RailCats 2018 Season Preview
GARY, Ind. — Expectations are high for the Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2018 after making the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last season. Down to the final game of the regular season, the Gary SouthShore RailCats needed more than just a win to clinch a playoff berth. The RailCats had to defeat the Lincoln Saltdogs and needed Fargo-Moorhead to lose to Winnipeg. Both happened on Labor Day after Gary walked-off over Lincoln for the second straight game with a 3-2 win while the RedHawks fell to the reigning champion Winnipeg Goldeyes, 8-3. Labor Day was special not only because of the holiday or because of Gary’s walk-off win to conclude the regular season, but because of the plethora of fans who stayed at U.S. Steel Yard to watch the Goldeyes top the RedHawks on the big screen to secure the RailCats postseason berth.
The RailCats play eight exhibition games (five road, three home) before opening the season on Friday, May 18th at 7:10 p.m. vs. the Saint Paul Saints. Listed below is the team’s exhibition schedule.
Tuesday, May 8th: Schaumburg Boomers (Frontier League) @ Gary (W, 4-2)
Wednesday, May 9th: Gary @ Kansas City T-Bones (L, 9-2)
Thursday, May 10th: Gary @ Kansas City (L, 8-2)
Friday, May 11th: Gary @ Wichita Wingnuts (W, 9-2)
Saturday, May 12th: Gary @ Wichita (W, 15-9)
Sunday, May 13th: Chicago Dogs @ Gary (6 p.m.)
Monday, May 14th: Chicago @ Gary (11:10 a.m.) **Game will be broadcast online at railcatsbaseball.com and on WEFM (95.9 FM) starting at 10:50 a.m.**
Tuesday, May 15th: Gary @ Chicago (7 p.m.)
Gary opens the year against St. Paul for the third consecutive year and the first time at U.S. Steel Yard in the last three seasons. 2018 also marks the fourth time in the last five years and the fifth time in the last seven seasons that the RailCats and Saints have begun the season against one another. The RailCats haven’t won their season opener since defeating the Lincoln Saltdogs, 9-8, in 2013.
Field Manager, Greg Tagert — Greg Tagert returns to the Gary SouthShore Railcats in 2018 for his 14th season (24th overall) as the team’s manager. Tagert has won three league championships (2005, 2007, 2013) and has finished with a .500 or better record in every season except one since being named the team’s manager in 2005.
Tagert, a four-time League Manager of the Year (2001, 2007, 2009, 2016) has led Gary to the playoffs eight times (six straight from 2005-2010), two Central Division Titles and has helped advance 24 former RailCats to affiliated baseball, including 2006 outfielder Nathan Haynes, who played in the MLB for the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays from 2007-2008. Tagert’s most recent player to have their contract purchased by an MLB affiliate was shortstop Ryan Fitzgerald, who had his contract purchased by the Boston Red Sox on May 2, 2018.
Tagert has developed three Northern League Pitchers of the Year, two League Rookie of the Year winners, a Northern League Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, five Baseball America All-Independent League selections, eight full-season Northern League All-Stars and two full-season American Association All-Stars.
Before becoming a professional manager in 1995, Tagert worked as a scout for the Detroit Tigers and as a pitching coach at the University of New Mexico. A native of Vacaville, Calif., Tagert pitched collegiately at San Francisco State University.
Tagert and his wife, Mary, have four children (sons Ben, Josh and Sam, and daughter, Elaine).
Pitching Coach, Alain Quijano — Alain Quijano returns to the Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2018 for his fourth straight season as the team’s pitching coach. Since being named the team’s pitching coach in 2015, Quijano has had five players have their contracts purchased by Major League Affiliates — RHP Matt Solter, 2016 (San Francisco Giants); LHP Alex Gunn, 2016 (Arizona Diamondbacks); RHP Christian Herstine, 2016 (New York Yankees); RHP Karl Triana, 2016 (Baltimore Orioles); LHP Carlos Diaz, 2017 (Miami Marlins/Oakland Athletics).
Quijano played nine seasons of Independent Professional Baseball, including three with Gary (2009, 2011, 2013). Quijano’s best season with the RailCats was on the 2013 Championship Team, where the southpaw won a career-high and RailCats single-season-high-tying 12 games. Quijano finished the season 12-7 with a 4.05 ERA in 21 starts, striking out 82 batters in 133.1 innings. Quijano concluded his professional baseball career in 2014 with the York Revolution of the Atlantic League, posting a 10-10 record with a 4.59 ERA in a career-high 28 starts and 168.2 innings pitched.
