MOOSIC, Pa. – It may have been a gloomy Tuesday at PNC Field, but Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders manager Dave Miley was beaming with optimism about his 2015 club. The RailRiders begin their season at home Thursday, April 9, when they take on the Syracuse Chiefs at 7:05 p.m.
Bryan Mitchell, 23, has been named the Opening Day starter. With a career ERA of 2.45, Miley said this young powerhouse was “the perfect guy to open it up out of the gate.”
“He competes. He just seems to get better each time he goes out,” Miley said. “He did a nice job when he went up to New York, so he’s got a lot of that experience under his belt.”
Jaron Long, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley, and Kyle Davies will follow in the starting rotation.
Miley has a lot to look forward to this season; the RailRiders have a mix of both young and veteran players, as well as an experienced coaching staff ready to help the team reach September baseball.
“Justin Tordi is our defensive coach, but this guy is a jack of all trades,” Miley said. “Marcus [Thames] knows a lot of these hitters from past years, and has a good relationship with the players. In my opinion, it’s a Major League staff. These guys bring a lot to the table.”
It is a Major League staff, indeed. Thames had 10 years of appearances in the Major Leagues, including stints with the Yankees, Texas Rangers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. A successful career hitter, Thames will serve as a key resource for young players aiming for successful careers.
“His relationship and his personality fits in perfect for not just a hitting coach, but any,” Miley said. “He’s got the experience…he’s successful… I’m sure there are things I could get from him to help me along.”
Pitching Coach Scott Aldred and Miley will also be working with a strong bullpen. The two have not named a closer, but Miley said that he and Aldred will come up with a list in the event that one player is not available. Overall, the two are excited about the talent, and Miley wants to give every arm a chance.
“The experience, even though it’s Triple-A, they’re in tight ball games toward the end of the game,” he said. “We think that’s beneficial when they do go to the big leagues that they have that experience. We’ve got some guys down here that are going to be doing some real good things.”
Miley and his staff will be managing a flexible roster, which he believes is “key.” Miley admits that the RailRiders do not have the best base running speed, but the roster includes players who will be able to put guys into motion.
“We have a good mix of power,” Miley said.” “Our 3, 4, 5, 6 [guys] will be getting a lot of RBIs.”
Miley’s second baseman, Rob Refsnyder will be a consistent contributor to the RailRiders’ offense this season. Slated in the number three hole in the lineup, Refsnyder will be a key factor.
“We’re talking about a guy who came up here and hit .300 at this level,” Miley said. “He’s hit wherever he’s been. He doesn’t give at-bats away.”
Refsnyder serves as a “comfort factor” for Miley because he knows what to expect out of Refsnyder’s offensive performance on a daily basis. Although Refsnyder has been critiqued for his defensive game, he has been working on his fielding and feels that he is developing well. Refsnyder is looking forward to playing with the RailRiders this season, but his personal goal for this season is “making it to the big leagues.”
The RailRiders have a talented outfield, as well. Tyler Austin, Ramon Flores, Ben Gamel, and Slade Heathcott will all be seeing playing time. Miley has a “good idea of the matrix” of his outfield and does not foresee rotating the four being an issue.
2015 marks a critical season for Heathcott, who has been plagued by injuries throughout the duration of his career. Heathcott said that every camp or season he had started in the past, he was “either trying to get back to 100%, or not quite at 100%.” This season, however, Heathcott is in the “best baseball shape” he has ever been in.
After his last knee injury, Heathcott didn’t know what his future held.
“I didn’t know how well I was going to be able to play,” he said. “This last knee- it took a long time. I didn’t know how well I was going to come back, or if I was going to come back at all.”
Well, he is back, and healthier than ever. Aside from feeling better physically, Heathcott worked on his mentality, as well. Heathcott said that his the injuries and surgeries he had in the past changed his outlook on life.
“I try to eliminate all excuses – that’s a big goal of mine that I’ve been working on all offseason,” he said. “There’s never a good excuse; no matter what you’re doing. Nobody cares about what excuse you have, they just want to know you’ll get the job done.”
Northeast Pennsylvania is in for an exciting season of baseball, that’s for sure.
“I know one thing: if you get the word out to the fans, and get them out here, they’re going to like what these guys bring to the table,” Miley said. “They’ll play hard, they’ll compete, and hopefully we’ll play some September baseball.”