The New Britain Bees will feature an entire new starting infield with the exception of catcher James Skelton.
Reid Brignac is the most notable name of the bunch. The shortstop spent nine seasons in the majors with Rays, Rockies, Yankees, Phillies, Marlins and Braves. He joins the Bees after being a late release from Nationals’ spring training. Brignac spent last season with the Astros Triple-A affiliate, where he hit .251 with 13 home runs and 52 RBI in 110 games.
Deibinson Romero will man third. The 31-year-old played last season with Veracruz Red Eagles in the Mexican League. In 72 games, Romero hit .286 with six homers while driving in 36 runs.
Former Los Angeles Dodger and San Francisco Giant Tony Abreu joins Brignac in the middle of the infield. Picked up by the Bees in the Bridgeport Bluefish dispersal draft, Abreu hit .315 in 96 games with the now-defunct franchise. He will play second base.
Another former Bluefish, Jonathan Galvez, is at first base. An Atlantic League All-Star in 2016, Galvez hit .277 with 16 home runs and 77 RBI last season. His 16 home runs were tied for 12th in the league. He’ll bring some much-needed power to the lineup.
Skelton rounds out the group. Raved about by his pitching staff for his work behind the plate, Skelton caught a career-high 114 games in 2017. He had a .255 batting average with 14 home runs, 33 RBI, 17 stolen bases and a .408 on-base percentage. He also tied an Atlantic League single-season record with 101 walks.
Like the infield, the outfield will have some new faces. Leftfielder and Connecticut native Conor Bierfeldt will be the lone returner of the group after both Michael Crouse and Jamar Walton were not retained. Instead, Darrell Ceciliani, Darren Ford and Ozney Guillen will rotate between the other two outfield spots.
Ceciliani appeared in a combined 28 games with the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays and Triple-A Buffalo Bison of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He also appeared in three games with the Blue Jays. In the 28 minor league games, he hit .200 with three RBI before an injury sidelined him.
Ford is a former Giant who spent last season with the Atlantic League’s Somerset Patriots.The 32-year-old appeared in 19 games, posting a .243 batting average with 10 RBI, 13 runs scored and nine stolen bases.
The son of former MLB All-Star and Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, the younger Guillen spent last season with the Bluefish. He hit .253 with 29 RBI while playing with a broken toe for three months and other injuries.
Bierfeldt, however, will be a key component to not only the outfield, but the lineup. Last season with the Bees, Bierfeldt hit a team-leading 23 home runs, while posting a .238 batting average with 64 RBI on his way to being named an Atlantic League All-Star. Cutting down his strikeouts will be a focus, but in a revamped lineup, he has the chance to put up better numbers for New Britain.
Pitching and defense often win games and the Bees have no shortage of quality pitchers this season.
Like the lineup, the pitching staff was overhauled with Jonathan Pettibone, Kyle Simon, Brandon Fry and Newington native Mike Hepple the lone holdovers from 2017 after the staff struggled down the stretch and had trouble closing out games late.
Along with Pettibone (Phillies), newcomers Kevin Chapman (Astros), Manny Delcarmen (Red Sox, Rockies), Mark Hamburger (Rangers), Elvin Ramirez (Mets), Sammy Gervacio (Astros), Zach Stewart (Blue Jays, White Sox, Red Sox) and Andy Van Hekken (Tigers) bring MLB experience. All have had varying degrees of success, but give New Britain a chance to stay in most games.
Jim Filler, Rainy Lara and Tyler Higgins round out the staff, and unlike last year, Bees manager Wally Backman believes he has five or six players who have the ability to close, which should bode well for the Bees and tough for opponents.
The Bees are once again fielding an experienced team, more so than in their previous two seasons, and that should bode well considering their struggles in 2017.
With a good mixture of power and speed throughout the lineup, New Britain has the potential to put up numbers that could rank among the top of the Atlantic League. It will just be a matter if the Bees can do it consistently over the course of the season, something that hampered the team in the past.
Defensively, New Britain appears to be versatile with players being able to play all over the diamond.
Yet, as it is with most teams, pitching will be the key.
The Bees appear to have made a number of upgrades throughout the pitching staff and look to have good parts in the starting rotation as well as the bullpen, which is a nice change from last year.
If New Britain can hold off opponents late, the postseason berth the franchise has been waiting for could be possible.