Quijano is also in his second season as the head baseball coach at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago, Ill. Quijano resides in Oak Lawn, Ill., with his wife, Rebecca, and their two children (daughter Maryanna; son Maximus).
Hitting Coach, Bobby Spain — Bobby Spain returns to the Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2018 for his third straight season as the team’s hitting coach. Since being named the team’s hitting coach in 2016, Spain has had two position players have their contracts purchased by a Major League Affiliate — infielder Jose Sermo, 2016 (Boston Red Sox/Kansas City Royals); catcher Jose Gonzalez, 2016 (Minnesota Twins).
Spain played four seasons of professional baseball (three affiliated, one independent). Spain’s professional baseball career began in 2007 after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 19th round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of Oklahoma City University. Spain spent three seasons in the Pirates organization, reaching as high as Lo-A. A native of Colorado Springs, Colo., Spain was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 39th round of the 2004 MLB Draft out of Norman High School but didn’t sign. Spain resides in Norman, Okla.
First Base Coach, Mike Habas — Mike Habas returns to the Gary SouthShore RailCats for his second season in 2018 as the team’s first base coach. Habas played collegiately at Moraine Valley Community College and South Suburban College before transferring to Division II North Greenville University after his sophomore season.
Habas graduated from Homewood-Flossmoor High School in 2009 and was named to the All-Area team as a senior. Habas resides in Homewood, Ill.
Third Base Coach, Derek Wolfe — Derek Wolfe joins the Gary SouthShore RailCats for his first season in 2018 as the team’s third base coach. Wolfe also currently operates his own business, Wolfe’s Path, a mentor and training program for athletes and is the athletic director and head baseball coach at Seminole High School in Sanford, Fla.
Wolfe was previously the middle school dean of students/head varsity baseball coach for 10 seasons at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, Fla., an assistant baseball coach for seven seasons at the University of Central Florida, the head baseball coach for four seasons at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tenn., and the head baseball coach for the Winter Park Angels and Diamond Dawgs of the Florida Collegiate Summer League.
Wolfe finished with a record of 94-45 at Trinity Prep, won two District Championships, named the Coach of the Year by his peers in 2012, had 16 players commit to Division I programs and one drafted by an MLB team, and co-authored the book Coaching Revolution – A Philosophy and Game Plan. As an assistant at UCF, Wolfe served in various coaching positions including, assistant recruiting coordinator, hitting coach, third base coach and outfielders coach. Wolfe also had 18 players sign professional MLB contracts as an assistant at UCF. Wolfe was named the FSCL Coach of the Year in 2005 and guided the Winter Park Angels to a FCSL Championship in 2014.
Wolfe has two kids (son Hayden; daughter Julie) and resides in Sanford, Fla.
The RailCats four-man starting rotation is expected to be one of the team’s strength for this season, especially with Alex Gunn coming off a career year last season and Daniel Minor dominating in his seven appearances with Gary after getting traded to the RailCats from the Winnipeg Goldeyes in exchange for right-handed pitcher Charlie Rosario on Aug. 10. Gunn and Minor are expected to be the team’s top two starters with southpaw Jeff McKenzie rounding out one of the team’s two final spots in the rotation. Possible candidates for the fourth spot in the rotation include newcomer Chuck Weaver and 2016 RailCat Lars Liguori.
Gunn went 8-5 with a 3.48 ERA in a league-high-tying 25 starts last season. The southpaw finished third in the American Association in innings pitched (152.2) and complete games (three) while leading the RailCats pitching staff in starts, innings, complete games, strikeouts (100) and quality starts (14). Gunn’s 152.2 innings pitched last season ranks fourth in American Association single-season history while his 25 games started is a new RailCats single-season record.
In seven games (six starts) with Gary, Minor went 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA. The former Houston Astros prospect walked just four batters and struck out 24 in 20.2 with the RailCats. Minor didn’t allow a run in his first two appearances (11.2 innings) with the ‘Cats and recorded the win in the final regular-season game of the year with 2.2 scoreless innings of relief.
