The 2018 edition of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers was formally introduced to the area Tuesday with a pair of events at Eastwood Field in Niles. The team hosted Media Day in the morning, followed by a Meet The Team session open to fans. The Scrappers open the season Friday with a three-game home series against the West Virginia Black Bears.
The roster consists of 21 players, though that number will likely grow prior to Friday’s season-opener against the Black Bears. Fourteen of the players hail from foreign countries, including eight from the Dominican Republic. Venezuela (four) and Puerto Rico (two) also are represented on the roster.
Players also reside in California (two), South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Illinois and Washington.
Pitcher Randy Valladares, who will turn 24 in July, is the elder statesman of the Scrappers. Valladares was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2013. The young pup of the crew is infielder Tyler Freeman, who turned 19 last month. Freeman was drafted last year out of Ediwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
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Eleven players on the roster are making a return visit to the Mahoning Valley. Mitch Reeves was drafted by the Indians last June, then spent part of the summer in the Arizona Rookie League before joining the Scrappers in August.
“It’s pretty neat to see a lot of familiar faces, and hopefully we can help the new guys get acclimated to this level, this park and the area,” Reeves said. “Even though I was here for just a short period last year, the experience of those couple of weeks will pay off this summer.”
Reeves said the difference between the AZL and New York-Penn League “is like night and day.”
“In Arizona, it’s a great learning experience, but you play in the heat of the day in front of a couple of fans,” Reeves said. “Here, it’s a whole different atmosphere. Fans really get into the game. It just has a whole different big league feel to it, and the competition is really strong.”
First baseman Simeon Lucas has a message for first-year players who may stumble out of the gate.
“Hang in there, because baseball is a humbling game and even the best struggle at times,” Lucas said.
Lucas was drafted out of high school in 2014. He spent two years in the AZL and was with the Scrappers last summer.
“I came into pro ball young and na Øve,” Lucas said. “I got a good dose of humility, but that only makes you stronger and more determined.”
Lucas played shortstop and was a pitcher for most of his baseball career. He became a catcher during his senior year in high school, then the Indians decided to turn him into a first baseman.
“We always have to write our mission statement at the start of the season, and mine always reads, ‘Whatever it takes.’ I’ll do anything, I’ll play anywhere to get on the field and get to the next level.”
Lucas noted that Scrappers manager Jim Pankovits spent eight years in the minors before making the big leagues.
When he’s not on the field, you can likely find Lucas at a nearby fishing hole.
“I love this area because of the fishing,” said the Illinois native. “Biggest fish I ever caught around here was a large mouth out at Mosquito Lake. As long as I’m in the Mahoning Valley, I’m looking forward to more time at the water.”
Changes in the booth
Scrappers radio play-by-play broadcaster Tim Pozsgai returns for a sixth season behind the microphone at Eastwood Field. However, there will be a change in the way Pozsgai will present the game to Scrappers fans.
For the first time in club history, all of the Scrappers games — both home and away — will be broadcast exclusively via online audio. The streams will be available on the Scrappers team website, and on tunein.com.
Also, all home games and the majority of road games will be available to watch on milb.tv.
“We’re excited about the change, it will give us more freedom to provide our own content, to have a little more leeway to do what we want,” Pozsgai said. “Our audio feed will be part of the video production, which should really enhance the broadcast.”
While Pozsgai is best known for his radio broadcasts, his on-air chores are just a small part of his responsibilities with the Scrappers. During homestands, his days generally begin at 9 a.m. and end close to midnight. He handles everything from team statistics to roster transactions to media requests.
“Road games are a grind for players, but honestly from a work standpoint the road games are much easier for me,” Pozsgai said. “The easiest part of the day for me it 7 o’clock when I turn the mic on and talk baseball.
— Steve Ruman, The Vindicator