The Long Island Ducks officially began their spring training workouts on Monday in advance of the 2018 All-Star Summer, presented by Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center. Despite inclement weather preventing the team from doing much in the way of outdoor activities, position players did take the first swings in the team’s batting cage while pitchers did some throwing exercises and light toss.
We caught up after the workouts with Ducks manager Kevin Baez, returning shortstop Dan Lyons and infielder/MLB veteran Jordany Valdespin:
A total of 30 players are on the Ducks spring training roster, with 24 having been signed. The roster includes 11 former Major Leaguers, 19 players who have reached the Triple-A or MLB level and seven who are originally from Long Island or reside locally.
CLICK HERE for the full roster
The team has invited the following six players to spring training:
Cody Puckett (INF) – Puckett played 33 games with the Ducks in 2017, totaling three home runs and 12 RBI, before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He has spent four seasons with Long Island, compiling a .278 batting average, 31 homers, 215 RBI, 203 runs, 462 hits and 61 doubles in 426 games. The 31-year-old was selected to play in the 2015 Atlantic League All-Star Game at Bridgeport and garnered Post-Season All-Star honors that year as well. The California native earned also earned Second Team Post-Season All-Star honors during his first year with the Flock in 2014. Puckett was originally drafted by the Puckett was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the eighth round of the 2008 amateur draft.
Tyler Levine (RHP) – Levine spent time in 2017 as a starter and a reliever with the Ducks. He appeared in 23 games (eight starts) and posted a 3-3 record along with 36 strikeouts in 60 innings of work. In his first start with Long Island, the East Meadow NY native stymied the York Revolution with seven innings of two-run ball, striking out five and earning the win. Prior to joining the Ducks, the 25-year-old played with both Joliet and Evansville in the Frontier League, as well as Old Orchard Beach in the Empire League and Brownsville in the United League.
Max Almonte (RHP) – Almonte has three seasons of professional experience, all in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He pitched in 32 games for Single-A Peoria in 2017, accruing a 3.40 ERA, two saves and 44 strikeouts over 45 innings. The Far Rockaway native was superb over his first two years of pro ball with Single-A State College, combining to go 3-2 with a 2.82 ERA and 33 strikeouts over 51 innings of work, spanned across 29 games. The 26-year-old Villanova University alum was originally drafted by the Cardinals in the 16th round of the 2015 amateur draft.
Jason Creasy (RHP) – Creasy earned a spring training invite after participating in the Ducks open player tryout on April 14. He spent the first six seasons of his career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, reaching as high as Triple-A in 2016. The North Carolina native collected Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star honors with Double-A Altoona in 2015 and was 12-8 with a 4.41 ERA, one complete game, one save and 147 innings pitched over 27 games (25 starts). The 25-year-old pitched with the St. Paul Saints of the American Association in 2017, making 11 starts and striking out 49 batters in 57 innings. Creasy was originally drafted by the Pirates in the eighth round of the 2011 amateur draft.
Robert Garcia (OF) – Garcia earned a spring training invite after participating in the Ducks open player tryout on April 14. He has five seasons of professional experience, all in the Chicago Cubs organization. The Elwood Park, New Jersey resident played a career-high 108 games for Single-A Myrtle Beach in 2017, collecting two homers, 31 RBI, 42 runs, six doubles, three triples and 16 stolen bases. The 24-year-old was named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star in 2015 after hitting .341 and posting a .409 on-base percentage with the Cubs’ rookie-level affiliate in the Arizona League. He was also chosen as a Northwest League Mid-Season All-Star in 2016 with Single-A Eugene. Garcia was originally signed by the Cubs as an international free agent in 2013.
Wagner Gomez (C) – Gomez earned a spring training invite after participating in the Ducks open player tryout on April 14. He has five seasons of professional baseball experience, all with the Cincinnati Reds organization. The Richmond Hill, NY resident began his career as a catcher and infielder, totaling nine home runs, 54 RBI, 47 runs, 18 doubles and three triples over 130 games. The 26-year-old then converted to a pitcher in 2013 and appeared in 36 games over two seasons, striking out 43 batters in 38 and two-thirds innings. Gomez was originally signed by the Reds as an international free agent in 2010.
The complete spring training schedule is as follows:
Friday, April 20 – 1:00 p.m. – Ducks at New Britain
Saturday, April 21 – 1:00 p.m. – New Britain at Ducks
Monday, April 23 – 1:00 p.m. – Black Sox at Ducks
Tuesday, April 24 – 1:00 p.m. – Black Sox at Ducks
Stay tuned for updates throughout the course of the week regarding team workouts and other news. As a reminder, the 2018 season gets underway on Friday, April 27th when the Ducks visit the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs at 6:35 p.m. The Home Opener will follow on Friday, May 4th as the Blue Crabs make the return trip to Long Island for a 6:35 p.m. start.