McKenzie was acquired from Lincoln during the 2017 offseason for right-handed pitcher Richard Castillo and proved to be a key contributor down the stretch last year. Despite missing seven weeks of the season due to breaking his left fibula on May 30th vs. Kansas City, the southpaw still finished 4-4 with a 3.72 ERA in 14 games (11 starts).
Weaver missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, however, the right-hander won a career-high nine games and posted a career-best 1.04 WHIP with the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Class-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, in 2016.
Liguori was named a Frontier League All-Star with Gary’s sister club, the Schaumburg Boomers, last season after going 9-4 with a 3.44 ERA over 18 games (17 starts) in his second season with the Boomers. The southpaw set career-bests in wins, innings pitched (99.1), complete games (three) and starts (17).
The RailCats bullpen was arguably the team’s biggest strength last year, however, will have to continue their success without their two leaders in saves from last season (Drasen Johnson, Jorge De Leon). Last year’s bullpen finished 28-15 with a 3.70 ERA, 27 holds and 29 saves (22 from Johnson and De Leon). With a four-man rotation, the RailCats are expected to carry seven or eight relievers to round out their pitching staff. Veteran Gabe Perez is expected to be the team’s closer in his first season as a true reliever. Perez went 8-6 with a 4.63 ERA in 21 games (17 starts) with the Kansas City T-Bones in 2017. Perez spent six seasons in affiliated baseball (Los Angeles Angels, five; Arizona Diamondbacks, one) and has pitched over 100 innings and has struck out over 100 batters in two of the last three seasons.
Others with closing experience who are expected to be utilized as set-up men include Sam Myers and newcomers Chandler Jagodzinski, Myles Smith and Chris Powell.
Myers signed his first professional baseball contract with Gary last August following his senior year at California State University— Northridge, and went 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA, one save and one hold in 11 relief appearances.
Jagodzinski beings his first season in the American Association in 2018 after spending the last five seasons in the Frontier League (River City, 2013-15; Normal, 2015; Lake Erie, 2016-17). The right-hander was a named a Frontier League All-Star the last two seasons with the Lake Erie Crushers after leading the team in saves and relief appearances.
Smith was traded from Kansas City to Gary on March 29 in exchange for the reversionary rights of Carlos Diaz. The right-hander finished 2-2 with one save and a 3.38 ERA over 44 relief appearances in his first season of Independent Professional Baseball last year. Smith was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Lee University and spent four seasons in affiliated baseball (Boston, 2013-14; Arizona Diamondbacks, 2015-16), reaching as high as Triple-A.
Powell was traded to Gary from Sioux City on April 10 in exchange for a player to be named later. Powell signed with Sioux City on July 22 and went 2-3 with a 6.08 ERA in 16 games (four starts). Powell was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 39th round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of California Polytechnic State University, Pomona, and spent parts of three season in their minor league system, reaching as Double-A. Powell is also the son of former MLB pitcher Dennis Powell. Powell’s father, Dennis, made 207 appearances over eight seasons in the MLB (Los Angeles Dodgers, 1985-86; Seattle Mariners, 1987-1990, 92-93; and Milwaukee Brewers, 1990).
Also competing for spots in the bullpen include returner Jack Fowler and newcomers Justin Sinibaldi and Keaton Steele.
Fowler was re-acquired by Gary along with utility man Jimmy Heck from the Florence Freedom of the Frontier League on Dec. 20, 2017, to complete an earlier trade between the two teams. The southpaw went 0-1 with a 4.45 ERA in three separate stints with the ‘Cats and finished without a record and a 1.42 ERA in 13 games with the Freedom in 2017. Fowler struck out 24 batters and walked just eight over 28.1 innings with Gary and went seven appearances (10.2 innings) without allowing a run.
Sinibaldi was traded to Gary from Lake Erie in exchange for outfielder Cameron Newell on Feb. 7. The right-hander went 5-2 with a 3.15 ERA over 36 relief appearances in 2017 and led the Crushers pitching staff with a 73.2 First Pitch Strike Percentage (FPS) and had the lowest base on balls per nine innings (BB/9) at 1.950. A native of Kenner, La., Sinibaldi signed his first professional baseball contract with Lake Erie in 2016 following his senior season at Nicholls State University. Sinibaldi’s father, Armand Sinibaldi, played professional baseball in Italy and collegiately at Northwestern State University and at the University of New Orleans.
