2018 St. Paul Saints Season Preview
The numbers do not lie. Since the Saints won the Northern League Championship in 2004, there have been close calls (Championship series losses in 2006, 2007, 2011). Tere was a record breaking season in 2015 which unfortunately coincided with Sioux City's best season ever, and the Saints fell to the Explorers in four games in the opening round. The title drought is now at thirteen seasons. Saints manager George Tsamis will once again put his best foot forward in procuring a long awaited championship.
Pitching is where Tsamis would like to see the most improvement. The rotation will be anchored by Jake Esch. Esch, born in St. Paul in 1990, started 3 games with the Miami Marlins in 2016 and made one appearance with the San Diego Padres in 2017. Eddie Medina was an off season acquisition. Last year with the Wichita Wingnuts, Medina was 6-6 making 14 starts as part of 20 appearances. Jeff Malm is a returnee who split time between the bullpen and the starting rotation. A converted position player with 48 career minor league home runs, Malm had a 4.19 ERA in 38.2 innings. Vinny Nittoli is going to try his hand at starting pitching after being a mainstay of the Saints bullpen in 2017. Nittoli has a 3.33 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 46 innings. Matt Solter pitched at 2 levels of Class A for the San Francisco Giants accumulating an ERA of 4.04 with 12 starts in his 21 appearances.
The bullpen looks to be strong. Late spring acquistion and former Seattle Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen is an established closer. One has to wonder how long he'll be around if he can prove to scouts that he still has major league stuff. Beck Wheeler was expected to close until the acquisition of Wilhelmsen but will become a set up guy. Wheeler pitched the last 2 seasons for the New York Mets AAA affiliate in Las Vegas. Mike Devine, another former Wichita Wingnut, will also see late inning action. Last year with the Wingnuts, Devine had a 2.25 ERA in 44 innings. Ken Frosch, Saints left-handed specialist in 2017, returns for a second season. Frosch averaged a strikeout per inning last season in 42 innings to go with a 3.68 ERA.
Catching duties will primarily fall on the shoulders of Justin O'Conner. O'Conner, a defensive specialist, is an eight- year minor league veteran who played as high as AAA with the Durham Bulls in 2017. Dante Bichette Jr., son of the former MLB All Star, is taking up catching and will serve as O'Conner's backup. Bichette Jr. has spent his entire minor league career in the New York Yankees system peaking at AA-Trenton last season.
First baseman Brady Shoemaker returns after a huge season in 2017 for the Saints. In 85 games, Shoemaker slugged 21 home runs and hit for a .318 average. Josh Allen was signed from the Frontier League after hitting 15 home runs and at a .310 clip for Evansville. He is expected to be the everyday second baseman. Noah Perio Jr., a onetime Sioux City Explorer, was a major off season signing and will be the main shortstop. Perio Jr. hit .281 for AA-San Antonio last season. In Perio Jr.'s two seasons with Sioux City, he racked up batting averages of .316 and .338. Bichette Jr. is likely to play most the innings at third base with returnee J.J. Gould being the likely backup at second base, third base, and shortstop.
The outfield looks strong for the Saints coming into the 2018 season. The third former Wichita Wingnut, Richard Prignatano was a recent acquisition and appears to be the leadoff hitter for the Saints. Last season Prigatano hit .316, had an on base percentage of .416 and stole 34 bases for the Wingnuts. Jayce Boyd played AAA in Las Vegas last season, hitting .297 with 11 home runs. The 11 home runs were a career high for Boyd, a 6-year pro. Max Murphy, a former Twins farmhand from Robbinsdale, hit .307 and had a .390 on base percentage for Class A-Fort Meyers last year. Jordan Smith, another local product from Willmar, is a seven-year veteran of the Cleveland Indians farm system, advancing as high as AAA with a career batting average of .271. Kes Carter was a mid-season signing last year for the Saints after being released by Fargo Moorhead. He took advantage of his second chance by hitting .271 and hitting 9 home runs in 60 games. Jimmy Heck, another local product who played collegiately at Minnesota Duluth, played last year in the American Association for Salina, which was a road team for all 100 games last season.
