros, LHP Ryan O’Rourke, RHP Adrian Salcedo.

*Catchers: RH Kyle Knudson, RH Matt Kotch.

*Infielders: LH Brad Boyer, RH Nate Hanson, SH Aderling Mejia, RH Tony Thomas, SH Kennys Vargas, RH Brandon Waring, RH Stephen Wickens.

*Outfielders: SH Mike Kvasnicka, LH Daniel Ortiz, RH Reynaldo Rodriguez, SH Corey Wimberly.



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