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Columbia Fireflies set to open season with several of the Mets’ top prospects

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How will the Columbia Fireflies fare this season?

Chris Viall
Steve Sypa

When the 2018 season began, the Columbia Fireflies looked like a team that would go places. While the offense was suspect, the starting rotation and bullpen was composed of numerous individuals that were players to keep an eye on. Anthony Kay, the Mets; first-round draft pick from 2016, was returning from Tommy John surgery and looking to establish himself as a professional pitcher. High-ceiling right-handers Tony Dibrell and Chris Viall would also be taking the ball every five days. David Peterson, the first-round pick from 2017, would miss the first few weeks because of injury but would also be assigned to Columbia when healthy enough. Leading them all was Pedro Lopez, who took the job after being removed from his position with the Las Vegas 51s. While his tenure with the 51s did not go as planned, Lopez was a proven winner, one the most winning managers in Mets minor league history.

The Columbia Fireflies posting a winning record in the first half, winning 34 games and losing 33, but the team was not particularly in the thick of things, ending five games behind the first place Rome Braves. Much of that pitching strength got promoted in the second half, and the team suffered as a result, limping to a 30-37 record in the second half.

The 2019 Colaflies seemed poised for greatness much like the 2018 team did, except instead of pitching as a strength, offense will be their specialty.

The Fireflies open the 2019 season tonight at Segra Park against the Charleston RiverDogs, the Low-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.

THE MANAGERS

Pedro Lopez will be reprising his role as Columbia manager, marking his 12th year within the organization. Lopez managed the Kingsport Mets in 2008, the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2009, the Savannah Sand Gnats in 2010, and the St. Lucie Mets in 2011. He managed the Binghamton Mets from 2012-2016, and during that time led the team to three straight Eastern League playoff appearances, including a championship in 2014. He managed the Las Vegas 51s in 2017 and seemed poised to join the major league club in some capacity, but was removed from the position after one season there following an especially poor showing by the club.

Flanking him will be Royce Ring, who will be serving as pitching coach, and Luis Rivera, who will be serving as hitting coach. Ring, who will be replacing Jonathan Hurst, will be entering his sixth season in the organization and his first with the Colaflies after serving as pitching coach for the second with the Brooklyn Cyclones for the past two years. Luis Rivera, who will be replacing Ender Chavez, has been in the organization for ten years, serving in multiple roles.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

THE HITTERS

The Columbia infield is loaded with potential and promise. Third baseman Mark Vientos, shortstop Ronny Mauricio, and second baseman Shervyen Newton, are top prospects not only in the Mets’ system, but in Vientos and Mauricio’s cases, in all of baseball. Chase Chambers will be completing the Columbia infield, and while not a prospect, the 6’1”, 250-pound slugger represents a genuine power threat, as he launched 17 home runs while at Tennessee Tech last year, and then an additional three after joining the organization and being assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones.

The Firefly outfield is nowhere near as impressive, but that is not to say that the men patrolling left, right, and center do not have promise. All four, Ranfy Adon, Anthony Dirocie, Wagner Lagrange, Jose Miguel Medina, have been solid and dependable hitters during their time in the organization and should be excellent table-setters for the infield mashers.

Behind the plate, Juan Urarte will be looking to reestablish himself as a bona fide prospect after losing the entire 2018 season to injury. The 21-year-old backstop had a strong 2017 season with Kingsport but missed all of 2018 after fouling a ball off of his leg during his first at-bat with the Brooklyn Cyclones.

THE PITCHERS

Pitching has been a strength of the Columbia Fireflies since their inaugural 2016 season and 2019 looks to be no different. Simeon Woods-Richardson and Thomas Szapucki will both be starting the season in Columbia, the former looking to establish himself as a bona fide prospect after a strong 2018 season and the latter looking to reestablish himself returning from Tommy John surgery. Joining them will be Jaison Viera, who nearly won the New York-Penn League pitching triple crown last season, Christian James, who will be looking to reestablish his prospect bona fides after showing lackluster stuff in 2018, the enigmatic but often injured Chris Viall, and up-and-comers Jose Butto and Willy Taveras.