The American Association will have a new divisional setup this season as the league goes from a 3 to 2 divisional team setup. The Saints will be battling Winnipeg, Fargo, Sioux Falls, Gary Southshore and expansion team Chicago Dogs in the North Divsion. The South will consist of Sioux City, Lincoln, Kansas City, Wichita, Cleburne and Texas (Grand Prairie).
Of course as we know with the Saints, a big part is what is happening off the field. This year’s slogan is "Fun is Good on St. Paul's Front Porch", and fans enjoy the opening of the Saints Tailgate Lot adjacent to the current tailgate lot beyond centerfield. The tailgate specific lot is scheduled to be open for tailgating in mid to late June.
The promotional schedule promises to entertain Saints fans of all ages and interests. Tuesday May 22 features the opening of Monument Pork. Modeled after Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, it will pay tribute to ball pig legends of the past 25 years of Saints Baseball. Monument Pork will be located near the Art Gallery behind home plate. There will be a bobblehead giveaway featuring all three inductees (Saint, Notorius P.I.G and Little Red Porkette).
Friday June 8 is the annual Twins Daily night featuring a pregame picnic. Ticket packages are currently available here on Twins Daily but don't wait as tickets will sell out for this popular event. It is also Star Wars night with Friday Night Fireworks following the 7:05 game vs. Sioux Falls.
Sunday June 10 features a bobblehead giveaway (first 1500 fans) of St. Paul native Toni Stone. Stone was raised in Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and began her professional career in 1949 with the San Francisco Sea Lions. From there she played for the Black Pelicans of New Orleans, the New Orleans Creoles and finally the Indianapolis Clowns, becoming the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues. The first 1,500 fans in attendance will receive a special Toni Stone bobblehead.
The annual toilet paper drive will be on June 27. Fans are encouraged to bring rolls of toilet paper to donate to local families in need.
The Saints pay tribute to the Minnesota Fighting Saints on July 9. Former local Fighting Saints players are expected to attend including current Minnesota Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau.
On International Beer Day on August 3, drinking songs will accompany Friday Night Fireworks, plus there will be a pregame induction ceremony for a yet to be named inductee to the Killebrew Scouts Hall of Fame. This is an initiative the Goldklang Group owned teams has had for years. I encourage local baseball fans to get out to the park early and show some love for these underappreciated evaluators of baseball talent.
The most talked about event of the promotional schedule is the 40th anniversary of Animal House on August 14th featuring an in game food fight in the stands at CHS Field. Ponchos will be recommended as fans get a chance to get revenge on their fellow baseball fans for past indiscretions. You don't like that guy always second guessing George Tsamis? Pelt him with a mustard soaked hot dog!!!
September 1 will feature a pregame ceremony for 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee, St. Paul native and 1996 St. Paul Saint pitcher Jack Morris. There will be a special print given away to the first 1500 fans.
In all there will be nine Friday Night Fireworks shows, and 3 Fireworks Supershows (May 26, July 2, and Sept. 2). The May 26 and Sept. 2 shows will be preceded by another Saints tradition, a Monster Food Truck Rally.
While Monday is the Saints home opener, the Saints opened their 2018 on the road over the weekend. Things did not go well on Opening Night as the Saints dug themselves a 10-2 hole in the third inning on the way to a 10-6 loss to the Gary SouthShore Railcats. Saturday went better as the offense put 8 runs on 18 singles on way to an 8-3 victory. The Saints won the rubber match on Sunday in extra innings, 4-3.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly state that Toni Stone played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Twins Daily regrets this error and has updated the story to accurately reflect Ston'e career.
Saints tickets are available on saintsbaseball.com or call 651-644-6659. If you're considering going to a Saints game, do not hold back because you think the game is sold out. A limited amount of Left Field Berm tickets go on sale on game days at 9 am. If those sell out, "Roaming" tickets are available which will get you in the ballpark. With all the area in the 360 degree concourse in which you can watch the game from, you're bound to have a good view of all that's happening on and off the field this Summer at CHS Field.
- Luke Albrecht likes this