Lexington Legends

Return to Lexington charges up new Legends manager Linares

Rodney Linares had a glow about him Tuesday.

The eighth manager in the 10-year history of the Lexington Legends, Linares, accompanied by his staff and players, met with fans and media at Applebee's Park. The team begins the season with an eight-game road trip, opening Thursday at Charleston, S.C.

A glistening park, a picture-perfect day, the optimism that comes with a new season — all these gave Linares cause for joy.

He knows the city well, having been hitting coach here in 2005 and '06. The last three years, he has managed the Astros' rookie-league team in Greene-ville, Tenn.

"I'm really excited. I've met some really good people down here and been friends with them ever since I've been here," he said. "I got a chance to work with Charley Taylor down here for two years. He's a great human being and a great pitching coach. I wish him all the best."

Taylor, the team's pitching coach for eight years, missed last season because of cancer. He continues to recover at his home in Northern Kentucky and hopes to attend the Legends' home opener, April 16.

"The atmosphere, coming to the park every day, and the fans," Linares continued. "The fans are amazing down here. There were times when I left the park at one o'clock in the morning after doing my reports, and there were fans outside still, wanting to shake your hand."

Linares said his team is a mix of youth and experience.

Tanner Bushue, a 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher who will start Thursday, is the youngest (18). Andy Simunic, a versatile infielder out of the University of Tennessee and a returning Legend, is oldest (24).

"I think they'll be aggressive. I think there's a lot of kids, especially on the starting-pitching side, that in the next couple years are going to develop into really good starting pitchers in the big leagues," Linares said.

Following Bushue in the rotation will be Juan Minaya, Robert Donovan, Jose Cisnero and Brandt Walker, all right-handers. David Duncan, a 6-9 left-hander who played part of last season here, is targeted as a starter. However, he'll open the season in the bullpen as he recovers from a mild strain.

Right-handers Kirk Clark and Michael Schurz will draw late-inning relief.

Linares said the offense features hitting-for-average and speed more than power.

"But I think we're going to be a team that hits enough and is going to score a lot of runs," he said, "because we've got a bunch of guys that just create situations."

Fastest of the bunch is Grant Hogue, a switch-hitting outfielder out of Mississippi State, who swiped 17 bases for Greeneville last year.

Outfielder J.D. Martinez hit .403 with five homers and 23 RBI over 19 games with Greeneville. Promoted to Tri-City, he won the New York-Penn League batting title with a .326 average (and seven homers) over 53 games.

Second baseman Jose Altuve wound up as Greeneville's batting leader, sixth in the Appalachian League at .324.

Four Legends are rated by Baseball America as top 20 prospects in the Astros organization: Jiovanni Mier (2), Bushue (7), Jonathan Meyer (18) and Arcenio Leon (19).

Mier, a shortstop, signed for a bonus of $1.358 million after being drafted in the first round last June. He hit .276 with seven homers in 51 games for Greeneville.

Bushue, a second-round pick, averaged 18.2 points a game for his high school basketball team last year. He made five starts for the Gulf Coast League Astros last summer, going 1-0 with a 2.42 ERA.

Third baseman Meyer, a third-round supplemental draft pick, struggled at Greeneville, batting .190 over 62 games. Yet he led the league in walks (36), and his potential is highly regarded.

Leon appeared in 41 games for the Legends last season, including four starts. The right-hander finished 4-2 with a 5.86 ERA.

Mier, asked about his goals for the season, was blunt:

"Win."

Which no doubt causes Linares to smile.

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