SUITING UP • Great Lakes Loons Season Preview

Manager John Shoemaker Returns to Lead the Loons for Their 12th Season

Posted In: Sports, Great Lakes Loons,   From Issue 860   By: Jason Marcoux

12th April, 2018     0

For the twelfth consecutive season, the Great Lakes Loons kick off another year of professional baseball in the Great Lakes Bay Region as the single-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, playing in the Midwest League with home games at arguably, the top venue in minor league sports, Dow Diamond in Midland, MI.

There's been eight different managers in the 12-year history of the Great Lakes franchise: Lance Parrish led the 2007 Loons, while Juan Bustabad took over from 2008 through 2010, before John Shoemaker became the third manager to lead the Loons back in the 2011 and 2012 season's. Razor Shines (2013) Bill Haselman (2014) Luis Matos (2015) Gil Velazquez (who led the Loons to a MWL championship in 2016) and Jeremy Rodriguez (2017) each managed the Loons for single season's over the past five years.

Shoemaker will return to Midland to manage the 2018 Loons after spending the majority of the previous five years at the Dodgers' training facility in Arizona.

The Chillicothe, OH native couldn't have been happier with the Loons' organization; as well as with the people of Midland during his previous time here, and he's anxious to return to his mid-western roots.

“The Dodgers and the Loons, working on a twelve-year affiliate arrangement, I think is a great place for our young players” Shoemaker said. “This league is full of young prospects, some that we've had here, and some that other teams have had. I really enjoyed my two years here in Midland; great stadium, great front office people. As for watching good ball players play, this is really a great spot for the Dodgers and I'm happy to be here.”

Shoemaker has the luxury of having coached most of the current Loons' players at one time or another. Whether it was while in charge of the Dodgers' training facility in Phoenix, AZ back in 2013, or when he coached the Arizona League Dodgers (rookie level) in 2014, '16, and '17 or as manager of the Ogden (UT.) Raptors (short-season rookie ball) back in the 2015 season.

“By spending the last five or six seasons in Arizona, I've seen all of these guys for a short period of time and some for even longer,” Shoemaker noted. “So, I'm aware of them, I haven't seen them in full season, but the Dodgers have been fortunate to have good drafts, we've signed good international players, and we are promoting players faster now, really than ever before. So, it's a great time for a ball player to be in the Dodger's system.”

In terms of experience, this year's Loons roster features 19-players who spent time in Midland last year, along with 16-players who helped lead the 2017 Ogden Raptors (rookie level) to a Pioneer League Championship last year.

Romer Cuadrado, a 6-foot-4, 20-year old OF from Maturin, Venezuela hit .335 with 9-home runs and 60-RBI's for Ogden last year. He will join 2017 MWL home run derby champion, 6-foot-3 OF Carlos Rincon, and 6-foot-2 heralded free-agent OF Starling Heredia (whom the Dodgers signed for $2.6 million dollars back in 2015) giving the Loons a very potent outfield this year.

Rincon was moved down to Ogden near the end of last season, and Shoemaker is hoping Rincon's return to single-A can be a positive move for both he and the Dodgers.

“One player that played here last year and hit some home runs when he was here was Carlos Rincon,” Shoemaker said. “I know Carlos was moved down to Ogden (rookie level) but he's back for a second round here in the Midwest League. Often times, players that repeat a league, can have some positive success. So, we're hoping that Carlos can do just that for us.”

The youngest and least-experienced position for the Loons this year will likely be the pitching staff. Shoemaker points out that there will be some pitchers who were here last year, but did not necessarily spend that much time here. He's hoping a very experienced middle-infield will make up for the lack of pitching depth.

“We have a lot of pitcher's that are new, some of them have pitched here last year, but it was just for a brief period of time,” Shoemaker noted. “But, with Moises Perez, Brandon Montgomery, and Zach McKinstry; all guys that have played the middle infield, it should give us some stability in the middle infield. So, you just never know who is going to stand out during the season, but those are some names of some guys that should be able to play well for us for sure.”

“Our starting rotation should be an interesting group,” Shoemaker added. “Because, they all have some strengths and weaknesses. One player who's pitched really well, (although) he didn't pitch much after the draft last year, is Max Gamboa, from Pepperdine University. We're expecting some good things from him. The pitching staff as a whole, is going to have to throw the ball over the plate. We're not going to be able to walk people and maybe have a clean game, but throwing strikes, I think is going to be key for a lot of our guys. Also, the weather, early in the season, for everybody in the league, is going to play its part. Some players have never pitched in this type of weather. Maybe, for a lot of these kids, who got promoted up here last year, they came up late in the season, but not many of them have started here when it's been this cold.”

McKinstry, an infielder drafted by the Dodgers out of CMU, who helped lead the Loons to a MWL championship in 2016, before spending parts of last year here, is excited to be back in a familiar place.

“I'm always happy to be in Midland, it's kind of home for me,” McKinstry said. “I've been here, what, twice already, and I went to CMU, so it's kind of like I'm back at home.”

After spending time with the Dodgers' double-A affiliate the Tulsa (OK.) Drillers last year, McKinstry has one thing in the fore-front of his mind this season.

“To get back to double-A, that's the main goal for me,” continued McKinstry. “Just play as hard as I can every day and do my thing out there. I just need to work hard, come here every day, take my ground balls. They (the Dodgers) were really satisfied with my spring training, and I need to stay confident in my ability.”

Ramon Rodriguez and Garrett Hope, along with Gersel Pitre will lead the Loons from behind the plate at catcher this year. Hope spent a short stint with Great Lakes during the 2016 campaign, before splitting time at four different levels (rookie, single-A, advanced-A, and double-A) last year. Hope is looking to use his experience to help lead an inexperienced Loons pitching staff this year.

“Well, I've been here about three times now, and we've got a pretty good group of guys here now,” Hope said. “We've got a couple young guys stepping on the mound this year, so hopefully I can lead them and just kind of show them the ropes.” “Our motto (as catcher's) is serve to lead,” Hope added. “Anything anybody needs, us catcher's, we take care of everybody else. We kind of put our needs last, and everybody else first.”

Shoemaker is hoping he can help teach this group of youngsters to play the kind of baseball he learned when he was drafted by the Dodgers in the 1977 MLB draft. The same kind of baseball that he's learned to coach in his 36-years as a coach in the Dodger's system. The kind of baseball that helped get the MLB Dodgers to last year's World Series.

“We hope that we play good fundamental baseball, and that we make the plays that you're supposed to make, and then, have a little excitement by having some good nights,” Shoemaker concluded, hinting as to what type of baseball fans can expect from his team this year.

“You play a hundred games, you're gonna win 33 and lose 33 before you even start.” Shoemaker added. “The games in the middle are going to be the one's that separate the good teams from the teams maybe at the bottom. So, our strategy this year is, we're looking to try and put the ball in play if we can, catch the routine outs, and throw the ball over the plate as a pitching staff.”

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