Carlos Tocci, Shane Watson, Roman Quinn and Mitch Walding are all set to make their full season Class A debuts as the season gets rolling on Thursday evening at FirstEnergy Park. And while those names are among the ones that will draw the largest amount of attention in the early going and, possibly, through much of the season, it could very well be the returning players, one that didn't have noteworthy debuts with Lakewood last year, that could be the difference makers in the standings.
A trio of offensive players entering their second seasons with Lakewood are back to rectify any shortcoming they displayed during their previous stints with the team. Corner infielder Willie Carmona, middle infielder Tyler Greene and outfielder Brian Pointer feel that any necessary adjustments have been made and improvements will show in their results this season.
Carmona, a 22-year-old, was selected in the 11th round out of Stony Brook University last June. After debuting as a pro, the six-foot 230-pounder got off to a very hot start, posting a .348 average, as he laced five doubles, three triples and two homers while knocking in 20 runs in 25 games with the Gulf Coast League Phillies before making the jump up two levels to Lakewood. As a member of the BlueClaws, playing most of his games as a designated hitter, a sizzling Carmona cooled off, batting .221 with five doubles and two home runs while plating 10 runners in 27 contests.
The confidence of the Hempstead, NY native didn't suffer, as he performed well throughout spring training and is prepared to roll that into a strong regular season.
"I'm gonna be more consistent. Last year, I got here with about a month remaining (in the regular season) and I kind of struggled. So, I'm trying to just get better each and every day and work harder," Carmona stated.
Greene, who turned 20 years old over the off-season, had a solid, but quick, professional debut season with the GCL team in 2011, posting a .276/.386/.379 line in 17 games. Last year, Greene struggled and was demoted down to short season Class A Williamsport. With the BlueClaws, the 11th pick from 2011 racked up a dismal .147 batting average with six doubles and a home run in 23 games. After the move to Williamsport, production did not improve much for the six-foot-two 175-pound Greene, who saw his batting average jump 64 points, but his OPS rose just 22 points from the difficult time at the higher level.
Not to waste an opportunity to add knowledge, Greene looked deep into himself and has worked closely with his coaches to develop his approach.
"Last year was definitely a learning (experience) for me. I was young, you know, first year in pro ball. I definitely learned from it and took some positives from it. Coming into this year, I have a totally different mindset and I'm ready to come out here and help the team win anyway I can," Greene said.
Pointer, a 21-year-old, was the Phils’ 28th round draft selection in 2010 out of Galena High School in Nevada. The lefty hitter spent parts of two seasons with the GCL team, tallying a .272 batting average in 52 games during that time. He began the 2012 season with Lakewood and got off to a very good start, posting a .316/.397/.632 line through his first 16 April contests. After Pointer led the way for the 'Claws' offense, his production cooled off, as he proceeded to bat .179 over his next 37 games, which resulted in a demotion to Williamsport. As a member of the Crosscutters, Pointer performed better, but not exceptionally, like he did out of the gate with the BlueClaws, batting .246 with three home runs and 21 RBI in 35 games.
Pointer was promoted back to Lakewood in late July last year, to close out the season. The way he began the his 2012 campaign, though, is what the six-foot 190 pounder recalls most.
"What I did in the first month of last year is what I should have done for the whole year. And I kind of got away from it," Pointer asserted. "It's hard to explain, but I'll keep it up this year. It's a different mindset, just stay more positive. You've just got to stay consistent and that's my goal, really."
Other players returning to the BlueClaws for a second season are pitchers Zach Cooper, Felix Santos and Josh Warner. Additionally, former Phillies All-Star second baseman Mickey Morandini returns to manage the club for the second straight season, while hitting coach Greg Legg is back for his sixth season in that role.
Three years removed from winning back to back SAL championships, it would be nice to see the club get back in the playoff hunt and if these returning players and coaches have anything to say about it, the BlueClaws will be in the mix for a return to the SAL postseason this year.