Crystal Lake’s Spring 2025 Preview

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Updated: March 18, 2017

CRYSTAL LAKE HERALD

SPORTS – GNATS NOW

Updated: March 10, 2024 – 10:30AM CDT

By Howard Heskin, Staff Writer – Twitter @HowardHeskin1

2024 PEBA Champion Crystal Lake Sandgnats return to Spring Training this week with a new look and a few familiar faces. Crystal Lake’s pitching staff has seen a complete remake while we have seen a youth movement on the remainder of the roster.

INFIELD – Grade C

1B – Rubén Memde takes over at first base for the departed MVP Wilson Muñóz The 28 year old first basemen is strong defensively at first base. While not a replacement for Wilson’s power. Memde has respectable power in his own right and might even be a slightly better contact hitter. Memde will be serviceable at first base with his exceptional work ethic. Enrique Ríos will see time in Spring Training for the first time this season. The contraction draft selection will look to compete in future seasons for a role at 1st, 2nd or 3rd base. We are excited to see what he can do this Spring to continue his development.

2B – Jim Klein will be a lock again at second base. This might be the 30 year old’s last season with the Sandgnats, after the acquisition of Jack Speed Speed likely will be optioned back and forth to AAA Evansville this season or could be the utility man this season.

SS – There are major questions at Shortstop this season. With the departure of Juan Hernández this season looks to be a battle between 23 year old Miguel Rinlón and 26 year old Spencer Lewis. Rinlón shows the most promise but is far from fully developed. He is strong defensively but shows very little promise offensively. Lewis also is strong defensively but seems to have his hitting skills fully developed for the big leagues. He was called up last season and performed at an average rate. Lewis may be the starter this season, but will fight it out with Rinlón for the duration of March.

3B – Last season saw 35 Josh Shaffer being the mostly every day starter at 3rd base for the Sandgnats. He will be in competition this season with newly acquired speedster Hirohisa Inoue for an everyday starting position. Inoue might also be utilized as a utility player, but has a leg on on being the starter given his speed. Newly acquired prospect Ed Brown will make an appearance this Spring Training. The blue-chip prospect is the 3rd baseman of the future for Crystal Lake. Management has informed me that they are optimistic that he will be the starter in the 2026 season.

Over all, Crystal Lake’s infield has regressed to mediocrity from a batter perspective. However, there has been an increase in youth and speed that should help make up for a decrease in power bats. Defensively, there are no major holes to be concerned about. A youth movement makes me feel confident in the long run. This year should be the year that we see what we have in the infield from an evaluation standpoint.

Outfield – Grade A

LF – Last season’s rookie Raúl Uribe will be the starter again this season. The young power bat looks to improve upon his 28 home runs last season. Also as a young speedster, he may be more aggressive to improve upon his 11 stolen bases last season.

CF – This season looks to be a rotation between Jerry Long and Jeffry Wolfe. Long brings the consistent big bat and a serviceable defense as he admirably filled in last season in center field. Wolfe is a defensive master who also can get on base at will. Look for Wolfe to be a swingman at CF and RF this season as he fills in late in games as a defensive substitution.

RF – Premier power bat Jarrod ‘Merlin’ Ricks resigned this off-season and will be the starter in Right Field.

Other players that will be optioned to AAA and fill in this season will be Roberto Ruíz, Steven Miller and Colin Crow. Crow will be DH this season as well as fill in at RF should Ricks be absent or on off days. The newly acquired Crow looked like he might replace Ricks when it looked like Ricks might not re-sign. Now he will provide additional depth and a solid contact DH.

Catcher – Grade C

With the departure of 36 year old Norihide Yamamoto, Crystal Lake picked up veteran Noriyuki Suzuki and signed him to a 7 year deal with 5 guaranteed. However, this year saw top prospect Tony Parker sent to winter ball to work on his catching ability. Scouts now rate his defensive skills from atrocious to average – a significant improvement given his excellent batting skills. This year is absolutely a downgrade over last season, but the next 5 years after that seem to be solid at the ever difficult position to fill with players under 30 years old. Suzuki likely will be a backup to Parker at the end of his contract in the next 2 to 3 seasons.

Pitching – Starting Rotation – Grade A

The departure of solid veteran leadership over the age of 35 has seen a remake of the starting rotation by GM RJ Ermola. “Well, we needed to get younger and we have some solid development in house and we made some moves at the deadline with this thought last year as well.” stated Ermola.

#1 – Miguel Cantú was acquired in free agency. The 32 year old former Featherhead and Codger brings lifetime stats of 3.12 ERA; 1.14 WHIP while averaging 149 strikeout in 186.1 innings over the last 10 years. He brings veteran leadership to the clubhouse and pitching staff that has proven to be invaluable come September when the nights get cold and the arms get tired.

#2 – Dean McNeil will fill in at the number 2 spot in the rotation. The 26 year old star was acquired from Florida in the Wilson Munoz trade. He brings super start potential to the clubhouse for years to come.

#3 – Tatsui Kouno will round out the middle of the rotation. The mid-season pick up last year looks to rebound from a late season slide after starting out strongly while starting for West Virginia.

#4 – Tony Cuellar after a stellar playoffs will be at number 4. The young star looks to improve on a strong finish to last season. He improved his stats at the end of last season coming over from Neo-Tokyo.

#5 – Jim ‘Nitro’ MacCowan will start his first full season this year after being shut down at the end of last season after posting 12 wins in 18 starts. Nitro will turn 25 in a few days. Crystal Lake fans are excited to see their pitcher of the future get to work after signing an 8 year contract.

Closer – Grade A –

This year will be a fight between the overpaid Ramón ‘Doberman’ Contreras and young Dave Jone. Jones and the Doberman traded off closing roles last season depending on who was the most rested. They totaled 39 saves between themselves with Jones taking the role of spot starter in April and May last season.

Mid-Reliever Grade B+

David López and Edgar Merriam take the lead in the bullpen with last season ERAs under 3.00.

Can’t wait to see how these few position battles work out during spring training with most questions in the infield. I doubt that last season’s top offensive will have the same “pop” as last year. This season will really show what Crystal Lake will have in 2026 through 2028. We might see an improvement in pitching over the last few seasons with reduced offensive production.

Check back for my monthly reports this season.