Prior to the season we’re 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 Richmond Flying Squirrels…
2015 record: 72-68
Affiliation: San Francisco Giants
Manager: Miguel Ojeda
Hitting coach: Ken Joyce
Pitching coach: Steve Kline
Five Players to Watch
RHP Ray Black – Black has all the tools to be a dominant Major League reliever for a long time as the Wilkes-Barre, PA native features a tantalizing fastball he regularly throws in the triple digits and a nasty slider. But numerous injuries including Tommy John surgery in high school, a torn labrum in college, and a lat injury last season which limited him to just 25 innings along with serious control issues have raised serious question marks about his future. This quote from prospect guru John Sickels sums it up best, “Ray Black could be an overpowering major league closer, or Ray Black could be pitching in the Mexican League two years from now.”
LHP Andrew Suarez – Suarez famously spurned Washington in 2014 when he chose to return to college at Miami for his senior season instead of signing with the Nationals who had selected him in the second round. The southpaw is a fast riser in the Giants’ system thanks to four solid offerings he commands and a mature understanding of pitching.
SS Christian Arroyo – Arroyo didn’t seem to mind his aggressive promotion to High-A San Jose last season as the 20-year-old still hit .304 in 90 games. The Florida native is thought of as a pure hitter and has hand-eye coordination off the charts. Although a position change is likely in his future, Arroyo is still penciled in at shortstop for now.
RHP Chase Johnson – Johnson is a rare pitcher who was a closer in college and has since been converted to a starter in his professional career. The former third round draft pick struggled to a 5.93 ERA in three starts with Richmond at the end of last season as he allowed 16 hits and walked eight over 13.2 innings. Johnson is a groundball pitcher who showcases a heavy, mid-90s fastball while the rest of his arsenal is developing.
RHP Jason Forjet – Players selected in the 31st round and 958th overall aren’t supposed to get better the higher they climb in the organization, but don’t tell Forjet that. The right-hander has lowered his ERA and WHIP the last two seasons as he notched 7 wins each year. Not thought of in prospect circles, the 26-year-old should get a shot at AA Richmond to see if his stuff can play up even more than it already has.
The strength of the Flying Squirrels the last couple of seasons has clearly been their pitching staff. Their offense wasn’t going to score many runs, but that didn’t seem to matter since Richmond hurlers have been among the best in the Eastern League four of the last five seasons. I don’t believe 2016 will be much different either as High-A San Jose boasted the best pitching staff in the California League last season. Expectations for this team have to include a playoff berth or at the very least in the chase up until the last weekend like this past season.