The New Orleans Zephyrs welcome in new manager Andy Haines for the 2014 season, hoping for the team's first trip to the postseason since 2007. The Marlins Triple-A affiliate hasn't played in the playoffs since winning the PCL American Conference seven years ago. Haines is in his seventh year with the Marlins organization. He's spent the last six years at the single-A level.
Haines takes over for Ron Hassey, who retired after managing the team for the previous two seasons. Haines became the fourth manager of the Zephyrs in the last six seasons. Haines doesn't have many ties to Louisiana. But, he did attend the same university as Saints head coach and former Eastern Illinois quarterback Sean Payton; the 37-year-old also coached former LSU shortstop Aaron Nola while coaching single-A ball in the Marlins organization. Pitching coach Charlie Corbell and hitting coach Damon Minor are both back in the dugout for 2014.
"I can't dictate the talent level obviously. That's decided from above. You want to put on a good show every night. You want to have a team that you are proud of and that the fans can be proud of," Haines said after being introduced as the new manager. He entered the 2014 season with a career record of 389-335. "You want to play a certain way. These guys are just a phone call away from playing on TV."
The 2014 roster is highlighted by two pitchers who were named to the All-Pacific Coast League team last year. Brian Flynn is back after making his major league debut in 2013. The former Witchia State hurler went 0-2 in four starts with the Marlins. He won the PCL ERA title last season and was named the circuit's top left-handed pitcher. Righty Chris Hatcher is also back. He was named the league's top relief pitcher after converting 33 saves for New Orleans in 2013.
Seven other pitchers on the staff have Major League experience: right-handers Arquimedes Caminero, Carter Capps, Sam Dyson, Henry Rodriguez, Chaz Roe and Elih Villanueva, they are joined by left-hander Josh Spence. Relievers Jesus Sanchez and Rett Varner have extensive experience at the Triple-A level, while starters Adam Conley and Bryan Evans are making the transition up from Double-A.
Both of the Zephyrs' catchers, Rob Brantly and Kyle Skipworth, saw time with the Marlins last season. Jake Marisnick has big league experience, too. He enters 2014 ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects in baseball. "He has a ceiling through the roof," Haines said. "I don't want to put a label on a guy but he has a lot of potential to be a great player."
"Coming over it's a culture shock. Coming from being with the Blue Jays and learning how do everything there and now coming over here, it has been an awesome transition," Marisnick said at the Zephyrs media day before the start of the season. The 6'4, 225 lb. right-hander was acquired in a blockbuster trade with Toronto involving 12 players in 2013.
Marisnick's a centerfielder who hails from Tampa, Florida. He's a five-tool player who was drafted in 2009 out of Riverside Poly High School in California. He played in 40 games with the Marlins last year batting .183 in 118 plate appearances. His speed, defense and power will be hard to keep off of a major league roster but his hitting must improve to stay there. "I just need to keep building on my spring," he said. He batted .432 (19-44) in the Grapefruit league this spring. "Just working on a different approach at the plate and tweaking some things here and there," Marisnick said. "It's going to be fun year. I am looking forward to it."
Marisnick will be joined in the outfield by Matt Angle, Mark Canha and Kyle Jensen. Jensen hit 28 home runs last season, 12th-most by any player in the minors.
Infielders Justin Bour, Zack Cox, Juan Diaz, Taylor Harbin, Taylor Krick and Josh Rodriguez rounded out the Opening Day roster.
"I am really excited about Zach. He had a big time pedigree out of Arkansas. He was considered one of the premiere hitters in the country coming out of college," said Haines.
"There's a lot of depth, it's a good group. They have an edge which I like," Haines said before the start of the 2014 regular season. "I've had a pretty good run on the local levels with some of the talent that is now making its way through the system."
Last season the Zephyrs finished 72-72.
In 2014, The New Orleans Zephyrs are teaming up with Budweiser to promote the Folds of Honor Foundation which provides educational scholarships for children and spouses of military service men and women who have been disabled or killed in action. Each Sunday this season the Zephyrs will wear camouflage uniforms. The organization encourages fans to donate to the charity at the ball park in exchange for tickets to Sunday games. "It is a great way to show military support and showcase the wonderful service Folds of Honor provides throughout the season," General Manager Mike Schline said. "It also brings excitement and opportunity to bring more people to the ballpark," he added.
It's the 18th year that Zephyr Field, a 10,000 seat park, has been the home of Triple-A baseball in south Louisiana. Fans that make their way to the "Shrine on Airline" this baseball season will see an improved venue. The stadium's concourse, electrical systems, field lighting and scoreboard have all had a makeover. The concourse will be better suited for wet weather conditions, new lights meet the highest minor league standards and a new LED line score will compliment the larger scoreboard that was installed before the 2013 season. But there's still work to be done.
The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) has commissioned a local architectural firm to conduct an analysis of the facility and to provided recommendations for enhancement projects. The projects are expected to be phased in over the next several years. "This project will directly affect the fans and the look and feel of the ballpark. It will give the park a facelift from the game experience aspect," Schline said. One project under consideration would provide 360-degree access around the field where fans could get to any part of the stadium. Other projects under evaluations include better premium seating options, fan amenity upgrades, and expanded team branding opportunities. "This enhancement analysis is another step toward ensuring that local baseball fans have access to a facility deserving of professional baseball," LSED Chairman Ron Forman said.
The 2014 regular season started on April 3 and will finish on September 1. How big of a grind is minor league baseball? The team will play 144 games over the next 151 days. That's seven days off. Seven days over five months! Half of the games (72) are on the slated to be played a Zephyr field.
Tickets can be purchased online, at the Zephyr Field box office, or by calling the Zephyrs at (504) 734-5155.