While the Columbia Fireflies did not exactly have the best inaugural season, ending the first half in third place with a 36-34 record and the second half in sixth place with a 31-39 record, they were a draw. Despite the poor performance, over 261,100 fans came out to see the Fireflies throughout the year, surpassing the Columbia record of 156,921 previously set by the 1996 Capital City Bombers. The Colaflies will look to rebound in their sophomore season. Injuries and a lack of high-caliber talent hurt the team in 2017, and they will be looking to avoid the former while being flush with the latter.
Jose Leger will be reprising his role as Fireflies manager. This 2017 season will represent the 34-year-old’s second year as Fireflies manager, his third season as a manager in the South Atlantic League—he managed the Savannah Sand Gnats in their final season in 2015—and his eighth season managing in the Mets organization. Before he was with the Fireflies/Sand Gnats, the Santo Domingo native managed the Kingsport Mets from 2012 to 2014 and the Mets’ Dominican Summer League team in 2010 and 2011.
Joining Leger will be Jonathan Hurst and Joel Fuentes, who will be reprising their 2016 roles as pitching and hitting coaches, respectively. Hurst, who pitched in seven games for the Mets in 1994, has been in the organization since 2006, when he worked with the GCL Mets. In 2007 and 2008, he coached with the Savannah Sand Gnats, and from 2009 to 2015, he coached with the Kingsport Mets. Fuentes, who has been in the organization for 11 years, has bounced between both Low-A and High-A Mets affiliates, serving as a coach with the Savannah Sand Gnats and St. Lucie Mets in addition to the Colaflies.
Players to Watch
The 2017 Colaflies seem to have a potent lineup, at least on paper. Luis Carpio, Milton Ramos, and Michael Paez will all split time up the middle, while Blake Tiberi and Dash Winningham will man the corners. Ali Sanchez will likely see the most playing time behind the plate, with Brandon Brosher’s potent bat backing him up.
Highly-touted prospect Desmond Lindsay will anchor the outfield, with Jacob Zanon and hometown Columbia boy Gene Cone playing to his sides. And then there’s Tim Tebow. Who really knows what to make of that?
Harol Gonzalez and Merandy Gonzalez both dominated the NY-Penn League in 2017, but in two different ways. Harol did it with style and guile, relying on an assortment of secondary pitches, while Merandy did it with force and strength, relying on a power mid-90s fastball. They will be headlining a rotation that should also include Jordan Humphreys and Blake Taylor.
The Columbia bullpen should also be in good hands. Joseph Zanghi will likely serve as closer, as his 1.23 ERA led all Brooklyn relievers, and his eight saves were tied for third in the New York-Penn League. Slider specialist Austin McGeorge is another member of the bullpen to watch.