Greater Nevada Field was buzzing with sounds from groundskeepers and surprising news as the Reno Aces’ 25-man roster was announced.
Arizona Diamondbacks’ top pitching prospect Jon Duplantier, who pitched in Double-A last year, skipped Triple-A and made his big league debut Monday, earning a save in a win over the San Diego Padres. He pitched three shutout innings, striking out two and allowing just one hit and no walks.
Duplantier, 24, was expected to start the season with the Aces, but Arizona’s pitching staff has struggled, opening the door for the right-hander.
“He’s earned it,” said new Aces pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru. “He had a great spring training and opened a lot of eyes. He’s worked his butt off. I’d love to have him, selfishly, but I don’t want him to come back. I hope he just sticks and stays but we all know that doesn’t always happen.”
A third round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Duplantier is the No. 72 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. The right-hander is equipped with a four-pitch mix, including a 96 mph fastball. He will start the year out as a reliever out of the bullpen.
Duplantier filled the spot of infielder Ildemaro Vargas, who has been the Aces starting shortstop for the last two seasons. Vargas, 27, had a great spring as well, batting .367. He started Sunday’s game at third base against the Dodgers and has one hit — a double — in six at bats with the Dbacks.
Vargas was recalled back up to Arizona on March 27. A spot on the 25-man roster opened when outfielder Steven Souza Jr. tore his ACL, PCL and partially tore his LCL slipping on home plate in an exhibition game on March 26. This is the second time Vargas was sent back down to the Biggest Little City.
The Aces make their season debut Thursday, April 4 at Chukchansi Park to face the Fresno Grizzlies, newly affiliated with the Washington Nationals. Joined by his power hitting son Kevin, manager Chris Cron is anxious to start the season with his new squad.
“I can’t wait to get back to baseball, been a long two months,” the new skipper said. “I’m a very big fan of Reno and I’m looking forward to a great summer with the rest of the guys.”
With the recent addition of Vargas to the Triple-A team, the Aces are loaded with up-and-coming stars and sturdy veterans to anchor the starting lineup and pitching staff. There are several new Aces who spent time in the big leagues last season: pitchers Robbie Scott (Red Sox), Marc Rzepczynski (Indians and Mariners) catcher Caleb Joseph (Orioles), infielder Kelby Tomlinson (Giants) and outfielders Abraham Almonte (Royals) and Tim Locastro (Dodgers). Ex-big league outfielders Travis Snider and Matt Szczur are on the Aces’ injured list, along with returners Juniel Querecuto and Cody Decker.
Cron will be paying close attention to inserting the best nine guys on the field as the season progresses.
“As a manager, your eyes have to go all over the place to see who’s out there,” he said. “My main thing is watching our guys play and I’m excited to see our team come together on the field as well as on the mound.”
Kevin Cron arrived in Reno 15-pounds lighter than he ended last season. The right-handed third/first baseman was to the Dbacks’ 40-man roster in the offseason. In spring training, he hit .292 with two homers. He batted .297 with a team-leading 22 round-trippers and 97 RBIs in 104 games with the Aces last season.
“I had a lot of fun being around the big-leagues for as long as I was,” he said. “I’m happy to be here and healthy. … Nobody knows when the (call-up) will happen, but it’s something you put years and years into as a professional player.”
Outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who has two years and $32 million left on his six-year $68.5 million contract, will start his second year in a row in Reno. He hit .448 with five doubles and seven RBIs in 29 games with Arizona this spring, but apparently is considered too much of a defensive liability to stick with the National League team. He played several games at first base, a position he said has played a lot in his native Cuba.
“All they said was you had a great batting average, you had a great spring training. We’re sending you back down to Reno,” Tomas said through an interpreter. “I need to just keep doing what I’ve been doing. Continue what I did in spring training down here in Reno and I feel that sooner or later they are going to give me that call and once I get there I will continue to play the same way.”
Tomas hit .262 with 14 homers and 65 RBIs with Reno last season.
Before the Aces hit the road to Fresno, they will play a friendly exhibition game against the Nevada men’s baseball team at 6:05 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at Greater Nevada Field. A former UNR alum, pitcher Braden Shipley is looking forward to face his alma mater.
“It’s always fun to get out there and see how you compare against some big-league guys,” he said. “In Triple-A you have a lot of those guys who played at the MLB level, so we’re gonna have fun with it.”
Reno will make its home debut April 9, at 6:35 p.m. against the Albuquerque Isotopes to start a seven-game home stand. The Isotopes are the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
Notes: Former Aces outfielder Socrates Brito was removed off the 40-man roster and designated for assignment by the San Diego Padres. On Tuesday, he was shipped to Toronto in exchange for outfielder Rodrigo Orozco. He was claimed off waivers by the Padres on March 27. Brito hit .318 with a career-high 17 home runs with Reno last season. … Kelby Tomlinson was a no-show on Monday after his car broke down.
-Isaiah Burrows, Tim Parsons and Simon Ruvalcaba