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June 18, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Lowell Notebook: New beginnings abound for Spinners

LOWELL, Mass. – After a disappointing 29-45, last place finish in 2011 and a 24-50 record in 2010, the Short-Season A Lowell Spinners look to bounce back and reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2009 Stedler Division title. Bruce Crabbe returns to manage the Spinners for the third time after leading High A Salem to a 64-75 finish in 2011. Crabbe previously managed the Spinners in 2006 and 2010.

Due to Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, Lowell looks to get an infusion of the high-round college talent that was selected by the Red Sox in the amateur draft just a few weeks ago. With the draft signing deadline moved up to July 13th, the Spinners hope to get late signing draftees as the season progresses, something that has failed to happen when the signing deadline was in mid-August.
This year’s Spinners roster features an abundance of interesting prospects, including 2011 fifth round selection, shortstop Mookie Betts, 2011 second round selection, outfielder Williams Jerez, 2012 first round selection, pitcher Pat Light and 2010 sixth round selection, outfielder Kendrick Perkins. Right-handed pitchers Mike Augliera, Justin Haley, Kyle Kraus, and first baseman Nathan Minnich will hope to make a strong first impression as they kick off their professional careers after being drafted this year. 

Williams Jerez (Kelly O'Connor)
Jerez, who made his professional debut last year with the Rookie-Gulf Coast League Red Sox, is looking forward to experiencing what Red Sox baseball is all about.

"I feel really good this year," said Jerez at the Spinners' media day. "I am very happy that the Red Sox are allowing me to show what I can do at the next level. I know that this is a big year for me to really open eyes and show everyone my game. This will be my first time playing in front of large crowds, so I really don’t know what to expect. I am looking forward to all of the challenges and excitement that this season will surely bring."

 The 20-year-old native of Brooklyn, N.Y. added that he has been working tirelessly on his swing and that despite his New York roots, Jerez has always had an affection for the Red Sox. "When I was at the Perfect Game showcase, one of the Red Sox scouts came up to me and asked me what my favorite team was," he said. "I told him it was the Red Sox. I didn’t think about it much until the draft when Boston selected me. The whole experience of following the team and now playing for the organization is more than I could have ever asked for."

Like Jerez, David Chester is making his Lowell debut after beginning his professional career last season with the Gulf Coast League squad. Chester is an imposing presence at first base, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 270 pounds. The 23-year-old hit .243/.305/.450 with nine home runs and 23 RBI in 46 games last season. Believing he is better than what he showed last season, Chester is also eager to begin his sophomore season in the Red Sox organization.

"I am definitely looking forward to playing in Lowell," said Chester. "Playing in the GCL, the season becomes a bit of a grind. You play during the day in the hot weather and you don’t always have a lot of people come to the games. Being able to play in front of sizeable crowds and under the lights is going to be exciting for me."

Chester also commented on his ability to hit for power, a tool he believes is only part of his game, saying, “I see myself as a power hitter, but I do think I can hit for average as well. Last season, my average slipped a bit towards the end of the year and I think part of that was getting accustomed to hitting with wooden bats and seeing the type of pitching that playing professionally brings. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do this season as I have a lot of confidence in my bat and my defensive ability at first base. I put a lot of work into fielding my position last year with the GCL coaches and believe I can make all the plays necessary.” 

Chester’s first base counterpart is the 21-year-old Minnich. The Division II Player of the Year for 2012, Minnich was drafted by the Red Sox in the eighth round of the 2012 draft out of Shepherd University. With a similar build and profile to Chester, Minnich hopes he can make a lasting impression amongst Red Sox fans.

"I really want to establish my name, that’s my main goal for this year," said Minnich. "I may not be a starter, but I want to take advantage of every opportunity that’s given to me. While I know that hitting the ball out of the park is my biggest weapon, I also see myself as a guy who can get on-base quite well. When I step into the batter’s box, I try to keep things simple. I always reassure myself when I am struggling and I really just look to hit the ball hard every time I am up. I don’t expect to be pitched around here, but if a pitcher is not giving me something to hit, I am more than happy to work the count and take a walk."

Minnich’s ability to get on base saw him compile on-base percentages of .471, .513, .553 and .645 in college, a big reason why he was eventually selected by the Red Sox. The 21-year-old native of Waynesboro, Pa. did not always know where he was going to land or even have total confidence going in to draft day. "The Red Sox followed me a lot earlier on in the season; I saw them at most of my games and talking to my coaches," he said. "We came upon the middle of the season and they disappeared. I almost felt like I did something wrong and blew my chances. I didn’t hear anything until Day One of the draft, when I got a call from a Boston scout telling me how they hoped they would be able to draft me. I got a call early on Day Two from them with an offer and I was literally shocked that everything came together so quickly. I was very happy with where I ended up despite falling off a bit towards the end of my senior year.” 

The right-handed Haley will also be looking to make a name for himself after being drafted by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2012 amateur draft. The 20-year-old pitcher from Fresno State finds himself across the country looking to experience east coast baseball for the first time. "I hear people here love their baseball," said Haley. "I’ve heard about the large crowds and all the excitement that playing here can bring. I am going to be really excited to see the park full on opening night."

While Haley will pitch in front of large crowds of rabid fans, he wants to assert himself as a starting pitcher, something he tackled admirably at the end of his college career, saying, “Fresno State wanted me to close initially. I started out in that role but switched over into the rotation when we ran into some injuries. I pitched pretty well as a starter and really enjoyed the boost I was able to give the team. I envision myself as a starter, but if the team wants me to come out of the bullpen, I am more than happy to do that as well.”  Standing tall on the mound at 6-foot-5, Haley uses a “fastball, changeup, and 12-6 curve” to attack hitters. 
Seth Schwindenhammer (Kelly O'Connor)

Another 20-year-old finds himself playing in Lowell for the third season in a row. Seth Schwindenhammer impressed the Red Sox enough to lead to him being selected in the fifth round of the 2009 amateur draft. However, injuries and lackluster performance have seen his trajectory hit a bit of a bump in the road. 2011 saw Schwindenhamer make the NY-Penn League All-Star team as he hit .213/.271/.401 with nine home runs and 29 RBI. While Schwindenhammer finds himself as a Spinners veteran, he is looking to bring his game to the next level.

"I really am focused on playing my hardest and staying consistent and healthy throughout the season," said Schwindenhammer. "The biggest thing I need to work on is not focusing on my numbers. Last year, I focused on my numbers and I struggled and everything snowballed. This season, I really need to go out and play my game, have fun, and let my numbers fall where they may."

The left-handed hitting Schwindenhammer also touched on his approach in the batter’s box, commenting, "My approach is always to stay up the middle, no matter what the situation is. Getting a pitch I can handle and driving it hard somewhere is all I want to do. When I get into a two-strike count, I want to focus on putting the ball into play. You may have to foul a few pitches off, but if you can ultimately put the ball in play, you will give yourself a chance to make things happen.” Being able to reduce strikeouts will also be a major factor in Schwindenhammer’s success this season as he was punched out 106 times in 207 at-bats last season.

The Spinners begin play this evening at home against the Connecticut Tigers (DET) at 7:15 PM. Francisco Taveras faces off against Montreal Robertson.

John Gray is a Senior Staff Writer for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnRGray.