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Harper is gone, but Suns are back

April 03, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Brian Daubach played a game of give and take on Tuesday.

Daubach returned to Municipal Stadium to begin his second stint as manager of the Hagerstown Suns. Many things changed, but many more stayed the same.

For one, all the fanfare surrounding the Single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals died down some. The Suns didn’t have the highly touted Bryce Harper trotting out on the field this year, so Tuesday’s media day was a little quieter.

But that didn’t mean the enthusiasm about the 2012 team had changed. In fact, it might be a little higher.

“Pitching will be our strength, but we don’t have as much power as last year,” Daubach said. “We have a lot of guys who can play.”

The Suns look to be a melting pot of talent and experience coming together when they open the season on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Municipal Stadium against the West Virginia Power.

Hagerstown’s roster touts two first-round selections from the 2011 amateur draft as well as six players returning from last season’s fairly successful team. The Suns have players who have posted creditable credentials on lower levels of Washington’s organization along with a few who have yet to play a regular-season professional game.

The key to this season throughout the Nationals’ system is to find places for all the talent to get ample playing time to improve.

“We are deeper in the organization,” Daubach said. “The guys who are here aren’t going to be here forever. Things happen and change. When an opening arises, we hope they are all ready to move on to the next level.”

The best place to start the preparation cycle probably starts with the two No. 1 picks — pitcher Alex Meyer and outfielder Brian Goodwin. Both are rated as top-10 prospects for the Nationals, but neither played a game last season and both started their careers at the fall instructional league.

Reports have labeled Goodwin as a “five-tool player” because of his speed, hitting and improving defense while Meyer is a power-pitching 6-foot-9 right-hander with a fastball in the high-90 mph range as one of his three main pitches.

Goodwin will play center and lead off for the Suns, while Meyer is slated to start Saturday’s game against West Virginia.

Wirkin Estevez, a 20-year-old right-hander, will be Hagerstown’s opening day starter. Returning Sun Chris McKenzie, Brian Dupra and Kylin Turnbull will round out the starting rotation.

“Our rotation will be strong. McKenzie pitched well for us down the stretch last year after he got back (from an injury),” Daubach said. “We are hoping he can come in and keep it up. Meyer had a good spring. Turnbull didn’t pitch last year, but he came to spring training ready to go.”

The infield features six players who will give stability while playing specific roles. The key, again, is coming to Hagerstown to have ample playing time to develop.

Jason Martinson is returning to play shortstop while Brett Newsome is back to start at first base. Martinson hit .252 with 19 home runs in 129 games for the Suns last season, while Newsome hit .273.

“Martinson had a good year here, but he will be playing every day to keep progressing,” Daubach said. “Newsome is here and it’s all about playing time.”

The other four infielders will spark some interest.

Matt Skole will start at third base, while Cutter Dykstra will play second. Bryan Ortega will be playing three infield positions, much like Blake Kelso last season, while Justin Miller will be the ultimate jack-of-all-trades, playing everywhere, according to Daubach.

Skole led the New York-Penn League with 48 RBIs and Martin tied for second with 47 at Auburn last season, while Ortega carried the top batting average (.314) in the Washington system. Dykstra, the son of former Philadelphia Phillies-New York Mets outfielder Lenny Dykstra, is in his second season with the Nationals and is looking for playing time.

Joining Goodwin in the outfield are Angelberth Montilla, Caleb Ramsey and J.P. Ramirez. Ramirez, who played for the Suns in 2010, returns to Hagerstown after an injury-plagued 2011 with Potomac.

The Suns will have two veterans handling the catching duties in Cole Leonida and Adrian Nieto, who will be vital assets in handling Hagerstown’s young pitching staff, according to Daubach.

Daubach said the Suns have a lot of left-handed hitting, which will help them to use the prevailing winds and Municipal Stadium’s short right-field wall. Hagerstown will be aggressive on the bases, looking for ways to take extra bases and move into scoring position.

But the key will be pitching and the defense behind it.

“With the pitching we have, if we can catch the ball,” Daubach said. “We will score enough. If we catch the ball, we can go a long way.”

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