The Reno Aces kick off play this Thursday in search of a much better season than last year. On paper they have more talent and look deeper than last year's squad which consisted of a lot of journeymen minor leaguers. This year top prospect Archie Bradley should get at least a couple of months worth of starts before getting the call and Didi Gregorius will man one of the middle infield spots until he's needed back in the majors.
The rotation looks pretty strong with Bradley, Bo Schultz, Mike Bolsinger, Charles Brewer and Alex Sanabia. The bullpen has plenty of reliable arms in Kevin Munson, Joe Paterson, Eury de la Rosa, Zeke Spruill and Evan Marshall. Mark Thomas and Blake Lalli will serve as the catching tandem while the infield looks solid with Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, Tyler Bortnick, Mike Jacobs, Nick Evans and Andy Marte. The outfield is set with Ender Inciarte, Alfredo Marte, Trent Oeltjen and Aaron Cunningham. Outfielder Danny Dorn and pitcher Cesar Carillo start the year on the disabled list.
Here's a short summary of the roster members and what we might expect from each.
Archie Bradley - Bradley looked to be threatening a major league spot with a couple of good ST outings along with Corbin's injury. But then he showed his youth with a couple of shaky outings that cemented his spot in Reno. He'll be challenged with the most professional hitters he's ever faced along with some unfriendly hitting parks. He'll have no choice but to improve his command or he'll get knocked around some. I like that they're throwing him right in the PCL fire because if he can show he can dominate there then everyone will know he'll be ready for the show. Lots of eyes will be on him because there are surely those who still think Bradley is the key to this season's second half.
Mike Bolsinger - A somewhat forgotten prospect Bolsinger has climbed the minor league ladder as steadily as anyone yet nobody talks about him as a possible major league arm. He was borderline dominating in Mobile before getting the promotion to Reno where he certainly held his own with 97 strikeouts in 101 innings and a PCL-respectable 4.72 ERA. He is 26 years old but should more injuries strike the big club he wouldn't be the worst option to consider.
Charles Brewer - The 26-year-old right hander has not been able to do enough at the AAA level to warrant serious consideration for a major league job. He may have reached his ceiling but he's still a reliable AAA arm and in a pinch could be counted on to help the big club for a short stretch, but others are likely ahead of him.
Bo Schultz - Schultz was almost out of baseball after a failed transition to a side-arm delivery for Oakland left him for dead in the independent leagues. The Dbacks gave him a last chance, returned his throwing motion to overhand, converted him into a starter and now here he is banging on the door for a major league job at the age of 28. He's suddenly throwing in the mid-90s and may actually be first in line for a big league rotation spot if one were needed in the first couple of months. A great rags to riches story in the works here.
Alex Sanabia - Sanabia was claimed off waivers in the off-season from the Miami Marlins where he made 10 starts last year with a 3-7 record and a 4.88 ERA. He had worked his way into the Marlins 5th or 6th starter's role back in 2012 but an elbow injury cost him a lot of time. He should be a solid AAA starter but he has a lot of bodies ahead of him as the next big league replacement. But he's close to being on par with the rest of this rotation.
Eury de la Rosa - After a steady climb through the Dbacks system de la Rosa was given his chance as a left handed reliever during the desperate dog days for the Dbacks bullpen last year. Unfortunately it didn't go well as he allowed 5 home runs and 13 earned runs in 14 innings. He'll need to put that behind him and do better than last year's AAA numbers to get another chance any time soon. But he'll have an important role for Reno as one of the lefties out of the pen.
Evan Marshall - Marshall took a nice step forward in Reno last year after many soured on him as a future major league bullpen arm. He kept the ball down in the hitting-crazed PCL with an impressive 2.59 GO/AO ratio and upped his strikeouts to 59 in 58 innings. He may have re-emerged as a possible bullpen arm if he can take yet another small step forward. He should be a key member of the Reno bullpen.
Kevin Munson - Munson was selected by the Phillies in the Rule V draft and given a chance to earn a bullpen job, but a poor spring resulted in him being offered back to the Dbacks and they took him. He has a solid fastball/slider repertoire that can garner plenty of strikeouts. His inconsistency has kept him from getting to the top and if he can harness his command a little better he still can't be counted out. He's not unlike current Dbacks reliever Will Harris so we'll see how he manages another year at AAA.
Zeke Spruill - Spruill is being moved into the bullpen full time this year in the hopes he can become a reliable long relief guy not unlike Josh Collmenter. He's not a big strikeout guy but he has a natural sinking action to his pitches that could spell success if he can keep the ball down consistently. He's still just 23 and might be the kind of pitcher who can thrive in the flyball friendly PCL.
Derek Eitel - This right hander was converted into a reliever last year in Mobile where he was steady but not special. He could see lots of mop-up duty in some of the offensive explosion games as he's clearly reached his ceiling in AAA, if not actually past it. But there is a place for pitchers like Eitel in the PCL.