Steele spent most of the 2017 season with High-A Fort Myers in the Minnesota Twins organization, going 2-6 with a 5.24 ERA over 17 games (8 starts). Steele threw 56.2 innings at Fort Myers with 30 strikeouts and 14 walks. Steele finished the season with four relief appearances at Double-A Chattanooga. with a 1.29 ERA over 7 innings, while also collecting his first professional save. Steele spent four years in the Twins organization before coming to Gary.
The RailCats will open the year with at least two catchers (possibly three) similar to last season and years past. Tagert is keen on getting both catchers equal reps throughout the entire season, and 2018 is expected to be no different. Barring an injury during Spring Training, returner Wilfredo Gimenez and newcomer Andy Paz are expected to be the RailCats two catchers to open the season.
Gimenez returns from last season after hitting .226 with two home runs and 25 RBIs in his first season of Independent Professional Baseball and his first season of professional baseball since 2014. Gimenez led all Gary catchers in 2017 with 54 starts and threw out 17% (10/60) of baserunners. A native of Maracay, VZ, Gimenez went 28-26 in starts behind the plate and guided RailCats pitchers to a 4.23 ERA when catching. Gimenez signed with the Florida Marlins as an international free agent at 17-years-old and spent seven seasons in their minor league system, reaching as high as Double-A.
Paz signed his first Independent Professional Baseball contract with Gary on Jan. 25 after hitting .251 with four doubles, 14 runs and 19 RBIs over 53 games with the Midland RockHounds, the Double-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, in 2017. Paz became the third French player to sign with an MLB team after signing with Oakland as an international free agent on Nov. 20, 2010, at 17-years-old. Paz spent seven seasons in Oakland’s minor league system, reaching as high as Double-A. Paz won back-to-back Texas League Championships with Midland in 2016 and 2017, played for the French Junior National Team in 2010 and the French National Team in the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers in 2013 and 2017.
With veteran Frank Martinez moving on to the Atlantic League, 2017 American Association Rookie of the Year Colin Willis is expected to receive the majority of the RailCats starts at designated hitter. Willis started 61 games in the outfield last season, so the 25-year-old could also be utilized as a starter in the outfield if necessary. Willis was named the second League Rookie of the Year (Mike Rohde, 2008) in franchise history after finishing seventh in the American Association with a .319 batting average (first among rookies) and led the RailCats with eight home runs, 54 runs, 145 total bases, a .407 on-base percentage, a .482 slugging percentage, an .889 OPS and 29 multi-hit games.
The RailCats return two starters from last year’s infield (Alex Crosby, first baseman; Randy Santiesteban; third baseman) and expect veteran Mitch Glasser to open the season as the team’s starting second or third baseman. Santiesteban is expected to shift from third base to shortstop after Ryan Fitzgerald had his contract purchased by the Boston Red Sox on May 2, 2018. If Glasser starts at third, Cole Fabio could be the frontrunner for the everyday starting job at second.
Even in an injury-ridden 2017, Crosby finished second on the team with a .291 batting average and .723 OPS, hit three home runs, 12 extra-base hits, 24 RBIs and stole six bases in his third year with the club.
Santiesteban finished second on the team with 16 doubles last year and third on the team with a .381 slugging percentage and .720 OPS in his second year with Gary. Santiesteban was selected by the Atlanta Braves as a junior in the 40th round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of Peru State College (NE) but didn’t sign. Santiesteban’s father, Francisco Santiesteban, reached as high as Hi-A in the Seattle Mariners minor league system, and managed the Dominican Summer League Braves for two seasons.
Glasser was traded along with left-handed pitcher Onas Farfan from the Cleburne Railroaders to the Winnipeg Goldeyes on Oct. 24 to complete an earlier trade between the two teams, then traded to Gary to partially complete the trade that sent RHP Rosario to Winnipeg in exchange for RHP Minor, four players to be named later and cash considerations. A native of Chicago, Ill., Glasser hit .282 with 98 hits, 127 total bases, 15 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, 41 walks and a .731 OPS and led the Railroaders with 14 hit by pitches (third in the American Association) and 70 runs in 2017. Glasser started at four different positions (37 at third base; 30 at second base; 21 in the outfield; four at first base) over 90 games. Glasser was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 39th round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Macalester College and played in three games with Bristol White Sox, Rookie affiliate of the White Sox. The 28-year-old also played for team Israel in the Winter Baseball Classic Qualifier in 2017.
