Coming off a middling 73-70 campaign, the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate looks poised for a much stronger season in 2017. With lots of new talent on both sides of the ball, the team is one of the stronger Opening Day rosters in the system and could sport a potent offense in the hitting-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Last season the offense was headlined by two returning faces, Teoscar Hernandez and Tony Kemp, both of whom have also seen time at the big league-level and will presumably do so again this season. It does lose another strong performer in Danny Worth, who hit .330 over 303 at bats for the club last year.
Rotation stalwart Mike Hauschild is no longer with the team, and neither is Cesar Valdez who threw 138 innings for the team in 2016. Fresno will look to Brady Rodgers to handle heavy innings as long as he is on the roster, as well as the young Martes to replace the workload void left by the departures of Hauschild and Valdez.
While Fresno was a solid team last year, a strong collection of new faces are sure to make the team much stronger in the upcoming season.
A.J. Reed will return to Fresno ready to mash after a strong spring and is an injury away from the big leagues. Were Yuli Gurriel not with the team, he would likely be the starting first baseman right now. Other returning studs include outfielder Tony Kemp, Teoscar Hernandez and Tyler White.
Major league veteran Reid Brignac will man short for the Grizzlies and has hit minor league pitching hard in the past. He could be a strong piece for Fresno and represents solid organizational depth. Highly touted outfield prospect Derek Fisher will bring his tools to Fresno and seek to fully capitalize on his offensive potential. If he can do so, he could find himself in the majors this year. He is capable of impacting games with both speed and power.
Other players sure to be offensive contributors are familiar faces Colin Moran and Preston Tucker. Power bat Jon Kemmer will look to continue his slow climb to the majors with Fresno after knocking 18 home runs for the club in 2016. Max Stassi will once again handle catching duties and seek to reclaim some of his power from seasons past.
The headliner of the bunch is elite prospect Francis Martes who will be seeing his first significant time at the level. Martes posses a powerful three-pitch arsenal and should rack up strikeouts for the Grizzlies. He represents frontline upside.
Following Martes in the rotation will be journeyman Edison Frias and Brady Rodgers who figures to be a top performer at the Triple-A level and also represents a candidate for a call up. Brian Holmes, who has only seen limited time at the level before, could also get starts. Joe Musgrove also figures to see action as a starter at the Triple-A level during the 2017 campaign.
Martes, who pitches in the mid-90s with a power curve and developing change, represents a talent level that was not present on the staff in 2016 save for Musgrove in his limited action. He will represent the strongest arm on the club by a good margin and should help the team’s pitching take a step forward.
New addition Ashur Tolliver is likely the most interesting player in the bullpen. He brings low-to mid 90s heat with heavy life and pitched briefly in the majors last year after striking out 50 in 44 Triple-A innings last year.
Aaron West will look to continue his transition to the bullpen and remains a prospect even if his star has faded. James Hoyt will look to battle his way back to the big league club and has little left to prove at the minor league level.
The Grizzlies are fairly stacked with talent all around and should see more rising stars join the team later in the season, including Kyle Tucker. With Fisher and Martes added to the mix, the veteran presence of Brignac and a resurgent A.J. Reed, Fresno figues to be a force to be reckoned with in the PCL this season.