JOLIET – The Joliet Slammers finished 38-57 last season.
However, that has nothing to do with how they might fare in the Frontier League this season. For the most part, it is a new roster of players that met Thursday with new manager Jeff Isom and his staff – hitting coach Matt Kennedy and pitching coach Pascual Santiago – at Silver Cross Field.
The opening day of spring training was not what Isom hoped because of – what else? – wet weather.
Yet Isom, whose resumé includes two years managing the Joliet JackHammers (in 2004-05), several years coaching and managing in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and last year guiding the Lake Erie Crushers to the Frontier League Championship Series, has a good feeling.
“I’m very happy with where we’re at right now,” he said. “Of course, the focus is on the season, and we will have roster decisions to make. We play a lot of exhibition games, and it’s easier to evaluate guys in games than in batting practice or when they’re throwing on the side.”
The first exhibition game against another team is at noon Monday, when the Slammers entertain the Windy City Thunderbolts.
However, there also is a game Sunday. The Slammers scheduled at open tryout from 9 a.m. until noon. The best players from the tryout will form a team and play a game against the Slammers beginning at 1 p.m.
“I believe we are the only club in independent ball having a tryout camp at this time,” Isom said. “But doing it this way, with the tryout guys playing against our team, that gives me a chance to see what they’ve got.”
The Slammers have 31 players in camp. They must be down to 28 by May 11 and 22 to 24 by May 14. If they keep 24 players, 11 must have rookie status. If 23, then 10 and if 22, then nine. Assuming no one is added to the roster in the meantime, between seven to nine players will be cut over the next two weeks.
“A manager has to win in independent ball, but you also develop players,” Isom said. “You have guys who were in affiliated ball, got released and want a second chance. And you have guys who never had that chance and want that opportunity.”
The Slammers picked up power hitting first baseman/designated hitter Russell Moldenhauer this week from Lake Erie in exchange for standout relief pitcher Zac Treese.
“Moldenhauer is a middle-of-the-lineup guy, an impact type guy,” Isom said. “He was a big part of our success at Lake Erie last year. It will be an easy transition bringing him in here.”
Isom hated to part with Treese, “but we felt our bullpen was the strength of our team, so we were dealing from strength.”
Slammers veteran Chase Doremus and Jordan Wellander, the closer in Lake Erie last year, will head the bullpen. Santo Manzanillo should be fun to watch, as well.
“I had him with the Brewers, when he was the best pitcher in the Florida State League,” Isom said. “He threw 96 to 100 mph and got on the Brewers’ 40-man roster.
“But then he got in a car accident in the Dominican and had surgeries. His velocity is back up but his walks increased.
“It will be exciting to see him back on the mound. Hopefully, he will get back on track where he is throwing strikes. If so, he won’t be here long (a major league organization will sign him).”
Danny Hernandez, formerly in the Royals organization, and Blair Walters, the 2011 Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year, will head a starting staff that has six candidates for the other three spots.
Nick Akins and Marquis Riley, familar to Slammers fans, are back to help lead the offense. Adam Giacalone will provide another big bat, with Moldenhauer in the first base/DH platoon.
With Jose Garcia and Max Casper in the mix, defense up the middle could be sound.
As Isom said, right now he feels good.