2010 Savannah Sand Gnats Preview

Wilmer Flores headlines the 2010 Sand Gnats

The 2010 edition of the Mets' South Atlantic League affiliate is headlined by youth and promise. A number of intriguing bats and pitchers look to establish themselves in the organization on this year's Sand Gnats squad. Here is InsidePitchMagazine.com's preview of the Savannah Sand Gnats who open their season on Thursday at home versus the West Virginia Power

2010 Roster: [2010 Inside Pitch Magazine Prospect Guide rankings in parenthesis]

RHP John Church [2009 BRK/SAV – 1-4, 5.40 ERA, 30.0 IP, .287 OBA, 22 G]
LHP Mark Cohoon [2009 BRK – 9-2, 2.15 ERA, 92.0 IP, .210 OBA, 14 GS]
RHP Johan Figuereo [2009 VER – 0-1, 2.92 ERA, 24.2 IP, 23 K, 17 G]
LHP James Fuller (50) [2009 BRK – 3-6, 2.86 ERA, 63.0 IP, 67 K, 15 BB, 12 G, 11 GS]
LHP Darin Gorski [2009 BRK – 3-4, 4.91 ERA, 62.1 IP, 50 K, 26 BB, 13 G, 11 GS]
LHP Lance Hoge [2009 BRK/SAV – 1-2, 3.29 ERA, 41.0 IP, .271 OBA, 15 G, 3 GS]
RHP Collin McHugh [2009 BRK – 8-2, 2.76 ERA, 75.0 IP, .219 OBA, 79 K, 14 GS]
RHP Brandon Moore (42) [2009 BRK – 6-3, 2.09 ERA, 82.0 IP, .206 OBA, 71 K 13 GS]
RHP Michael Powers [2009 BRK/SAV – 4-3, 3.70 ERA, 48.2 IP, 44 K, 15 BB, 39 G]
RHP Armando Rodriguez (36) [2009 KNG/SAV – 5-2, 2.74 ERA, 62.1 IP, 60 K, 12 GS]
RHP Brandon Sage [2009 BRK – 3-3, 2.03 ERA, 31.0 IP, 15 K, .224 OBA, 16 GS]
RHP Erik Turgeon [2009 BRK/SAV – 2-1, 3.42 ERA, 26.1 IP, 23 K, .245 OBA, 24 G]
RHP Taylor Whitenton [2009 GCL – 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 5.0 IP, 7 K, 5 BB, .067 OBA, 4 G]

C Kai Gronauer [2009 SAV - .243 AVG, 6 HR, 23 RBI, .294 OBP, 230 AB, 67 G]
C Dock Doyle [2009 BRK - .257 AVG, 1 HR, 18 RBI, .332 OBP, 171 AB, 49 G]

1B Jeff Flagg [2009 KNG/SAV - .289 AVG, 10 HR, 62 RBI, .358 OBP, 249 AB, 64 G]
2B Alonzo Harris (45) [2009 KNG/SAV - .266, 10 HR, 42 RBI, .316 OBP, 278 AB, 65 G]
SS Wilmer Flores (5) [2009 SAV - .264 AVG, 3 HR, 36 RBI, .305 OBP, 488 AB, 125 G]
3B Jefry Marte (31) [2009 SAV - .233 AVG, 6 HR, 41 RBI, .279 OBP, 485 AB, 123 G]
INF Luis Rivera [2009 SLU/BUF - .274 AVG, 0 HR, 13 RBI, .314 OBP, 175 AB, 58 G]

RF Cesar Puello (22) [2009 KNG - .296, 5 HR, 23 RBI, .373 OBP, 196 AB, 49 G]
CF Rafael Fernandez (40) [2009 SAV - .254, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .302 OBP, 299 AB, 73 G]
CF Pedro Zapata [2009 KNG - .329 AVG, 0 HR, 21 RBI, .358 OBP, 152 AB, 41 G]
LF Alex Gregory [2009 BRK - .278 AVG, 2 HR, 17 RBI, .349 OBP, 144 AB, 42 G]
LF Juan Lagares [2009 GCL/SAV - .266 AVG, 0 HR, 14 RBI, .297 OBP, 192 AB, 53 G]

Notes: Most notable about this year's Savannah club is the youth in the infield. Both Jefry Marte and Wilmer Flores will not turn 19 years old until midway through the season. Alonzo Harris, who breaks camp with a long-season squad for the first time in his career, is just 20 years old as well. In the outfield, 21-year-old Juan Lagares and 19-year-old Cesar Puello will roam the corners for the Sand Gnats. Twelve players on this year's Sand Gnats squad suited up for the club at some point last season. Mark Cohoon pitched for Savannah during his first season in 2008. That year, Cohoon went 2-2 with a 3.82 ERA in 33.0 innings (seven starts) with 21 strikeouts and 18 walks for the Sand Gnats.

