A new adventure begins tonight for the Albuquerque Isotopes.
With a revamped roster and a new manager in Damon Berryhill, the ‘Topes begin their first season in a new division with a four-game series at Tacoma. First pitch is set for 8:05 p.m.
The opening series is not a divisional clash. Albuquerque is now part of the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Southern division along with Las Vegas, Salt Lake and the first-year El Paso Chihauhuas.
But the ‘Topes will see plenty of the four Pacific Northern teams: Tacoma, Fresno, Reno and Sacramento. That means late start times but fewer trips to the Midwest or South.
“The travel’s going to be so much better,” pitcher Stephen Fife said. “Getting up at 3 a.m. to catch flights and then riding buses is not a lot of fun. I’ll take direct flights and West Coast games anytime.”
After leaving Tacoma, the Isotopes play four games in Reno before their April 11 home opener. If nothing else, the road stint should allow the team to get better acquainted. Only a handful of players that wore Albuquerque jerseys in 2013 are back. Most of them are pitchers.
The season hasn’t even started, and already there was roster movement on Wednesday. The Dodgers claimed infielder Carlos Triunfel off waivers from Seattle and optioned him to Albuquerque. Then MLB.com reported that fireballing reliever Jose Dominguez was going up from Albuquerque to Los Angeles.
Assuming no other roster movement before tonight’s first pitch, PCL All-Star Chili Buss is the lone returnee to the Isotopes outfield from 2013, though Brian Cavazos-Galvez (2012) and Trayvon Robinson (2011) played with the club previously. There are no returning players on the infield, but it’s a veteran unit that includes players like Jamie Romak, Clint Robinson and Brendan Harris – all with major league experience.
Catchers Tim Federowicz and Miguel Olivo also have spent significant time in the big leagues, and they’ll work with a pitching staff that includes Fife, Matt Magill, and Yimi Garcia, all members of the Dodgers’ 40-man roster.
Albuquerque’s roster also includes top prospects in pitcher Zach Lee and outfielder Joc Pederson. Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero, who signed a $28 million contract in October, is expected to join the ‘Topes once he recovers from an oblique strain.
“We’ve got a lot of big league-ready guys on this team,” Federowicz said. “… This should be a good club.”
Berryhill, who has worked with some current Isotopes at lower minor-league levels, agreed.
“It’s a good mix of young players and veterans,” he said, “and we’ve got some great arms on the pitching staff.”