Stanton Hopes to Finish Pitching Puzzle This Year

ROCKLAND COUNTY – After contending for a divisional crown in 2021, the New York Boulders enter this season expecting to take that next step and claim the Frontier League Cam-Am Division title this summer.

Pitching is always at the forefront of a manager’s mind as he puts together his team over the winter months, and Boulders’ second-year skipper T.J. Stanton was hard at work trying to find the right pieces to this puzzle.

Stanton has invited 23 pitchers to Boulders’ training camp, which will begin May 2 at the team’s Clover Stadium in Pomona, NY. The list includes a mix of names familiar to Boulders’ fans, as well as a bevy of talented newcomers vying to earn a spot on the opening night roster.

“We will go into camp with seven guys fighting over five rotation spots,” Stanton said. “We were very focused to get more experienced so that in a three-game series a team would have to face at least two experienced starters.

For much of the season in 2021, we would have one experienced starter in the rotation.”

Once again this season, lefthander Dan Wirchansky is expected to slot into the top of the rotation. Last season, the 24-year-old Rockland County-native started 20 games, winning four of his nine decision and pitching to a 4.07 ERA. Wirchansky tied the team-mark for strikeouts in a game when he fanned a dozen Tri-City Valley Cats on June 1.

“(Danny) was by far our best arm in 2021,” Stanton said. “(He) will continue to be heavily scouted as he continues to mature and develop.”

Robby Rowland and McKenzie Mills figure to slot in behind Wirchansky.

Rowland, 30 and a righthander, was a mid-season pick-up last summer by the Boulders and went 2-3 with a 5.87 ERA. Rowland will also double as the Boulders’ pitching coach, a role that should fit him like a glove. Over the past several seasons, Rowland has put together a series of pitching tutorials that can be found on a number of social media outlets.

The lefthanded Mills, 26, acquired this past winter for reliable reliever James Mulry, was a key member of the Washington Wild Things rotation last summer, when he went 3-5 with a 3.82 ERA.

“Robby (Rowland) had a great winter ball year and will be a huge benefit to the entire group of arms as the pitching coach,” Stanton said. “McKenzie (Mills) has been a starter for six minor league seasons for three different organizations as high as Double-A, was a huge starter for Washington in 2021 and now is healthy for the first time since 2019.”

Also battling to fill out the rotation are righthanders Algenis Martinez, Willie Rios, Alex Mack and William Freeman.

Martinez, 28, last pitched in 2019 when he split the season between the Boston Red Sox’ Salem team in the Carolina League and for the Sox’ Gulf Coast League team in Florida. His best year probably came in 2016 when he went 1-1 with a 1.94 ERA in 18 relief appearances for Lowell in the New York-Penn League (Class A).

Meanwhile, Rios, 26, saw time with Winnipeg of the American Association in 2021.

“Algenis (Martinez) was a very successful reliever for seven years in the Boston system,” Stanton said. “Willie (Rios) has been in minor league ball with Baltimore for three years, battled injuries and surgery and is now fully healthy as evident by his winter ball domination.”

Mack, 24, was signed mid-season in 2021 by the Boulders and, in 10 games, went 0-2 with a 7.01 ERA.

“Mack dominated for St. Thomas Aquinas College, but battled injuries in his first season with us,” Stanton said. “He showed flashes of brilliance before arm fatigue set in.”

For STAC in 2021, Mack started 10 games and went 7-1 with a sparkling 1.61 ERA.
The manager continued, “William (Freeman) was a dominant arm for Alabama in 2021 before ending the season in the Pioneer League.”

Freeman, 24, wrapped up a three-year career at Alabama last spring by going 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA over 24 appearances, including three starts. He was signed by Missoula of the Pioneer League and finished out 2021 with the PaddleHeads before being acquired in a trade this off-season by the Boulders.

Last season, the Boulders’ bullpen was a bit of a revolving door. This season, Stanton hopes to find the right combination of arms from the remaining 16 pitchers coming to camp that will provide him with a more solid foundation.

“We will go into camp with a ton more experience than in 2021,” the manager said. “We could go six-to-eight guys here. Many new faces, but some returners with the expectation of roles to be much smaller. It will most likely be three or four experienced (guys) and then 10-12 rookies battling for the rest.”

Stanton continued, “Each one of the new experienced pen arms we got were highly competitive signings.”

Back this season is righthander Zach Schneider. As the 2021 season progressed, Schneider evolved into Stanton’s most reliable arm out of the bullpen. The 25-year-old appeared in 24 games and worked 34 innings, while going 3-1 with five saves and a 3.17 ERA.

“Zach (Schneider) is a former All-American at Florida Atlantic and a Boston farmhand,” Stanton said. “He was our best bullpen arm all season in 2021, even with the injury.”

