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Twentysomethings: ’24 Trash Pandas feature 22 players from ’23 season

MADISON – If the preliminary opening day roster holds form until the season begins Friday, few players for the fourth edition of the Rocket City Trash Pandas will need introductions to the local baseball community.

No less than 22 of the 29 players set to suit up for the Southern League Double-A club are returnees from last year’s squad.

In addition, seven incoming Trash Pandas are listed among the top 30 players in the minor league system of the team’s parent club the Los Angeles Angels, including the top four.

On the coaching side, the Trash Pandas welcome back Manager Andy Schatzley for his third season with the team. Schatzley, the 2022 Southern League Manager of the Year, will be joined by Pitching Coach Michael Wuertz, Coach Dann Bilardello and Strength and Conditioning coach David Robertson, who all return for another season. 

The coaching staff is rounded out by Hitting Coach and former Huntsville Star Joel Chimelis, Assistant Pitching Coach Doug Henry and Athletic Trainer Dylan Culwell, who all enter their first season with the Trash Pandas.

Rocket City opens the season this weekend with a three-game road series at the Tennessee Smokies. The Trash Pandas begin a six-game set with the Birmingham Barons starting Tuesday at Toyota Field.

Trash Pandas on the roster who are listed as Top 30 prospects for the Angels:

  • OF Nelson Rada (No. 1) 
  • RHP Caden Dana (No. 2)
  • INF Kyren Paris (No. 3) 
  • RHP Ben Joyce (No. 4)
  • RHP Jack Kochanowicz (No. 9) 
  • RHP Victor Mederos (No. 15)
  • INF Cole Fontenelle (No. 30)

Among the 22 players returning is headline infielder Kyren Paris. The Oakley, Calif., native was a Southern League All-Star last season and set a Trash Pandas record with 45 stolen bases.

Outfielders David Calabrese and Tucker Flint return after combining for 28 home runs in 2023. Catcher Tyler Payne is also back after setting the Southern League on fire in the second half of last season with a .313 average.

On the mound, Rocket City will see their top three starters from 2023 return. Brett Kerry and Victor Mederos each led the team with 20 starts with Jack Kochanowicz behind them at 16. Kerry will be the first player to appear in a game for the Trash Pandas in all four seasons of their existence.

Among the seven new faces on the Trash Pandas roster, two of them rank as the top prospects in the Angels farm system. Outfielder Nelson Rada is the youngest player on the team at 18 years old, some two years younger than the second youngest on the roster. Rada enters his third season in professional baseball after hitting .276 with 48 RBI while stealing 55 bases at Single-A Inland Empire.

Rada was named Los Angeles Angels Minor League Player of the Year and earned a Rawlings MiLB Gold Glove Award after posting one error in the outfield. 

Right-handed pitcher Caden Dana is also set to make his Trash Pandas debut for his third professional season. The 20-year-old split last season with Single-A Inland Empire and High-A Tri-City, collecting 14 total starts and 89 strikeouts during the season.

Also making their debuts with the Trash Pandas will be right-handed pitcher Alan Rangel, catcher Caleb Hamilton and infielders Sam Brown, Cole Fontenelle and Eric Wagaman.

Brown will make his professional debut with the Trash Pandas after being drafted in the 12th round of the 2023 First-Year Player Draft and appearing in 10 spring training games with the Angels.

Rocket City Trash Pandas Preliminary Roster (as of Tuesday):

  • Right-Handed Pitchers (13): Ivan Armstrong, Chase Chaney, Caden Dana, Michael Darrell-Hicks, Mason Erla, Ben Joyce, Brett Kerry, Jack Kochanowicz, Victor Mederos, Luke Murphy, Alan Rangel, Hayden Seig, Kenyon Yovan
  • Left-Handed Pitchers (3): Jack Dashwood, Nick Jones, Eric Torres
  • Catchers (3): Myles Emmerson, Caleb Hamilton, Tyler Payne
  • Infielders (6): Sam Brown, Cole Fontenelle, Mac McCroskey, Kyren Paris, Arol Vera, Eric Wagaman
  • Outfielders (4): David Calabrese, Gustavo Campero, Tucker Flint, Nelson Rada.

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