Though the Las Vegas 51s led the Pacific Coast League with an .817 OPS, they ranked dead last in ERA. They under-performed their Pythagorean 72-72 record, ending the season with a disappointing 70-74 record, the first time the team ended with a sub-.500 record since 2011, when the team was affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays. Adding insult to injury, former skipper Wally Backman left the team when the season ended, receiving his dismissal from Sandy Alderson or tendering it to him, depending on the source.
A constant since 2013, Backman is no longer with the organization. The 2014 PCL Manager of the Year, Backman managed the 51s to consecutive 1st place finishes and playoff berths in 2013 and 2014, and compiled a 309-267 record during his tenure with the team. Despite one’s personal feelings on Backman and his style of managing, those are big shoes to fill, but there is no one in the organization more capable of filling them than his replacement, Pedro Lopez. The manager of the Binghamton Mets from 2012 through 2016, Lopez compiled a 376-330 record and led the team in 2014 to its first Eastern League championship since 2004.
Flanking Lopez will be Frank Viola and Jack Voight, both of whom will be reprising the roles they had in 2016. Viola, who will be serving as pitching coach for the Las Vegas 51s for the fourth consecutive season, has been with the organization for seven seasons. Before his current role, the highly-regarded coach served as pitching coach for the Savannah Sand Gnats in 2012 and 2013 and with the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2011. Voight, who joined the organization as a scout in 2006, has been with the 51s since 2015. Before that, he served as an organizational outfield and baserunning coordinator from 2011-2014, was hitting coach for the Buffalo Bisons in 2010, and hitting coach for the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2009.
Players to Watch
The 51s will have an extremely talented infield, composed almost completely of top prospects. Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini will play up the middle, while Dom Smith and Phil Evans will play the corners. Minor league veteran Josh Rodriguez, who was a member of the organization from 2012-2015, re-signed with the team after a brief sojourn to Oakland, and will be the primarily infield backup. Kevin Plawecki will get the majority of time behind the plate, with Xorge Carrillo backing him up.
In the outfield, Travis Taijeron will return for another season in Las Vegas and will be joined by newly-signed center fielder Desmond Jennings, Victor Cruzado and Jayce Boyd. Matt Reynolds, an infielder by trade, will be seeing some time in the outfield this season, in an effort to get him playing time in a crowded infield situation on both the 51s and the Mets.
Last year, starting pitching was a problem for the 51s, who posted a collective 5.32 ERA. Things are not looking like they will be all that much more different for the 2017 51s, as a starting rotation of Ricky Knapp, Adam Wilk, Donovan Hand, and Sean Gilmartin does not appear poised to be a dominant collection of pitchers.
Anchored by Paul Sewald, who will be reprising his role as 51s closer after just missing out on making the major league roster, the bullpen looks like is primed to have a bit more success. Chasen Bradford, who will also be returning to the 51s, will be setting him up.