CHARLESTON, SC – The Charleston RiverDogs held their Media Day Monday afternoon at Joe Riley Park with much anticipation for their 2018 South Atlantic League campaign that will start Thursday night in Lexington against the Legends. The RiverDogs are coming off a season that saw them reach the South Atlantic League playoffs for a second straight season.
Julio Mosquera will be the third different manager for the Dogs in three years as he takes over from Patrick Osborn, who is now managing the High Class-A Tampon Tarpons. Mosquera led the short-season A Staten Island Yankees to a playoff appearance that included many of the same players he’ll lead in Charleston. Pitching coach Justin Pope thinks that familiarity will help the team play well this season, “They feel comfortable with Julio as their manager. Whenever he says something, they’re going to listen. Not that they don’t listen to other managers, but they trust him, they’ve already built that relationship with him, so it makes it a lot easier when the players have played for that manager in the previous year. It helps make them feel a little more comfortable because they already know how he’s going to act during a game.”
Mosquera sees the pitching staff as the key to a successful season. “We’ve been lucky and fortunate and lucky that the pitching staff throughout the whole organization have been doing a really good job. We also have some really good arms here, we have some guys who can compete, some guys who can do a lot of things with the baseball in their hands. We’re going to rely on them a lot. That’s the nucleus on our team. Justin Pope does a really good job as the pitching coach with them and he’s going to have them ready every day to go out there. One of the biggest things for the pitching staff, they’ll always give us a chance to compete,” Mosquera said.
Pope returns for his third season with the Dogs and revealed how the rotation will start out the season. “Opening night it’s going to be Whitlock, Garrett Whitlock. I don’t know if you want to consider him a number one, but opening night it will be Garrett Whitlock. (Glenn) Otto, game two. Game three is Nick Nelson. Game four is Dalton Lehnen. Game five will Daniel Ramos and then game six will be J.P. Sears. J.P. Sears will piggyback Whitlock in game one and then he’ll take over game six,” Pope said.
The RiverDogs also started off 2017 with a six man rotation that quickly became a five man rotation once the season started. “That’s something that they kind of do in the lower levels. Especially in the first half of the season until the short season teams start. Because you know a lot of these guys have never pitched in a five man or six man rotation, so it’s kind of a way to ease them into it. That’s kind of something the organization decides on,” Pope said.
As far as the bullpen goes, no roles have been determined yet. “It’s something Julio and I are going to sit down today, tomorrow, even on Wednesday try figure out who we want in each what role or even if it’s for the first week, 10 days of the season, kind of feeling guys out, getting guys feet wet and then kind of defining their roles themselves,” Pope said.
With the pitching staff expected to produce, that’s not to say the offense will be lacking at all. “We have some guys who can impact the ball. We have (Steven) Sensley, (Leonardo) Molina – awesome type of power. (Frederick) Cuevas has some decent swings. (Dalton) Blaser, you know we have (Wilkerman) Garcia, (Chris) Hess have some pretty good power. (Eduardo) Navas is swinging the bat really good, even (Jason) Lopez swinging the bat really good. I expect these guys, they’ll grow and they’ll hit the ball for some power,” Mosquera said. “I think we have some guys that can do some pretty good things with the bat. We have some guys with some power, some guys who can drive the ball. Some guys who can control the bat really good and do the job moving runners and stuff like that. We’re going to rely a lot of that type stuff.”
Mosquera is well aware of the reputation of Joe Riley Park for being a notoriously hard ballpark to hit home runs in, but he doesn’t want his players to change anything they’re doing at the plate. “This happened in spring training. The wind was blowing some days, the wind was blowing out some days, so you know, it doesn’t change what they do at the plate because I don’t think the conditions of the field should change what the hitters to do because we want them to be consistent with what they do. Some of them have some objectives to work on, hitting plans they have worked on with the hitting coach,” Mosquera said.
As far as the every day lineup goes, the RiverDogs have a lot of versatility, a trait the Yankees organization cherishes, and the roster features players that will play many different positions. “Right field will be Sensley mainly. Dom Thompson-Williams and Molina will split center field. Also Molina will play all three (outfield) position. Cuevas will be all three (outfield) positions. We have four outfielders so they’re probably going to share time in the DH role. Blaser, Cabrera, Garcia, Hess and Metzgar will be at third base. Also Metzgar is a utility infielder so he’ll go every where in the infield. I expect Hess to play some first base too. Then Navas and Lopez will be handling the catching. They’ll kind of be splitting time,” Mosquera said. “Cabrera will go if Garcia gets a day off and they’ll also flip flop second and short.”
The RiverDogs open up with an exhibition game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans Tuesday April 3 at Joe Riley Park. The Pelicans are the Carolina League High-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Charleston then hits the road to open up against the Lexington Legends for four games before moving onto Rome to face the Braves. They will play the Braves for three games and return home April 12 to face off against the Kannapolis Intimidators for the home opener. The first home stand will include four games against the Intimidators and three games against the West Virginia Power.