Baseball is back! ABL Week One
15 November 2018
Aussie baseball returns! And how we’ve waited for season 2018/19.
We come out of an offseason which had more crammed into it than ever - a league with two divisions, North-East and South-West, new roster rules involving a 150 point salary cap of sorts to juggle across the season, two brand new teams in Auckland and Geelong-Korea, the usual mass injection of import players and new blood for each club and a group of licence holders who want to be the ones to take the Claxton Shield from David Nilsson, Mark Ready and co…..
Round One of an ABL season is a learning experience for clubs, players, supporters and hapless baseball writers trying to get a bead on how new players will slide into their roles. Fans’ hearts are filled with hope and expectation. There’s familiar faces on the playing rosters, but wearing unfamiliar uniforms.
My only advice is this. It’s Round One. We’ve been waiting a long time for this season, one of the most highly anticipated since the ABL relaunched. Get out to a game and enjoy yourself. Don’t get too hung up on a series result or an individual’s performance. Save that stuff for Round Two onwards.
Previous experience has taught us that opening round is incredibly difficult to predict. But predict we shall. If you’ve got thoughts on a series, players to watch out for or anything else, get in touch and let us know.
It’s great to be back. The Australian Baseball Alumni is going to be providing some quality content for followers of the Australian Baseball League throughout the season, so stay tuned.
Enjoy Opening Weekend!
We’re keen to get your thoughts on Week One in the ABL. Let us know on the Australian Baseball Alumni FACEBOOK page. To debate these previews, make suggestions or to offer information, visit @AJMithen on Twitter. For definitive ABL broadcast information, check the official ABL website.
BRISBANE BANDITS versus ADELAIDE BITE (Holloway Field)
Game 1: Thursday 6.00 pm local time ABLTV / BANDITS TV
Game 2: Friday 6.00 pm local time BANDITS TV
Game 3/4: Saturday double header 2.30 pm & 6.00 pm local time BANDITS TV
2016/17 Helms Award winner Aaron Whitefield doesn’t have to wait long to meet his former team mates, with his new club Adelaide visiting the reigning champions first up.
Bite Manager Chris Adamson brings a squad full of new blood and he’ll be hoping for a better return from his imports this year, with high expectations for Nick Schumpert and Michael Gettys.
Yet even without Whitefield, Brisbane’s lineup has a familiar (and winning) look to it. Donald Lutz, TJ Bennett, Logan Wade, David Sutherland and CPBL homerun king Andrew Campbell will provide hits and homers, and that’s before we start talking about Hsu Chi-Hung, who will supply some highlights if the preseason matches are anything to go by.
There’s also a pitching rotation featuring Travis Blackley, Tim Atherton and Ryan Searle, back into a starting slot after warming up with 12 starts for seven wins in the Canadian League with the Quebec Capitales.
If Bandits fans were worried about the later innings, they needn’t. Closer Loek Van Mil has moved from Adelaide to Brisbane and will keep life difficult for opponents searching for late runs.
Adelaide have retooled after a forgettable 2017/18 but will be optimistic after seeing some good development late in the season. The additions of Whitefield and Australian under-23 catcher Mitch Edwards, combined with the return of Stefan Welch and young guns Curtis Mead and Jordan McArdle give the Bite a good bit of punch in the batting order.
Prediction: Bandits win
Bright as Adelaide’s future may look, right now they face a battle with the back-to-back-to-back champions who don’t like losing. Brisbane’s pitching puts them over the top in this matchup.
MELBOURNE ACES versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Melbourne Ballpark)
Game 1: Friday 7.00 pm local time
Game 2/3: Saturday double header: 5.00 pm & 7.30 pm local time
Game 4: Sunday 1.00 pm local time ABLTV
Last year’s runner up Canberra Cavalry take on the Aces in Melbourne, with both teams looking for a positive start to their season.
Canberra's 18/19 campaign begins with three away trips while renovations are completed at their Narrabundah home base, so any wins banked on trips to Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland will be most valuable come early 2019.
Melbourne have been customarily quiet in the lead up to the season but Jon Deeble has at his disposal a quality core of players well placed to get into a third consecutive finals series.
The recruitment of Luke Hughes from Perth is the major talking point, with the former major leaguer and Team Australia stalwart coming off a career year in all offensive stat categories last year. He’s not done by a long shot.
Hughes’ bat will fold nicely into a lineup featuring Darryl George, Jarryd Dale, power in the form of the returning Jared Cruz and Mike Walker, and Hughes’ former Perth championship teammate Allan De San Miguel.
But Melbourne will find the going tough against the likes of Steven Kent , Frank Gailey, Josh Warner and Steven Chambers. The Cavalry starters worked hard last year and ‘new’ Manager Keith Ward will expect more of the same.
Not that Canberra’s hitters will have it all their own way ether - Koki Aoyagi, Cam Warner, David Kandilas, Boss Moanaroa and the Perkins brothers will front up to a deeper Aces crew with reliable arms including Jon Kennedy, Luke Abels and Dushan Ruzic. Young Victorian Jack Enciondo notched two saves at the under-23 World Championships and also did some good things for the Aces in relief last year, he's one to keep an eye on.
