BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
Greeneville Astros Manager Omar Lopez introduced his 2012 ball club to season ticket holders and special guests Saturday night at Pioneer Park, and a look at the roster finds a team that is older than last year's, plus there are very few non-drafted free agents on the team.
"A little older," Lopez, who is starting his second year as Greeneville's skipper, said. "Not much, but a little. You can see there are a lot of draftees (on the roster). I don't know much about what they can do in the field, although I've got a lot of information on them from the scouts."
Eleven team members are from the June 2012 Major League draft. Eighteen team members have at least one year of professional experience.
"These first four days," Lopez said, "is like a mini-camp of spring training. We have three rovers in town who are helping us right now. But I've been impressed with some people in workouts. The infield looks solid. There's a bunch of speed. I don't see much power ... more line drive hitters."
At least 10 of the pitchers on the opening day roster have experience. Tanner Bushue, a 6-4 right-hander from Parkland, Fla., has three years in the big leagues. Francis Ramierez, a 6-5 right-hander from the Dominican Republic, has two years.
Catcher Ernesto Genoves from Venezuela returns with three years of experience, and Christian Moronta, another catcher from the Dominican Republic, also returns.
Second baseman Josh Magee from Hoover, Ala., returns to the infield, as does Ruben Sosa, a 5-7 speedster from Lawrence, Mass.
Ariel Ovando, who started his promising career last year as a 17-year-old signee from the Dominican, is also back.
"He's making progress," Lopez said of Ovando. "Baby steps ... he's still young. He had never played in the Dominican League or the GCL (Gulf Coast League) when he came here as a 17-year-old. So it was tough for him. He's a diamond that needs polishing. He will get there. My job is to develop him; his job is to play hard. We want to keep him healthy and play him as much as we can."
The Astros also have high hopes for D'Andre Toney, an outfielder from Conway, Ark., who the Astros got in a recent trade with Kansas City.
Lopez said he tells the young people coming into the organization that this is the best place for them to be.
"Compared with the other league teams ... it is what it is," he smiled. "We have great fan support. We can have even more if we win and play hard, and that's my job."
CEDENO IS HITTING COACH
Joining the Greeneville squad this year is hitting coach Cesar Cedeno, a veteran Major League outfielder who was a four-time All-Star while playing for Houston and also won five Gold Gloves. His playing career lasted 16 seasons, and he's a 44-year veteran of the Major Leagues.
Despite a distinguished career, Cedeno laughs when he talks about the youngsters on the Astros team, some of whom don't know him.
"I've had some guys ask me if I played pro ball," he laughed. "Most of these guys don't know me and that's OK. I like to mess with them a little bit, tell them that I was pretty decent at times, won five Gold Gloves, made a few All-Star teams ... it makes it fun."
Cedeno said he wanted to thank the Houston organization for giving him the opportunity to work in Greeneville.
"I played in the Appalachian League in 1968, so that's a while back," he said. "I worked with Omar when he was a player in Venezuela. I tell him that as a manager there I gave him the opportunity to get his first base hit."
Lopez said he had known Cedeno for almost 20 years. "He knows about hitting and base running, and he's a real plus for us," Lopez said.
"There's definitely talent here," Cedeno said of the Greeneville team. "Our job is to polish that talent and develop them into better players in every part of the game. I'll work with the hitters, try to pick their head, and pass along as much knowledge and technique to them that I can."
Cedeno said there are seven players on the roster that he saw last year and in spring training. He's not familiar with the remainder of the roster.
"I'll look at them and see what they can do," he said. "I'm not the type of coach who wants to make a lot of changes right away. That will come later on if needed. Let them play now to their ability."
Cedeno said he had heard that Greeneville fans were the best in the league.
"I'm aware of the fan support here since I've been in the organization for a while," he said. "It's a beautiful ball park, a nice town. If we play good enough we can bring a championship to Greeneville. That's what we want to do."
Greeneville opens the season on the road Tuesday night with the first of a three-game set at Johnson City. They travel to Kingsport for games Friday-Sunday, then return home for the home opener on Monday, June 25.