On Monday, the Ottawa Titans announced 25 transactions, including exercising the 2023 option for 19 players, and declining five. Additionally, the Titans signed Kevin Rolon, who they got in return from the Sussex County Miners in the David Maberry trade.
The players who the Titans declined the option on include Andrew Martinez, who left the team mid-season, after being acquired from the Winnipeg Goldeyes, Nelson Gonzalez, Kai Moody, Jose Taveras, and All-Star Zac Westcott. The surprise of the group comes with Westcott, especially coming off the heels of a decent season with the Titans, but in the Frontier League, the number of veterans allowed on each roster is limited.
Below are the players the Titans have exercised options on.
Chris Burica, Kevin Escorcia, Grant Larson, Kyle Serrano, Kenny Williams, Evans Grills, and Kaleb Schmidt
The pitching staff proved to be one of the strong suits for the Titans in their inaugural campaign, and heading into 2023, they look set to bring back some of their most impactful arms. As a team, the Titans’ ERA was just 4.30, good for sixth in the Frontier League, and allowed just 410 earned runs on the season. Although the team ranked fourth from the bottom in terms of strikeouts, they walked a league-low 288 batters, rarely giving away a free base runner.
In the rotation, Chris Burica’s name comes with a great deal of intrigue. The lefty had numerous quality starts, and with their season on the line in the Frontier League Division Series, manager Bobby Brown turned to the Anaheim, California native. Burica was ultimately charged with the loss after pitching four-and-two-thirds innings, striking out four, and allowing a single run. Without Tyler Jandron (who was traded to the Goldeyes earlier in the offseason), and Evan Grills, Burica will likely have a significant role in the rotation once again, more than likely as a potential ace at the start of the season.
The mention of Grills is also worth noting. The 30-year-old made it pretty clear last season; 2022 was his last season of baseball. Now a father of a young family, Grills had his mind set on handing up the cleats, but the Titans exercising his option for 2023 makes things a little bit more interesting, if nothing else. While there has been nothing to suggest Grills might return, the Titans seem to be ready if the Ottawa native does decide to change his mind.
Out of the pen, the Titans look to bring back two of their biggest names; Kevin Escorcia and Grant Larson (who the Titans also signed to a contract extension on Thursday). The two were a big part of the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings along with Gavin Sonnier, who the Titans released on Sunday, along with Clay Fisher and Matt Terrones. Escorcia was one of the league’s best closers in 2022, and the expectation should be just that, once again. Larson only got better throughout the season, and should be able to slide right into that eighth-inning role, if not challenge Escorcia for the closing job if he stumbles at all.
Both Kyle Serrano and Kaleb Schmidt should fit in, at least in some capacity. In 2022, Serrano pitched in 17 games for the Titans, finishing with an ERA below one, but with fewer than 20 innings pitched, the sample size was small. Schmidt pitched just 49 innings between the Titans and the Lake Erie Crushers last season, ending with an ERA of 9.55.
Finally, Kenny Williams is a name to watch. His time playing in 2022 was cut exceptionally short, and he spent most of his time coaching the team. Williams said that he wants to continue with his playing career for as long as possible, but there is interest in coaching at some point. You would imagine there’s some hope that Williams will pitch in 2023, but if all else fails, he can go back to being a player-coach.
In 2023, pitching coach Tom Carcione will be without some of the key arms that helped bring the Titans to the FLDS, but by returning some of the most critical pitchers that worked in the back of the bullpen, he will start the season with a clear head start. The work will come with identifying quality starters who can get the game to the seventh inning in a good position to win the game, but if we learned anything in 2022, it’s that Brown and Carcione are capable of doing just that.
Brendon Dadson, Jason Dicochea, Mitsuki Fukuda, Ty Greene, Jackie Urbaez, A.J. Wright, Malik Williams, Sincarf Loopstok, Ivan Martinez, and Justin Thompson
In the infield, the Titans should see many of their big players back, and boy, is that ever a welcome sight. Fisher’s release is quite unfortunate, as when healthy, he was a key piece to the middle infield, playing some impeccable shortstop, but by returning Brendon Dadson, Jason Dicochea, Jackie Urbaez, and A.J. Wright, the Titans have their starting infield mostly sorted out.
