The ninth edition of the Lexington Legends, unveiled Tuesday at Applebee's Park, will be younger than the 2008 squad.
And, the hope is, better.
The 2008 Legends, who finished a franchise-worst 45-93 and last in the South Atlantic League, had only one player under 21 on the opening day roster. This year, the Legends have four teenagers and eight players under 21. Six of those eight are pitchers on a staff with great expectations.
"They're young kids. You've got to be patient with them," said Tom Lawless, who succeeds Gregg Langbehn as manager. "But they should attack the strike zone. And, if we catch the baseball, we'll be in a lot of ball games."
"We've got some speed on the bases. We've got speed in the outfield. We've got good catching. So we're pretty solid. It's just a matter of, 'you gotta go out there and play.' "
The Legends won their last eight spring training games.
After workouts Tuesday and Wednesday, the Legends will open their season and a four-game series Thursday at West Virginia. The home opener is set for Monday against the Kannapolis Intimidators.
Lawless will be assisted by hitting coach Pete Rancont and, at least for a while, pitching coach Travis Driskill.
Charley Taylor has been pitching coach since the Legends' inception, except for part of the 2004 season, when a managerial change at Houston resulted in minor-league reassignments — for Taylor, a stint with Class 3A New Orleans.
Taylor is battling bladder cancer, but he hopes to join the Legends in about six weeks. According to Alan Stein, team president and CEO, Taylor will soon undergo surgery and has been told he has a good prognosis. Taylor survived prostate cancer in 2000.
When Taylor is ready to resume full-time duties with the Legends, Driskill will move to his originally scheduled assignment as pitching coach for the rookie league Greeneville Astros.
Lawless, 52, has managed all or part of seven seasons in the Angels, Cardinals, Padres and Orioles organizations. He also has coached in the Australian winter leagues (1994-95) and, last summer, was on the Chinese coaching staff at the Beijing Olympics.
Lawless played in the majors for the Reds, Expos, Cardinals and Blue Jays, making it to two World Series with St. Louis.
His first Legends roster includes players from 10 states, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Six Legends are among the top 30 prospects in the Astros system, according to Baseball America — right-handed pitchers Ross Seaton (3) and Jordan Lyles (6), outfielder Jay Austin (10), left-handed pitcher Brad Dydalewicz (14), catcher Federico Hernandez (20) and first baseman Phil Disher (27).
Disher, at 23 the oldest Legend, should be familiar to some fans in Lexington. A 15th-round draft pick last year, Disher played catcher for South Carolina's Gamecocks. He belted 13 homers in 71 games for Tri-City last summer, hitting .304.
Lyles, 18, will get the opening day start at West Virginia. A first-round supplemental draft pick, he was drafted out of Hartsville High School (S.C.) last June.
Following Lyles in the rotation will be: Seaton, 19; Dydalewicz, 19, and Robert Bono, 20.
Kyle Greenwalt, 20, is scheduled to pitch Monday's home opener.
Six players spent at least some of last season with the Legends: outfielders Brandon Barnes, Steve Brown and Russell Dixon, infielder Ronnie Ramirez, catcher Jonathan Fixler and pitcher Jack Tilghman.
"There are some power arms, a lot of guys that just got drafted out of high school, and they're going to be a lot of fun to watch," Barnes said of Lexington's pitching staff.
In the field, Barnes says, the Legends are "absolutely" better than a year ago.
"Looking at both where these guys were drafted, what their high school and college careers were ... but then also what they did in Tri-City and Greeneville last year. You can't help but look at that and get excited. You look at what Disher did in Tri-City last year, that was phenomenal. To get a bat like that here, and to see these guys throwing at Applebee's Park, it'll be exciting."
■ As is custom, the Legends' front office has some guarantees to open the season. One ties in with a new three-year business partnership with Blue Grass Energy, and a time-and-temperature sign that has been installed beyond the left-center-field wall.
Stein "guarantees" Monday's home opener will be 60 degrees or warmer. If it's not, fans at Monday's game will receive a rain check to attend another April game. If the game is rained out and it's below 60 degrees, fans will get a "double rain check" for two games.
Andy Shea, general manager of the Legends, noted that opening day promotions include hot dogs, drinks and general admission seats for $1 each. He guarantees a home-opening win. If the Legends lose, the "dollar day" promotion will repeat the next night.
■ Stein revealed the 10 finalists for the Legends Hall of Fame — outfielders Beau Hearod, Hunter Pence and Gavin Wright, shortstop Ben Zobrist and pitchers Mike Nannini, Fernando Nieve, Troy Patton, Nick Roberts, Rodrigo Rosario and Chris Sampson. Fan voting will take place May 1 through July 15 online and at Applebee's Park. The winner will be inducted on Saturday, Aug. 15.