Catching Up…

I’ll have something on the four new pitchers just added to the team shortly, but here’s my article from yesterday’s Hunterdon County Democrat.  Starting next week, my work will begin appearing in the Messenger Gazette as well.

(3/18/2010) The five-time Atlantic League champion Somerset Patriots are finally starting to put together the roster they hope can become the first in league history to win three consecutive championships.

As of press time, four players from last year’s title-winning team have been brought back to Bridgewater.

Catcher Jason Belcher, outfielder Noah Hall, reliever Casey Cahill and first baseman/outfielder Joe Burke (pictured) are the first four players to have officially agreed to contracts with the team. In the coming days, the team is also expected to release the names of at least two popular returning favorites and possibly a new center fielder to replace Sean Smith, who is currently in Washington Nationals camp after spending the last year and a half in Somerset.

After Hunterdon County resident Travis Anderson retired and was named the team’s hitting coach for 2010, Belcher is expected to be the unquestioned starting catcher for the first time since joining the team in 2007. 28 years old, Belcher hit .283 with five home runs and 53 RBI for the Patriots last year. While those are solid numbers, they were actually down from his career year in 2008, where he set career highs in batting average (.334) and home runs (9).

Hall is a 32-year-old entering his 15th season of professional baseball. In two of the past three seasons, he started the season in Somerset only to be picked up by the New York Yankees and assigned to Double-A Trenton. Last season, after returning from the Eastern League, Hall appeared in 14 games during the stretch run and hit .312 in the championship series to earn his first ring with the Patriots.

A former standout at Immaculata High, Cahill returns to the Patriots for his fourth season. 16-7 in 138 relief appearances with Somerset in his career, the 28-year-old had arguably his best year yet, going 6-3 with a 3.33 ERA and two saves in 51.1 innings of work. Cahill figures to once again fit prominently in the bullpen, although he has expressed an interest in starting before, something he’s never done in 312 professional appearances.

Burke joined the team as somewhat of an afterthought at the end of the 2008 season in a trade with the now-defunct Atlantic City Surf. All he’s done since then is emerge as one of the team’s most reliable contributors. 26 years old, Burke hit .279 with three home runs and 41 RBI in 107 games last season, including 60 at first base, where he filled in admirably for the injured Josh Pressley.

Meanwhile, other teams around the Atlantic League are starting to bring in some former Major League talent that’s new to the league. The Newark Bears have signed former Expos and Yankees outfielder Fernando Seguignol. Seguignol last played in the big leagues for the Bronx Bombers in 2003, and has most recently played in Japan.

The Long Island Ducks have signed outfielder Dustan Mohr, who’s played for the Twins, Giants, Rockies, Red Sox and Rays at the big league level. He spent all of last season in the independent American Association with Wichita. Additionally, the Ducks have brought in a name familiar to Patriots fans, as Robinson Cancel has joined the team.

Cancel, who was the starting catcher on the 2003 championship team, has played in the big leagues with the New York Mets in each of the past two seasons. He also briefly appeared on the 2004 Patriots team as well, infamously committing five errors in one late season game while playing out of position at the hot corner.

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