The Biloxi Shuckers roster is set for the 2017 opener and there are plenty of familiar faces among the 28 who will be suiting up for the Milwaukee Brewers’ Double-A affiliate.
The Shuckers begin the Southern League season on the road with a 7:05 p.m. game at Montgomery, Alabama, on Thursday, starting a five games series with the Biscuits. Biloxi will hold its home opener at 6:35 p.m. on April 12 against Pensacola.
A total of 17 players on the new roster spent time with the Shuckers last season.
That group doesn’t include outfielder Michael Reed, who spent the vast majority of the 2016 campaign at Triple-A Colorado Springs. With the Brewers acquiring so many outfield prospects through trades the last two years, Reed was sent back to Biloxi so he could get more at-bats. If he had returned to Colorado Springs, he would have been in a crowded outfield that includes the newly-promoted Brett Phillips.
Reed batted .248 with eight homers and 45 RBIs at Triple-A last season after batting .278 with five homers and 49 RBIs in 93 games at Biloxi in 2015.
Three players who finished last year in Biloxi will join Reed in the outfield this season – Clint Coulter, Johnny Davis and Victor Roache.
The player on the roster likely most familiar to Shuckers fans is Nick Ramirez, who spent the last two seasons as a first baseman in Biloxi. After batting just .206 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs last year, Ramirez has decided to give pitching a try.
The left-hander was one of the better the relief pitchers in college baseball during his junior season at Cal-State Fullerton when he registered 16 saves in 21 appearances with a 1.13 ERA. He had 34 career saves as a Titan.
Ramirez performed well during in his chances during the spring and was clocked at 90-91 miles per hour.
Fresh off a stint with his native Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, right-hander Jorge Lopez has a good chance to be the ace in Biloxi this season. The 2015 Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year at Biloxi started the 2016 season at Colorado Springs and struggled in the hitter-friendly ballpark with an ERA of 6.81 in 17 appearances.
Lopez finished out the 2016 campaign in Biloxi with a 3.97 ERA and 1-4 record in eight starts.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Lopez pitched well in two starts for Puerto Rico in the WBC, going 1-0 with a 3.86 in seven innings over two starts.
Luis Ortiz, who started six games at Biloxi last year with a 2-2 record and a 1.93 ERA, will also likely join Lopez near the top of the rotation.
The player most likely to make an impact in his first season at Biloxi is shortstop Mauricio Dubon, who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox through a trade in December. The speedy Dubon split time between Single-A and Double-A last year, batting .323 with six homers and 69 RBIs. He was successful on 30 of 37 steals.
Shortstop was a position that caused heartburn for Shuckers manager Mike Guerrero last year, but Dubon should provide some consistency there. His fielding percentage took a dip to .954 last season, but he holds a career mark of .976. He’s an upgrade at the plate at the very least.
While Dubon seems destined to be the shortstop, the rest of the infield may not shake out for a while.
Among the seven infielders on the Shuckers roster, none are listed as a third baseman. George Iskenderian and Angel Ortega are both shortstops. Blake Allemand and Javier Betancourt as listed as second basemen. The two first basemen are Dustin Demuth and Art Charles, who batted .352 with 29 homers and 101 RBIs in independent ball last season.
Jacob Nottingham returns as the team’s catcher and he’ll look to improve on his .234 batting average, 11 homers and 37 RBIs from last season.