Other familiar faces include Ben Strahm, Dylan Smith, Orsen Josephina, Luke Burton, Ryan Munoz and Andy Hammond.

Strahm, 25, a righthander, was injured almost all of 2021 and able to appear in only 14 games. Stanton is anxious to see what Strahm’s stuff looks like now that he is finally healthy.

Josephina, Munoz and Hammond all started for the Boulders in 2021 and showed signs of excellence.

Josephina, a 26-year-old righthander, was 6-5 in 16 starts with a 5.98 ERA, however that ERA was skewed by several shaky starts. Munoz, a lefty and23-years old, was handed the ball 10 times to start last summer and went 4-5 with a 4.51 ERA; while Hammond, 25 and a righty, started 15 games, winning five of eight decisions and pitching to a 5.40 ERA.

Burton and Smith are each hard-throwing righthanders who found some success out of the bullpen last season.

Burton, 25, twirled 39 innings and struck out 45 batters while going 2-1 with a 5.76 ERA in 2021, while Smith, 25, set down 41 batters on strikes in just 25 2/3 innings, winning his lone decision and finishing with a 4.90 ERA.

“Dylan (Smith) was a highly scouted arm and made great improvements in 2021 and looks to make another jump this season,” Stanton said.

Meanwhile, Chris Cepeda, 25 and a former standout righthander for St. Thomas Aquinas College, is looking to rebound this season after missing all of 2021 with an injury.

Cepeda, after graduating from STAC in the spring of 2019, was signed by Evansville of the Frontier League. In 2020, Cepeda excelled for the New York Brave in the All-American Baseball Challenge, going 3-1 with a 4.46 ERA in seven starts. However, an injury sidelined him for the entire 2021 campaign.

Add into this mix eight newcomers – including six righthanders, each with an impressive resume in their own right.

The righthanders include Leudeny Pineda, Jayce Vancena, Oscar Tovar, Jheyson Perez, Austin Kaplan and Luke Dawson.

Pineda, 26, appeared in 26 games, including one start, for the Oakland A’s Lansing High-A/Central team, winning two of three decisions and posting a 5.45 ERA.

Vancena, 25, pitched for the University of Michigan for four seasons, then signed with the Detroit Tigers in the summer of 2018. Last year, the righty started 18 games for Boise of the Pioneer League and went 7-2 with a 5.85 ERA.

“Leudeny (Pineda) is a hard-thrower who came into his own as a late inning guy in year three for the A’s,” Stanton said. “Jayce (Vancena) had been a workhorse for Michigan before two seasons with Detroit.”

Tovar, 24, came on in relief 28 times for the Oakland A’s Stockton Low-A/West team in 2021 and went 3-6 with a 3.52 ERA; while the 22-year-old Perez won six of seven decisions over two seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organizations.

“Oscar (Tovar) has had impressive and consistent stats after five years in the A’s system,” the manager said. “Jheyson (Perez) was impressive in his first season with the D-Backs, then injuries took away almost his entire 2021.”

Austin Kaplan, 22, may be the most interesting story in camp this May. An infielder by trade while playing in college at SUNY-Cortland and then Radford, Kaplan also saw limited time on the mound as a pitcher.

“Austin (Kaplan) is a local product just converted to pitcher,” Stanton said. “The video of him turned into offers by all the New York and New Jersey teams overnight. Luke (Dawson) is a hard-thrower who has adapted more of a sidearm action.”

Dawson, 24, after four-year college career at Bentley, pitched for Boise of the Pioneer League last summer and went winless in two decisions in 28 appearances.

Meanwhile, the two lefthanders are Chris Allen and Quinton Longrie.

Allen, 23, spent time in 2021 with the Chicago Cubs’ High-A/Central team in South Bend; while Longrie, 25, comes to New York via the University of Southern California, where, in a four-year career, he went 7-11 with a 4.86 ERA in 61 mostly relief appearances.

“Chris (Allen) is a crafty lefthander who had three dominating seasons until injuries took control – he is back healthy,” Stanton said. “Quinton (Longrie) was a dominant workhorse for the USC Trojans.”

Information regarding season tickets and packages, as well as tickets for individual games for the Boulders’ 2022 season are available.

Debuting in 1993, the Frontier League is the largest and longest-running of the modern independent leagues and features teams stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River and from the Ohio River to the St. Lawrence Seaway. In September of 2020, the Frontier League reached an agreement to become a “Partner League” with Major League Baseball.

As a “Partner League,” the Frontier League and its teams will meet on a regular basis with MLB representatives to discuss joint marketing and promotional opportunities, as well as collaborate on initiatives to provide organized baseball to communities throughout the United States and Canada.

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