Davenport – Omar Lopez was eager to display his 2013 Midwest League championship ring on Tuesday afternoon, a memento that reminds the second-year Quad Cities River Bandits manager what he got to experience last season.
“Amazing,” Lopez said. “A special year.”
Anyone who watched the club roll to a league title can agree with Lopez’s assessment, using a youthful and talented roster that came together at the right time to win the ultimate prize. Most of those gifted players — which included consecutive No. 1 picks — currently reside in the high-A California League.
Those who now occupy the Bandits’ clubhouse are left to continue what was established last season. Duplicating it is the key question.
No one is dodging that theme this year.
“Everyone’s goal here is to succeed,” Bandits left-handed pitcher Kent Emanuel said during media day on Tuesday. “The group last year did so well and did it the right way. That’s something we want to experience, too.”
A collection of talent that one day could form a nucleus in Houston is replaced with a group that carries the same optimism that permeated last year. Most of the roster helped Tri-City win the short-season low-A New York-Penn League title last fall. Some contributed to Greeneville’s run to the rookie-level Appalachian League championship series.
From what this group has accomplished at the professional level, they are confident success can continue in their full-season stop.
“We’re here to do the same thing,” Bandits right-hander Andrew Thurman said, “win and work hard.”
The past tells them the approach can be successful.
“We went through a lot (at Tri-City and Greeneville),” Bandits first baseman Conrad Gregor said. “What we went through last year will help us and give us that competitive edge on and off the field.”
More than half the roster ended last season in Tri-City, so there is familiarity and a winning culture. Being drafted together and winning together created a camaraderie needed to succeed.
Gregor calls it a fun group “who works hard and plays hard.” That is what defined last year’s championship team.
The blueprint — at all levels — proved it can get wins.
“Everyone in this room knows how to win,” Gregor said. “That’s what happened last year at Tri-City. I can’t see any reason why it would not continue here.”
A quick glance at the roster makes it seem success can happen.
Although this group arrives with less fanfare than what rolled through last year at this time, Lopez likes the pitching staff — “we have polished, young kids who throw hard and have good command,” he said — and a deep position corps. There is not a super amount of power, but the speed and ability to put the ball in play are weapons.
Anchoring the pitching staff is Thurman, Emanuel and right-handers Michael Feliz and Adrian Houser. Other than Feliz, the three were selected in the top three rounds. Gregor, shortstop Chan Moon and outfielders James Ramsay, Brett Phillips and Jon Kemmer have drawn attention from camp.
“This team definitely has the ability to play high-level baseball,” Emanuel said. “A lot of the guys here are refined and know what they’re doing.”
The organization expects that in each of its players.
“Any team throughout our minor-league system is going to be pretty loaded,” Emanuel said. “We have one of the best farm systems in baseball. Everything I’ve seen up to this point has proven that. I don’t expect any drop-off.”
Perhaps talk of a repeat is not out of the question.
“If we go out there and play our game,” Gregor said, “good things will happen.”