Roster Rounding into shape - Sussex County Miners
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Roster Rounding into shape

Roster Rounding into shape

     It was getting to be late in the season last year, and the Miners were tangled in a six-team race for three East Division playoff spots. The pitching was there – one of the Frontier League’s best teams on the mound. But, at the plate? Sussex County was one of the league’s worst.

     Something had to be done if the locals were going to stay in the fight.

     That’s when five new faces appeared out of nowhere in the Miners lineup – each one making big and instant contributions to help carry their new team to the final postseason battle in the final weekend of the year.

     The Miners came up short in those final hours and missed the playoffs by a whisker, but they might not have been there in the last-minute skirmish at all without the late season moves that brought those five late additions who brought some big-time punch to the batting order.

     Now, four of them, including third baseman Juan Silverio, are back to form a new core to the team’s new roster, which is rounding into shape as the May 12 Opening Day approaches. After Silverio was claimed off waivers last July 22, he appeared in the Miners’ final 38 games and batted a show-stopping .347 with 29 RBI.

     A 31-year-old from the Dominican Republic, Silverio had been playing pro ball since he was 17, and was the answer to the Miners dilemma at third base. Kevin Rolon, a 23-year-old rookie, had started the year at the hot corner, but he ended up batting .177 in 59 games, forcing outfielder Martin Figueroa to move in and share the position. Later in the year, another rookie, Webb Little, appeared in 20 games at third, batting .250.

     Arriving in Augusta right after the all-star break, Silverio’s first day in a Sussex uniform had him batting third and going 3-for-5 in a 7-6 victory over Evansville. In his first weekend here, he went 6-for 12 with a walk and two RBI. In his first 20 games, he was batting .371. The third base problem had been solved.

    Signed by the Chicago White Sox as a 17-year-old in Santiago, Silverio started his pro career in Virginia in 2008 with the Bristol White Sox, playing with several Chicago farm teams before moving on to the Cincinnati Reds in 2013, reaching the Triple-A level with that organization. He later played in the Mexican League and the independent Atlantic League, then with Tri-City, of the Frontier League, to start the 2022 season.

     — Yanio Perez, like Silverio, brought plenty of experience with him when he signed as a free agent with Sussex last Aug. 2. And, just like Silverio, he took over a problem spot in the infield at third base and produced big results, batting .386 over his first two weeks here and finishing the season at .340 in 30 games. Like Silverio, his pro career had started at age 17 when he was signed by Artemisa in the Cuban National Series, later playing three seasons with Texas Rangers farm teams. He came to Augusta from the Lincoln Saltdogs of the independent American Association.

     Before Perez arrived, 26-year-old journeyman Carson McCurdy played 47 games at first base, batting .233, sharing the position with true shortstop Cito Culver, who was released on waivers with a .196 batting average.

     — Willie Escala was a 23-year-old right out of Miami at Ohio University when he signed with the Miners on Aug. 3, jumping into the shortstop role after Culver had departed and all-star Errol Robinson had his contract purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals in late July. Escala made a huge first impression at Skylands, batting .412 over his first two weeks here.

     — Oraj Anu, like Escala, was another 23-year-old right out of college – the University of Kentucky – where the switch-hitting outfielder had just batted .324 in his final season. He had been a 16th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2019, but chose to attend Kentucky, instead. And, just like the other three late additions to the Miners, Anu got off to a quick start, playing mostly right field and batting .314 in his first two weeks.

     The fifth late addition last year was yet another 23-year-old right out of college. That was Alex Toral, from Florida State University, who has since been traded away.

     The Miners roster has added several other returning players in recent days, including 26-year-old Jawuan Harris, the Rutgers University product who signed a contract extension on March 15 after tying for third in the league last year with 34 stolen bases. Outfielder Justin Washington, utility man Edwin Mateo and New Zealander relief pitcher Jimmy Boyce are among others who’ve signed contract extensions recently. Sussex has also signed former New Jersey Jackals all-star catcher Jason Agresti and former Jackals first baseman Dalton Combs, who was No. 2 in the league last year with a .354 average in 94 games.

 Photo Credit: Phil Hoops    

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.