The 18-year history of the Long Island Ducks has seen a wide swath of players don the team’s orange and black colors. From long-time Major Leaguers to players looking for a second chance at reaching the game’s highest level to those fresh out of college, each season’s roster has been a sort of “melting pot” of the professional baseball world. Despite the hundreds of players that have made their way to Central Islip, there have only been a select few to truly cement their place as one of the franchise’s legendary players. Dan Lyons is most certainly one of them.
After joining the club in a utility role prior to the 2011 season, he has been firmly etched into the shortstop position for the past six years. Lyons has batted in seemingly every spot of Kevin Baez’s lineup card, but while his place among the starting nine hitters may change, his presence among the group has been constant. That consistency will continue to remain in place during the 2018 season, after the 33-year-old re-signed with the team on Thursday, making him the first Duck to put pen to paper this year.
His accolades are plentiful. He is twice an Atlantic League champion (2012, ’13), three times an Atlantic League All-Star Game selection (2012, ’15, ’16) and twice a Post-Season All-Star (2012, ’15). The Minnesota native was named the Championship Series Most Valuable Player in 2012 after his infamous waddle-off bunt single, and he was the league’s first-ever winner of the Rawlings Gold Glove Defensive Player of the Year award. Lyons enters the 2018 season with a franchise record in sight as well, sitting just 68 games shy of equaling Ray Navarrete for the most games played in team history.
We sat down with the greatest shortstop in Long Island Ducks history this week to look back on what he’s accomplished thus far and what he is hoping to achieve this year:
The 2017 Liberty Division Champion Long Island Ducks host the York Revolution to begin the Atlantic League Championship Series tonight.
6:35 p.m. at Bethpage Ballpark (Central Islip, N.Y.)
For the second straight year and the fifth time in the last seven seasons, the Long Island Ducks have reached the Atlantic League Championship Series. The Ducks take on the York Revolution in a best-of-five series to determine the 2017 Atlantic League Champion. The Ducks and Revs previously matched up in the ALCS in 2011, with the Revolution taking the crown in four games. During the regular season, the Ducks went 11-9 against York, although the Revolution won six of the 10 second half meetings. Games 1 and 2 will be played at Bethpage Ballpark, with Games 3, 4 (if necessary) and 5 (if necessary) taking place at PeoplesBank Park in York.
LDCS GAME 4 RECAP:
The Long Island Ducks defeated the Somerset Patriots 4-3 on Saturday night in Game Four of the Liberty Division Championship Series at TD Bank Ballpark. The Ducks won the series three games to one and are the 2017 Liberty Division champions.
This marks the second consecutive season that the Ducks defeated the Patriots to claim the division crown. Long Island rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to defeat Somerset in the 2016 Liberty Division Championship Series. The Ducks have now won the Liberty Division championship five times in the past seven seasons, all with Kevin Baez as the team’s manager, and have earned six division titles in franchise history (2004, ’11, ’12, ’13, ’16, ’17).
After Ducks starter Jake Dunning worked out of a second-and-third, no-out jam in the second inning, the Ducks opened the scoring in the third against Patriots starter Patrick Johnson. Delta Cleary Jr. scored from second base on Anthony Vega’s bunt single and a fielding error. Giovanny Alfonzo followed two batters later with an RBI single to right field, scoring Vega.
Long Island extended their lead to 3-0 in the sixth when Marc Krauss singled to right and Angelo Songco followed with an RBI double to right-center. Somerset got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the frame when D’Vontrey Richardson doubled and scored from third with two outs on an RBI infield single from Carlos Guzman off Dunning.
It stayed that way until the eighth when the Patriots rallied with two outs to tie the game at three. RBI singles by Guzman and Yovan Gonzalez did the damage. Long Island answered right back though in the ninth to take a 4-3 lead. Vega walked to open the inning, Dan Lyons was hit by a pitch and both runners moved up on a wild pitch. That set the stage for Alfonzo, who drove in Vega with an RBI fielder’s choice grounder to third.
Neither starter factored into the decision. Dunning pitched five and two-thirds innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits and a walk while striking out three. Johnson lasted five and one-third innings, giving up three runs on six hits and a walk with three strikeouts. Amalio Diaz (1-0) collected the win after recording the final out of the eighth to keep the game tied and retiring the side in order in the ninth. Dustin Antolin (0-1) took the loss, surrendering the game-winning run in his two-thirds of an inning.
