This isn't the Omaha Storm Chasers of the past two seasons.
Hardly a blue-chip, top-100 prospect on the roster.
Average age: a shade under 28.
The youngest player, opening night starting pitcher Will Smith, is 23. But he was also last year's opening night starter and no longer qualifies as even a big league rookie after spending half of last season in Kansas City.
“There's no doubt this is more of a veteran club than we've had the last few years,” Omaha manager Mike Jirschele said.
But different is one thing. Better or worse will be determined during the course of a 144-game Class AAA Pacific Coast League season, which opens Thursday night when the Chasers start an eight-game road trip with a 7:05 contest at Round Rock.
“We have a good team, man,” said Irving Falu, the 29-year-old utility player who is set to start his fifth consecutive season in Omaha. “It's a very good team. I think we'll make the playoffs.”
The Chasers have played in the past two PCL championship series, winning the title in 2011.
Meanwhile, young prospects such as Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, Danny Duffy, Jake Odorizzi, Clint Robinson and Mike Montgomery have come and gone.
But when Jirschele was working on potential starting lineups for the season opener, he was having a hard time finding a spot for newcomer Chad Tracy and Anthony Seratelli. Tracy is a veteran slugger whose 191 RBIs the past two seasons tops the PCL, while Seratelli merely hit .299 with 17 homers for Omaha last season.
In other words, Jirschele has some pretty solid options available.
“The veteran guys have put up numbers at this level before, and some of them even have at the big league level,” Jirschele said. “If they can do that again, we should be very competitive.”
Kansas City's highly regarded farm system of the past few seasons is acknowledged by most to have two waves of prospects.
The first includes most of the players in the aforementioned group who have already passed through — though Smith, second baseman Johnny Giavotella and outfielder David Lough are back in Omaha after coming up short in bids to land big league roster spots in spring training.
The Royals' next wave of prospects is primarily at the lower levels of the minor leagues, leading to a more typical mix of veterans and older prospects on Omaha's opening day roster.
Off Baseball America's offseason top 30 list of Kansas City prospects, Omaha landed No. 13 Christian Colon, a middle infielder and former first-round draft pick; No. 14 Donnie Joseph, a left-handed reliever with a nasty slider; No. 21 Chris Dwyer, a left-handed starter who has struggled the past two seasons; and Lough, ranked No. 24.
But just because the team dynamic swings toward experience, it doesn't mean that the expectations will be any different.
“I don't think it changes things,” Jirschele said. “We're going to go about business the same way. It's good for the younger kids, the Colons and the (Michael) Mariots, to be around those veteran-type players.
“And it's a good makeup club. You can have a veteran team sometimes and run into trouble if you have bad (attitude) veterans. These guys, from what I've seen in spring training and from what I've seen when they were sent out, have all come in with great attitudes.”
Proven Class AAA commodities and intriguing possibilities are up and down the roster.
Xavier Nady is 34, but he's also spent 11 seasons in the big leagues and compiled a .270 average — highlighted by his huge 2008 that included a .305 average, 25 homers and 97 RBIs.
Willy Taveras, 31, led the National League with 68 stolen bases for Colorado in 2008, though he didn't play at all last season and hasn't been in the majors since 2010.
“We've got some veteran guys who have been around and bring depth and leadership to our team,” Lough said. “We look pretty strong on paper. Our pitching is all there. Our offense ... we'll have a pretty good lineup 1 through 9.”
Reliever Dan Wheeler, 35, has spent parts of 13 seasons in the majors and eight times made at least 46 appearances — and as many as 75 — at that level. Seven-year big-leaguer Brian Sanches, 34, has twice made 46 or more big league appearances.
Those veterans are part of a bullpen that includes Joseph, Mariot, Louis Coleman (who has spent most of the past two years in the big leagues compiling a 3.25 ERA), 32-year-old lefty Francisley Bueno (a 1.56 ERA in 1713 big league innings last year) and lefty Everett Teaford (1.09 ERA in 33 Omaha innings last year).
“I think we're going to be pretty good,” said left-handed pitcher Ryan Verdugo, who turns 26 next week and returns after earning All-PCL honors by going 12-4 with a 3.75 ERA last season. “I think our pitching staff is going to be pretty good, and we've got some guys behind us who can swing the bats and play good defense.”
The bullpen backs a solid rotation of Smith, Verdugo, Dwyer, Nate Adcock and — until Justin Marks is healthy — Sanches.
With limited pitch counts — 90 pitches for the first three starters, 75 for Adcock and a short leash for Sanches — the bullpen will be featured early.
“We've just got to get them in and get innings for them,” Jirschele said. “Early on, it'll be no problem.”
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