Spring has returned to New Hampshire, and with it another season of New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball.
The defending Eastern League champions begin their 16th season in Manchester with ten returning players and three members of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 40-man roster in Patrick Murphy, Hector Perez and Yennsy Diaz.
Following 2018 Florida League Pitcher of the Year honors, Murphy leads the starting rotation, following a 10-5 record in Dunedin with a 2.64 ERA over 26 starts. He made one start in New Hampshire last season, holding Hartford to two runs over six innings in a late May call-up.
“I’m excited,” said Murphy on Tuesday. “I’m ready for another full season, I’m ready to compete with these guys and see if we can build on last year’s (Eastern League) championship run and see what our guys can do.”
Perez and Diaz join Murphy in the Fisher Cats rotation. Perez, a key component of last summer’s Roberto Osuna trade, started in five games for the Fisher Cats last season, posting a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Among New Hampshire’s batters, Brandon Grudzielanek and Kacy Clemons continue last year’s trend of major league pedigrees.
Grudzielanek’s uncle Mark played in the big leagues from 1995 to 2010 while Kacy seeks to achieve the same success as his seven-time Cy Young Award-winning father.
“Anytime you see somebody with the last name of someone coming before them and done really well, there are definitely expectations. I definitely understand that,” he said. “I’ve played with it my whole life. Growing up, I didn’t understand it as much as I do now. I’m pretty used to it, I’ll get whoever I’m facing’s best stuff.”
Kacy is no stranger to New Hampshire either, with brother Koby playing for the Fisher Cats in 2012.
He will likely compete with Chad Spanberger for time at first base, or it is possible he may follow in the footsteps of incoming Fisher Cats manager Mike Mordecai and serve at a variety of positions.
During his 793 major league appearances for Atlanta, Montreal and Florida, Mordecai played every single position except for pitcher, playing on a pair of World Series-winning squads in 1996 and 2003.
His experience foreshadowed a recent trend of more positional flexibility among fielders, a philosophy that will likely be part of this year’s squad in an attempt to optimize rest and development.
But can this year’s Fisher Cats repeat as champions? Mordecai doesn’t want to guarantee anything yet,
“I think as a team, you always have to set goals and one of our goals is to make it to the playoffs,” he said. “We’re going to try and do the things we need to do to get into the playoffs as a team. If we all pull together and do the things we need to do, I think we have a good chance of doing that.”
The Fisher Cats begin their season at home on Thursday with a 6:35 p.m. contest against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.