The wildcards in the Aces bullpen are Seibu Lions imports Hayato Kayagi and Hiromasa Saito. Seibu’s imports have been good to the Aces in recent years and they’ll play a large role in getting Melbourne rolling into the year.
Prediction: Series split
This is a battle between two well-matched squads. Both sides are full of established ABL and talent and neither club would be really happy with how their respective seasons ended last year.
SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus GEELONG KOREA (Blacktown International Sportspark)
Game 1: Thursday 7.00 pm local time FACEBOOK
Game 2: Friday 7.00 pm local time FACEBOOK
Game 3: Saturday 7.00 pm local time ABLTV/FACEBOOK
Game 4: Sunday 1.00 pm local time FACEBOOK
Dae-sung Koo returns to the scene of some of his fondest ABL memories as the Sydney Blue Sox legend leads Geelong-Korea in their first ABL series.
His opposite number Tony Harris returns to front a new-look Sydney club, and not just on the diamond. To the outsider, Sydney’s new owner Adam Dobb has injected vitality and purpose into the club. The players have most definitely bought in to Harris and Dobb’s goals for the team, whether they can maintain the rage for the whole season is the question.
The Blue Sox have the chance to get on the good foot against a Geelong-Korea side which has been training for eight hours a day but have only played two games together - one against local division 1 side Geelong and one against their neighbours the Melbourne Aces, which they lost 8-3 after leading 3-0 in the eighth inning.
The Geelong-Korea squad is a mix of veteran KBO experience and young talent. Notable among them is 20-year old outfielder Kwang-Min Kwon, who has been playing rookie ball for the Chicago Cubs organisation.
But Sydney will feel they have the squad to do the job after recruiting quality talent like catcher Jack Murphy, outfielder Hao-Wei Shen and former major leaguer Gift Ngoepe (who may miss this series) while retaining Zac Shepherd, Alex Howe, Jacob Younis and Trent D’Antonio.
Harris has refreshed his pitching staff too, bringing in 16/17 Bandits championship reliever Ty’relle Harris, Tyler Herr, Philadelphia prospect Nick Fanti and import Shogo Nakashima. There’s also the added bonus of Todd Van Steensel being available for the whole season.
I won’t lie, I don’t know a great deal about the Geelong-Korea roster and I dare say not many others know what to expect. It remains to be seen how they’ll combine as a team but it’s simplistic to say they’ll struggle because they’re new - there’s an awful lot of KBO talent in this squad, and a lot of pride too.
Prediction: Sydney win
The Blue Sox clubhouse is hungry to prove themselves, but only a fool would doubt Geelong-Korea’s ability to get a result here. They’ll be organised and they’ll be looking make an impact. Make sure you get yourself to Blacktown to see how things go!
PERTH HEAT versus AUCKLAND TUATARA (Barbagallo Ballpark)
Game 1: Friday 7.05 pm local time ABLTV
Game 2/3: Saturday double header: 4.05 pm & 7.05 pm local time
Game 4: Sunday 4.05 pm local time
Perth welcome the other new ABL arrivals from the land of the long white cloud for their first series in the Australian league.
Last year Andy Kyle’s squad struck upon a golden mix of imported and local talent to score a ridiculous amount of runs but weddings, injuries and fatigue pulled the handbrake on their offensive exploits one game away from the ABLCS.
Perth have retained young guns Robbie Glendinning, Jess Williams, Alex Hall and Ulrich Bojarski, Bojarski being the only member of Australia’s team at the recent under-23 world championships to be selected for the tournament’s ‘All-World’ team. Sam Kennelly also returns after a year away for Tommy John surgery.
Major Leaguer Warwick Saupold is on the Heat roster - potentially making a huge difference to Perth’s pitching staff. However, his recent signing with Hanwha Eagles in the KBO may impact upon his role, especially after Christmas.
When the ABL’s 30-man squads were released recently there was a name of note on the Heat’s list, that of Pete Kozma. The 30-year old Kozma was playing in the majors for Detroit last season and has 341 games with four MLB clubs. It will be interesting to see if he suits up in this series.
Auckland got their first taste of the ABL playing a preseason series against Brisbane in Brisbane, a baptism of fire if ever there was one. They went winless but the weekend wasn’t a total loss, with second baseman Luke Hansen, catcher Te Wera Bishop and import Shawon Dunstan Junior among those showing signs they won’t be overawed by occasion.
Tuatara Manager Steve Mintz has not missed the playoffs in his two years managing in the ABL and if he wants to make it three, his side needs to take big scalps on away trips like this one.
He’ll be relying on old heads like former major league pitchers John Holdzkom and Josh Collmenter to set the example for his local New Zealand arms like Kyle Glogoski, Jimmy Boyce and Elliot Johnstone.
Prediction: Perth win
Perth have big plans for season 18/19 and they’re going to make sure the new kids cop an uncomfortable welcome.
BRUT has become the first naming rights partner for Australian Baseball League