Snappers players have tasted success
On one side of the Central Christian Church on Tuesday night, voters marked their choices for Beloit city council and school board. And on the other end of the building, the 2008 Beloit Snappers minor league baseball team made its first public appearance.
You can’t get much more American than that.
The somewhat groggy players had arrived in Beloit—via a layover in Cincinnati—just four hours before their first public event after spending the last couple of months at the Minnesota Twins’ spring training camp in Fort Meyers, Fla.
The Snappers used the event to introduce new manager Nelson Prada to his new summer home. The former minor leaguer played for four years in the Twins’ organization before retiring in 1999.
He managed the Twins’ rookie club Gulf Coast League for the last three years with an overall record of 91-72 for .558 winning percentage. He had signed a contract to manage the GCL team again in 2008—only two days before finding out that he was being sent to Beloit to fill the vacancy with the Snappers in the Class A Midwest League.
“They asked me to work in GCL for one more year,” he said. “Two days later, they’re telling me I’m going to be in Beloit.
“Whatever I do, I love the game of baseball, and I’ll go where they need me to go. If I’m here for a couple of years and then I have to go back, that’s what I’ll do.”
The Venezuela native also has also worked in player development for the Twins in the Central American country and is fluent in English and Spanish
He said one of the advantages for this year’s Snappers will be the experience of having won the West Division in 2007 and going to the final game of the Midwest League Championship Series. In addition to the 14 players who were on the Beloit roster at some point last year, the team will carry 16 players from the Elizabethton team that finished 50-18 in the rookie-level Appalachian League and won the championship in August.
“At least 24 guys have played in championship games,” Prada said. “Playing in these types of pressure games helps the guys to grow and improve.”
Those playoff games, he added, give young players important experience with winning baseball.
“Your goal is to win, but you have to develop the players before you can win,” Prada said. “You have to develop winning minds, and you can’t develop good players when you’re 60-90. You have to win.”
The Snappers will start with a fairly young pitching staff. Only four of the 14 pitchers appeared at the Class A level in 2007.
Still, Prada thinks that the staff is aggressive and able to throw strikes. It also is one of the tallest pitching staffs in the minor leagues, which could prove to be an advantage.
Tonight’s season-opening lineup against the visiting Kane County Cougars at Pohlman Field will feature some familiar faces, including outfielder Joe Benson, Baseball America’s No. 2 Twins prospect. The Minooka, Ill., native finished with a .255 batting average, 18 doubles and five home runs for the Snappers last season. He had 124 strikeouts and 49 walks.
“In your career, you want to advance,” the 20-year-old said of not moving up to the next level over the winter. “But on the other side, you have to realize that I’m younger, and development is more important than moving up.”
Outfielder Chris Parmelee also is back on the Beloit roster. He finished 2007 with a .239 batting average, 23 doubles and 15 home runs. He had 137 strikeouts and 46 walks.
Prada said he is hoping to see more consistency at the plate and fewer strikeouts from his hitters.
“We have to make them more consistent, which is a big part of the lower levels,” he said. “They have the tools. They all can hit and catch. That’s why they’re here. The big part of going to the next level is to do the little things.”
The Snappers also have outfielder Garrett Olson and infielder Steven Singleton back on the roster as well as infielder Deibinson Romero, who was rated as one of the top defensive infielders and top infield arm in the Twins’ organization by Baseball America.