Joe Paterson - After a terrific season for the Dbacks in 2011 after being a Rule V pick from the Giants Paterson hasn't had many chances in the big leagues since. He was outstanding for Reno last year with a terrific 1.89 ERA in 48 games but he just hasn't been able to get the respect of management after an awful cup of coffee call-up in 2012 went awry. He'll be on call should one or more of the team's lefties fall apart though it might take a total bullpen meltdown to really get another shot.
Mark Serrano - Serrano is another guy who was scooped up from the independent leagues and given a second chance. He held his own in Mobile last year bouncing between the bullpen and the occasional spot start. He'll likely fill a similar role for Reno and will need to do something unusual to be granted anything more than that.
Mark Thomas - Thomas has been languishing in the Tampa system for the last 6 years and now joins the Dbacks as a defense first catcher who will be sharing time with Blake Lalli. His offense completely fell apart last year which led to his release. Most likely Lalli gets the first chance to be the everyday catcher with Thomas serving as the backup.
Blake Lalli - Lalli has been a respectable catcher in the Cubs system and has gotten a few short callups for both the Cubs and last year with the Brewers. He has a little bit of pop and can also play first base. He is 30 years old so he's no spring chicken. An injury to to Montero or Gosewisch might get him another chance at big league playing time.
Didi Gregorius - Didi lost the shortstop battle to Owings and finds himself in Reno where he may also get time at second base and third base to become a future utility guy. With defensive whiz Nick Ahmed also on the team Didi is not a shoo-in to be the everyday shortstop. With Pennington likely gone after next year the team will be in the market for another middle infielder so either Didi or Ahmed will be candidates. He might as well start learning those other positions now to increase his overall value to the team. Perhaps more importantly though Didi needs to find a path to more offense if he wants a full time job.
Nick Ahmed - After a terrific defensive season alongside a fairly poor offensive one in Mobile last year Ahmed finds himself in Reno. The PCL might be just what the doctor ordered to to give his offense a boost. If that can happen there's still nothing to say Ahmed can't win a future job because his defense is that good. We know management will go with the hot hand so consider him still in the mix...IF he can find some offense in his game.
Tyler Bortnick - Bortnick faces yet another season in AAA where he was steady though unspectacular last year. He posted an .800 OPS with 19 stolen bases playing mostly 2B though he can fill in at shortstop and third. With so many other middle infield prospects surrounding him at every level it's hard to see any future for Bortnick at the top. He's a solid AAA position player who has likely hit his ceiling.
Mike Jacobs - 34 year-old slugger Jacobs returns as borderline insurance for a possible disaster Goldschmidt injury. Jacobs does have 100 Major League home runs going as far back as 2005 so he wouldn't be intimidated if he were needed for more than a few games. He continues to put up solid numbers at the AAA level so he's not quite done just yet. But he's strictly an insurance policy and makes for a nice middle of the order guy for Reno.
Andy Marte - Marte has spent parts of six major league seasons in the majors, mostly with Cleveland as a backup, and none since 2010. He put up a pretty big year for the Angels AAA team last year with 25 home runs and a .909 OPS. He'll likely be the regular third baseman for Reno and could do in a pinch at the big league level if circumstances dictated.
Nick Evans - Local St. Mary's High School product Nick Evans graduates from Mobile to Reno this year and will mainly back up first base and the corner outfield positions, as well as do some DHing. Evans spent parts of four seasons in the majors with the Mets and did okay, but not enough to keep a job at one of the power positions.
Ender Inciarte - The speedy Inciarte was tabbed by the Phillies last year in the Rule V draft but didn't stick. He spent 2013 plying for Mobile but actually regressed some with a .688 OPS, though he did steal 43 bases. He'll likely play center field every day and he'll need to do more offensively than just steal bases if he wants to be considered for a top level job. Maybe the PCL will help jump-start that trend.
Alfredo Marte - Marte got his chance at the beginning of last year filling in while Eaton and Ross were sidelined early in the year. Unfortunately he was pretty much over-matched and spent the balance of the year in Reno where he just didn't do anything special. He managed just 7 home runs after knocking 20 the year before in Mobile. Marte looks to be an emergency big league outfielder only at this point, though he should be a nice AAA regular.
Trent Oeltjen - Former Dbacks farmhand Oeltjen returns to Reno after spending the last two years in the Dodgers organization, with a sizable chunk of it in the majors serving mainly as a pinch hitter. The 31 year-old Australian gets this chance mainly due to Danny Dorn's injury and he will need to make the most of it at what might be nearing the tail end of his professional career.
Aaron Cunningham - Cunningham has been bouncing back and forth between the majors and AAA for the past five years with Cleveland, San Diego and Oakland. He has yet to show he can hit major league pitching with any consistency so he remains in AAA. He spent last season in the Texas organization hitting 10 home runs with a .738 OPS.
Danny Dorn - This career minor leaguer has yet to get a taste of the majors since being drafted in 2006. He starts the season on the DL and may be there a while after breaking his wrist in spring training. He can be a steady eddy outfielder at the AAA level but that's probably as good as it gets.