Krauss led the Flock offensively with three hits, while Alfonzo added two RBI.
LDCS GAME 4 HIGHLIGHTS:
ON THE MOUND:
RHP Matt Larkins gets the start for the Ducks in the opening game of the Atlantic League Championship Series. The righty went 9-7 with a 3.69 ERA in 27 appearances (26 starts) during the regular season, and led the team with three shutouts. Larkins started game two against the Somerset Patriots in the Liberty Division Championship Series and allowed one run on four hits in 5.2 innings, walking a season-high seven and striking out four in a 4-1 Ducks win. Against the Revolution this season, the California native was 1-2 with a less-than-stellar 8.70 ERA (19 ER/19.2 IP), allowing 34 hits as York batsmen hit .391 against him.
The Revolution counter with right-hander Jay Gause to set the tone in the series. In the regular season, Gause was 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA. In his lone playoff start in Game 1 of the Freedom Division Championship Series against Southern Maryland, he allowed one run on two hits in six innings, getting no decision in a 5-3 Revs victory. The former Astros farmhand made only one start against the Ducks this season, coming on August 30. Gause allowed two runs on three hits in six innings to defeat the Long Island in the outing, striking out five and walking three.
Fans can follow all the action for tonight’s game, and every Ducks playoff game in 2017, on the Long Island Ducks Broadcast Network. Streaming HD video and audio via BoxCast will be available on the team’s official Facebook page through Facebook Live, on the Ducks’ official YouTube channel and at LIDucks.com in the Video Center. In addition to updates in this post, fans can follow a pitch-by-pitch account of tonight’s game via Pointstreak’s Game Live application by CLICKING HERE.
DUCKS GAME NOTES:
For tonight’s full Ducks game notes, please CLICK HERE.
Long Island Ducks
#6 Giovanny Alfonzo – 3B
#13 Elmer Reyes – 2B
#20 Lew Ford – LF
#34 Marc Krauss – 1B
#26 Angelo Songco – DH
#23 Alex Burg – C
#5 Delta Cleary Jr. – CF
#11 Anthony Vega – RF
#12 Dan Lyons – SS
#44 Matt Larkins – RHP
#2 Alonzo Harris – LF
#10 Jared Mitchell – RF
#6 Rubi Silva – 2B
#23 Telvin Nash – 1B
#21 Michael Burgess – DH
#16 Isaias Tejeda – C
#1 Travis Witherspoon – CF
#17 Ryan Dent – SS
#27 Chase Simpson – 3B
#39 Jay Gause – RHP
LIVE GAME UPDATES:
TOP 1 | The Revolution take a 1-0 lead on an RBI single from Jared Mitchell.
TOP 3 | York takes a 4-0 lead on a three-run home run from Michael Burgess.
BOT 5 | The Ducks tie the game up at 4-4 thanks to two-run hits from Dan Lyons and Lew Ford.
BOT 6 | Delta Cleary Jr. drives home Alex Burg with a single to give the Ducks a 5-4 lead!
TOP 7 | The Revs mount a two-out rally and take a 6-5 lead over the Ducks.
BOT 7 | The Ducks tie the game at 6-6 thanks to a Lew Ford RBI infield single.
TOP 8 | York rallies for two runs to take an 8-6 lead over the Ducks.
BOT 8 | Giovanny Alfonzo lifts a sacrifice fly to shave a run off the deficit as York still leads, 8-7.
FINAL | Revolution 8, Ducks 7
W: Sides (2-0)
L: Jones (0-1)
SV: Hutchingson (2)
A pair of champions has been reunited on Long Island.
The Ducks have signed their first pitcher to the 2017 roster, bringing aboard reliever Tyler Wilson. His rights had been acquired about one week earlier from the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League for future considerations. Now, he has officially put pen to paper on a contract to solidify his place in the bullpen. In doing so, he also assured himself of a reunion with new Ducks pitching coach Billy Horn after the pair spent the past two seasons together in Ottawa.
“Billy’s been awesome to me and has given me all the opportunities in the world to show what I have,” said Wilson by telephone on Friday. “When no one would give me a chance, he believed in me. Even when things weren’t going so hot, he didn’t stray from believing in me.”
Wilson and Horn’s relationship has blossomed in their two seasons together with the Champions. Both joined the club for its inaugural season in 2015. Wilson was looking to get his career back on track after mixed results over four seasons in the Red Sox organization and struggling as a starter with two other Can-Am League clubs. Horn, meanwhile, was beginning his first coaching opportunity in professional baseball and looking to help his ballplayers reach the next level.
