Opening Day has come! The 2018 Major League Baseball season has come, the local St. Louis Cardinals kickoff their season tomorrow against the New York Mets. While the Cardinals work towards another World Series run, there is another team in the St. Louis area that is looking for redemption on a year that was lost.
2017 was a season to forget for the Gateway Grizzlies, finishing with the worst record in the Frontier League at 32-64. Despite a lost season, Manager Phil Warren did reach a personal milestone winning his 500th game. “It was a bit bittersweet for me, given the nature of our season. I owe a lot to people around me that have gotten me here.” Warren said when asked about the milestone. Warren looks forward to showing that 2017 was just a pothole on the road to success.
The Gateway Grizzlies enter the 2018 season with a young roster and a manager that sees this season as a chance to continue last years second half momentum. “In 2017 we were dependent on a lot of veterans that didn’t come through for us,” Warren said. The Grizzlies tough start to the season forced the team to make moves to get younger, moves that included trading veterans to make room for new blood. Veterans like first baseman Craig Massoni and Pitcher Will Landsheft were moved to competing teams. While the moves were necessary to make room for younger players, it did not have an immediate impact according to Warren, “We just weren’t experienced enough when we made the initial moves to beat more experienced teams. But as the year went on we began to see the development.”
Players like former Baltimore Oriole draft pick Matt Hearn, 21, 2018 Frontier League All Star Michael Elwood, 26, former Southern Illinois Miner Joel McKeithan, 27, and former New Mexico State Aggie Brent Sakurai, 23, were given opportunities to develop and show the fans and Warren the potential they have.
The Grizzlies pitching is beginning to take shape. Joining Michael Elwood will be Will Anderson, Garrett Woods, Alec Kisena, Austin Sweet, Tanner Cable and the resigning of Dakota Smith. Smith, a 2016 Gateway Grizzlie, was signed away to the Boston Red Sox organization. Smith spent two seasons with the Lowell Spinners where he made 23 appearances, 13 starts, comprising an impressive 2.75 ERA. Warren looks forward to having set roles for his pitching staff for the upcoming season.
The Grizzlies will look to fill a void that has been prevalent over the last few seasons at the catching position. Since Warren’s first season in 2007 until 2014 the Gateway Grizzlies had two catchers. Over the last three seasons the club has seen over ten players spend time behind the plate, “Our current situation really makes you appreciate what you had with Landon Hernandez and Charlie Lisk,” Warren said. Warren’s search for a catcher has been centered around pitch framing and defense going into 2018. Jhonniel Alvarez and Kyle Hamner are two offseason additions that will look to fill the backstop role. Alvarez, 25, spent time in the Texas Rangers system before signing with Gateway. Hamner, 24, spent 2017 with the United Shore Leagues Westside Wollymammoths. Both will have a chance to make the club and hopefully make an impact in the lineup and the pitching staff. Admittedly, Warren is still on the hunt for his potential backstop, “There are plenty of guys that are overlooked”.
As the Frontier League Opening Day nears, the Gateway Grizzlies still have certain holes to fill. Exciting additions such as former Mariner Kristian Brito, 23, will join the team looking to add some much needed power to the lineup. Brito is an imposing figure at 6’6, 240 pounds currently working out in Texas as his home in Puerto Rico was ravaged by hurricanes. Fellow infielder Trae Santos, 25, will also be joining Gateway competing for a spot in the infield. Santos, a 17th round pick of the San Diego Padres, had his best season in 2015 belting 15 homers. His power should transition well to lefty friendly GCS Credit Union Ballpark.
Early projections for the Grizzlies show tons of talent in the lineup. Warren still believes there is work to be done to finalize the roles for his team.
The Grizzlies begin their 2018 campaign May 11th against the Schaumberg Boomers at GCS Credit Union Ballpark.
To check out the Gateway Grizzlies full roster and 2018 schedule go to Gatewaygrizzlies.com.