In conjunction with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Bowling Green Hot Rods unveiled their 2021 opening-day roster Friday. Bowling Green returns 14 players from past rosters and welcomes two top prospects.
Blake Hunt joins the Hot Rods after spending three seasons in the San Diego Padres’ system. The catcher is MLB Pipeline’s No. 18 prospect in Tampa’s system and was brought over in the deal that saw former Hot Rods pitcher and Hot Rods Hall of Famer Blake Snell go to San Diego. The right-handed hitter was the 69th overall pick of the 2017 draft by the Padres.
Hunt is joined by another newcomer to the Rays’ system in Pedro Martinez. Originally from Venezuela, the shortstop is coming off a 2019 season that saw him bat .311 between the Arizona League Cubs and short-season Eugene. A switch-hitter, the 20-year-old is MLB Pipeline’s 30th-ranked Tampa prospect.
Bowling Green will also welcome back 14 returning players for the 2021 seasons thanks to the club’s promotion to High-A. Thirteen of those players were with the Hot Rods in 2019, including outfielder Grant Witherspoon and catcher Roberto Alvarez, who were Midwest League All-Stars that season. Pitchers Chris Gau, Miller Hogan, Chris Muller, Cristofer Ogando and Zack Trageton also return from 2019 (while earning a promotion). Mikey York will return to Bowling Green after stints with the club in 2017 and 2018.
Erik Ostberg rounds out the catcher’s slot on the roster in his return to Bowling Green Ballpark and is joined by fellow position players Jonathan Aranda, Connor Hollis, Osmy Gregorio and Jordan Qsar. Ruben Cardenas will be in Bowling Green to start 2021 after an impressive showing between the Lake County Captains and Hot Rods in 2019. Cardenas was traded to the Rays while Lake County was at Bowling Green Ballpark, prompting the outfielder to walk next door to his new home clubhouse.
Niko Hulsizer completes the Hot Rods outfield and promises to bring the thunder with him. The Dodgers’ 18th-round pick of 2018 has already hit 30 home runs in his two seasons of MiLB experience, including 21 in 2019 between four clubs with 15 of those long balls coming for Great Lakes. He was also a Midwest League All-Star for the Loons.
Newcomers are plenty in this opening day roster. Michael Mercado was the Rays’ second-round pick of the 2017 draft and is returning after not pitching in 2019 due to injury. The righty was Baseball America’s 13th-best Rays prospect in 2018.
Tanner Dodson, the 71st overall pick of the 2018 draft, will be the second-ever two-way player in Hot Rods history. He’ll join more newcomers on the pitching staff in Peyton Battenfield (RHP), Carlos Garcia (RHP), Joseph La Sorsa (LHP), Jacob Lopez (LHP), Evan McKendry (RHP), Jayden Murray (RHP) and Ezequiel Zabaleta (RHP).
Offensively, the Hot Rods are a mix of experienced talent and young promise. While Martinez is just 20 years old, he’s joined on the infield by Evan Edwards and Jacson McGowan, who were both drafted out of college.
While subject to change, the opening day roster includes 27 active players. The pitching staff has 13 right-handers and two southpaws, while manager Jeff Smith has five left-handed hitters, eight righties and a switch hitter to construct his lineup.
The Hot Rods open their season with a six-game series in Greenville, S.C., against the Greenville Drive at Fluor Field on Tuesday. The Hot Rods return to Bowling Green Ballpark for the home opener May 11 for a six-game homestand against the Asheville Tourists.