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The Asheville Tourists will open their 2014 season on Thursday at McCormick Field. Pictured, from left: infielder Alec Mehrten; pitching coach Mark Brewer;  manager Fred Ocasio; hitting coach Mike Devereaux; and pitcher Zach Jemiolia. /Photo by Stewart O’Shields.

By Ian Casselberry

Last season wasn’t a great one for the Asheville Tourists. The team finished sixth in the seven-team Southern Division of the South Atlantic League with a 63-73 record overall. (The Tourists went 38-30 in the season’s first half, but notched a 25-43 mark in the second half, the worst in their division.) It was a disappointing follow-up to winning the SAL championship in 2012 with the franchise’s best record in 15 seasons.

So what’s in store for this year’s edition of the Tourists, beginning with Thursday’s home opener? It’s probably too difficult to forecast how well the team will play, as we don’t know how some players will develop and those who perform successfully could quickly be promoted to a higher level in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system. But there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about baseball in Asheville throughout the spring and summer.

Three of the Rockies’ top 10 minor league prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, will be featured on the 2014 opening day roster. That trio is headlined by outfielder David Dahl, whom some of you might remember was demoted to extended spring training just one game into last season for disciplinary measures. Dahl, 20, returned to Asheville in late April, but suffered a torn hamstring that effectively ended his 2013 season.

But the 2012 first-round draft pick is looking to make up for his lost year and has impressed minor league analysts with his play during the winter. According to ESPN.com’s Keith Law, Dahl’s offseason strength and conditioning work has resulted in “better bat control thanks to stronger hands and forearms, as well as greater torque from his hip rotation.” To translate that technical scouting talk, Dahl should put up some big numbers this year and establish himself as one of the top prospects in all of minor league baseball. He’ll be a great story to follow this year. Get out to McCormick Field early in the season to Dahl play.

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Another Tourists outfielder carrying big expectations is Raimel Tapia, who had a strong season with the Rockies’ rookie league team in Grand Junction last year. In 66 games and 258 at-bats, the 20-year-old compiled a .357 batting average that led the Pioneer League. He also accumulated 20 doubles, seven home runs and 47 runs batted in (RBI). Tapia’s .957 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) demonstrates how effective he was in reaching base and hitting for power. As he better develops his batting technique to incorporate his entire body into his swing, Tapia should become a formidable hitter.

Third baseman Ryan McMahon also had a standout season with Grand Junction that he hopes to build upon in Asheville. In his 251 at-bats, the California native batted .321 with a .984 OPS, 11 home runs and 52 RBI. Those who have seen the 19-year-old play have been impressed by his composure and confidence at such a young age, touting him as someone who shows leadership on the field and in the locker room. Of course, hitting so well helps to establish plenty of credibility with teammates.

Other players worth keeping an eye on throughout the 2014 season include outfielder Jordan Patterson (.291 average, 10 home runs last season) and first baseman Correlle Prime (.281 average, 39 RBI). In addition, the pitching staff includes several promising young arms in relievers Dylan Stamey (1.26 earned run average), Trent Daniel (1.90 ERA with the Rockies’ Class A Tri-City affiliate) and Troy Neiman (3.86 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings), and starting pitchers Konner Wade (3.58 ERA) and Alex Balog (the Rockies’ second-round draft pick in 2013). Outfielder Max White and catcher Jose Briceno are also among those returning to Asheville this season.

This collection of young up-and-coming talent led Purple Row, which covers the Rockies for SB Nation, to tweet that “the 2014 Asheville Tourists are going to be FUN to follow.” I certainly see no reason to argue with that. There are several players on the roster that will be worth your time to watch this year, potential stars that could be wearing major league uniforms in Colorado within a couple of years. This year provides a chance to boast that you saw them at the beginning stages of their careers.

*** The Asheville Tourists open their season on Thursday at McCormick Field. They will face the Delmarva Shorebirds on a Thirsty Thursday. Single game tickets are currently available at the McCormick Field box office. For more information, contact the Tourists’ front office at (828) 258-0428.

Ian Casselberry covers Major League Baseball at The Outside Corner and provides analysis for The WISE Guys on ESPN Asheville (1310 and 970 AM) every Tuesday at 4:20 p.m. Follow Ian on Twitter.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks Ash for including this in your blog. Along with Stu’s reviews, which are great, looking forward to the updates.

  2. Radio Follower says:

    Great breakdown! Looking forward to Ian’s updates throughout the season!

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