Manager Tony DeFrancesco, back for a third season, will be able to pencil in a lineup featuring many familiar names who have been successful at Triple-A. His infield includes first basemen A.J. Reed and Tyler White alongside second baseman Tony Kemp and third baseman Colin Moran. Major-league veteran Reid Brignac is expected to play shortstop. Returning outfielders include Preston Tucker, Teoscar Hernandez, Andrew Alpin and Derek Fisher. Max Stassi returns at catcher.
The pitching staff is headed by 2016 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year Brady Rodgers, who went 12-4 with a 2.68 ERA for the Grizzlies last season but failed to crack the Astros’ 25-man roster in spring training. Other notables include reliever James Hoyt, the Grizzlies’ single-season record-holder for saves (29), Astros No. 1 prospect Francis Martes and Hanford native Tyson Perez.
Besides Martes, a 21-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic who went 9-6 with a 3.30 ERA last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, other top prospects include Reed (No. 5 on Baseball America’s top 10 list), Hernandez (No. 7) and Fisher (No. 9).
Twenty-two players suited up for both the Grizzlies and their parent-club Astros last season. Fresno, the 2015 Triple-A national champions, posted back-to-back winning records for just the second time in franchise history and first since 1998-99.
Fresno opens the 2017 campaign, its 20th as a Triple-A ballclub, at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Chukchansi Park against the Reno Aces. Astros right-hander Collin McHugh is scheduled to make a rehab start for the Grizzlies. Following the five-game series with Reno, the Grizzlies return home April 18 for an eight-game homestand against the Las Vegas 51s and Salt Lake Bees.