Manager Pedro Lopez takes over the club after serving in the same role with the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2009 and Kingsport in 2008. Lopez guided the Cyclones to a 45-30 record last season. He preceded that with a 34-32 campaign with the K-Mets. Joining Lopez on his staff is pitching coach Marc Valdes and hitting coach Ryan Ellis, who both worked with the Sand Gnats staff a season ago. Luis Rojas serves as the team's bench coach.

On the Rise: Shortstop Wilmer Flores is one of the best prospects in the organization and many eyes will be on him as he returns to the South Atlantic League. The organization altered its approach in moving up young prospects regardless of success by keeping Flores in Savannah. Comfort with the league's pitching should allow for greater production from Flores who will be relied upon as a leading run producer for the team.

Cesar Puello is another young player to watch in Savannah. Puello is young and fairly raw, but he has strong tools in every facet of the game. He can hit for power, hit for average, and has one of the best outfield arms in the organization. There are five outfielders on the roster, but Puello possesses the highest upset and will receive the greatest priority in regards to playing time.

Pitching: The Sand Gnats pitching staff features older arms with varying experience in the organization and varying projection as well. The bulk of the pitching staff arrived out of the 2008 Amateur Draft including Church, Cohoon, Fuller, McHugh, Moore, Powers, and Turgeon.

The starting rotation features Cohoon, McHugh, Moore and Armando Rodriguez-who will be the Sand Gnats Opening Day starter. Rodriguez is a 22-year-old right-hander who has yet to start in a long-season club. Rodriguez features a 93-95 MPH fastball and a rapidly improving slider that should make him the ace of this staff. He is older against the league's age curve, but scouts and coaches hold his stuff in high regard and believe he can be a fast riser.

Cohoon, McHugh and Moore all had excellent seasons in the New York-Penn League last season. The trio combined for a 23-7 record and all ranked among the top 10 in ERA. Moore and McHugh were both among the top six in strikeouts last season with Brooklyn.

Position Players: Like 2009, the left side of the infield remains the headline for the Sand Gnats. Wilmer Flores and Jefry Marte both have potential with the bat, with plus power potential, but both struggled at times with the glove especially Marte. They were assigned to Savannah because there was no rush to advance given their age and relative short experience. Both appeared to find a rhythm down the stretch in 2009 and the hope is that they can get off to a hot start against a level pitching they should be comfortable with by now.

After a fluctuating year at the position last season, Alonzo Harris now holds down the second base spot. Harris is a fine athlete with plus speed and somewhat deceptive power. He hit 10 home runs last year with the K-Mets, but struggled once pitchers adapted to him. He will not have the luxury of such young pitching this year.

Jeff Flagg and Pedro Zapata earned their first Opening Day spots on a full-season roster. Flagg possesses plus raw power, but is still working on developing a full complement of offensive tools. Pedro Zapata, 22, is a good average hitter but has so far shown minimal power during his career.

Rafael Fernandez is the lone holdover from last year's Sand Gnats outfield. The 21-year-old centerfielder was shut down with a shoulder injury last year that forced him to miss half the season. Alex Gregory was selected in the 17th round of the 2009 Draft. Gregory had a solid first season in Brooklyn, but figures to appear mostly as a fourth outfielder for Savannah.

On the Spot: Juan Lagares was once a highly touted commodity back when the system was not as deep. Lagares, 21, made the jump straight from the Dominican Summer League in 2006 to Savannah in 2007. However, Lagares has not advanced any further due to lack of productivity and a rash of injuries. Both have limited him to just 100 games over the last two seasons with only 454 at-bats. Lagares will likely be in the revolving spot so he will have to maximize his opportunities to get back on the prospect radar.

Outlook: The 2010 Savannah Sand Gnats have blend of youth and experience which is to be expected in the South Atlantic League. The starting rotation does not possess the projection like last year, but all the starters boast good pitching minds that should help them consistently stay ahead of the league's more youthful, punchy hitters. The lineup has a good blend of speed and power that should play well in the South Atlantic League, but this team will be led by its pitching with a good shot at competing all season.

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