Evan Rutckyj (left, wearing 20) and Daniel Camarena (right, wearing 16) take in their surroundings at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park on Tuesday afternoon.
Peter O'Brien looks like a big league baseball player.
The Charleston RiverDogs catcher and one of the top prospects in the New York Yankees farm system has a 6-foot-4-inch frame and weighs a strong 225 pounds. He even has the trademark of every seasoned catcher – the wrist band tan line.
“I really try not to focus on that,” he said about the pressure of being highly touted. “The only thing you can really do is go out and play well, and the rest will take care of itself.”
O'Brien slipped through the MLB Draft last year before being selected by the Yankees with the 89th overall pick. Early reports from New York indicated he signed for about $500k.
Part of the reason for the All-ACC first teamer from the University of Miami dropping to the second round of the First-Year-Player-Draft was a wrist injury. He missed about 20 games with the Hurricanes and with any wrist injury to power hitters, his ability to swing for the fences became in jeopardy.
After hitting 10 home runs and collecting 32 RBI last year with the Staten Island Yankees, he's hoping the Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park won't be able to contain his hitting.
“I'm just excited to play a full season,” O'Brien, 22, said. “Charleston seems like a great town, so that'll make it easier.”
While O'Brien has plenty to prove to the Yankees front office, every member of a minor league roster faces the same pressure. Even first-year manager Al Pedrique, who served as interim manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004, has to meet his own and his bosses' expectations.
“I would like to definitely get back to the bigs,” Pedrique admitted, and added he'd be happy with any role on a MLB team. “I know there are some things I need to work on. I'm open minded.”
Pedrique is the fifth RiverDogs manager in as many years. He has professional playing experience in the late 1970s with the New York Mets. It took him nine years to advance through the minor league ranks before getting promoted to the top as a shortstop.
He said he will emphasize patience, fundamentals and playing the game “the right way.” The RiverDogs' season opener is Thursday in Greenville, and their home opener will be April 11 against Augusta. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I'm not trying to bring the big leagues to them too much,” Pedrique said, who has managing and playing experience in baseball's top level. “That's the one thing I need to be careful with is not to put so much emphasis on winning, winning, winning because my job right now is to help them play the game the right way and how to get to the point to understand how to win games.”
He critiqued O'Brien noting he has room to improve on his defense. Infielder Gregory Bird, a former fifth round draft pick in 2011, was praised for his maturity, smart hitting and “great” defense. Outfielder Yeicok Calderon has “a lot of power” and enjoyed a “great spring,” according to Pedrique. And he sees potential in Cesar Vargas, a right-handed pitcher who was promoted to the RiverDogs late last year.
“No matter what, you have a uniform on,” Pedrique said he tells his players about the minor league process. “Anyone can sit in the stands that day and watch you. If you open somebody's eyes, that might be your shot.”