The Omaha Royals will start the season tonight in Albuquerque taking on the Isotopes. Eight players who spent at least part of last season with the big league Royals and four more who played for other Major League teams in 2008.
Right-handers Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar, who were both in the mix for a spot in Kansas City’s rotation this spring, instead will anchor the O-Royals staff to begin the season. Bannister spent the past two seasons with KC and was one of the best rookie pitchers in the Majors in 2007. Hochevar, who was the first overall pick in the 2006draft, spent most of 2008 starting for KC. Right-hander Brandon Duckworth also pitched for Omaha’s parent club a year ago. Rounding out Omaha’s rotation are southpaws Heath Phillips and Bruce Chen.
Omaha’s bullpen includes two more pitchers who spent time with Kansas City last year, lefty Josh Newman and righty Carlos Rosa. The 24-year old Rosa, who’s being converted from starting to relieving, is the prospect highest-rated by Baseball America on Omaha’s roster – at #8. The bullpen also includes lefty Lenny DiNardo, who opened last season on the Oakland Athletics’ roster.
Kila Ka’aihue, ranked at #9 on that publication’s pre-season list, belted 37 home runs between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha a year ago, adding another homer after a September call-up by KC. Expected to split time at first base and designated hitter with Ka’aihue is Ryan Shealy, who hit 22 homers for Omaha in 2008 and seven dingers over the final month of the big league season with Kansas City. Outfielder Mitch Maier, who also saw time with KC last year, is rated as the organization’s 23rd-best prospect entering 2009.
The O-Royals middle infielders and starting catcher saw time in the big leagues last year with different Major League teams. Shortstop Luis Hernandez played for the Baltimore Orioles and its Triple-A club Norfolk. Second baseman Tug Hulett was with Seattle and the Mariners’ top-level affiliate Tacoma. J.R. House spent most of the season with Pacific Coast League foe Round Rock, but had a “cup of coffee” with the Houston Astros.
Manager Mike Jirschele returns for his seventh consecutive season and tenth overall. Tom Burgmeier is back for a fourth season as Omaha’s pitching coach, while Tommy Gregg enters his first year as hitting coach. Drew Van Dam returns for his second year as Omaha’s trainer. Garrett Sherrill joins the team as its strength coach.
Story courtesy of O-Royals.com