Two of the top prospects in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ farm system are set to open the season in Visalia, where the advanced Class-A Rawhide are aiming for a fifth consecutive trip to the Cal League playoffs.
Visalia – which captured the franchise’s 13th Northern Division title last season and advanced to the league finals, where they were swept by High Desert in a best-of-five series – opens the season at 6:35 p.m. Thursday at Lancaster.
“Sergio is an amazing shortstop. Defensively he can pick it with the best of them. He’s got one of the best arms I’ve ever seen in a shortstop, and he’s learning to hit right now, which is really special,” said manager Shelley Duncan, a seven-year major league veteran who was part of a World Series championship team with the 2009 New York Yankees. “The pitchers are lucky to have him on the team. I’m lucky to have him on our team, and he’s going to make us better every single day. He’s a fun player to watch.
“Justin Donatella, he is one of those big tall thick right-handed pitchers that has got heavy sink and run on his fastball. As he gets older and he gets command of his delivery and he starts getting some consistency where he can throw the ball down in the zone, you’re going to see a pitcher that could be one of the best in the game in terms of groundball rates.”
Alcantara hit .284 in 271 at-bats for four teams last season, reaching Visalia for its final four regular-season games and postseason run.
Donatella went 6-4 with a 3.03 ERA in 12 games with Visalia and 13-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 27 starts overall, including a stint with Class-A Kane County.
I feel pretty good about this group. We have a lot of guys with a good amount of experience, and we’ve got some young guys, too, who can play. We’re pretty excited to go out there and show what we’ve got.
Visalia Rawhide pitcher Justin Donatella
The highly regarded prospects are among 16 players on the roster who spent time in Visalia last season.
“I feel pretty good about this group,” Donatella said. “We have a lot of guys with a good amount of experience, and we’ve got some young guys, too, who can play. We’re pretty excited to go out there and show what we’ve got.”
Among the Rawhide’s top returning players is corner infielder Marty Herum, who hit .294 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs in 96 games last season.
“We are returning a lot of people who have played here before,” Herum said. “Last year we did really well going into that championship series, and hopefully we can do that again this year and finish it off.”
The Rawhide’s home opener is at 7 p.m. April 13 against Inland Empire.
Rawhide Ballpark also will host the Cal League All-Star Game on June 20, with a home run derby and fan fest June 19. The game was last in Visalia in 1989.