It was just two days ago when members of the Charleston RiverDogs officially reported to Riley Park — many of whom were catching a glimpse of The Joe’s diamond for the first time.
In between last-second housing searches and furniture shopping for their new places, the RiverDogs slipped on their uniforms and walked onto the field, where cameras flashed and reporters huddled for the team’s media day.
Baseball season is officially here for the Yankees’ Class A affiliate, which kicks off its 20th season at Riley Park on Thursday with the Columbia Fireflies in town for a four-game South Atlantic League series.
“Not just this year, but the years in the past, we always have some good expectations. Not only from myself, but from the people that put the team together down in Tampa,” third-year RiverDogs manager Luis Dorante said.
“Hopefully we can develop those players for the major leagues, and I think we’ve done a good job with that.”
Highlighting the RiverDogs’ 2016 roster are five of the Yankees’ top 30 prospects, as ranked by MLB.com.
Right-handed pitcher Domingo Acevedo, the No. 7 prospect, comes highly touted, as does shortstop Hoy Jun Park (No. 14), shortstop Kyle Holder (No. 23), shortstop Thairo Estrada (No. 28) and outfielder Trey Amburgey (No. 30).
Between Park, Holder, Estrada and Angel Aguilar — all technically shortstops — the RiverDogs are expected to have a stacked middle infield, chock-full of depth and versatility.
Dorante said Aguilar and Estrada would trade off at third base, with Park and Holder primarily manning the shortstop position. All four could potentially see time at second base, as well.
Park, who turns 20 years old on Opening Day, is a Korean product who signed with the Yankees for $2.2 million in 2014.
“I didn’t see the numbers from last year, but it seems like he can put the ball in play,” Dorante said.
“Not a power guy, I think, but (he) will be more of a line drive, play the short game, hit and run, bunt, steal a base here and there ... Defensively he’s solid.”
Holder hails from San Diego, where he grew up a Padres fan and attended the University of San Diego. Asked if he envisions the competition for the middle infield spots to be more heated than other positions, the 21-year-old didn’t seem to look too far ahead.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to work out,” he said. “We’re all good players and we’re just going to go out there and whatever Skip puts on the lineup, we’re going to go out and try to win.”
Dorante wasn’t certain what his Opening Day roster would look like, but he indicated that Acevedo will be one of the pitching staff’s strong suits in whichever role he assumes. The 6-7, 22-year-old consistently pounds the strike zone in the upper 90s, and has touched 103 mph with his fastball, according to scouting reports.
“In spring training, I saw one outing that he had. He wasn’t trying to overpower guys,” Dorante said.
“He was more locked in and throwing strikes. I don’t remember the velocity, but I told him, ‘That’s all you need. That’s all you need right there.’”
Pitching could very well be at the forefront of Thursday’s opener, as Riley Park isn’t particularly home-run friendly to hitters — something Dorante is more than aware of.
“I did mention to my squad in spring training, ‘Do not hit the ball in the air,’” he said.
“It’s not going to go anywhere in Charleston.”