Brian Poldberg relishes those moments when he can tell players they’re leaving his team and moving up to the Royals.
“That was the most fun for me, having those first-time guys in the major leagues,” said the Omaha Storm Chasers manager after the team’s 2019 season ended Monday.
In that regard, Poldberg had quite a bit of fun this season.
Among the Chasers who made their major league debuts with Kansas City this season were middle infielders Nicky Lopez and Humberto Arteaga, outfielder Bubba Starling, catcher Nick Dini and relievers Josh Staumont and Kyle Zimmer.
“There’s so many it’s hard to remember (them all),” Poldberg said.
He knows that’s how it goes in Triple-A. As players strived to reach the majors, there was a lot of movement on Omaha’s roster this season. In fact, seven Storm Chasers hit their first career Triple-A home run this season.
“That’s a lot of bodies,” Poldberg said. “But as long as guys come out and work hard, that’s what you want. This has been probably the best group I’ve ever had as far as never giving up. You look at our record and look at how many close games we lost early, but the guys just battled to the end.”
When the Chasers opened the season on April 4, the starting lineup included Lopez, Arteaga, Dini, Brett Phillips and Cheslor Cuthbert. When Kansas City faced Baltimore last Friday, four of those players were in the starting lineup, and Phillips came off the bench.
“There were guys who went up and made a name for themselves,” Poldberg said. “That’s our job, to get them ready and hopefully help the big league club.”
The Chasers finished this season 59-80. As the Royals shuffled their roster, the Chasers never had a winning record in any month.
The Chasers, though, did lead the Pacific Coast League in steals for the first time since 2014, one spot ahead of the Royals’ ranking in the majors. Erick Mejia led Omaha in most offensive categories, included batting average, hits, runs scored and RBIs.
After Monday’s game, Mejia was added to Kansas City’s roster for the first time.
“This guy came out and played everywhere, played hard,” Poldberg said of Mejia. “He’s a great person and a great teammate. He’s got all the attributes for being a good player.”
Omaha’s top starting pitcher was Foster Griffin, who was named a PCL all-star as the league’s top left-handed pitcher. Griffin, a first-round pick in 2014, went 8-6 in 25 starts, striking out 111 in 1302⁄3 innings. His ERA was 5.23, but that ranked 10th in the hitter-friendly PCL.
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“It’s a huge honor for sure,” Griffin said of the PCL accolade. “You look at the numbers and you’re not totally pleased, but you have to take it with a grain of salt with it being a hitter’s league.”
The 24-year-old Griffin plans to pitch in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, beginning next month. He said he wants to continue to work on his command — he walked 64 this season.
“I think there’s times he tries to trick hitters too much and not trust his fastball,” Poldberg said. “He’s not a 95, 96 guy, but when he’s locating his fastball, he can get a lot of guys out.”