Roughly six months since they celebrated a series of champagne showers en route to the Triple-A championship, the Fresno Grizzlies start this season with plenty of those same players.
Jon Singleton. James Hoyt. Tony Kemp.
They’re just some of the key contributors back in Fresno one year after helping the Grizzlies capture the franchise’s first Pacific Coast League crown and Triple-A national title.
“It’s nice being somewhere you’re familiar with, the environment, the city,” Singleton said. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”
The biggest uncertainly for this proven bunch could be their motivation to produce again at a high level in another go-round in Triple A.
Based on the Opening Day roster, the Grizzlies have the talent and track record that could translate into another title run. They might even top last year’s franchise-best record of 84-59 set during their first season as a Houston Astros affiliate.
Fourteen players from the 25-man, season-opening roster were part of last year’s Triple-A championship team.
And 17 in all spent time with the Grizzlies at some point a year ago as the club went on to lead Triple A in four offensive categories (runs, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage).
We’re about winning and developing at the same time.
Fresno Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco
Manager Tony DeFrancesco, arguably the top manager in Triple A, is back for a second season with the Grizzlies. In 12 seasons managing in Triple A, the 52-year-old has won eight divisional titles and four league championships.
“We’re excited to be back,” DeFrancesco said. “What’s weird about Triple A is, usually a lot of players come and go at this level. I look at this clubhouse and there’s a lot of returning guys.
“I’m pretty proud of the group that’s in there and excited about going out and backing it up one more time. I think they know the message that was sent. We’re about winning and developing at the same time. The Astros right now are in a great place. And hopefully, these guys can help them achieve their goal.”
During the latter half of last season as the roster changed significantly because of callups, trades and demotions, a catchy phrase developed as the Grizzlies continued to win: In Tony we trust.
With 14 players back from last year’s Triple-A National championship roster, Fresno manager Tony DeFrancesco believes the Grizzlies could make another lengthy run in the postseason. The Grizzlies led all of Triple-A in four offensive categories, and the addition of top prospect first baseman A.J. Reed could keep Fresno up there statistically once again.
And DeFrancesco expressed little concern about players possibly being discouraged and even unmotivated about returning to Triple A.
“What happens is that group in there believes in themselves,” DeFrancesco said. “You win and you have that feeling you’ll play for each other and keep yourself out of it – that’s the biggest part of Triple A.
“Guys get so caught up in their numbers and achievements where the team becomes secondary. If we win as a group, everybody has good years.”
Among those new to the Grizzlies is A.J. Reed, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound left-handed-hitting slugger considered the top first-base prospect throughout baseball.
127 Minors-leading RBI total by Grizzlies newcomer AJ Reed last season while splitting time at Class-A and Double-A
With Class-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi last season, Reed led all minor-league hitters with 113 runs, 34 homers, 127 RBIs, 320 total bases, a .612 slugging percentage and a 1.044 on-base plus slugging percentage.
“I’m excited to be here,” Reed said. “I’d like to see how I do here. And hopefully do well and see where it takes me. I’m going to be working on things with the offensive side. But I’m really focused on doing things better defensively. I want to be that everyday guy there that they can depend on.”
In addition, Chris Devenski – the winner in last year’s Triple-A championship game – begins this season in Triple A and gets the starting nod for Thursday’s opener in Las Vegas. Devenski spent most of last season in Double A before pitching for the Grizzlies in the postseason.
Making his first Triple-A start in the national final, Devenski set a championship record with nine strikeouts and threw six perfect innings in a 7-0 victory against the Columbus Clippers.
“I want to start it how I left it off,” Devenski said. “Get it rolling in the right direction and have fun.”
Fresno Grizzlies season opener
FRESNO GRIZZLIES AT LAS VEGAS 51s
- Series: 7:05 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 12:05 p.m. Sunday at Cashman Field
- Radio: KYNO (1430 AM)
- Of note: Former Fresno State standout Danny Muno is again on the 51s’ roster after playing 83 games in Triple A and 17 games in the majors last season. He hit .277 and had a .390 on-base percentage with the 51s.
Fresno Grizzlies season-opening roster
- Pitchers: Left-handers Edwar Cabrera, Kevin Chapman and Tommy Shirley; right-handers Chris Devenski, Jandel Gustave, Mike Hauschild, James Hoyt, Juan Minaya, Brad Peacock, Brady Rodgers, Jordan Jankowski, Cesar Valdez and Asher Wojciechowski. (Shirley, Devenski, Gustave, Hauschild, Peacock and Rodgers will begin the season as starters.)
- Catchers: Tyler Heineman and Roberto Pena
- Infielders: Nolan Fontana, Tony Kemp, Colin Moran, A.J. Reed, Jon Singleton and Danny Worth
- Outfielders: Andrew Aplin, Leo Heras, Jon Kemmer and Eury Perez.
Bold: Played for the Grizzlies last season