For NH Fisher Cats, the season starts tonight
MANCHESTER - Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson, new to the team and the Blue Jays' organization after moving over from the Orioles, has had limited experience with the players who open the season for him tonight against Reading at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
He likes what little he has seen from them and what he has heard about them.
"All I can go by is spring training" Allenson said. "We swung the bats pretty good, especially late. We played pretty good defense. We ran the bases real well."
It was even more difficult for Allenson to assess the pitching as the organization mixed and matched arms to get everyone their work.
Pitching coach Tom Signore, a Fisher Cat veteran, gives a thumbs-up about that group from starters such as Deck McGuire, Marcus Walden and Ryan Tepera to relievers including Joel Carreno, Randy Boone and Chad Beck.
"I'm very happy with the people we've brought north," Signore said.
Hitting coach Richie Hebner, in his first year here along with Allenson, thinks the same of the position players, including infielder Kevin Nolan, the first-year Fisher Cat who formerly starred for Nashua South High School.
"There are some good players here," he said. "(Kevin) Pillar does a lot of good things. Nolan, the shortstop, is a good player. I told him, 'How's your mother's home cooking? Don't be afraid to bring some stuff over.' I think it will be a fun year. We've got some good pitching and we've got some good players"
The outfield features a couple of guys who climbed a couple of steps in the organization last year in center fielder Kenny Wilson and left fielder Kevin Pillar, along with Brad Glenn, who returns in right field and led the Fisher Cats with 19 home runs and 63 runs batted in last season.
Pillar and Wilson played together last year with the Lansing Lugnuts and then both moved up to Dunedin. Pillar was the Midwest League's Most Valuable Player with a .322 batting average, 57 RBI and 35 stolen bases in 86 games before going to Dunedin.
Wilson had 55 stolen bases between Lansing and Dunedin, Pillar 51.
The projected batting order has Wilson leading off with Pillar, a 32nd round pick in 2011 and four-year player at Cal State-Dominguez, behind him.
"I've got pretty good speed, but I'm not the fastest guy by any means," Pillar said "But I understand how to do it and I understand what to look for and last year I took advantage of it. I'm hoping to do the same here. I don't rely on my speed, but I definitely use it as an asset, as a weapon."
Allenson likes the idea of having a couple of speedy guys not only at the top of the batting order but in the outfield.
"Pillar is one of the best defensive outfielders I've seen in a while as far as getting jumps and taking good routes to the ball," he said. "That's part of a pitcher's best friend, along with the double play, outfielders who can run stuff down."
McGuire is one of the pitchers who will try to benefit from what Pillar and Wilson do at the plate and in the field.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander is coming off a rough year and vows to bounce back.
"Anyone who's seen my numbers from last year knows they weren't good," McGuire said. "There's a lot of good starts mixed in there, but I just couldn't seem to put a stretch together."
A first-round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2010, McGuire was 5-15 with a 5.88 earned run average but made all his starts.
He started on his way back in the Arizona Fall League, McGuire said.
"I kind of bounced back and did a good job and got better," he said. "I just tried to roll with it into 2013. I made up my mind that I'm not going to go through anything like that again. I've had my moment. I learned a lot from it. But it's time to get better and it's time to perform better."
Right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who joined the Toronto organization as a minor league free agent in January, is due to throw the first pitch of the 2013 season tonight against Reading at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Game time is 6:35. The Fightin Phils counter with righty David Buchanan, who was 3-3 with a 3.86 earned run average for Reading last season. ... Reading and New Hampshire play on Friday at 6:35 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday at 1:35. ... Trenton is in for games on Monday (6:35 p.m.), Tuesday (5:05 p.m.) and Wednesday (10:35 a.m.) and then the Fisher Cats leave for their first road trip, four games in Binghamton and three in New Britain.