The Aces have a lot of recent postseason history. Last year is not included in that history.
With Pacific Northern Division titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014, Reno finished third in the division in 2015 with a 70-74 record—14.5 games back of first-place Fresno.
So will this year be different? Will the Aces avoid their first consecutive playoff absences since the 2009-10 seasons? Third-year manager Phil Nevin believes so.
“I think we are going to be a much more athletic team this year. We lacked in that department (last year),” Nevin said. “At the end of the day, we pitched okay, but our defense just wasn’t a championship-caliber defense.
“(Athletic teams) put a lot pressure on defenses when you’re on offense and on the bases and can certainly catch the ball and go get it in the outfield. We’ll be able to do that this year.”
The defensive holes didn’t bode well for a pitching staff that walked 3.98 batters a game last season. That was the highest clip in the Pacific Coast League. And the staff’s 5.14 ERA was better only than Salt Lake (5.36) in the PCL.
Did you know?
- Former Nevada Wolf Pack catcher Brett Hayes (2003-05) will play with the Aces this summer after signing as a minor league free agent last October. He played 14 games with the Indians last summer, hitting .156 (5-for-32 with three of his hits going over the fence. It was his seventh straight season with a stint in the bigs.
- The biggest crowd in Greater Nevada Field history showed up on the Fourth of July last season. The 10,441 in attendance saw Reno fall 10-6 to Sacramento.
- Reno was .500 or better against three of the four divisions in the Pacific Coast League last year: 8-8 against American Southern, 8-8 against American Northern and 27-21 Pacific Northern. However, it had its struggles with the Pacific Southern, going 27-37, including a 5-11 mark against Las Vegas.
Nevin hopes that trend reverses this year with a staff that features (at least for now) Braden Shipley, Arizona’s No. 1 prospect, Archie Bradley, the club’s No. 2 prospect, and Tyler Wagner, the Diamondback’s No. 10 prospect.
“We’re really starting the season off with three big time prospects,” Nevin said. “That’s exciting for us.
“The thing that kills guys here is walks. We led the league in walks last year by quite a bit and I think we’ll see a different stat this year.”
With holes on the hill and in the field, Reno managed to finish just four games under .500 with explosive offense. The Aces led the PCL in batting average (.286), doubles (339), RBIs (722), slugging (.453) and OPS (.801).
While some key offensive parts like Jamie Romak (.284, 27 home runs, 100 RBIs) and Nick Evans (.310, 17 home runs, 94 RBIs) are no longer in Reno, the Aces do return key bats Peter O’Brien and Mike Freeman.
Reno also adds Kyle Jensen to the lineup. Jensen, 27, has 153 career minor league home runs to his name.
The Aces wrap up their season-opening eight-game home stand on Thursday against Albuquerque (62-82 in 2015) before spending the next eight games on the road.
They won’t return to newly-named Greater Nevada Field until April 23, when Fresno, the defending Triple-A National champion, comes to down starting another eight-game home stand.
2015 Pacific Northern standings
Fresno Grizzlies (HOU) 84-59
Sacramento River Cats (SF) 71-73 – 13.5 GB
Reno Aces (ARI) 70-74 – 14.5 GB
Tacoma Rainiers (SEA) 68-76 – 16.5 GB
Archie Bradley (RHP): Bradley, 23, is only kind of a returner to Reno.
The Diamondbacks’ No. 2 prospect pitched just 21.1 innings for the Aces last season before getting called up. He didn’t pitch much for Arizona either, however, (just 22.1 innings) after battling injuries all season. He was struck in the face early in the season before battling shoulder tendinitis.
It is unclear how long he will be with the Aces after losing the battle to be the Diamondbacks’ No. 5 starter.
Mike Freeman (INF): Freeman, 28, figures to have a large offensive role again for the Aces.
In 398 at bats over 113 games last season, he hit .317 and scored 79 runs—the second highest total on the team. He is the team’s lone returning infielder.
Peter O’Brien (OF): O’Brien, 25, is Arizona’s No. 9 prospect.
Along with Romak, he was named to the PCL All-Star squad and participated in the home run derby a season ago. He batted .284 with 26 home runs and a team-record 107 RBIs to go along with 35 doubles and a team-high nine triples.
