Talk about a loaded lineup.
The Fresno Grizzlies begin the 2017 Pacific Coast League season Thursday night armed with a roster full of accomplished minor league players and some with big league history, too.
All of which could position the franchise to make another run at a Triple-A National Championship.
“I think we have scary talent,” Fresno closer James Hoyt said this week as the Grizzlies arrived home for the season-opening series against the Reno Aces at Chukchansi Park.
“This team is going to be really fun to watch,” Hoyt added. “We’re going to put up a lot of runs. And the pitching staff is good. It’s exciting.”
Ten players on the opening day roster, including Hoyt, played significant roles in the Grizzlies’ Pacific Coast League and national title run in 2015.
14 Grizzlies on the opening day roster who saw major league time last season, 10 suiting up with the parent Houston Astros
Eighteen of the 25 have played a significant amount of Triple-A ball.
Fourteen were in the majors at some point last season, with 10 suiting up for major league parent club Houston.
Among those returning to the Grizzlies: Lights-out closer Hoyt, reigning Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year Brady Rodgers, speedster Tony Kemp, defensive stalwart Andrew Aplin, and big bats A.J. Reed, Tyler White, Jon Kemmer and Preston Tucker.
But repeating past success isn’t automatic, nor easily achieved.
It’s debatable whether having so much Triple-A experience will help or hinder the Grizzlies, since accomplished players might feel uninspired or frustrated about repeating Triple-A.
And it’s debatable whether Triple-A experience will be helpful or a hindrance, since accomplished players might feel uninspired or frustrated about repeating the level.
“In my experience with 14 years of Triple-A – and it doesn’t matter what city I’m in – guys are frustrated (when) they didn’t make the major league team,” said manager Tony DeFrancesco, who begins his third season with Fresno. “But whatever the situation is, you’ve got to come out every day and you’ve got to battle.
“And you’ve got to put yourself in position to get back in the big leagues. I think this group of guys is made the right way.”
Just go back a year to notice what repeating Triple-A can do to a young player who has experienced The Show.
In 2015, Jon Singleton enjoyed one of the most dominant first halves in Grizzlies franchise history, leading all of Triple-A with 17 home runs, 56 runs, 66 RBIs and 47 walks while batting .280 with a .387 on-base percentage.
He got called up to the majors twice by the Astros that season and played in 19 games.
But after a slow spring, Singleton returned to Triple-A to start 2016 and never got on track. His average (.202), OBP (.337) and slugging (.390) plummeted. He hit 20 homers and drove in 66 in 124 games.
Singleton, 25, will begin this season with Double-A Corpus Christi.
How will these Grizzlies handle being back in Fresno for a second or third year?
Before the Grizzlies conducted their first practice in Fresno on Tuesday, DeFrancesco called a team meeting and reiterated the importance to produce and not pout.
“Right now, this is where we’re at,” DeFrancesco said. “But there’s going to be movement because there always is. And if you want to be the next guy called up, you have to perform.”
Reed, who hit four home runs and had 11 RBIs in 40 at-bats this spring, said he won’t let his assignment to Triple-A bother him.
For starters, many players in camp knew going into camp that it would be difficult to make the opening day roster of a major league team loaded with rising young stars and complementary veterans that is expected to contend for an American League playoff berth.
It was a tough team to crack.
Grizzlies first baseman A.J. Reed on trying to make a loaded Houston Astros roster this spring
“It was a tough team to crack,” Reed said. “Now I just come down here, play well and wait for my opportunity.”
Martes, who ranks as the 19th-best prospect throughout baseball, went 9-6 with a 3.30 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 125.1 innings in Double-A last season.
Martes said he enjoys being viewed as the Astros’ top prospect but added: “That’s not really my goal, to be a good prospect. My goal is to a good major league pitcher.”
Fisher hit .290 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 27 games with the Grizzlies last season after his promotion from Double-A.
“As a whole, I’m more excited about this year than I was going into 2015 actually,” DeFrancesco said. “On paper, we’re going to be good. We just need to show it out on the field.”
TRIPPLE-A: FRESNO VS. RENO
- Series: 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 1:05 p.m. Sunday; 6:35 p.m. Monday at Chukchansi Park
- 2016 records: Grizzlies 73-70 (third in PCL Pacific North); Aces 76-68 (second in Pacific North)
- Radio: KYNO (AM 1430)
- Of note: Houston right-hander Collin McHugh (arm fatigue) will make a rehab start with Fresno to begin the season Thursday. McHugh went 13-10 with a 4.34 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 184.2 innings last season foor the Astros. … A.J. Reed and Preston Tucker might profile as the Grizzlies’ top power threats, but it is Jon Kemmer who hit the most home runs (18) among returning players.