Biloxi Shuckers

Shuckers host Lookouts as 2016 campaign begins

 Nick Ramirez played for the Milwaukee Brewers during exhibition game against the Biloxi Shuckers at MGM Park, Saturday, Apr. 2, 2016.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Nick Ramirez played for the Milwaukee Brewers during exhibition game against the Biloxi Shuckers at MGM Park, Saturday, Apr. 2, 2016.

Minor league baseball's road warriors of 2015 begin the new campaign at home Thursday night.

Following a pair of exhibition games at MGM Park, the Biloxi Shuckers begin the 2016 regular season with a 6:40 p.m. home game against the Chattanooga Lookouts.

After spending the first 54 games of the 2015 season on the road due to delays in the construction of MGM Park, the Shuckers begin this year with a seven-game home stand.

Last year's squad developed a strong bond through their shared experience on the road and the light mood in the clubhouse this week seems to indicate this year will provide much of the same.

"I think it's a pretty good group," first-year Biloxi manager Mike Guerrero said. "Part of what we're looking for as an organization, chemistry is a big part. We have pretty good talent, pretty good guys. I think we're looking forward to playing our hearts out on the field."

The five-game series with Chattanooga serves as a rematch of last season's Southern League Championship Series that ended in a 3-2 series win for the Lookouts.

Much like the Shuckers, many of the most talented Lookouts of 2015 have moved up the chain in the Minnesota Twins' system.

Doug Mientkiewicz, a former Twins first baseman, is back as the manager for Chattanooga, but he no longer has 2015 Southern League MVP Max Kepler in his lineup or several other top prospects who have been promoted.

The Shuckers no longer have the talented pitching duo of Jorge Lopez and Tyler Wagner or the gifted bats of Orlando Arcia or Michael Reed.

There will, however, be several familiar faces in the lineup when Biloxi starts the 2016 season.

Nathan Orf, a fan favorite who shifted to a variety of positions last season, will again be on the infield this year after batting .274 in 2015.

While there are changes on the roster, Orf sees a similar team makeup compared to last year's squad.

"I think it's kind of similar to last year as in we have older guys with experience and young energy guys like (shortstop Javier Betancourt). He's a high energy guy, great player," Orf said. "We have kind of a good mix of everything. It's an exciting time to see what we have."

Five of the seven infielders listed on the Biloxi roster spent significant time with the Shuckers last season. The only new names are second baseman Chris McFarland, who was at Single-A last season, and Betancourt, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers in November.

All four of the Shuckers' outfielders had healthy stints in Biloxi last year -- Brett Phillips, Victor Roache, Tyrone Taylor and Kyle Wren.

The newest star in the Biloxi lineup is catcher Jacob Nottingham, a power-

hitting catcher acquired in a February trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Corner infielder Garrett Cooper, first baseman Nick Ramirez, Nottingham, Phillips and outfielder Victor Roache should provide plenty of the long ball for fans at MGM Park this season. The five combined for 73 homers total last year and players like Nottingham, Cooper and Roache could see their power numbers take another step forward this season.

Left-hander Josh Hader will get the start for the Shuckers Thursday and Chattanooga will counter with a lefty of its own, Jason Wheeler -- the SLCS MVP last year.

Hader finished the 2015 season in Biloxi with a 1-4 record and 2.79 ERA in seven starts.

Wheeler was 4-3 with a 3.92 ERA in 10 starts for Chattanooga last season.

Right-hander Javi Salas will start for Biloxi Friday and righty Adrian Houser will make the first pitch Saturday.

"We've got really good pitching, guys that throw strikes and know how to pitch," Hader said. "It's definitely looking good from the pitching standpoint."