As they become more and more ingrained into the athletic and entertainment culture of South Mississippi, the Biloxi Shuckers have returned for a fourth season, bringing premium minor league baseball to the region. They’ll once again play 70 of their full 140-game season at Biloxi’s MGM Park, located downtown with the Beau Rivage Casino serving as a visual backdrop.
For moderate baseball fans, the team has provided a positive additional element to the Gulf Coast’s active lifestyle between April and September, playing in the competitive Southern League. For the hardcore baseball lover, they provide a glimpse of some of the future major league stars moving up the minor league ladder, being a Double-A (AA) team under the Milwaukee Brewers franchise.
“There’s a lot of ability in this group. Our ball club is set is at a level where if you are able to play like you were in the big leagues, then you have an opportunity to play in the big leagues and perform well,” said Biloxi Shuckers manager Mike Guerrero, managing the team for the third straight season.
The initial Biloxi Shuckers roster for the 2018 season includes 11 of the Top 30 prospects in the Brewers system according to MLB Pipeline, and six of the top 15.
“We’ve got a lot of veterans here in our lineup and I think it will be a lot of fun,” said outfielder Corey Ray, one of those top prospects.
Ray (7), Trent Grisham (8) and Troy Stokes Jr. (22) make up the outfield, while Lucas Erceg (4) and Jake Gatewood (19) will play the corner infield positions. On the pitching staff, RHP Luis Ortiz (5), RHP Adrian Houser (13), RHP Cody Ponce (14), LHP Kodi Medeiros (20) and RHP Zack Brown (25) are all slated to be part of the starting rotation.
Several members of the 2017 pitching staff return, including LHPNick Ramirez, RHP Josh Uhen, LHP Quintin Torres-Costa, RHP Angel Ventura , RHP Tristan Archer and RHP Wuilder Rodriguez. Rounding out the pitching staff is RHP Thomas Jankins, LHP Brad Kuntz, and RHP Nate Griep. In total, the Shuckers have 14 pitchers on their staff, 10 right-handers, and four lefties.
In the field, Blake Allemand and Wendell Rijo return from the 2017 squad, while former Montgomery Biscuits infielder Jake Hager joins the Shuckers after signing with the Brewers this offseason. Behind the plate, the Shuckers will have Dustin Houle, TylerHeineman and Nick Franklin, who is transitioning from infielder to catcher.
“When you have two first-round picks, it’s really impressive for your organization,” said Guerrero. “I think they’re all prepared, so let’s see who takes the bull by the horn. You’ve got to get the most out of every player so that we know what they’re capable of doing.Hopefully, we can bring a championship to Biloxi.”
With a chance to one day play in the major leagues, you’ll see every player give their best effort every day.
“Every pitch I throw, I’m going to throw with conviction; I trust my catchers to call a good game, I trust them all,” said pitcher Cody Pounce, who said he worked hard on improving his curveball during the off season. With an added personal conviction, Pounce said he will be pitching for his mother, who died last December.
“She was one of my biggest supporters, so I just do everything because of her now and I know that she’s looking from above,” Pounce said.
Ray looks to use a combination of his hitting and speed to be highly productive for the Shuckers.
“I think I’ll be a doubles guy with a chance to give you a few extra bases,” he told reporters during the team’s Media Day. He stole 45 bases last year. “I specialize in hitting the ball in the gap and using my legs to the best of my ability. I’m not going to try and change anything. Last year, I would try to tweak everything. This year I’m sticking with my routine and whatever happens, happens.”
Like Pounce, Ray also has a personal motivation to play his best with his new daughter born last November.
Her name is on my glove and I wear a chain with her name on it,” he said. “Every day, I realize I’m playing for something bigger than myself.”
On his coaching staff, Guerrero will have Al LeBoeuf serving as the hitting coach, while Dave Chavarria takes over as the pitching coach. Bench coach Chuckie Caufield, Strength and Conditioning Specialist Nate Dine and Athletic Trainer Kevan Creighton all return after working on the 2017 Shuckers staff.
The Shuckers defeated William Carey University Crusaders 8-0 in an exhibition game before opening their 2018 campaign on the road against the Montgomery Biscuits. They won 4 of that 5-game series, giving them an excellent start at 4-1.
They have opened up their home campaign, playing the Mississippi Braves on April 11. On April 14, they will honor the former Biloxi Dodgers Negro League baseball team by wearing replicas of their old jerseys. They also will give homage to trailblazer Jackie Robinson that weekend; Robinson’s retired jersey #42 is placed near the right-field foul pole at MGM Stadium.