By Zach James Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — The looks on the faces of the 2014 Clinton LumberKings said it all as they arrived to get acclimated on Tuesday: this was the next step to Seattle.
The 2014 Midwest League season begins tonight as the LumberKings face Cedar Rapids for a four-game stint against the Kernels.
Most of the players who will wear "Clinton" across their chests are newcomers, hoping to make a name for themselves while aiming for a Midwest League crown.
Not only is LumberKings manager Scott Steinmann aiming for a league pennant, he's looking to do something no professional baseball team has done.
"I expect to go 140-0," Steinmann said. "I don't practice or play to lose; I send my guys out there to win, and that's what we're going to aim for every night."
Steinmann was the club's manager back in 2009, and the LumberKings barely got over the .500 hump that season winning 69 games. In that same season, the LumberKings were much stronger in the first half going 40-30 and finishing just one game short of the first half division title.
"I believe if we carry high expectations, play the right way, and do what we're supposed to do, I think we'll have a great season."
Edwin Diaz gets the starting nod on the pitcher's mound for Clinton Thursday. This will be Diaz's first career start for the LumberKings, and he has some momentum to carry with him from his 2013 campaign.
The right-handed pitcher from Puerto Rico spent last season in Pulaski making 13 appearances and turning in a 5-2 season with 1.43 ERA. He also had 79 strikeouts and walked only 18 hitters while allowing 11 earned runs.
"He displays a really quick arm," Steinmann said. "Low-to-mid 90s with a slider thrown in there; we're really excited to have him starting for us and hopefully take off to become an All-Star."
Diaz is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the Seattle Mariners farm system according to Baseball America. Diaz was a third round selection in the 2012 MLB Draft.
The player just below Diaz on Baseball America's top-10 list is outfielder Austin Wilson, who will also start the season in Clinton after spending 2013 in Seattle's Class-A Short Season affiliate Everett.
Wilson, a 22-year old from Los Angeles, was selected in the second round in the 2013 draft. Wilson hit .241 for the AquaSox last season with 27 RBIs and 20 extra base hits.
Infielders Jack Reinheimer and Justin Seager also make the move-up from Everett to Clinton.
"Reinheimer has done such a good job in the organization since being drafted by the organization last year," Steinmann said. "He's a really nice player."
Seager is the younger brother to Kyle, the Mariners starting third baseman. Kyle already has a home run on the season in the majors while Justin is hoping to make the right type of splash in Clinton.
Each infielder turned in 30 RBIs last season in Everett. Reinheimer had the better batting average, however, at .269. Seager led the AquaSox with 13 doubles.
The youngest player on the LumberKings roster is 18-year-old outfielder Tyler O' Neill, who hails from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada. O' Neill spent 2013 with the Peoria, Ariz. Fall League squad. He was a third round pick in 2013.
"He has a lot of power and a little bit of speed, and hopefully we can help him develop those as the year goes along," Steinmann said.
There are a quartet of players who played for the LumberKings last season making their return.
Pitchers Mark Bordonaro and Kansas City area native Blake Holovach return in 2014 as well as catcher Marcus Littlewood and infielder Zach Shank.
Littlewood knocked in 18 runs in 60 games last season while Shank made an eight-game stint here while hitting 6-for-21.
On the mound, Holovach went 1-2 in 30 apperances while Bordenaro came in for 20 games and went 3-4 with a 4.65 ERA.
Clinton LumberKings at Cedar Rapids Kernels Today, 6:35 p.m., 100.3 WCCI-FM Probable starters: Diaz vs. Slegers