The 2013 Everett AquaSox took the field for the first time Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the upcoming Northwest League season, conducting their initial practice at a rainy Everett Memorial Stadium. And moreso than in a typical season, there was a familiar feel about the players on the diamond.
"I think it's good," said second baseman Jamodrick McGruder, part of the large contingent of players who have experienced Everett previously. "A lot of us have already had this season, so it will be good experience-wise. Guys know what to do and I think we should come out and be pretty strong.
"It's kind of an older team, which is good," McGruder added. "We don't have a lot of young guys. A lot of the guys were at extended spring training, so we should be very experienced and very well put together."
Usually the AquaSox almost completely turn over their roster from year to year. Last year, there was just one player who opened the season with the team who played in Everett the previous year, and Marcus Littlewood was in the process of converting from shortstop to catcher.
But Tuesday afternoon there were nine players on the field who appeared last season for Everett, which finished 46-30 and won the West Division's first-half title. Those nine include five who spent all of last season with the Sox. Second baseman Jamodrick McGruder, who led the league in stolen bases with 30, and outfielder Alfredo Morales were everyday players for Everett. Pitcher Steven Ewing made 12 starts and finished third on the team in innings pitched; outfielder Michael Faulkner finished second on the team in steals with 15; and reliever Mark Bordonaro was a regular presence out of the bullpen.
The four who had shorter stints with Everett last season were pitcher Jose Valdivia, outfielder James Zamarripa and catchers Christian Carmichael and Carlton Tanabe.
"We've got guys who have that experience, know the league, know what it takes to win ballgames, and won't be shocked by pro baseball right away," second-year Everett manager Rob Mummau said. "I think we'll have a good start.
"I expect those guys to succeed at a high level, and hopefully they're not here too long and get to move up eventually," Mummau added. "But I definitely expect a lot out of them."
Everett's initial roster doesn't have any prospects generating a large amount scouting community buzz, like pitcher Victor Sanchez generated last season. However, there are a number of players who bear watching.
Mummau singled out infielder Martin Peguero and outfielder Phillips Castillo as newcomers to watch. Both are 19-year-olds from the Dominican Republic who had moderate success with Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League last year.
Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Carmichael and 19-year-old Zamarripa are the highest draft picks on the initial roster, being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the sixth rounds in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
As for the pitching staff, it's largely an experienced group.
"It's different from last year's staff," Everett pitching coach Rich Dorman said. "This year we've got a lot of guys from extended spring training, last year we had a lot of guys from college (who were selected in the 2012 draft). It's a big year for a lot of these guys because they've been in the organization for a while."
But while it may be an older staff, the Sox will be leaning heavily on the youngsters in the rotation. The team's two youngest pitchers, 19-year-old Dominican right-hander Rigoberto Garcia and 19-year-old Dutch right-hander Lars Huijer, are scheduled to start the team's first two games in Spokane on Friday and Saturday. Dorman said the towering Garcia, who's listed at 6-foot-5 but looks taller, is one of the best prospects on the staff.
The remainder of the rotation to begin the season includes Brazilian right-hander Thyago Vieira, the right-handed Ewing and Venezuelan right-hander Ricardo Pereira.
Dorman said there is no designated closer and the Sox bullpen will fill that role by committee.
Everett's roster is not complete. The Sox will see college players from last week's draft trickle in after they sign contracts. Pitcher Tyler Olson, the Mariners' seventh-round pick, already has arrived while first baseman Justin Seager, Seattle's 12th rounder and the younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, was expected to report shortly.
Everett gets a rehearsal tonight when the Sox take on the Pacific International League's Everett Merchants in the 10th annual Everett Cup exhibition game. The Merchants, a team comprised primarily of community college and small college players with local ties, upset the Sox twice in the previous nine meetings. The Sox won last year's contest 5-2.
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