Season Preview: 2016 Great Falls Voyagers

The Great Falls Voyagers begin their 2016 season Friday night, squaring off with the Helena Brewers, the Pioneer League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Voyagers are mostly comprised of players in their early 20's, with some players as old as 25 and some as young as 19. The majority of these players are coming fresh off of their respective high school and collegiate seasons, so rust should not be an issue. Many of these players will be getting their first taste of professional baseball starting tonight, something they have all worked for since a very young age.

There are plenty of new faces on the Voyagers, as it includes 13 selections from last week's First Year Player Draft, as well as six free agents who signed during 2016. In addition, seven players return from last year's squad, including sixth round pick from 2015 Corey Zangari, and eighth round selection Casey Schroeder.

The skipper of the Voyagers is Tommy Thompson, who is in his first season with Great Falls after managing Kannapolis during the 2015 campaign. Arlington Heights native Matt Zaleski takes the reigns as pitching coach, while 2005 World Series champion and former White Sox infielder Willie Harris will serve as the team's hitting coach. Let's dive into this year's team in more depth, as there are quite a few names who have the ability to force their way through the White Sox Minor League system quickly. Here's a link to the Voyagers' full roster.

INFIELDERS

The infield has a handful of notable names, led by first baseman Corey Zangari. The Oklahoma high schooler was the 6th round pick for the White Sox in 2015, and signed for $510,000, well above slot value. The right-handed slugger started the 2016 season in Kannapolis, but struggled mightily, hitting .166/.247/.314 with eight home runs and a staggering 106 strikeouts in 248 plate appearances. There is no need to panic with Zangari though, as he just turned 19 years old and is just in his first full professional season. Middle infielder and the 14th round selection from the 2014 draft Jake Jarvis also returns, and is back for his third stint with the Voyagers.

There will be four newcomers as part of the infield core, led by Wright State's Mitch Roman, the Sox' 2016 12th round selection who hit .336/.401/.428 and led the Raiders with 84 hits this season. St. Mary's and 2016 19th round selection Anthony Villa looks to play a major role in the infield as well, and he hit .292/.402/.470 in 58 games in his senior season for the Gaels. In addition, look for Brady Conlan (24th round in '16) and Sam Dexter (23rd round in '16) to contribute in the infield as well.

OUTFIELDERS

The outfield has two returners from last year's team in 2015 19th round pick Frank Califano and 2015 10th round selection Jackson Glines return for another season, both looking to play key roles. The two big names worth noting that will be roaming the outfield for the Voyagers this summer are Alex Call and Jameson Fisher, who were the White Sox' third and four round selections respectively in last week's draft. Call is a Ball State product who can absolutely rake, hitting .358/.443/.667 in 243 at-bats, and led the Cardinals with 84 hits and 13 long balls. Fisher is another hitting clinic who hails from Southeastern Louisiana, and was second in the NCAA with a .424 batting average and was also a Golden Spikes Award Semifinalist, which is given to the top collegiate baseball player annually.

Also look for lefty slugger Aaron Schnurbusch (28th round in '16) to be an impact player, as the Pitt product stands out physically, standing 6'5'' and 235 pounds.

CATCHERS

The Voyagers will carry three catchers heading into the 2016 season, as returnee Casey Schroeder (8th round in '15), Nate Nolan (8th round in '16), and Steve Pollakov (FA signee in '16) will spend time behind the dish.

Schroeder returns from Kannapolis, where he only played in five games before a stint on the disabled list. Nolan was teammates with Voyagers infielder Anthony Villa at Saint Mary's, where he hit .261/.360/.468 and started all 58 games behind the plate. Pollakov was signed as a free agent this past offseason and is a Chicago area native. He played his college ball at the University of Hawaii.

PITCHERS

The pitching staff will be comprised of 15 arms to start the season, as three arms return in Ryan Hinchley, Brandon Magallones, and Jaider Rocha.  The staff will also include four free agent signees this past offseason from the independent ranks, which include Adam Panayotovich, Tony Rizzotti, Fernando Gallegos, and Max Beatty. Panayotovich is said to be the team's Opening Day starter.

Yosmer Solorzano and Richard McWilliams move up from the AZL club to Great Falls. We were surprised Solorzano wasn't assigned to a full season club in April, with the stuff and feel for pitching he showed in AZL in 2015. But Buddy Bell, when asked about this when we interviewed him in May, said that they were concerned about workload (he skipped DSL and 2015 was his first pro season) and some mild shoulder soreness along the way, so they didn't want to push him too fast.

Four recent draft picks will be a part of the Voyagers staff: 15th rounder Jake Elliot, 18th rounder Lane Hobbs, 21st rounder Michael Horejsei, and 16th rounder Ben Wright.

Both Elliot and Hobbs throw right-handed and are imposing figures on the mound, as Elliot is 6'7'' 230 pounds and Hobbs is 6'5'' 235 pounds. After a great 2015 sophomore campaign where he had a 3.10 ERA over 88 innings of work, Elliot had a season to forget in 2016, posting a 6.02 ERA over 46.1 innings of work. The University of Oklahoma product will be a project it seems, as the White Sox took a gamble on both him and his teammate Alec Hansen, who was the Sox' second pound pick. While Elliot does not possess the upside that Hansen does, he is quite projectable and has shown signs of success in the power conference that is the Big 12.

Hobbs was stellar this past season at Division III Concordia University in Austin, Texas, posting a 1.44 ERA in 81 innings of work. On the season, he went 10-1 and gave up just 52 hits, 13 walks, and had 91 strikeouts. Hobbs turned 19 last month, and will have plenty of time to develop in a great pitcher's development organization that is the Chicago White Sox.

Wright and Horejsei are both on the smaller side, but still very effective and put together solid collegiate careers. Wright is a six-foot right hander who hails from UNLV, where he led the Runnin' Rebels with 11 saves. Horejsei was brilliant in his season season out of the bullpen with the Buckeyes, as he had a 2.61 ERA in 31 innings of work, giving up just 17 hits and punching out 39.

IN PURGATORY

Zach Remillard, the team's 10th round selection in last week's draft, is on the roster but listed as Arrival TBD. Pitchers Josh Goosen-Brown and Aaron Bummer open the season on the disabled list.

It should be an exciting two and a half months of baseball for the Great Falls Voyagers, and we will have you covered here at FutureSox every step of the way.

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