In recent seasons, hitting has been a premium for the Sand Gnats squads that have taken the field at Historic Grayson Stadium. Fewer than 70 home runs were hit by Savannah in each of the last two seasons, and the 2003 team batting average of .249 was the highest since 2000, the last season Savannah ended up with better than a .500 record.
A talented group of five players have shown in short order that this season may be different. Trouble is, all five are outfielders.
On any given day, you can find four of the quintet of Jerry Owens, Reggie Fitzpatrick, Rogearvin Bernadina, Edgardo Baez, and Antonio Sucre patrolling the outfield or serving as the DH. All five hit regularly in the top five or six hitters in the order, and chances are, when the fans at Historic Grayson Stadium start cheering, one of these ballplayers was mixed up in the action.
Together, the quintet is hitting .340 with 3 HR and 16 RBI in 109 combined at-bats. They have accounted for all six of the Gnats stolen bases and theyve walked 11 times, yielding a .444 on-base percentage. All of this in a league known for pitching strength.
Jerry Owens, 22, the Expos second- round pick in the 2003 draft, had only one hit in professional baseball prior to the season but is hitting nearly .350 in 5 games in the leadoff slot while tying for the league lead in steals with 4.
Edgardo Baez, 18, is tied for third in the SAL in RBI with 7, while Antonio Sucre, 20, leads the league in triples.
Promising outfielder Rogearvin Bernadina, 19, listed by Baseball America as the tenth-best prospect in the Montreal Expos system, is in the top ten in the SAL in slugging percentage, and tied for second place in runs scored.
Returning outfielder Reggie Fitzpatrick, 20, lead the league with 36 stolen bases last year. The group hasnt gone unnoticed by the league.
"Bernadina has grown up a lot since last year," said Dan Lehv, Media Relations Director and broadcaster for the rival Charleston River Dogs. "Hes seeing the ball well right now. Some scouts say he reminds them of a young Garrett Anderson.
Fitzpatrick has his sights set high.
If I stay (in Savannah) all season, Im telling you, Im gonna steal 50 bases. This is a better team this year.
One advantage has been that while all the outfielders have slightly different talents, they are interchangeable to a degree. Fitzpatrick and Owens are both quick and are capable leadoff hitters. Both can play center, and Fitzpatrick also plays the corners.
Bernadina can play anywhere in the outfield and also can steal a base. Hes developing gap power and is good at starting rallies. Baez has shown considerable home run power for an 18-year old while getting on base in all seven games.
And Sucre doesnt quite seem to have the home run power thus far that Baez has but appears to kick it up a notch in clutch situations. In addition, it is of note that on a team that has committed 14 errors in seven contests, the five outfielders do not have an error among them.
This is a much different situation from last year, said Bernadina. Last year we had (Larry) Broadway and (Chad) Chop and they were the big bats in the lineup. It makes it easier when you know the next guy can hit it out as well.
Any manager in the majors will be quick to tell you that you can never have too much hitting, and Sand Gnats manager Bobby Henley isnt complaining about having the problem.
Weve been referring to them as the Fab Five. Theyve given us a spark so far, Henley said. They cant all play everyday though. Well keep DHing one of them as long as theyre all here.
Through the first seven games the playing rotation hasnt been two much of a problem. Owens missed two games with flu-like symptoms, and Bernadina missed a game with a sore arm.
Though the Gnats began 3-4, it isnt for lack of effort from their fab-five outfielders.
We know about the (playing time) issue; not everyone can play everyday, Owens admitted. Im just trying to stay healthy this year and make things happen at the top of the lineup.