Donning their recently unveiled, patriotic red, white and blue uniforms, players and coaches from the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp emphasized that 2017 is a new year for the club.
“We’re starting fresh,” said manager Randy Ready, who is in his first year with the team after managing the Single-A Jupiter Hammerheads last season. “We have a good group of players. With the right combination, we should win a lot of games.”
Known as the Suns for the past 25 years, the Miami Marlins Double-A affiliate became the Jumbo Shrimp in November 2016. Playing in the Southern League, the club is coming off two straight losing seasons but is confident that the future is bright amid the organization’s changes. The team’s first game of the season is today on the road versus the Mississippi Braves.
In addition to Ready, the club welcomes first year staff Jesus Merchan as hitting coach, Storm Davis as pitching coach and Jose Ceballos as a general field coach. Ready, who played in 13 MLB seasons, noted the staff possesses 100 years of combined professional experience that will serve the players well in improving and ultimately pushing the team to the next level of play.
Davis is a Jacksonville native who graduated from University Christian High School and previously coached at The Bolles School. A former MLB pitcher with 13 years of playing experience, Davis won two World Series with the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics. He comes to the Jumbo Shrimp from the New Orleans Baby Cakes, the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate.
The pitching coach said the team’s five-man rotation at the start of the year will feature Dillon Peters, Matt Tomshaw, Omar Bencomo, Mike Kickham and Chris Mazza. Davis added that Peters will start for the Jumbo Shrimp in the team’s game today versus the Braves and April 12 in the home opener versus the Chattanooga Lookouts.
On the offensive side of the ball, the minor-league club boasts third baseman Brian Anderson, who enters the 2017 season as the No. 4 Marlins prospect according to Baseball America. The club’s top prospect soared in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, hitting .273 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in 22 games. He played Single-A baseball for the Jupiter Hammerheads in 2015 and 2016.
“I’m just trying to take everything with a grain of salt,” said Anderson regarding his recent publicity. “All I do is go out and play baseball and have fun. That’s my job. That’s all I really worry about.”
The Jumbo Shrimp return left fielder Austin Dean – the No. 8 prospect for the Marlins – and also feature John Norwood, the organization’s No. 29 prospect who played in Jupiter last year as well. Austin Nola is an intriguing story for the team: He converted to catcher after previously playing in the infield, primarily at shortstop. For years in the offseason, he has caught for his brother Aaron Nola, who is now part of the Philadelphia Phillies pitching rotation.
Overall, Jumbo Shrimp players like Dean say the team has “different vibes” this year, thanks in large part to the changes in name, uniforms and logo.
“More positive vibes,” said Dean. “Whenever the logo and everything were revealed, I fell in love. I feel like we’re going to do well.”
Team officials say the new Jumbo Shrimp name embraces Jacksonville’s “Big Small Town” dynamic as Florida’s largest city, yet also a close-knit community. The shrimp logo forms a J for Jacksonville, and the team’s uniforms alternate from classic white with blue caps for home games to gray with blue caps while on the road. The Jumbo Shrimp will also wear American red, St. Johns navy and camouflage jerseys throughout the year to celebrate Jacksonville’s military identity.
Jumbo Shrimp General Manager Harold Craw said season ticket sales and overall merchandise sales have increased due to the recent changes. The uptick in merchandise sales has been surprising to the front office executive, since the team’s ballpark is located within the downtown sports complex and not within a shopping area.
“For people to travel down and come into our store and want to see what we have to offer is very impressive for me to see,” said Craw, who has been with the club since September 2015.
First pitch for the Jumbo Shrimp home opener April 12 is set for 7:05 p.m. at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.