April 1, 2014 Updated: April 2, 2014 at 7:51 am
All the pieces are in place for another strong Sky Sox season thanks to a good mix of prospects and veterans.
"We have a lot of talent and experience at all positions," returning outfielder Tim Wheeler said before Tuesday's preseason luncheon at Security Service Field. "Our pitching will be pretty solid. I am looking forward to it."
The Sky Sox (67-76 last season) open at New Orleans on Thursday with their Pacific Coast League home opener against the Round Rock Express on April 11.
While last year's team fell short of contending for a division title and a playoff berth, the squad remained competitive despite a number of promotions and injuries.
"We will get after it," second-year Sky Sox manager Glenallen Hill said. "We worked to create a good environment last season. We are excited to see how that comes into play."
Of course, whether that comes together depends on injuries at Triple-A Colorado Springs and the parent club, the Colorado Rockies. Twenty Sky Sox players played for the Rockies last season.
"You can never tell when you may get your opportunity," infielder Josh Rutledge said. "It will be good to play every day here. Everyone has to be ready."
The mix of talent includes a number of familiar veterans and some high Rockies draft picks, notably left-handed pitchers Christian Friedrich (2008 first round, 28th overall), who was limited to four Sky Sox appearances last year because of a back injury, and Tyler Matzek (2009 first round, 11th), who spent 2013 in Double-A Tulsa (8-9, 3.79 ERA).
"I am looking to pitch low to get ground balls, get in some good outings and get some team Ws," Matzek said. "The individual success will follow."
The veteran pitchers with MLB experience include Greg Burke (Padres, Mets) and Manny Corpas and Rob Scahill who both saw time with the Rockies last season. Former Pirates catcher Michael McKenry, a 2006 Rockies draft pick, is another veteran along with infielder Paul Janish, formerly of the Red and Braves. Past Twins, Mets and Orioles outfielder Jason Pridie is also in the mix.
Other familiar Sky Sox names include catcher Matt McBride, infielders Ben Paulsen, Rutledge and Ryan Wheeler, who led Colorado Springs with 89 RBIs and 74 runs.
"The players are excited and ready to play," Hill said. "They're all hungry."
The Sky Sox are now in the American Conference for the first time since 2004, resulting in more games against Northern Division foes Iowa Cubs, Oklahoma City RedHawks (Astros) and Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals). The move was made after the Tucson franchise became the El Paso Chihuahuas. The American South includes Memphis (Cardinals), Nashville (Brewers), New Orleans (Marlins) and Round Rock (Rangers).
The Sky Sox enter this season with a 1,875-1,961 all-time record (.489) and two PCL championships (1992, 1995).