Out of Left Field is looking at all seven of the Rapidz' Can-Am League foes so you can look all smart when you head out to The Zip this summer.
The lineup: Toronto-born third baseman Anthony Granato set a league record for on-base percentage in 2007, getting on at a .458 clip. The Surf seem to have a thing for patient hitters -- they were the only team to draw 400 bases on balls last season, which made up for a lack of home-run power (just 46 big flies). The other four returning regulars, including shortstop David Keesee, who began the season in Sioux City with Rapidz manager Ed Nottle, had OBPs between .359 and .419 last season.
As you might expect with a team managed by Cecil Fielder, the Surf have a massive first baseman -- 6-foot-4, 260-lb. Eddie Kim, the club's only lefty power bat (although his home-run totals as a pro have probably been lower than his managers would have liked). Outfielder Josh Burrus, a former Atlanta Braves first-round pick, comes across in the stats as the classic high school prospect who never learned to control the strike zone (197-to-574 walk-to-strikeout ratio in seven seasons). He's still not even 25 and he was thought highly enough of once to be a first-rounder, so keep that in mind. The Surf could score a lot of runs, although they would appear to have a logjam at the corner spots and designated hitter. Granato started out as a middle infielder, so moving him could help get another bat in there.
The pitching: Remember how, back in the day, there were always that skinny kid in the neighbourhood who threw so hard it made you wonder where he was finding the strength? That's left-hander Adam Cox, who's 6-foot-4, 175 lbs., but was top pitcher in the United League last season. He was a fourth-round pick in 2000, but the obvious gaps on his Baseball Cube page suggest he's had some arm troubles. The Red Sox gave Cox a late-season look in the California League last season; he can touch 94 mph on the radar gun.
Cox joins a trio of Surf starters who were credited with more than half of its 51 wins last season -- lefty Brian Rodaway (15-3, 3.23), J.C. Huguet (9-5, 4.15) and Ben Thurmond (10-5, 5.33, with two teams). Atlantic City had the worst staff ERA of any playoff team, 4.76, so most of its pitchers are new. Six-foot-10 reliever Aaron Easton, given his size, might seem like a guy who would get a shot at being the closer.
Redemption story: Outfielder-third baseman Billy Hogan resumed playing last season after sitting out 2006 in the wake of having ligament replacement surgery on his elbow and being suspended by MLB for failing a drug test. He hit .379/.399/.455 in the South Coast League after a trade last season. Hogan's right in line with the league's theme of helping players with intriguing if idiosyncratic career arcs keep chasing a dream (plus he's from Scottsdale, Ariz., which is Kingston's sister city).
Outfielder Lucas Taylor, who led the league with 39 stolen bases last season, apparently has started a church in West Virginia. Redemption might be a theme for him on many future Sundays.
The manager: The Surf, as you know, is managed by Fielder, the former American League home-run champ. By all accounts, he's pretty earnest about managing and he's brought in several players who were with him in the South Coast League last season, including Easton, Hogan, catcher William Plaza, infielder Brad Thoma and outfielder Billy Kovatch. Atlantic City looks like it would be one of the contenders again.
Last season: 51-43, lost 3-1 in best-of-five league semi-final
Come to Ottawa: July 9-12, July 21-23
Host the Rapidz: May 26-28, July 28-31
Media coverage: Newspaper -- Press of Atlantic City; Radio -- home games are on a local college station and road games are webcast at acsurf.com
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