PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - As his uncle, Ryne Sandberg, begins his first managerial stint with the Phillies, former Devil Ray Jared Sandberg continues his ascent up the Rays organization.
The Charlotte Stone Crabs went to the Florida State League Championship last year, but this year will be almost a whole new team -- with a brand new manager, Jared Sandberg.
"This is a great time of year for Stone Crab baseball. We are all excited to be here. I know a lot of these players have come up with the Rays organization, and they see the facilities and they are looking forward to start the season," says Sandberg.
He comes to the Stone Crabs with most of his team from Bowling Green. They have 5 former first round picks on this team, and three are ranked on baseball's Top 30 Prospects list, including Andrew Toles. "That is over now. I wouldn't say pressure, but I put in the work in the off-season, and just got the confidence to go out and see what happens on the field," says Toles.
The first ever catcher to be drafted by the Rays in the first round is Justin O'Conner, who got to catch newly-rich Chris Archer in the Rays final spring training game.
O'Conner went 3-5 in the final 2 games, but Archer raved about his catching. “I think I catch really well. I think I am a threat to base runners, I just hope I can go out and swing it this year," says O’Conner.
The Stone Crabs love Sandberg as a manager, and this is a different organization from the Devil Rays that Sandberg played for in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Plus he is learning at the knee of the outside-the-box thinker, Joe Maddon. "He has had me as a bench coach this spring training, as he does with minor league managers. He is a great guy to look up to. I am just glad I am taking over his office and I get to look up at him every day," says Sandberg.
The Stone Crabs play the Bradenton Marauders on opening night Thursay night at 6:30 at Charlotte Sports Park.