Hart, Henry, Folman coming back to the Birds
The most dangerous hitter to don a Canaries uniform, the most exciting player in the American Association, and one of the most dependable pitching arm the Birds have had the last three seasons.
That's how manager Mike Meyer describes the three players from the 2020 American Association Finals team who on Wednesday signed to return to Sioux Falls for 2021:
Slugger Jabari Henry, outfielder/catcher Mike Hart, and pitcher Kevin Folman.
Henry not only will continue to be a force at the plate, but will serve also as hitting coach.
"It's a big deal getting these three back for another season in The Birdcage," Meyer said. "They mean so much more than their production on the field. They're top notch clubhouse guys, completely selfless in their approach, and they are a joy to be around."
Henry tied a Canaries record with 29 home runs in 2017 while hitting .302/.401/.617 over 84 games, then returned to Sioux Falls in 2018, where he played 86 games and was somewhat hobbled by injury, but still hit 13 dingers and 17 doubles.
The Orlando, Fla., native split the 2019 season between the American Association's St. Paul Saints and the Atlantic League's Sugar Land Skeeters before signing back with the Birds before the 2020 slate and enjoying a revival at the plate, batting .260/.343/.458 with nine home runs in 45 games.
Henry was an 18th-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2009 out of Florida International and spent five years in the Mariners and Angels farm systems.
"When he has his legs underneath him, Jabari is the most dangerous hitter I've seen don a Canaries uniform," said Meyer, who enters his 13th overall season on the Birds' staff and fifth as manager. His eight seasons as pitching coach (2007-14) included witnessing Canaries Hall of Fame masher Beau Torbert and AAPB All-Star Reggie Abercrombie.
"His at-bats are must-see TV. He is brilliant in his approach at the plate, and no doubt he will be able to pass on all of that knowledge to the rest of our lineup as hitting coach."
The 26-year-old Hart has spent all but five games of his three professional seasons in Sioux Falls, sporting a .287/.375/.442 slash line, but it is the former University of Massachusetts standout's web gem athleticism that Meyer is most eager to see again.
"Mike Hart is the most exciting player in the American Association," Meyer said. "If you watch him play long enough, you will get to see him smash into a wall or dive onto the bullpen mound making an unbelievable play.
"Mike has also been a big part of our lineup for three seasons and has grown and matured into a very productive hitter. He and Troy Alexander will bring that much needed lefty juice to our lineup."
Folman, also 26, was an All-Summit League pitcher at North Dakota State, where he tied for second place in school history with 15 career saves. He played at three levels of the Chicago White Sox organization in 2018 and 2019.
In 2018, the Duluth, Minn., native posted a 3.48 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over 41.1 innings with the Birds and was signed mid-season by the White Sox system, where he continued in 2019 before re-joining the Canaries in 2020. In 40 innings of mostly middle relief last season, Folman struck out 39 hitters. In his 109 career innings of professional ball, he has fanned 104 and posted an ERA of 4.79.
"Kevin has been one of my most dependable arms over his two stints with the Birds," Meyer said. "He will take the ball whenever you ask him and will do everything he can to help the team win. He has a plus fastball that he can use at the top of the zone to rack up punch-outs, with a breaking ball that has been improving every year. I think no matter what role Kevin pitches in this summer, he will definitely be a game changer for us."
You could say that about each of the three Canaries veterans coming back to The Birdcage to continue the wave of newfound winning momentum the Birds and their fans enjoyed in 2020 -- the first winning season and playoffs appearance in a decade.
"Let's just say it's a good time to be a Bird," Meyer said.