GARY | The RailCats coaching staff discussed their final cuts to the opening day roster on the bus at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The final consensus was that there were definite standouts during spring training and some holes that still needed filling.
So the 'Cats cut their roster from 26 to 21 and made a few moves to pick up players after the first version of the roster was submitted to the American Association.
"Coming back from Wichita and making some of the final decisions on the bus, then arriving at 4:30 in the morning ... we'll continue to tweak it for the next 24 hours because I think we need to be a little better than we showed in these last seven exhibition games," manager Greg Tagert said. "I don't put much stock in the scores or the results or the stats in the exhibition season, and nobody should, but I do put stock in some of the evaluations and things that we watched."
Among those not on the final roster, the coaching staff released a pair of pitchers – Edwin Walker and Carlos Rivas – who were former RailCats rejoining the team. Walker, formerly a middle reliever, was working toward a spot in the rotation. Rivas, formerly a starter, was going to be a late-inning reliever.
"We knew coming in, you want to go with your gut feeling on some things, but you also have some hopefulness that they're the same guys they were," Tagert said. "It's been a tough camp for both of them."
Morgan Coombs, who went 6-3 with a 4.95 ERA in the regular season last year and had a 1.25 ERA in the playoffs, will be the opening day starter. Stephen Hiscock, who was 4-2 with a 3.26 ERA in the regular season and had a 3.64 ERA in the postseason, will be the No. 3 pitcher in the rotation. No. 2 is former Quebec righty Dustin Crenshaw, named a CanAm League pitcher of the week last season.
The No. 4 slot was waiting for Walker, but will be filled by committee until a permanent pitcher is located. Tagert said he liked the looks of Chuck Fontana, a reliever who could be converted, or a player to be named.
Late Monday and into Tuesday, the team acquired righty James Paar, who was a reliever with parts of two seasons playing for the Atlanta Braves, and picked up righty reliever Jack Wagoner from Wichita.
Also making the pitching corps are relievers Ethan Gibbons, Kagen Hopkins and Joe Testa.
The battle in the outfield helped Josh Romanski, who was a pitcher last season in Double and Triple AAA with the White Sox and New York Yankees, fill a rookie role. He'll join Drew Martinez, the only outfield hold over from last season, as well as Adam Taylor and Cody Bishop.
Tagert hoped to add Justin Gominsky for outfield help, because all four outfielders are left-handed hitters.
"I make no apologies to the players that one of the things we tell them on Day 1 is that even though the game of baseball is so offensively oriented, if you can't play defense at a high level, chances are you can't play here," Tagert said. "We saw some things in camp, some of the young outfielders pressing quite a bit ... we don't want to change players, but we look for players that fit that mold."
The infield was hit with a blow Saturday when Ryan Brockett, slotted at shortstop, broke his wrist. He'll be out four to five weeks with utility player Ryan Miller slotted in the spot.
"The great thing about Ryan Brockett is that when other players saw him play, they thought, 'We've got a guy out here who can play that position,'" Tagert said. "The best news of it is that he's on the shorter end of that recovery, and he got back from the doctor today thinking the cast will be removed at three weeks and there won't be a long rehab. It was a big blow."
With Jeremey Hamilton at first base, Zac Miller at second and Danny Pulfer at third, the infield consists mostly of players from the league championship team. Wally Backman and Derek Smith will be used in utility infielder roles.
"Some of the things we've been accustomed to: throwing a lot of strikes, catching the ball on defense, we felt like we were just a little short from what we saw the last four or five days," Tagert said.