It’s like 50 degrees outside, but whatever! At least it’s not snowing, right! The Fisher Cats are back!
It’s April 5, here’s the state of things on the path 400 miles to Toronto and beyond as we begin the season.
The Fisher Cats had the Eastern League’s worst record in 2017 as well as the worst record in franchise history.
Needless to say, new manager John Schneider is likely to top New Hampshire’s 58 wins from 2017. But he doesn’t want to stop there.
Schneider has already gotten two championships as a minor league manager, and he heads into this season like every other season: setting an expectation of post-season play.
“It’s tough to put a win/loss (number) on paper before we’ve even taken the field. That I like to stay clear of because there’s so many ups and downs during the season,” says Schneider. “But if people do what they’re supposed to do and we handle business the way that they should, we should be a pretty formidable force in this league. So it’s just a matter of the players going out there and doing it, and it’s my job to stay out of the way, really.”
The Fisher Cats’ offense appears to be the strength of this year’s squad, but Schneider believes that the team can’t rely solely on run production, with good pitching buoying the lineup during bad days at the plate and the early season series when players may be just getting into their rhythms.
“You look at any good team and teams that have a lot of offensive fire power, you’re only as good as your pitching,” says Schneider. “We’re going to lean on (our pitchers) early, and hopefully not win 13 to 12.”
Fisher Cats to Watch
The biggest names on this year’s club are the sons of former major leaguers: Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Bichette has some nominal ties to the Manchester area, as his father Dante played nearby for the Boston Red Sox and eventually finished his career in the minors with the Nashua Pride in 2004.
Last year, he was the Midwestern League’s MVP and also represented Brazil at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
“I think I’m ready for (Double-A). If you get caught up in (Single-A and Double-A) levels, you might struggle a bit, but for me it’s the same game; the ball’s still crossing the plate and I still have to see those pitches,” says Bichette. “I’m sure they’ll better plans against me and that’s something I have to adjust to, but the way my dad taught me is to just watch the game and make my own plans.”
Bichette hopes his stint in New Hampshire will catapult him into the Majors and many believe that his comrade on the left side of this year’s Fisher Cat infield will eventually reach Toronto as well if past history is any indication.
Like Bichette, Guerrero Jr. holds a Major League pedigree, with his father earning enshrinement Cooperstown earlier this year.
Right now, MLB.com and Baseball America rank him as the third best prospect in professional baseball, something he validated with a walk-off home run during the final day of spring training at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
Vladimir Jr. spent much of his childhood immersed in French-Canadian culture in Montreal while his father played for the Expos, but he hasn’t gotten a chance to experience much of Manchester’s French-Canadian culture just yet.
Right now, he’s just focused on the game.
“I’m going to try to go out there and do the best job that I can,” he said through interpreter and infield coach Andy Fermin. “The pitchers have to do their job, but so do I. I’m looking forward to facing Double-A pitching.”
Joining Bichette and Guerrero Jr. in the fraternity of Major League offspring on the 2018 Fisher Cats is Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.
Cavan hit .233 in 127 games last year for Class-A Advanced Dunedin.
“Growing up with my last name, it’s easy to say I want to be like him, because I do, and so does Bo and Vlady,” said Biggio. “This is our way of making our own way. Having the three of us on the same team is pretty special because it’s not common. We don’t really talk about it much, but we want to become where they were and make our own path.”
Who’s Here and Who’s Left
In addition to Bichette, Guerrero Jr. and Biggio, New Hampshire’s infield holds new Fisher Cat Juan Kelly and returning Fisher Cats Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gunnar Heidt, with 2017 Fisher Cat infield mainstays Tim Lopes and Richard Urena getting a chance at Triple-A Buffalo.
If last year was any indication, Heidt will also probably see some time in the outfield, joining returning Fisher Cats Jonathan (J.D.) Davis, Andrew Guillotte and Harold Ramirez as well as Dunedin callup Connor Panas.
Behind the plate, 2017 Fisher Cat catching duo Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire have also been promoted to Triple-A, leaving things to Patrick Cantwell, Max Pentecost and Alex Monsalve.
The biggest name in the pitching staff is Craig Breslow, a reliever for the World Champion 2013 Boston Red Sox. Joining him are returning Fisher Cats Andrew Case and Dusty Issacs among several others.
Sean Reid-Foley, Jon Harris and Francisco Rios lead the starting rotation.
The Fisher Cats begin their season on the road, with a three-game set in Hartford (Apr. 5- 8) and Trenton (Apr. 9-11) before heading home.