Rain was welcomed as the Eugene Emeralds prepared for their first workout at PK Park on Wednesday..“Excited to be out of the heat,” said pitcher Steven Ridings, a native of Huntington, N.Y. “This is nothing new to me, I missed the rain a lot.”
The first wave of Emeralds arrived this week from the Chicago Cubs’ extended spring training in Mesa, Ariz., where temperatures have exceeded 100 degrees nearly every day in June.
“The weather change is nice,” catcher Cam Balego said. “This is a beautiful place with a bunch of good guys. We are ready to get going.”
The Emeralds open the Northwest League season at home at 7 p.m. Friday for the first of five games against Vancouver.
Twenty-six players are on the opening night roster, including seven who played in Eugene last summer. Half of the Emeralds spent last season in the rookie-level Arizona League playing at Sloan Park, the Cubs’ spring training complex.
“We have a young group that should be fun to watch,” first-year manager Steve Lerud said. “A lot of these guys have never played in front of fans, so it will be interesting to see how they react to it. A lot of times it is easier to play in those complexes because the pressure from outside isn’t there. It will be interesting to see how 18- and 19-year-old guys react to that for the first time. They have some exciting tools so I am looking forward to seeing them grow as players over the summer.”
Pitcher Jose Albertos is ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Cubs’ system by MLB.com and pitcher Brailyn Marquez is ranked 26th. Faustino Carrera, a 19-year-old lefty who went 2-4 with a 3.88 ERA in Arizona last season, will take the mound for the opener.
Fernando Kelli, a 19-year-old outfielder, will hit at the top of the order after batting .320 with 58 stolen bases while earning most valuable player honors in the Dominican Summer League last year.
“He has special tools, including the one you can’t teach, he can absolutely fly,” Lerud said. “It will be exciting to watch him grow as a baserunner. It has been easy for him in the past.”
The middle of the order features outfielder Nelson Velazquez, the No. 9 prospect in the organization who hit eight homers in the Arizona League last year, and third baseman Christopher Morel, who homered seven times in the Dominican league.
“We have a very diverse team,” Balego said. “We should be able to hit with power to the gaps and also run a little bit.”
The Cubs are expected to add to the Emeralds’ roster during the next few weeks with players selected in last week’s Major League Baseball draft. Chicago drafted 11 college players in the first 12 rounds with most of them likely targeted for Eugene.
“We will see how that goes in terms of signing them and getting them ready down in Arizona,” Lerud said. “Some of those guys have not played in a month since their college season ended so they will get up to speed down there and if they come here, that’s great.”
The veterans who open the season with the Emeralds after spending the past four months playing mostly intrasquad scrimmages look forward to playing 76 games over the next 82 days.
“It’s tough when you face your own hitters, that’s a weird challenge because everyone knows what the hitters’ tendencies are and they know the pitchers’ tendencies,” Ridings said. “Coming up against new competition, I think we will do really well.”