Before my vacation, I spoke with former Thunder pitcher and coach Justin Pope, who this season will helm the Staten Island Yankees. The team opens its season on Monday, and Pope was kind enough to break down what he sees for his club this season.
JN: What do you think of the composition of the team you're going to bring forth this season?
JP: They're very competitive. It's going to be great to see these guys get under the lights and play in front of some big crowds. It's going to be fun to see that. I'm very excited to have the team that we have going up there. I think they're going to do great.
JN: Let's get into specifics, then. Who are you bringing up there?
JP: We're going to have a bunch of guys who the fans can look forward to. There's college kids we just drafted. They seem pretty promising. It's going to be interesting to see what they bring to the table.
Ravel Santana, our center fielder, he's going to be very interesting to watch. He's a great player. He got hurt last year in GCL. He was having a great year before breaking his ankle or something like that. It's going to be great to see how he responds. He's a great player, so he's going to be really, really exciting to watch.
JN: With Ravel, obviously that injury was very serious. Are there any restrictions on him?
JP: Nah. He's full go. He's full go. He says he feels good. Obviously, we'll have to watch him. We can't throw him out there every single day. We'll have to give him some DH days and stuff like that, but he's good to go.
JN: What is your starting rotation going to look like?
JP: I don't even know that yet. We're figuring that out as we speak right now, who we're going to put in the rotation and the draft guys that we've signed, what they're able to do. We're still in the mix of that, really, as we speak.
JN: Let's do it this way, then. Which pitchers are you bringing up there, no matter what their role may be?
JP: We have Taylor Morton. He's coming up there. We have Evan DeLuca. He's coming up there. And we have a bunch of draft guys. Taylor Garrison's coming up there. A lot of guys I haven't even seen pitch yet, so it's hard to put a name and a face with guys. ... The pitching staff is only a handful of guys that have been in the organization before. For the most part, everybody's new.
(Note: Conor Mullee and Evan Rutckyj are also going up there to Staten Island)
JN: You mentioned Santana already. Which position players do you expect to join him?
JP: There's Matt Duran. He's going to be really exciting to watch. He's from up around that area. He's had a really good extended. He's gotten a lot better, so it's going to be fun to watch him play. We've got Claudio Custodio and Jose Rosario. Those guys are going to be great up the middle. I thnk those guys feed off each other. Hopefully they can do what they did last year and continue that. ... Those are two young players with a lot of energy, so I expect they're going to bring a lot to the table.
JN: What about first base? Austin Jones, perhaps?
JP: We're going to have a few guys at first. We've got a couple of draft guys who could play first. Jackson Valera, he's a catcher who can also play first. We have (Isaias) Tejeda. He's mainly a catcher, but he can also play at first. Valera, he can play a little bit of both. We're definitely going to have some options in our lineup with guys that can play different positions.
JN: Who will flank Santana on the corners?
JP: We've got Exicardo Cayones. We got him in the A.J. Burnett trade. He and Daniel Lopez, both those guys are really good defenders. They can run pretty well, so they're going to be able to track some balls down. They've had pretty good extended springs. They can swing the bat very well. You can do a lot of things with them. You have some options when they're hitting and when they're on the bases.We'll probably have some draft guys to go along with them and maybe play the corners. We might even get a center fielder, college guy, too.
JN: What do you think the team's strength is going to be?
JP: I think their ability to play together. Their chemistry. These guys played together last year. They played all extended together. They're all young. They all get along great, so I think it's going to be their chemistry, which is important. If you don't have chemistry, I think it's tough to win.
JN: Last one. It's going to be your first managing gig. Are you ready?
JP: I guess we'll find out. I'll tell you what, it's been a learning experience down here in extended. A lot of things have happened. A lot of crazy things have happened to make me keep my eyes open and help me get prepared for the season. I think I am (ready), but there's only one way to find out, and that's to get into the game and see what happens.