FLORENCE, KY (FOX19) - The 2011 Florence Freedom Opening Day roster includes six returning players and a total of eight players who have previously played for the Freedom. The season opens on Friday night in Evansville against the Evansville Otters as the start of a three-game series before the Freedom return home for Opening Day in Florence next Tuesday.
New Manager Fran Riordan, the winningest manager in Frontier League history, has built the roster around two established Freedom aces, Preston Vancil and Andy Clark. Vancil returns to the Freedom after spending 2010 in the Seattle Mariners organization. He threw the first no-hitter in Freedom history as a rookie in 2009 and had a 1.98 ERA for the Mariners rookie level affiliates last season. Clark enters his fourth season with the Freedom after anchoring the staff with a 9-4 record and 3.41 ERA in 2010. He ranked in the Top 10 in the Frontier League in wins and strikeouts last season.
"Those guys (Clark and Vancil) are two rocks in the starting rotation," Riordan said. "They have had a lot of success and can throw a lot of innings and keep the team in the game. That gives us a huge advantage."
Right-hander Tim Holmes returns to the pitching staff and southpaw Chris Ingoglia comes back to Florence after pitching for the Freedom in 2008.
Returning veteran Michael Campbell and former Cleveland Indians farmhand Juan Valdes will anchor the Freedom outfield. Campbell hit .317 in 41 games for the Freedom in 2010 before suffering a season-ending arm injury. Valdes hit .292 in 51 games as a member of Riordan's Lake County Fielders team in the Northern League.
"Michael has a lot of experience in this league," Riordan said. "He is a good veteran who handles himself like a pro and is a positive influence in the clubhouse. Juan gives us a versatile defensive player and an advanced hitter who works counts and has professional at-bats."
Third-round Frontier League draft pick Drew Rundle will compete for playing time at first base and in the outfield. Rundle split the 2010 season between the Cubs and Phillies organizations.
Infielders Stephen Shults and Jimmy Baker return and look to once again bring power and run production to the Freedom batting order. Shults led the league with 23 home runs last year while Baker was fourth with 17. Each also ranked in the Top 20 in the league in batting average and RBI.
Chris Curley, an Edgewood native and Beechwood alum will also be in the mix in the infield. He spent the last two seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization.
Returning catcher Justin Holloway will split time at the position with newcomer Jonathan Cisneros, who batted .383 as a member of the Laredo Broncos and was United League Baseball's Co-Rookie of the Year in 2010.
Riordan has won three Frontier League Championships and hopes to land Florence their first playoff appearance in franchise history. "We have guys here who know how to win and compete at a high level, and that gives us the opportunity to win every night," Riordan said.