Fabio signed his first professional baseball contract with Gary on July 19 following his senior year at Bryant University and hit .260 with 20 hits, eight runs, two doubles and seven RBIs in 26 games for the RailCats.
Last year, Gary opened the year with seven infielders, and will likely open the 2018 campaign with five or six. Garrett Copeland emerges as a favorite to win an infield spot after two seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organizations. Copeland spent almost all of the 2017 season at Low-A Aberdeen, batting .274 in 50 games with 16 RBIs and 13 extra-base hits, while also stealing four bases.
Jimmy Norris will also compete for an infield spot. Norris didn’t play during the 2017 season, but spent 2016 with the Laredo Lemurs, batting .148 over 35 games.
The RailCats will have a crowded competition in the outfield, returning two outfielders from last year (Willis and Reggie Wilson) and adding five more in the offseason (Tyson Gillies, D.K. Carey, Christoph Bono, John Price, Heck). With Willis expected to be the team’s starting designated hitter for the majority of the season and Glasser expected to start at second or third base, the RailCats could have two new faces starting in the outfield in 2018. In 2017, Gary opened the season with five outfielders, and are likely to start 2018 with at least four, possibly five.
Wilson started games at all three outfield positions in 2017 and is likely to receive the majority of his starts in left field or right field. Last year, Wilson led Gary with 52 walks and finished second on the team with a .364 on-base percentage while hitting .239 with 40 runs, seven doubles, three triples, 17 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
Gillies, who was traded from the Ottawa Champions of the Canadian Association of Professional Baseball (Can-Am League), is a former top 15 prospect in the Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies minor league system. Gillies hit .294 with a career-high 11 home runs and 50 RBIs with Ottawa last year and is expected to hit in the middle of the order and receive the majority of his starts in center field or right field. A native of Vancouver, BC, CAN, Gillies was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 25th round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of R.E. Mountain Secondary School. 2018 marks Gillies 12th season of professional baseball and has played for the Canada National Team in the World Baseball Classic since 2013. Gillies appeared in Spring Training with the Phillies for four seasons and reached as high as Triple-A in his nine years of affiliated baseball (Seattle Mariners, 2007-09; Philadelphia Phillies, 2010-14; San Diego Padres, 2015). Gillies had a breakout season in 2009 with the High Desert Mavericks, the Class-A Advanced affiliate of the Mariners, and was selected to play in the All-Star Futures Game. The outfielder batted .341 with 104 runs, 17 doubles, 14 triples, nine home runs, 42 RBIs and 44 stolen bases over 124 games in ’09 and set career-highs in games played (124), plate appearances (523), at-bats (498), hits (170), extra-base hits (40), OPS (.916), batting average, runs, doubles and triples. Gillies was then traded in the ’09 offseason to the Philadelphia Phillies along with RHPs Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Romero in exchange for LHP Cliff Lee.
That leaves a four-man logjam competing for the final starting spot in the outfield, and ultimately, a place on the opening day roster.
Heck was traded along with Fowler from Florence to complete an earlier trade between the two teams during the offseason. Heck, who can also play second base and third base, spent all last year with the Salina Stockade, batting .258 with 36 runs, 80 hits, 12 doubles, four triples, one home run, 24 RBIs and 10 stolen bases over 89 games.
Price signed his first professional baseball contract with Gary on Jan. 8 after batting .351 with 64 runs, 17 doubles, two triples, 11 home runs, 40 extra-base hits, 55 RBIs and 27 stolen bases as a senior at Faulkner University.
Bono comes to Gary after two seasons in affiliated baseball. Bono split the 2017 season between four different teams at four levels in two different organizations. He played at the Rookie, Low-A, Single-A, and High-A levels between the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres organizations. Combined, Bono hit .159 over 40 games with seven RBIs and five stolen bases.
Carey joins the RailCats after spending four seasons in the Washington Nationals organization. He spent the 2017 season with the High-A Potomac Nationals, batting .229 with three home runs, 21 RBIs, and a .356 on-base percentage, despite missing a month due to injury.
Box Office Info.
The Gary SouthShore RailCats open the 2018 season at U.S. Steel Yard on Friday, May 18th vs. the St. Paul Saints. Ticket packages for the 2018 Gary SouthShore RailCats season are available online at railcatsbaseball.com and can also be purchased by calling the RailCats ticket line at (219) 882-BALL. The RailCats box office is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.