The River City Rascals relief corps remains very similar to those of 2016 with the only key ingredient missing is one of the Frontier League’s top former closers in Zac Treece, who is now playing with the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic Association.
Overall, manager Steve Brook has brought back five arms from the 2016 bullpen, highlighted by veteran Nick Kennedy, who enters his sixth year with the club. The Southern California native is the franchise record holder for all-time appearances with 213 and is coming off another solid year where he earned two wins while holding a 2.90 ERA through 46 outings.
The right-hander is used in a variety of ways whether it is to get out of a jam in the early stages of a contest or late in the ballgame in a hold situation. Over the course of his Rascals career, Kennedy has earned a pair of Frontier League honors with the first being in 2013 when he was named to the All-Star team.
This past year, Kennedy was given the Fran Riordan Citizenship award for his work on and off the field. Along with his 41.2 innings of work, he worked as a paraprofessional dealing with special education and autistic kids at Fort Zumwalt East High School. He also volunteered for the baseball team at Fort Zumwalt and has been working with the community since his Rascals days began in 2012.
The four other returners who were used out of the bullpen last year include right-handers Shane Street, Skylar Hunter, Jason Zgardowski and Reese Gregory.
Street and Hunter were both nearly unhittable against right-handed opposition this past year allowing just four hits in a combined 49 at-bats for a .081 batting average. Both guys were late additions to the club and were used as late inning relievers helping set up Treece for his career high 22 saves.
Street, a former catcher, finished with 16 innings in 17 outings and was also very successful in the strikeout category sending a total of 24 guys back to the dugout via the K. The flamethrower was one of five guys on the staff that struck out more guys than innings pitched, along with Hunter and Zgardowski.
Both former members of the Philadelphia Phillies organization, Hunter struck out 12 in 11 ⅓ innings after being signed in August and the six-foot-five framed Zgardowski rung up 30 hitters over 24 ⅔ frames.
Zgardowski appeared in a total of 15 games picking up a win and a save while maintaining an ERA of a 4.38, including a solid 2.70 ERA away from hitter friendly CarShield Field.
The final Rascals returner is former St. Cloud State University standout Reese Gregory. The righty was primarily a middle reliever and tossed two innings or more in 13 of his 16 appearances. His best outing came in his second professional win against the Florence Freedom tossing a career long 5 ⅔ innings allowing just one run (unearned) on two hits.
As for the newcomers, Brook currently has six righties and one southpaw who have primarily been used as a reliever during their baseball career.
Out of the seven, six have played affiliated ball highlighted by former Dodger Brian Bass who sported a 3.21 ERA in 55 games between rookie and single-A. In total, Bass tossed 84 innings and struck out 63 while picking up four wins.
Other guys that have played at the Single-A level include righties Taylor Cockrell, Preston Guillory and Ty Provencher.
Cockrell was drafted in the 23rd round in 2015 out of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota and is originally from Bad Windsheim, Germany. The 22-year-old made 22 appearances and picked up his first career win late in the 2015 season against the Rome Braves.
Preston Guillory and Ty Provencher were both quality assets at their respective powerhouse baseball programs. Guillory played at TCU (2015-2016), who has made the College World Series the past three years and Provencher at Long Beach State (2013-2016), where the Dirtbags currently have the most active Major Leaguers and have held that top spot since 2010.
As for their professional careers this past year, the former TCU Horned Frog was dominant allowing just two earned runs in 19 ⅔ innings and converted all three of his save opportunities between three different Miami Marlins affiliates.
Provencher also played in the Marlins organization as an undrafted free agent and picked up a save in 22 outings with the Batavia Muckdogs (Short-A).
The other two right-handers include local O’Fallon talent Colton Howell and North Dakota State product Trevor Jaunich. Howell played at Fort Zumwalt high school before going on to play as a Nebraska Cornhusker. Howell was then drafted by the Kansas City Royals and split his 12 professional appearances between the bullpen and the starting rotation with the Arizona League Affiliate. Jaunich tossed 118 innings over 53 appearances at NDSU and earned eight wins and nine saves.
Facing the opposite side of the field is North Florida product Daniel Moritz. The southpaw was able to land a job with the Toronto Blue Jays organization this past August and in his lone professional outing (RK), Moritz threw a scoreless 2 ⅓ innings and struck out three.
21 arms in total still remain with Brook and the Rascals Spring Training roster currently stands at 37 guys with opening day approaching on May 12th as the 2010 Frontier League Champions welcome the Normal CornBelters. For tickets, visit http://www.rivercityrascals.com/tickets/individual/.