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One game better

Drillers plan to build on last year



Tulsa Drillers second baseman Drew Jackson, 2017 Texas League Championship Series

Rich Crimi

After coming oh-so-close to winning a Texas League Championship last year, the Tulsa Drillers hope to build on that experience and take the final step in 2018.

Entering their fourth season as the Class AA minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Drillers will have successful manager Scott Hennessey back, as well as a number of familiar players.

Tulsa opens the 2018 season on the road on April 5, with their home opener at ONEOK Field on Thurs., April 12, against the Frisco RoughRiders.

Hennessey’s return as manager is a big deal. For a while, it wasn’t clear if he would return to his previous role as a Dodgers’ scout, which he held before being pressed into duty when former Drillers manager Ryan Garko resigned last July to take over the college program at Pacific University.

The Drillers were 50-50 when Hennessey took over. He sparked them to a 27-13 record over the final 40 regular season games, including a club record 15-game home winning streak, to claim the North Division second-half title.

They defeated the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the North Division Playoff Series, then won the first two games of the TL Championship series on the road, but they lost each of the next three at home with a chance to clinch the title.

Watching the Midland Rockhounds celebrate at ONEOK Field was a tough pill to swallow, but Hennessey is happy he was asked to return as manager and believes that playoff experience will help motivate the team to take the next step this year.

“Honestly, the feeling that we all had, you don’t want to go through that again,” he said. “As a competitor, you just want to get better, get one game better, and reach your potential. I’m definitely looking forward to it, looking forward to the players that we think are going to be here, the challenge, the grind, and getting after it for a full season.”

As for the Drillers’ roster, Hennessey is excited about the pair of catchers he expects to start the season with.

“I think the strength of our team is going to be, probably, behind the plate,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to get Keibert Ruíz and Will Smith here to start the year, both highly-touted prospects. Both can do a lot of things offensively, defensively, both can throw, can handle the pitching staff, call a good game. It’s going to be a challenge to get those guys playing time on a consistent basis.”

Last year, Ruíz batted a combined .316 with 51 RBI split between Class A Great Lakes (63 games) and Class A-Advanced Rancho Cucamonga (38 games), while Smith hit .232 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI in 72 games at Rancho Cucamonga.

Hennessey also believes several Driller infielders from last year should be back, such as Errol Robinson, who batted .273 in 57 games in Tulsa, and Drew Jackson, who hit .234 but scored 22 runs in 29 games with the Drillers.

Among outfielders he expects to be in Tulsa are Yusniel Díaz, who spent most of last year at Rancho Cucamonga but batted .333 in 31 games in Tulsa, Johan Mieses (16 home runs, 36 RBI in 90 Drillers games), Blake Gailen (hit .300, 35 RBI in 49 games with Tulsa), and Kyle Garlick (17 home runs, 42 RBI in 74 games with the Drillers).

Pitchers that Hennessey projects the Drillers will get are Mitchell White (1-1, 2.57 earned-run average in seven Tulsa starts), Yadíer Alvarez (2-2, 3.55 ERA in seven starts with Tulsa), Dennis Santana (3-1, 5.51 ERA in seven Tulsa starts), Andrew Sopko (5-7, 4.13 ERA in 23 starts with Tulsa) and Josh Sborz (8-8, 3.86 ERA in 24 Tulsa starts), among others.

Hennessey feels that having so many players back who experienced that playoff run will be a major plus.

“We got a good nucleus—young, but guys with experience and that have had success at this level already,” Hennessey said. “And now, coming back, they know the league, they know the travel, they know the surroundings. It helps.

“On paper, it looks good. If we can stay healthy, we should have a good club.”

Of course, winning isn’t the team’s only objective. Hennessey acknowledged that the Drillers’ primary purpose is to develop the players enough for them to earn promotions to Class AAA and, ultimately, the Major League roster in Los Angeles.

“We’re all competitors, and the object is to get them better, to get them to be quality big-leaguers, to get them out of here and to Triple-A, then the big leagues,” Hennessey said. “But once you get in the playoffs, the competitive nature takes over and you want to win. Let’s hope we can get them better, can keep them healthy and win one more game.”

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