This season will be the eighth one that York Revolution manager Mark Mason has been part of the organization — his fifth at the helm of the team.
Yet, Mason can't think of another time in his tenure when he assembled a team with this much speed and versatility. The Revs will take to the field Friday night against the New Britain Bees to kick off the 2017 Atlantic League season.
The groundwork to this change started last season when Mason acquired speedy outfielder Travis Witherspoon in a trade with the rival Lancaster Barnstormers during the first half last year. He instantly became the team's leading base stealer, and the addition created a new dynamic for York's lineup that wasn't there in past years.
Now, Mason built on that and knows speed and activity on the base paths will be a staple to the Revs' offense in 2017 — a staple that Mason hopes will lead to another playoff berth.
"I think far and away the fastest team ever here, and that was by design," Mason said during last week's opening day of spring training workouts. "So, we'll see how it translates out on the field. Our 2014 team was pretty fast, but this is a faster team than that. We're excited about that and I think that's a good product and our fans will enjoy that."
In 2016, York only stole 98 bases in 140 games, ranking it sixth out of eight teams in the league. However, this team seems destined to easily eclipse the 100-steal mark and finish in the top half of the league in the category. Last year's leaders, the Somerset Patriots, swiped 166 bags.
Witherspoon returns this year after leading the team with 34 steals, but won't even be the fastest guy on York's roster to begin the season. Joining him in wreaking havoc on the bases is newly-acquired Alonzo Harris, Derrick Robinson and Brandon Thomas. Harris led the American Association last season with 43 stolen bases, while the former big leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson, had 31 steals in the American Association in 2016, and Thomas was 18 of 19 in steal attempts in the Frontier League a year ago.
Lefty overload: Another surplus that this year's Revs' team will possess is with lefty pitchers.
Mason and pitching coach Paul Fletcher stocked up on lefties, with six of them on the current roster. Among them are starters Logan Williamson, Frank Gailey and Chris Cody, guys who have all spent previous seasons in York. Gailey was a starter for last year's team, while Cody and Williamson are each returning after taking the season off in 2016. Coming out of the bullpen will be newcomers Chase Huchingson, Jarret Martin and Luke Westphal, providing Mason with plenty of options for situational moments.
Overall, the number of southpaws gives the Revs a strong pitching staff that returns five members from last year's group.
"I think the pitching staff is strong," Mason said. "We have a lot of left-handed pitchers this year, which I like. We brought back some guys that were real successful here in the past, so hopefully they can continue to do that."
Strong 2016 season: York will look to build off of a strong 2016 season that saw the team make the postseason.
After winning the first-half Freedom Division title, the Revs finished the year with a 76-64 record, tops in the Freedom Division and second best in the league, finishing a game behind Somerset, which went 77-63.
However, York got swept in the best-of-five opening round of the playoffs against the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Projected linuep: Going into the opening series against New Britain, the Revs will start Gailey on Friday night in the season opener. He'll be followed on Saturday by Stephen Janas and Sunday's probable starter will be Williamson. Friday's game is set for a 6:35 p.m. start. York will open with six games on the road, before having its home opener next Friday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m. against the Patriots.
In the field, the Revs will look like this for the opener on Friday:
Catcher: Isaias Tejeda
First base: Michael Burgess
Second base: Alonzo Harris
Third base: Bryan Pounds
Short stop: Angel Franco
Left field: Jose Constanza
Center field: Travis Witherspoon
Right field: Jared Mitchell
Designated hitter: Joel Guzman
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.