The two immediately clicked, and it proved to be a mutually beneficial tandem. Wilson was given several different roles in his first season with Ottawa, handling everything from mop-up duty in blowout games to a set-up role and even closing on occasion. After compiling a 5.50 earned run average in 30 starts over his first two seasons in the league, the right-hander was able to turn in a 3.15 ERA in 32 relief appearances during the 2015 campaign. He also struck out 53 batters and walked just 17, a 3.1/1 ratio, compared to 118 strikeouts and 65 walks in 2013 and 2014 combined a 1.8/1 ratio.
“Tyler is the ultimate competitor and has a perfect mentality for a reliever,” commented Horn. “He is extremely focused and always wants the ball. For a power arm, he throws a lot of strikes, with good run on the fastball and a hard slider.”
His 2016 season was even more impressive. Wilson lowered his ERA even further to a miniscule 2.08 and made 42 appearances during the year. He nailed down 14 saves as Ottawa’s closer and struck out 60 batters while walking 24 and helped the Champions clinch a spot in the playoffs. Wilson then made five appearances in the postseason without allowing a run and struck out seven in six and two-thirds innings. The end result: A Can-Am League championship.
What could Wilson attribute to yielding, in his words, the best two years of his career?
“I’ve just really busted my butt and watched a lot of film of myself,” he noted. “I think I just went out there and was an even greater competitor than I had been. I wanted to have a lot of fun, leave it all out on the field and know that if I gave 100% that day and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted, there was nothing more I could have done to change that.”
Thanks to his success and a strong working relationship with Horn, Wilson put himself in a position to seek further opportunities to enhance his career. While he was proud to be part of a championship roster in Ottawa, the Georgia native’s dream to one day reach the big leagues was still very much alive. As the offseason began, he reached out to his manager with the Champions, Hal Lanier, about options to take the next step.
“I asked Hal if there was any way I could get in the Atlantic League and move up in my career to better my chances,” recalled Wilson. “He was all for it. He wants the best for my career, and I just felt like the Atlantic League was the best place for me to further my career.”
Horn was able to use his relationship with Ducks President/GM Michael Pfaff to eventually become Long Island’s next pitching coach. Wilson’s bond with Horn helped get the barrel rolling to bring the pitcher to Bethpage Ballpark as well. Now, their relationship will be able to continue growing.
“Here I am two years later, he gets a promotion and I’m getting a promotion myself,” exclaimed Wilson. “I’ve been able to build a special relationship with him. Some people would say like he’s been a father figure to me.”
He went on to add, “It’s just awesome that I get to experience this with him. We’re both getting a big opportunity here, and I know we are both willing to give everything we’ve got to show everyone that we belong here.”
The move to the Ducks, and the Atlantic League, will provide a great challenge for Wilson. The 27-year-old has never faced a competition level like he will in the ALPB. His career in the Red Sox organization reached as high as Single-A in 2012, and he has spent the past four seasons in the Can-Am League. While some of his teammates are sure to be younger than him, Wilson will be joining a league and a roster filled with Major League veterans and guys who have reached the highest levels of minor league baseball. Rather than being intimidated, he plans to use that fact to his advantage.
“This will be my fifth year in independent baseball, and all that I’ve heard about the Atlantic League is how much better the players are,” noted Wilson. “I feel like this is the big leagues of the independent world. I’m sure I will be playing with guys that are older than me and have a lot more experience than I do, and I’m going to walk in eager and willing to work. I haven’t established myself yet, so I’ll be here learning from these guys that have been with the Ducks, in the big leagues and at Double-A or Triple-A. I’ll just be eating up all the information I possibly can to help me get to where I want to be.”
Horn believes that Wilson will be able to make the change in stride, stating “He will definitely fit in any clubhouse no matter what level he makes it to. He just wants to go out there, compete, pitch and just like anyone else, make it to the big leagues.”
Much like in 2015, Wilson will begin the year without a definitive role in the bullpen. He knows that Horn and Ducks manager Kevin Baez might utilize him as a late-inning reliever or as a long man option behind the starter if necessary. Considering he served as a starter throughout the first three seasons of his career and two more years with the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, the options are endless. Wilson tends to use that versatility to his advantage.
“Whatever opportunity they want to give me, I’m willing to be that guy,” he affirmed. “It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not coming in here focused on one job. I’m just here to prove myself in whatever job that they may give me.”
In the end, Wilson is hoping to enjoy the sweet taste of victory in the season’s final game, just like he did last year with Ottawa. Every player wants to win a championship in their career, and that is his primary focus coming into 2017. Now that he had the chance to experience what life was like on top, with Horn by his side, Wilson’s desire to have that moment again has become even stronger.
