Canaries Offseason Update: New-Look Birds Ready To Contend
Get ready for a re-tooled Sioux Falls Canaries in 2018. After a disappointing 40-60 record last season, Birds manager Mike Meyer is rebuilding the team from the ground up, and so far he likes what he sees.
Putting a solid offense on the field is one of Meyer's top priorities headed into 2019, but he and the team's strategy is shifting somewhat this year. Instead of loading up on power hitters, Meyer is looking for a lineup he can count on from night to night.
"[Last year] we would either hit four home runs, score a bunch of runs and blow a team out, or we really had a hard time scoring runs," Meyer said.
Turning that around will be a team effort for the Birds, but Meyer is confident he has the players to pull it off.
Trae Santos, a first baseman acquired in a trade with the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League, will be a key member of that group. The former Padres farmhand led the Grizzlies with an .863 OPS last year (.371/.492).
Meyer says the 26-year-old will be right at home in an experienced Canaries offense.
"Last year in the Frontier League, he was the guy that every team focused on," Meyer said. "I think he's going to be a really big piece in the middle of our lineup."
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Meyer isn't just looking around for hot bats, though. He's also kept a keen eye on the Canaries' defense, especially after a 2018 season that saw the Birds tied for the league lead in errors.
That starts behind the plate, where the newly acquired Dashenko Ricardo is ready to step in for Sioux Falls. Ricardo made his mark with the Lincoln Saltdogs in 2017 and 2018.
"In my opinion, he's the best defensive catcher in our league," Meyer said of Ricardo, adding his ability to manage a pitching staff was another reason the Canaries were drawn to him.
The Curacao native, acquired in a trade for the rights to pitcher Cesilio Pimentel, brings plenty of experience to Sioux Falls. In addition to seven years in the minors, Ricardo served as the starting catcher on the Dutch national team, playing in two World Baseball Classics.
The rest of the Birds infield is starting to take shape as well. Former Cubs draft pick Andrew Ely is expected to anchor the infield at shortstop in his first year at the independent level.
"Andrew made it to Double-A with two different organizations based on his defense," Meyer said. "He's an elite defender at short."
Former Winnipeg Goldeye Jordan Ebert is the top contender for the second-base job, though he's also capable at the corner outfield slots. The former Auburn Tiger hit .280/.363/.384 in 80 games with Winnipeg last year.
Nyles Nygaard, a rookie out of the University of Washington, is expected to provide depth in the infield, particularly at second and third base.
The Canaries' outfield has yet to fully take shape, but a familiar face to Birds fans has already re-signed for the upcoming year. Mike Hart, who led the Canaries with a .309 batting average last year and made plenty of highlight-reel plays in the field, is back for 2019.
While Hart was primarily an outfielder last season, he's expected to play all over the diamond this year, including as backup catcher.
"Nobody plays the game as hard as Mike does," Meyer said. "He's got that Pete Rose personality to him, where he's going to lay it on the line, dive headfirst into walls, do whatever he's got to do to help the team win."
Hart's utility will be vital for Sioux Falls. Meyer plans on suiting up only 10 position players on Opening Day.
Baseball fans have heard the old saying before: You can never have enough pitching. The Canaries demonstrated that in 2019, when a heralded corps of starting pitchers was decimated by injuries and players advancing to other leagues.
This year, Meyer made sure to stock up on arms.
"At this time of the year, this is the most depth in our rotation that we've had in my tenure as manager," Meyer said.
A couple of high-profile trades helped the Canaries shore up their staff. They acquired right-hander Alex Boshers from Winnipeg in exchange for Dylan Thompson on November 15.
"He's a tremendous human being, a tireless worker," Meyer said of Boshers. "He can't wait to get going in Sioux Falls."
Entering his fifth season in the Association, Boshers has a reputation for durability. He's thrown more than 120 innings in each of his last three seasons.
Former Sioux City Explorer Ryan Flores also comes to the Birds via a trade. The righty struck out over 10 per nine last year as a reliever, and will be headed to the rotation in 2019.
The Canaries also made a free-agent splash signing 22-year-old Chris Comito, a 15th-round draft choice by the Chicago White Sox in 2015. Meyer said he expects a major step forward for the former high school draftee, including a beefed-up fastball and refined changeup.
25-year-old Mark Seyler, who made seven starts for the Birds last season, is expected to contend for a rotation spot as well.
WARMING UP THE 'PEN
The Canaries' bullpen is still a work in progress, but two key faces from last year's team are already in the fold.
Ryan Fritze, who led the Canaries with a 3.06 ERA in 42 appearances last year, will return to Sioux Falls in 2019, barring a trip to affiliated ball.
"We could bring Fritze into any situation, and we knew he was going to get the job done," Meyer said. "He really shored up his consistency at the end of the year. He's definitely going to be a setup guy or a closer for us."
Rubber-armed lefty Luis Pollorena is also returning to the Birds. The former Texas Rangers farmhand made an immediate impact last year after joining the Canaries midseason, earning a 3.56 ERA in 14 appearances. Meyer said the versatility "Pollo" brings makes him one of the Birds' most important players.
"You can bring him to get a lefty out in the biggest spot of the game; he can go three or four innings out of the bullpen; he can start on a doubleheader day or spot-start day and do just fine," Meyer said.
MORE ON DECK
The Birds' offseason is far from over. As major-league teams make decisions on players over the course of spring training, plenty of important pieces will be heading to the independent ranks. But Meyer likes where his team sits.
"I think we've got a lot of good things cooking," Meyer said. "We can't wait to get going."