Baseball is back at Riley Park and players and coaches say the Charleston RiverDogs have a team capable of capturing the South Atlantic League title.
That belief comes a year after the RiverDogs, the Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees, made the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Still, priority No. 1, according to RiverDogs manager Patrick Osborn, is to develop a winning culture, beginning Thursday against the Lexington Legends.
“When you talk about expectations, you automatically go to wins and losses,” Osborn said this week. “But in this case you have to look toward player development on and off the field.”
To Osborn’s point, the RiverDogs have a fairly young team. The average age of the players on the 25-man Opening Day roster is 20.
Even though the team leans more toward youth than experience, Osborn said the roster features some of the best talent in the farm system.
Five of the Yankees' top 30 prospects are on the team, and they are spread out across the field.
Outfielder Blake Rutherford batted .351 last season, and is the Yankees’ No. 3 prospect in the minors. And right-handed pitcher Albert Abreu was a top prospect in the Houston Astros franchise before coming to the Yankees in November’s Brian McCann trade.
“And if you look a little deeper into our roster, you’ll see some other great prospects too,” Osborn said. “We have plenty of firepower and I think if we create a good culture, we can make a run in the playoffs.”
Last season, the RiverDogs dropped a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs to the Rome Braves, who went on to win the championship.
Osborn thinks his team can be the one hoisting the trophy at the end of the season, and the players agree.
Center fielder Estevan Florial, the 17th-ranked prospect in the Yankee farm system, said this week that his personal goal is in tune with his team goal.
“I want to help the team win every day, and I think that can get us pretty far,” he said.
The first pitch of the RiverDog’s season is scheduled for 7:09 p.m. Right-hander Nick Green will get the start. After joining the RiverDogs in mid-season from the Texas Rangers organization, Green went 3-0 and posted a 1.06 ERA for Charleston last year.