Another Appalachian League season has begun at Bowen Field, with a new man in charge of the resident team.
Luis Hurtado is the new manager of the Bluefield Blue Jays, replacing Dennis Holmberg, who was the boss for the first eight years the Toronto-rookie affiliate spent at Bowen Field.
Bluefield opened the season with six games on the road. The Blue Jays went 2-4, winning one of three at Elizabethton and at Pulaski.
The Blue Jays played host to the Danville Braves for the first of 34 home games on Tuesday. They’ll play the Braves again tonight and Thursday and will entertain the Burlington Royals the following three nights.
Four players have returned from the 2018 club, including outfielder D.J. Daniels, first baseman P.K. Morris, catcher Andres Guerra and pitcher Felipe Castaneda. Daniels was a sixth round selection in 2016, while Morris was taken in the 14th round in ’17.
Bluefield finished last season with a 39-29 record, falling to Princeton in the opening round of the Appalachian League playoffs.
Among the newcomers of note is catcher Scotty Bradley, a 36th round pick this month from Indiana. His father, Scott Bradley, played for four teams over nine seasons in the major leagues. He is currently the head baseball coach at Princeton.
Other draftees playing for Bluefield include pitchers Sam Ryan (2019, 12th round, Virginia Commonwealth), Jared DiCesare (’19, 17th round, George Mason) and Luis Quinones (’19, 34th round, San Jacinto Junior College, Texas).
Catcher Ryan Sloniger (’19, 38th round, Penn State), infielders Addison Barger (’18, 6th round, Tampa, Fla. high school), Angel Camacho (’19, 8th round, Jacksonville) and Spencer Horwitz (’19, 24th round, Radford) and outfielder Eric Rivera (’19, 14th round, Florida Atlantic) are also part of the Bluefield roster.
Sloniger is from Punxsutawney, Penn., the home of the weather-predicting groundhog. Horwitz, who played at nearby Radford University, had three hits and two RBIs in Bluefield’s first win of the season in Elizabethton on Wednesday.
Joining Hurtado on the coaching staff are Rafael Lazo (pitch), Chris Schaeffer (position) and Paul Elliott (hitting).
Bluefield has won 14 Appalachian League championships, but none since 2001. The Blue Jays last played for the title in 2011, falling to the Johnson City Cardinals in the championship series.
Bird seed: Home dates to circle this season include a pair of fireworks nights on July 5 and Aug. 10 ... The Blue Jays will also play a 4 p.m. contest on July 31 ... Bluefield and Princeton will meet 11 times this season in the annual Mercer Cup competition, with seven of those games being played at Bluefield’s historic Bowen Field, which has been in use since 1939 ... Princeton won the Cup last season, but Bluefield holds a 14-12-1 overall advantage in the series.