Trades Bring Clout, Consistency - Sussex County Miners
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Trades Bring Clout, Consistency

Trades Bring Clout, Consistency

Last year’s Miners just missed the Frontier League’s postseason playoffs, losing a couple of heart-breakers in the last week of the season while a couple of rival teams suddenly got ridiculously and uncharacteristically hot down the stretch.

     The solution to those last-minute quirks? Don’t be so close to so many teams in the final days on the schedule. Open up a little distance before things get dramatic at the end. Easier said than done? Of course, but some recent offseason roster maneuvers hope to solve some of last year’s shortcomings.

     Last year’s pitching was good – fourth best in the league. But the hitting? That was 12th in the league. Hits? Sussex was 14th in the league. But, the woes went beyond those mere numbers. Aside from a handful of position players, there were definite holes in the lineup, including notable lacks of production at first base and catcher.

     Two recent trades with the New Jersey Jackals have addressed those particular voids.

     One offseason deal brought iron man catcher Jason Agresti to Augusta, while another brought first baseman Dalton Combs. On paper, at least, both represent huge improvements at those two positions, both in offensive statistics and in another positive, namely being there in the lineup every day.

     Agresti, who turns 27 in May, has been a real catcher’s catcher since he arrived in the league with the Rockland Boulders in 2018, right out of SUNY-Binghamton. In 2019, he joined the Jackals, but really blossomed after the 2020 covid shutdown, batting .316 in 81 games behind the plate in the 2021, then following that up with a .287 season over 87 games last year. 

     Combs (28) was merely No. 2 in the entire league in hitting last year, posting an eye-opening .354 batting average while appearing in all 94 of his team’s games. He was third in the league in hits, No. 4 in on base percentage, No. 5 in runs and tied for No. 8 in RBI.

     By comparison to the two newcomers, last year’s Miners saw little production from either the catcher or first base positions.

     Isaias Quiroz opened the season behind the plate and would appear in 58 games with a .176 batting average. His backup, Nick Garland, appeared in 53 games and batted .266, with Jackson Pritchard making nine appearances and batting .136.

     On opening day last year, the Miners shifted shortstop Cito Culver to play first base, a move that was repeated on and off for months until he was traded away on July 17 with his .196 batting average. Carson McCurdy became the regular at first, appearing in 47 games and batting .233. 

     Finally, for the final month of the season, the team brought in a seasoned Cuban veteran and a youngster right out of college to team up at first, and they did provide good sparks. Yanio Perez hit .340 in 30 games and Alex Toral, fresh from Florida State University, hit .284 with 11 home runs in 34 appearances – this for a Miners team that was next to last in the league in homers.

ROSTER 101: The Miners new manager, Chris Widger, is at his longtime home in South Jersey working to put together his 2023 roster as he learns and navigates the Frontier League’s player eligibility rules.  

     Here’ a brief overview: During the season, a team can have a maximum of four “veteran” players who will reach age 29 or more before Oct. 1. Playing experience doesn’t matter, just the age. Meanwhile, a team must have a minimum of 10 rookies, which includes players with one year of pro experience. If a player is neither a veteran or a rookie, then he’s classified as “experienced.”

     During the offseason, team rosters are limited to 34 players. That number goes down to 28 by the Sunday before opening day, then down to 24 once the regular season begins.

QUICK TRIP, THEN DOUBLE THE FIREWORKS

     The Miners open the 2023 season with a nice little 12-hour bus ride to Joliet, IL, to face the Slammers in a three-game series beginning Friday night, May 12. After that, they come right back home to open Skylands Stadium with three games against the Tri-City ValleyCats starting Tuesday night, May 16.

     That Friday night, May 19, the New Jersey Jackals make a one-night-only appearance in Augusta, followed by the only Friday-night fireworks of the year. There will be another dose of fireworks on Saturday night, May 20, but that will happen at Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, the Jackals new home in the renovated ballpark that once hosted Negro Leagues games in the 1930s and 1940s.

     The Miners and Jackals will tangle a third time in a Sunday afternoon game in Paterson. Google Maps says it’s 47 miles from Skylands to Hinchliffe via Route 15 to Route 80, and baseball fans will no doubt want to see a game in a place where Cooperstown Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Paterson’s own Larry Doby, the “Silk City Slugger” once played. One last enticement to make the trip – Hinchliffe Stadium is just a long fly ball away from the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, one of the Garden State’s most scenic and historic sites.

      

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