New Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg has been working out to get ready for the start of spring training, while at the same time waiting for his computer to be repaired so he can catch up on Royals news that he's missed the past couple of weeks.
And, yes, he's also thought a little about how the defending Class AAA champions' roster might look in 2014.
Good enough to compete for another championship?
“You always start out hoping for the best,” he said. “If you don't, you're in the wrong business.”
While Poldberg has fallen behind on Kansas City-related updates, he doesn't need his computer to familiarize himself with many players on Omaha's potential roster.
A portion of the team that won a third straight PCL division title in 2013 is back, and Poldberg managed many of them previously at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
“You have a pretty good idea, because for the most part the big league club is set — maybe a backup position is up for grabs at best,” Poldberg said.
Without breaking down big league roster battles, here's a list of potential Omaha returnees who played key roles last season: starting pitchers Chris Dwyer and Justin Marks, relievers Donnie Joseph and Michael Mariot, infielders Johnny Giavotella and Christian Colon, and outfielders Paulo Orlando, Gorkys Hernandez and Brian Fletcher.
Among the Chaser newcomers who figure to make an impact are third baseman Brandon Laird, first baseman Matt Fields, outfielder Melky Mesa and catcher Francisco Pena.
Among the familiar veterans who have moved on are versatile utility players Irving Falu and Anthony Seratelli.
Falu signed with Milwaukee after spending almost all of the past five seasons — plus a brief appearance in 2004 — in an Omaha uniform. He hit .283 for Omaha and ranks among the franchise's all-time leaders in games (578), at-bats (2,232), runs (309), hits (631), doubles (84), triples (29) and stolen bases (89).
Seratelli signed with the New York Mets after spending the past two seasons with the Chasers and hitting .286 with 28 homers, 107 RBIs and 39 stolen bases (in 44 attempts).
Others of note signing elsewhere as minor league free agents are catcher-first baseman Max Ramirez (Cincinnati), playoff hero Rey Navarro (Cincinnati) and catcher Manny Pina (Seattle). Three veterans who starred for Omaha last year, particularly late in the season — pitchers Brian Sanches and Zach Jackson and first baseman Ben Broussard — remain unsigned.
Falu and Seratelli likely moved on at an opportune time, as Kansas City's late-season addition of utility infielder Emilio Bonifacio and offseason signing of second baseman Omar Infante appear to have relegated Giavotella and Colon to start another season with the Chasers.
Giavotella has hit .317 with 78 doubles and 189 RBIs while spending most of the past three years with Omaha. Colon hit .273 with a team-high 58 RBIs and a league-high 15 sacrifices last season. Giavotella is a second baseman and Colon has been transitioning from shortstop to second — Infante blocks both of them, along with minor league signee Jason Donald, primarily a second baseman.
Laird was arguably the PCL's best third baseman last year, when he played solid defense and hit .277 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs for Oklahoma City, an affiliate of the Houston Astros. Another possibility at third is Danny Valencia, the former Minnesota starter whom Kansas City acquired in a trade last month with Baltimore for former Omaha regular David Lough.
If Colon doesn't return to shortstop, possibilities there include veteran free agent signee Brian Bocock and prospect Orlando Calixte, who spent all of last season in Class AA at age 21.
Fields, the 28-year-old slugger, appears to be the leading candidate at first base after hitting 31 homers and driving in 87 runs last year for Poldberg. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, the former late-round Tampa Bay draft pick worked his way back through independent ball to the Royals' organization. He hit .222 last season.
“He's going to have every opportunity to make the team,” Poldberg said. “He's got the kind of power you can't teach. So you keep giving him at-bats, and if it all comes together he can go quick. He's hit some of the longest homers I've ever seen.”
Fletcher, Hernandez and Orlando — all of whom starred late in the season and in the playoffs — figure to return, and are joined by former Yankee farmhand Mesa in the outfield picture.
Poldberg said he likes the power potential from a lineup featuring Fletcher, Laird and Fields in the middle of the order.
“I think it's been awhile since Omaha has had that kind of power batting 3-4-5, where's it's not just one guy (with home run potential), but many,” Poldberg said.
If not Pena, who had a .459 slugging percentage in 68 games last year with Las Vegas, then a return of the catching tandem of Brett Hayes and Adam Moore isn't out of the question (Moore signed a minor league deal after being released midway through last season).
Dwyer, the PCL All-Star who retired the first 20 batters he faced in the Triple-A Championship Game to earn most valuable player, was 10-11 and was sixth in the league with a 3.55 ERA last season. But he'll be hard-pressed to make the Royals' staff. Yordano Ventura, whose triple-digit fastball electrified the organization, probably is one rung ahead of Dwyer, but Poldberg said it wouldn't be out of the question for Ventura, too, to be back in Omaha. Former first-round pick Kyle Zimmer is also an Omaha possibility.
Other pitchers who could be back with the Chasers include Everett Teaford, Francisley Bueno, Buddy Baumann, Clayton Mortensen, John Lamb and Ryan Verdugo. Former big league pitchers on minor league deals include Cory Wade and P.J. Walters. ex-big leaguers Brad Penny and Guillermo Mota recently signed minor league deals, but it's not clear what the Royals will do if they don't make the big league club.
Projecting anything in Class AAA is risky enough during the season, let alone weeks before spring training. It's the most transient of levels where a team can go from contender to pretender overnight. But a general idea isn't too out of line.
“With the names that we have right now, it looks very promising,” Poldberg said. “With the pitching and the offense we should have — if we can catch the ball, we'll have a chance to be in the ballgame.”