“That would icing on the cake for me,” he stated, “especially with getting an opportunity to pitch in the Atlantic League. Going to the playoffs and the Championship Series again would honestly be a dream come true. There aren’t too many years in a row that you get to go to the playoffs, much less the championship. As a guy coming into his first year in the league, I would love to be a part of that.”
Wilson’s journey begins in April, and the man who got him here will be right by his side.
Our countdown of the Top Moments of 2016 is down to the final day. We have relived some of the best memories from this past season, including on-field success, attendance milestones and exciting promotional events. Did you happen to miss the first six moments on our list? No problem! Let’s recap them:
The time has now come to reveal our Top Moment of 2016! So many incredible games were played during the 2016 season, and over 350,000 fans helped make each and every night at Bethpage Ballpark a special occasion. It was very difficult to decide which of these wonderful days and nights was worthy of being dubbed #1 on our list. Ultimately, we decided that it had to be the night that we completed one of the greatest comebacks in Atlantic League history.
“The Comeback is Complete!” – September 25, 2016
When the Ducks began the 2016 season, many players and coaches claimed that the ending of the 2015 campaign left a bitter taste in their mouth. After posting an astounding 80-59 record during the regular season, leading many to believe they would eventually become champions, the Ducks fell in heartbreaking fashion to the Somerset Patriots in the Liberty Division Championship Series. Despite holding a 2-1 series lead, their divisional foes rallied for a pair of shutout victories to claim the series en route to winning a league title. It was the team’s goal to get back to the playoffs, beat Somerset if they them faced again and bring the championship trophy back to Long Island.
As fate would have it, the Ducks won the first half of the 2016 season while the Patriots claimed the second half. That set up a first round playoff rematch between the two teams that had met in two of the past three postseasons, needing all five games to determine a winner. With the Ducks winning the series in 2013 to earn the league championship and the Patriots getting the victory in 2015 to win the division title, something would have to give in 2016.
The series did not start well for Long Island, as the Patriots took the first two games in their home ballpark. A walk-off home run in Game One and a dominant pitching performance in Game Two put the Ducks on the brink of elimination. Despite needing to win three consecutive games at home to keep their season alive, the Flock never pushed the panic button. Nick Struck and Jarret Leverett both stepped up on the mound, combining to allow just one run in 14 innings of work. Offensively, Lew Ford, Tyler Colvin and Anthony Vega each launched homers to help even the series at two games apiece. Sure enough, the Ducks and Patriots would need a decisive Game Five to determine the Liberty Division champion.
Both teams took the field on Sunday, September 25 full of excitement and anxiousness before a raucous crowd in Central Islip. They each turned to their Game One starter as well with the hopes of advancing to the Atlantic League Championship Series. John Brownell quickly retired the Patriots in order, and the Ducks responded by putting the Patriots in an early hole. A run-scoring wild pitch, RBI doubles by Lew Ford and Ruben Gotay and an RBI single by Tyler Colvin gave the Ducks an early 4-0 lead and sent the fans into a frenzy. One inning later, Vega scored on another wild pitch from Will Oliver to push the advantage to five.
That would be more than enough for Brownell, who retired the first 12 batters he faced and surrendered just one run in five and two-thirds innings of work. Patrick Crider, Zack Treece and Amalio Diaz kept the Patriots off the scoreboard for the next two and one-third innings to put the Flock three outs away from the division title. Todd Coffey came on to pitch the ninth and quickly struck out Bryan LaHair and Kyle Roller. Carlos Guzman kept the game alive with a double, bringing Eric Farris to the plate. Coffey worked the count to 1-1 before Farris swung away:
The Ducks had done it! With their 5-1 win in Game Five, the Ducks became just the second team ever in Atlantic League history to rally back from a 2-0 series deficit and win. The only other? Somerset in the 2001 Atlantic League Championship Series. After a euphoric celebration on the field, the Ducks marched up to the home clubhouse at Bethpage Ballpark to enjoy their second champagne celebration. While the team still knew they had more work to accomplish, the atmosphere was one of pure joy.
There were so many key contributors to the comeback being completed. From Kevin Baez making the right moves at the right time to key performances on the mound by the Ducks’ pitching staff to clutch hits from the offense, everyone had a big role in earning the Liberty Division championship. Several of the key playmakers spoke about how proud they were of each other and how much they wanted to savor what they had accomplished:
Thank you all for recapping the Top Moments of 2016 with us and for helping make this past year such a memorable one. We could not have accomplished all we did, both on and off the field, without the support of such passionate fans. From our family to yours, have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year! We can’t wait to see you all in 2017!