The 2053 season saw career-low production and the dismantling of a once consistent competitor. After ending a 14 year playoff run, the Lions have missed the playoffs twice as they re-tool for a new era.
Personalities clashed in the clubhouse as the team sold off its parts to try to rebuild a winning culture and look towards a reset in 2054.
Gone are the familiar faces of Gil Smith, Roger Peck, Johnny Riley, and Dave Cross. In their places will be a mixture of new and old. Some holdovers from the last core, as well as a fresh generation of talent will try to generate some momentum at Lions Park.
The roster is constructed with offense in mind this season, a strategy that served the team from Lexington well for over a decade. Last season’s pitching was the worst in the league as young prospects tried to develop in the minor leagues.
The Lions are hoping a combination of new talent, and some regression to the mean for many regulars are the catalyst for another playoff berth in a tough Patriot League field.
Here’s a look at the roster.
Declan Fountain, Age 33, .234/.291/.360, 70 OPS+, 115 G, 0.3 WAR
Fountain is entering just his second full time season behind the plate despite his advanced age. He was blocked by Gil Smith for much of his young career. It’s no surprise he struggled to find playing time in a league that’s bursting at the seams with catcher talent. His productivity dipped along with his career low OBP. Behind the plate, though, he was consistent with his excellent defense and did his best to handle an underpowered pitching staff. The leadership he shows will be an asset to the young players coming up to join the team.
Dermott Barke, Age 29, (AAA) .312/.373/.469, 102 OPS+, 112 G, 1.0 WAR
Barke got the short end of the stick last year as the 3rd catcher in the organization. He spent most of the season at AAA Louisville where he had some success at the plate. A bit of an untraditional option as a back up catcher, the 29-year-old struggles behind the plate defensively, but his bat-to-ball skills will make him a useful offensive option off the bench.
Joe Eberle, Age 24, (AAA) .350/.383/.599, 133 OPS+, 80 G, 2.5 WAR
The Lions acquired Eberle at the 2052 trade deadline from the Texas Spurs. He’ll get the plenty of playing time at first base this season, but will slide over to second for a portion of the games. After a strong first half performance in the minor leagues, the 24-year-old got the chance to start 23 games for the big club at the end of the season, and did get 100 at bats. The infielder dominates right handed pitching, but the lack of infield range really limits the defensive options for him. If his glove can keep him on the field, he projects to have a full season of high caliber play.
Scot McFarland, Age 29, .252/.349/.555, 132 OPS+, 114 G, 1.5 WAR
It’s hard to find a bat with more power than McFarland’s. The first baseman had a breakout season and banged 33 home runs as one of the few bright spots for the Lions last season. He’ll split time with Eberle at first base, and the trick will be finding enough at bats for the both of them. He’s a fan favorite in Lexington, and he’s sure to hit plenty of bombs again this year.
John Collin, Age 24, (AAA) .279/.422/.367, 93 OPS+, 78 G, 1.1 WAR
The dutch speedster fractured his knee last July and cut short a promising season in which he might have made his first extended trip to the major leagues. Colin has a great eye, evidenced by his high on base percentage, but he’ll collect plenty of base hits when pitchers do throw it in the zone. His foot speed is also a weapon, he stole 24 bases and was only caught twice last season. He has some sure hands on the infield, but is slow with his jumps and has a below average arm. He’ll split time between second and third base this season as the Lions evaluate who can hack it at each defensive spot.
Hector Davila, Age 30, .248/.278/.365, 67 OPS+, 128 G, 1.2 WAR
Davila had a disappointing season last year. Far from the 8 win player of 2051, the second baseman’s bat didn’t have much life in it. His defense wasn’t as elite as it once was, and his stolen bases were down as well. He’s still a plus-plus infield defender, so he’ll come off the bench to provide late inning support in the field and on the basepaths. Historically, he’s been a league average hitter, so the Lions are hopeful last season was just a blip on the radar.
Jimmy Williams, Age 42, .274/.365/.470, 117 OPS+, 125 G, 2.6 WAR
The ageless wonder continued his impressive play in 2053 despite his team’s lack of success. Williams is a future hall of famer who collected his 3000th career hit last season. He’s at 431 career home runs, so it’s a long shot that he’ll reach the 500 mark. Williams will play third base 5 or 6 times a week this season as long as he is productive and doesn’t take a nosedive to start the season. His defense, once elite at shortstop, will allow him to hang in at the hot corner for a little while longer.
Karst Van Den Boom, Age 24, .261/.297/.359, 74 OPS+, 162 G, 0.2 WAR
The newest addition to the Lions is Van Den Boom. He’s a great defender at shortstop with one of the best gloves in the game. He provides great energy to the club with his enthusiasm and fast paced play. The 24 year old features elite speed and baserunning ability. His bat is the last tool that hasn’t fully developed. He’ll look to cut down on the strikeouts and solidify his contact skills. The former 6th overall pick was caught stealing a few too many times last year, so the Lions will look to improve his stealing decisions to become more efficient on the basepaths.
Steve Puckett, Age 28, .228/.285/.447, 88 OPS+, 121 G, 1.1 WAR
Puckett is a former 16th overall pick, he was drafted as a toolsy shortstop. He hasn’t quite turned out as quickly as Kentucky had hoped. His strong swing netted him 22 home runs last season, but he’ll look to cut down his 160 strikeouts this year. He’s an average defensive infielder that can play all 4 positions, and he’ll play some second base against left handers, and come off the bench against righties.
Mike Hill, Age 29, .270/.319/.475, 105 OPS+, 124 G, 1.1 WAR
Hill is a bat first outfielder acquired before the 2052 season. His first two seasons in Lexington have been solid. He was a reliable bat and passable in the outfield. The Lions are hoping for a consistent bat in the middle of the lineup. He’s a much better hitter against left handers, which seems to be the story for this Kentucky team, it is a very splits-based group. Hill will play most days in left field with occasional days of against righties.
Jim Benson, Age 24, .275/.331/.431, 99 OPS+, 85 G, 1.9 WAR
Benson came onto the scene strong as a rookie in 2053. His bat was league average by the end, but early on he stole 45 bags and played gold-glove level defense in the outfield. He’ll get his first shot at a full season of play every day in centerfield this year. Benson will never be an elite bat, but he provides value in almost every other way.
Higino Limpinho, Age 22, .317/.366/.483, 121 OPS+, 35 G, 0.8 WAR
Limpinho had a cup of coffee with the big club last year, and the 22 year-old took advantage. He features a great ability to put the bat on the ball in addition to his plus-plus speed. He’ll show flashes of excellent defense in the outfield, but by and large Limpinho will be an average defender.
Ron Dixon, Age 36, .278/.334/.488, 112 OPS+, 115 G, 2.3 WAR
Dixon is one of the final holdouts from the 2043 championship team a decade ago. He’s been a consistent producer in a Lions uniform. He handles right handed pitching very well and will platoon in the outfield as long as his defense can hold him up.
Ademar Bouvery, Age 28, .239/.302/.466, 98 OPS+, 125 G, .0.4 WAR
His sixth big league season turned out to be his worst so far as most of the Lions failed to hit their projections. Bouvery failed to hit over 30 home runs for the first time, and had career lows in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Management is hoping for a big bounce back year from the strong lefty. His elite power will hopefully return as the Lions look for a fresh start in 2054.