Minor League Baseball

Savannah Sand Gnats open season Thursday night

sports@islandpacket.comApril 3, 2014 

The defending South Atlantic League champion Savannah Sand Gnats host the Lakewood Blue Claws at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Grayson Stadium to open the 2014 season.

The season opener will feature live music, free magnet schedules, postgame fireworks and family-friendly activities and specials.

But one thing it won't feature is most of the lineup that led the 2013 squad to a 77-61 regular-season record, playoff series victories over the Augusta GreenJackets and Hagerstown Suns and Savannah's first league title since 1996.

Here's a primer for fans on what to look for Thursday night and the rest of the season:

WHO'S GONE

Only five of the 25 players on the Sand Gnats roster saw action for Savannah last season, so obviously, 80 percent of last year's team has moved on. Here are some key cogs in last year's machine that must be replaced:

  • RHP Gabriel Ynoa: The SAL Player of the Year led the league with 15 wins to go with his 2.72 ERA and was 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in the postseason. He will open 2014 in Port St. Lucie.

  • 1B Jayce Boyd: Hit .361 with five home runs and 49 RBIs in 65 games with Savannah before a promotion to Port St. Lucie.

  • C Kevin Plawecki: Hit .314 with six home runs and 43 RBIs before a promotion to Port St. Lucie.

  • 2B Dilson Herrera: Hit .267 with team-high 11 home runs, 60 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.

  • OF Eudy Pina: Hit just .233, but stroked 10 home runs with 49 RBIs and stole a team-high 21 bases.

  • WHO'S BACK

    Along with manager Luis Rojas, five players who saw action for the Sand Gnats last season remain in Savannah:

  • C Jeff Glenn: Split time at catcher after Plawecki's promotion, hitting .196 with three home runs and 30 RBIs in 70 games.

  • RHP Robert Gsellman: Thursday's opening-day starter was 2-3 with a 3.72 ERA in five starts for the Sand Gnats last season. Led Brooklyn with a 1.01 WHIP over 70 innings.

  • RHP Tim Peterson: Spent most of last season in Brooklyn, making 18 appearances with a 5.13 ERA for the Gnats.

  • INF Jorge Rivero: Played second base and led off some last year, hitting .279 in 33 games.

  • OF Stefan Sabol: An everyday player in left field last year, hit .203 with eight home runs, 42 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 105 games.

  • WHO'S NEW TO WATCH

  • SS Gavin Cecchini: Slick fielder was a first-round pick in 2012 (12h overall). Hit .273 -- .324 over the final month -- for Brooklyn last year.

  • RHP Miller Diaz: Starting pitcher led the N.Y. Penn League with 87 strikeouts and a 2.02 ERA for Brooklyn last season.

  • RHP John Gant: Savannah native struck out 81 with a 2.89 ERA in 13 starts for the Brooklyn.

  • INF L.J. Mazilli: Son of former Mets star Lee Mazilli and fourth-round draft pick from 2013 hit .278 and led Brooklyn with 34 RBIs last year.

  • 1B Dominic Smith: 18-year-old will be the highest draft pick (11th overall in 2013) to play in Savannah since the team became a Mets affiliate in 2007. Baseball America's No. 92-ranked prospect hit .310 in 51 games last season between Gulf Coast and Kingsport.

  • RHP Robert Whalen: Had a sterling 1.87 ERA in 12 starts for Kingsport last season.

  • WHO'S COMING

    Here are some players of interest who will visit Grayson Stadium this year:

  • SS J.P. Crawford, Lakewood BlueClaws: 2013 first-round pick (16th) of the Philadelphia Phillies led Gulf Coast League with a .345 average last year.

  • OF David Dahl, Asheville Tourists: The 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Colorado Rockies, the 2012 Pioneer League MVP missed almost all of last season because of a torn hamstring.

  • RHP Lucas Giolito, Hagerston Suns: The 16th pick in the first round of the 2012 draft is the Washington Nationals' No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America.

  • OF Aaron Judge, Charleston RiverDogs: The 6-foot-7 outfielder was the New York Yankees first-round pick (32nd overall) in 2013.

  • C Spencer Kieboom, Hagerstown Suns: Played for the Clemson Tigers from 2010 to 2012.

  • C Austin Meadows, West Virginia Power: Drafted ninth overall in the 2013 draft, Meadows is the No. 4 prospect of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

  • OF Mike Yastrzemski, Delmarva Shorebirds: The grandson of Boston Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski was a star at Vanderbilt before being drafted in 2013.

  • ON THE MOVE?

    According to the South Atlantic League website, the Sand Gnats are exploring a move to Columbia unless 89-year-old Grayson Stadium gets a renovation.

    Savannah owner Jason Freier has supported the return of pro baseball to Columbia, but wrote in a Savannah Morning News op-ed piece he would like the Sand Gnats to stay in Savannah.

    He has expressed interest in buying another team, his third, to move to Columbia.

    PROMOTIONS

  • Opening night: Free magnet schedules for the first 1,000 families and postgame fireworks (And it's Thirsty Thursday).

  • Thirsty Thursday: Fans get half off draft beers and small sodas every Thursday home game.

  • Two-for-Tuesday: Buy-one-get-one-free Miller Lite and Coors Light at every Tuesday home game.

  • Dollar Monday: Tickets are $1 with a Kroger Plus card. Hot dogs, chips, small sodas and Pabst Blue Ribbon beers are all $1, as well.

  • Kids Eat Free Sundays: All kids 12 and younger receive a free hot dog, chips and small soda and get to run the bases.

  • Fireworks: Postgame fireworks shows after every Saturday home game.

  • St. Joseph's/Candler Facebook Fridays: Ticket discounts are offered to visitors of facebook.com/StJosephCandler.

  • Pink in the Park Night, May 17: Sand Gnats will wear special pink jerseys to promote breast cancer awareness. Jerseys will be auctioned off after the game.

  • Gnate the Gnat Bobblehead Night, July 18: The Savannah mascot will be immortalized in bobblehead form free to the first 1,000 fans.

  • Military Appreciation Night, July 31: Free admission for all active duty and veteran military personnel with ID. (Also Thirsty Thursday).

  • T-shirts, Aug. 15: Free Sand Gnats T-shirts to the first 1,000 fans.
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