Osceola County Stadium opener Saturday at 6
Just like their first two seasons, the Florida Fire Frogs’ Opening Day roster will feature many new faces when the Florida State League season begins today at Jackie Robinson Stadium against the Daytona Tortugas.
It could even look slightly different when the team comes home Saturday to open the Osceola County Stadium portion of the season against the Tortugas. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.
The needs of the Atlanta Braves and their Triple-A club, the Gwinnett Stripers, could cause a domino effect through those rosters, the Class AA Mississippi Braves and, ultimately, the Fire Frogs.
“The Braves’ bullpen got blown up (in getting swept by the Philadelphia Phillies) over the weekend, so if they summon guys from Gwinnett it could affect us,” said General Manager North Johnson, who spent the last nine seasons running the Stripers.
So, earlier this week, new manager Barrett Kleinknecht, who comes up from the short-season Danville Braves, couldn’t even say what the starting lineup of pitchers would be until those who do pitch in Daytona tonight and tomorrow and this weekend here in Kissimmee get the needed bullpen reps to do so.
“We may even end up piggy-backing starters in games, or using long relievers to start,” Kleinknecht said.
Pitchers Troy Bacon, Walter Borkovich, Daysbel Hernandez, Jon Kennedy, Sean McLaughlin, Dilmer Mejia and Hauscar Ynoa, who is on Atlanta’s 40-man roster, all threw innings for the Fire Frogs last year.
Among the fresh faces, lefty Hayden Deal was 9-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 78 innings for low-A Rome last year. He comes south with fellow southpaw Freddy Tarnok (5-5, 3.96, 83 strikeouts in 77 innings).
Among the hitters, fans will recognize catcher William Contreras, brother of Chicago Cubs’ backstop Wilson Contreras, shortstop Riley Delgado and outfielders Greyson Jenista and Isranel Wilson.
Infielder A.J. Graffanino, son of big-leaguer Tony Graffanino and the Braves’ eight-round draft pick last year, batted .318 in 43 games between Danville and Rome.
Kleinknecht said he can’t wait to bring it all together in a live-game lineup, so they can see what high Class A ball is about — and that rude awakenings are expected.
“A lot of the guys I’ve had last year, they haven’t failed yet in baseball. There’s a lot of talent in this league, and it’s a pitchers league so some guys will struggle at first,” he said. “Their success will be to develop and understand what their approach, plan and daily routine. It’s our jobs to teach that it’s a process to get to the big leagues.”
Kleinknecht, 30, follows a line of older, old-school Fire Frogs managers like Paul Runge, Rocket Wheeler and Luis Salazar. His playing career ended in Class AAA just four seasons ago, but he played for old-school managers like current Atlanta skipper Brian Snitker, so he sees the game through older and younger eyes.
“I’ve got it in my blood to be old-school based on who I played for, but I don’t think it’s about being old-school or new-school, it’s about being the right school. You play hard, you hustle every play and every pitch, but I also enjoy the new analytics,” he said. “The guys understand what I’m in it for. If I get to the big leagues, great, but ultimately I want to see these guys excel in life and baseball and know things I wish I learned early in my career.
“I’m about letting them play and make the mistakes so they learn. I sit back, let ‘em play, then coach ‘em up. I’m one of the most competitive people around and I want to win but if we don’t develop big-league players we’re not doing our jobs.”
The first home stand of they year starts Saturday and goes through Thursday. Games are at 6 p.m. except the Sunday and Thursday games, which start at noon.