O’Brien hit .235 in 34 at bats in Arizona as a late-season call up. He would have spent more time there if not for the Diamondbacks’ outfield depth.
Kaleb Fleck (RHP) : Fleck, 27, was the Aces’ best bullpen arm a season ago.
His 42 appearances were bested only by Matt Reynolds’ 45. Reynolds was released in the offseason.
Fleck was 4-1 with seven saves a season ago. He boasted a 3.46 ERA over 52 innings of work. He struck out 66 and walked just 24.
Tyler Wagner (RHP) : Wagner, 25, is new to the Diamondbacks’ system after getting traded for (from Milwaukee) in January. He has already been named Arizona’s No. 10 prospect.
A Bishop Gorman graduate, Wagner was 11-5 with a 2.25 ERA in 25 starts with Double-A Biloxi last year.
Braden Shipley (RHP): Shipley, 24, is Arizona’s No. 1 prospect.
And if his name sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is. He played three years for Nevada before being taken 15th overall by Arizona in the 2013 MLB draft.
Shipley is making is Reno debut after spending last season in Double-A Mobile. He appeared in 28 games (27 starts), compiling a 9-11 record with a 3.50 ERA.
Jack Reinheimer (INF): Reinheimer, 23, will be playing Triple-A ball for the first time after getting acquired from the Mariners in the middle of the last season.
He is Arizona’s No. 14 prospect. He hit .265 with 14 doubles and 26 RBIs in 76 games with Double-A Mobile last year.
Kyle Jensen (INF): Jensen, 27, signed a minor league deal with Arizona as a free agent in November.
He is expected to help fill the power void left by the departures of Romak and Evans. Jensen hit 20 home runs with Triple-A Oklahoma City (Dodgers) last year and 27 two years ago with Triple-A New Orleans (Miami).
He has 153 career minor-league home runs over seven seasons but is yet to make his MLB debut. That is due partly to his boom or bust approach. He is a .264 career hitter with 888 strikeouts compared with 796 hits.
Jamie Romak (1B/3B): Romak, 30, provided a veteran presence in the locker room and was one of the best all-around players in the PCL., earning a PCL All-Star game nod. Romak opted to play in Japan during the offseason.
He played both the corner infield positions last year and anchored the middle of the lineup, blasting a team-high 27 home runs. He hit .284 with 100 RBIs and hit a team-high 42 doubles. He was prone to striking out, however, fanning a team-high 143 times in 486 at bats.
He did spend some time up with the Diamondbacks last year, appearing in 16 games. He batted .292 in 24 at bats with three doubles and 4 RBIs.
Danny Dorn (RF): Dorn, 31, played 75 games for the Aces last year and led the team with a .386 batting average.
He didn’t have as much success with the Diamondbacks going just 9-for-38 (.237) before getting traded to the Blue Jays.
Nick Evans (1B): Evans, 30, signed a minor league deal with the Padres in the offseason before opting to follow Romak to Japan.
Evans was the most regular name in the Aces’ lineup last season. He led the team in games played in (139), at bats (520), hits (161) and doubles (37). He finished the year with a .310 average, belting 17 home runs and driving in 94. He was sweet with the glove too, committing just five errors.
Aaron Blair (RHP): Blair, 23, one of the Diamondbacks’ more promising prospects, was traded to Atlanta in December as part of a deal for RHP Shelby Miller. He was named Arizona’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2015.
With the Aces last year, Blair was 7-2 with a 3.16 ERA over 77 innings.
He had a rough spring training with the Braves and will start in the minors. He is not expected to stay there long.
Jhoulyis Chacin (RHP) : Chacin, 28, is known for his time with the Rockies from 2010-14 but was very effective in an Aces uniform last year. He was 6-3 in 13 starts with a 3.22 ERA in 86.2 innings with the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate.
Chacin went 2-1 in four starts with Arizona at the end of the last season with a 3.38 ERA before signing with Atlanta in the offseason. He is expected to join the Braves in a week or two after starting in Triple-A.
Caleb Clay (RHP): Clay, 28, led the team in wins (8) and innings pitched (111.1) last year but struggled at times to get outs. He owned a 5.25 ERA and allowed a team-high 13 round trippers.
Clay is currently a free agent.