We’re in the middle of previewing the 12 Eastern League teams in reverse order of last season’s record. Rosters won’t be finalized until the week before Opening Day, so my Players to Watch is pure speculation at this point.
Up next, we have the Hartford Yard Goats…
2015 record: 69-71
Affiliation: Colorado Rockies
Manager: Darin Everson
Hitting coach: Jeff Salazar
Pitching coach: Dave Burba
Development coach: Ron Gideon
Five Players to Watch
OF Raimel Tapia – Tapia is the one player I am most looking forward to seeing this season. Simply put, the lithe Dominican just rakes despite some unusual mechanics. Tapia is slashing a combined .314/.363/.443 across three minor league seasons.
RHP Jeff Hoffman – Despite starting nine games in the Eastern League last season and holding opponents to a measly .211 batting average, expect Hoffman to return to Double-A for the first half of 2016.
3B Ryan McMahon – With his 47 home runs and 229 runs batted in over three seasons, the third baseman is known for his power from the left side of the plate. With his 83 errors in that same timeframe, McMahon is not going to be confused with Brooks Robinson at the hot corner any time soon.
LHP Kyle Freeland – The southpaw, drafted one spot ahead of Hoffman in the 2014 draft, features a fastball he can locate and a plus-plus slider. Freeland’s stuff has never been a question mark, instead it’s his health that always been his biggest obstacle. The 2016 season will be no different for the former first rounder.
RHP Antonio Senzatela – Senzatela led the hitter-friendly California League with a 2.51 ERA and an opponent batting average of .229 last season. Perhaps more impressive is that he did all that at the tender age of 20. The development of Senzatela’s slider and change-up will be a key to his success in Hartford.
Routinely rated as one of the best farm systems, Colorado’s top prospects will litter the Hartford roster as they will have one of the most talented teams in the league. If this were any other season, I would definitely pencil a playoff berth in for the Yard Goats. But construction delays in finishing their new home, Dunkin’ Donuts Park, will force the team on the road until late May. That’s two months of cramped bus rides, lumpy hotel mattresses, and picked over deli trays in visiting clubhouses. It’s a lot to overcome and the Yard Goats face an uphill battle, but don’t be surprised if they’re still playing in mid-September.