Good Afternoon Keys Fans,
In mere hours the 2014 season will get underway, when the Keys take on the Lynchburg Hillcats at City Stadium. Frederick native Branden Kline takes the ball, and makes his highly-anticipated Carolina League debut. First pitch is slated for 6:05 p.m. and our pregame coverage gets underway on 1450 AM The Source (as well as frederickkeys.com) at 5:45. Doug Raftery and myself will have a full preview of the game, get the initial impressions of first-year Keys manager Luis Pujols, and rundown the starting lineups. So make sure and tune-in via computer, on your smart phone, or….on the radio.
A full-batch of game notes are below. Talk soon and shake your keys!
Thursday, Apr. 3, 2014 · Game #1 · Road Game #1
Frederick Keys (0-0) at Lynchburg Hillcats (0-0)
RHP Branden Kline (0-0, –) vs. RHP Lucas Sims (0-0, –)
TODAY’S GAME:Frederick kicks its 2014 season on the road against the Lynchburg Hillcats. The 2014 Keys feature 16 returning players, a former Major League manager, a host of prospects, as well as a Frederick native in Branden Kline, who makes the opening night start for the O’s Advanced-A affiliate. Frederick plays its first four games on the road, followed by a Monday off-day. The home opener is scheduled for Tuesday, April 8, when the Carolina Mudcats visit Harry Grove Stadium at 7 p.m.
2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: In 2013, the Keys finished last overall in the Carolina League Northern Division, posting a final mark of 61-78. After going 34-35 in the first-half, Frederick struggled down the backstretch, going just 27-43 over its final 70 games.
2013 TOP-PERFORMERS: Categorically, the Keys finished last in hitting (.245) and pitching (4.43), but several players put together outstanding seasons. Michael Ohlman became the first Frederick player to win the Carolina League batting title since 2009, hitting .313. He also led the CL in slugging percentage (.524) and ended third in on-base percentage (.410). On the mound, Eduardo Rodriguez went 6-4 with a 2.85 ERA and earned a trip to the Sirius XM Futures Game, while fellow-lefty, Tim Berry, finished tied for the league lead in wins (11).
HOME SWEET HOME: Few players get the opportunity to play for their hometown team, but Keys pitcher Branden Kline gets the chance in 2014. A standout pitcher at Governor Thomas Johnson High School, the righty pitched three seasons at the University of Virginia before being selected by Baltimore in the second round of the 2012 draft. By moving up the ladder from Low-A Delmarva, Kline becomes the fifth Frederick native to play for the Keys (Dell Ahalt, John Fowler, Brian Valichka and Joey Hammond were the others) and the most recent since 2008, when Valichka played four games for the team. Last year with the Shorebirds, Kline went 1-2 with a 5.86 ERA, but missed the majority of the season after suffering a right ankle/fibula fracture during a May conditioning drill.
NAME THAT PUJOLS!: Luis Pujols becomes the 20th manager in Keys history, after spending 2013 as the skipper at Low-A Delmarva. He takes the reins from Ryan Minor, who went 61-78 in his lone season as Frederick’s head man. The cousin of Angels star, Albert Pujols, the 58-year-old has considerable experience as a player, manager and coach in the majors and minors. Since spending nine years as a big league catcher with Houston, Kansas City and Texas, Pujols has worked as a bench/first base coach for Montreal (1993-00) and San Francisco (2003-06), while he served as interim manager for the Detroit Tigers in 2002, after Phil Garner was fired six games into the season. He has also managed for Double-A affiliates in the Detroit and Houston systems.
PROSPECTING: This year’s Keys team does not lack for talent. Frederick’s Opening Day roster features five of Baltimore’s Top 30 prospects according to Baseball America. Shortstop Adrian Marin (12) highlights the list and is joined by right-handed pitchers Parker Bridwell (19), Branden Kline (20) and Mychal Givens (23). Glynn Davis (29) rounds out the group. Of the five players, only Givens (one game in 2010) and Davis have played at the Advanced-A level.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: In addition to an excellent group of prospects, the Keys return 16 players. Many of those familiar faces are outfielders and relief pitchers. Brenden Webb, Trent Mummey and Torsten Boss have all spent time in with Frederick, while seven of the club’s eight bullpen hands (Jesse Beal, Matt Hobgood, Miguel Chalas, Matt Price, Lex Rutledge, Mychal Givens and Gene Escat) have also sported a Frederick uniform at some point.
OPENING THINGS UP: The Keys have traditionally struggled in home openers. Since 1989, Frederick has gone 7-18 in its first game of the year. However, the team bucked the trend last season, thrashing Salem 11-1 at Harry Grove Stadium. Brenden Webb led the charge, going 4-for-5 with a home run, double and three RBIs. Hardly the only one involved offensively, Frederick pounded out 14 hits on the game.
2013 VS. LYNCHBURG: The 2013 season-series between Frederick and Lynchburg was often close. The Hillcats held a slim 10-9 advantage, while six of the 19 games were decided by a one run. Sammie Starr feasted off Lynchburg pitching, batting .323 with three doubles and six RBIs over 18 games.
TODAY’S OPPOSING PITCHER: The No. 1 overall prospect in the Atlanta farm system according to Baseball America, Lucas Sims makes his Carolina League debut after a stellar 2013 season at Low-A Rome. In 28 games for the Braves (18 starts), the Lawrenceville, GA native went 12-4 with a 2.62 ERA. In the process, he finished second in the South Atlantic League in wins and ERA, fourth in strikeouts (134), and held opponents to a league-low .203 batting average. For his efforts, the right-hander was named the Braves’ Minor League pitcher of the Year. Only 19 years old (he will turn 20 on May 10), Sims was on a strict innings limit last year, and pitched out of the bullpen until late May. Selected by Atlanta in the first round (21st overall) of the 2012 draft, the righty signed with the Braves for a reported $1.65 million rather than attend Clemson University. A Braves fan as a kid, Sims cites John Smoltz as his favorite player growing up. He features a 93-95 mph fastball, a mid-70s curveball, and a changeup.