If there’s any question right now, it comes in the middle of the infield. Dicochea has been used as somewhat of a utility man thus far during his time in Ottawa, playing first base, second base, and in the outfield, as needed, could be used as the shortstop in 2023, but there are other options. Jackie Urbaez spring to mind, although he played the majority of the season at second, although that is partially thanks to Fisher’s presence at short. There is the third option as well, in the form of Taylor Wright, who played a portion of the season with Ottawa, before being released to head back to London in the IBL, or Kevin Rolon, who played with the Sussex County Miners in 2022.
On the corners, the Titans look ready to roll once again. A.J. Wright proved to be one of the best defensive third basemen in all of the Frontier League last season, and he wasn’t too shabby at the dish either, batting .277 with 12 home runs. At first, Brendon Dadson, the product of the OCAA was steady all season, both with the glove and with the bat. Dadson won the battle at first over Maberry, and finished the season productively, batting .262 with nine dingers.
Much like the infield, the catchers have a good deal of Frontier League experience with the Titans. Both Ty Greene and Mitsuki Fukuda saw their options exercised, and could be big pieces for the club in 2023. Greene, the starting backstop, got things done behind the plate, but also showed his worth offensively at times, driving in 40 runs. Fukuda, on the other hand, is the prototypical backup catcher. His offence may not be all that productive, but defensively, he gives you just about everything you could ask for. When Greene needs a night off, or Brown needs to stick him in the outfield for whatever reason, Fukuda will get the job done behind the dish.
Depth is added with Malik Williams, and the remainder of the players. None have too much experience with the Titans, and they may find themselves in a battle to make the team during Spring Training, but for the time being, they bolster the depth on the bench.
Despite injuries knocking the train off the tracks at times, the Titans’ infield defence tended to be pretty good, for the most part. There are some pretty sure hands on track to return for the Titans, and if there are any issues with starting pitching, a solid defence that doesn’t make them get extra outs would be a great start. Offensively, and defensively, this should be a rather strong infield.
Rodrigo Orozco, and Jake Sanford
The list of outfielders is only short, partially because utility players were stashed with the infielders and catchers, but regardless, it’s short. Short as it may be, don’t mistake that with inconsequential, because it is anything but. Jake Sanford is possibly the most talented position player in all of the Frontier League, and Rodrigo Orozco brings talent, experience, and stability.
Starting with Sanford, it would come as no surprise if he doesn’t return to Ottawa, simply based on the fact that someone is eventually bound to give him a second chance at minor-league baseball. He was spectacular with the Titans in 2023, batting .311 with 73 RBIs and 22 home runs. By now, we all know the story; Sanford isn’t playing independent baseball because he isn’t good enough to play at a higher level. As soon as that situation is rectified, he will be on his way out, he’s too good not to.
Orozco is coming off a World Baseball Classic Qualifying campaign with the Panamanians, and a productive season with Ottawa in 2022. At times, Orozco didn’t get the credit he deserved for what he was bringing to the table, going down as one of the quiet killers on the team. The switch-hitting 27-year-old drove in 41 runs in 2022, batting .288, while walking 43 times and nabbing 14 bases.
Once again, there are other options to complete the outfield, namely Liam McArthur, who the Titans signed last season after he was released by the Empire State Greys just before the playoffs. He adds a great deal of speed to the Titans, who always seem keen to steal a base or two, and that could become even more prominent with the new rules implemented by the Frontier League for 2023.
Proceed With Caution
In the world of independent baseball, the only consistency within a roster that constantly exists is inconsistency. Just because you see a player’s name on this list doesn’t mean they will be on the opening day roster, and even if they are, there’s no guarantee they will be there a month or two into the season. What it does mean, however, is the Titans are committed to as much consistency as they can possibly bring, and that’s worth something. There’s a lot of time between right now and the Titans’ home opener on May 12th, when they take on the Greys, but for Brown, time is moving quickly. Before you know it, baseball will be back in the nation’s capital.
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