With a baker's dozen returning players, a new no-nonsense manager and several proven sluggers, the Syracuse Chiefs appear primed to make a run at the 2011 International League playoffs.
The last time Syracuse made the IL playoffs was in 1998. The Chiefs last won their division in 1989, and last won the Governor's Cup championship in 1976.
The Chiefs are now in their third year as the top affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
New manager Randy Knorr, who played with the Chiefs in the early 1990s before becoming a journeyman major-league catcher, expects pitching to be the Chiefs' strong suit.
Hurlers with previous Triple-A service here include right-handers Collin Balester, Adam Carr, Yunesky Maya, J.D. Martin, Garrett Mock, Craig Stammen and Josh Wilkie along with lefties Ross Detwiler and Matt Chico.
Righty Cole Kimball and lefty Tom Milone are up from Double-A Harrisburg, and southpaw Lee Hyde is here from the IL's Gwinnett Braves.
Catcher Jesus Flores missed all of last season with an arm injury, but Knorr hopes Flores can flourish in Triple-A after hitting .364 in Double-A in 2009. Back-up catcher Carlos Maldonado played for Syracuse last year, while third-stringer Jhonatan Solano played here two years ago.
A newcomer, left-handed power-hitter Michael Aubrey, will DH and play some first base. Last year he knocked out 22 home runs, two triples and 25 doubles for the IL's Norfolk Tides.
Chiefs infielders include 21-year-old first baseman Chris Marrero, who hit 18 homers for Harrisburg last year. Brian Bixler and Seth Bynum-who both played well here last year-will play the middle positions with Chris McConnell, and Alex Valdez will play third. Last season, McConnell and Valdez sweated it out in the Double-A Texas League.
Returning outfielders include speedsters Roger Bernadina and Boomer Whiting as well as Corey Brown who played in the Pacific Coast League in 2010 and Jeff Frazier, who hit 25 home runs for the Toledo Mudhens.