NORMAL — The Normal CornBelters will have a totally new catching corps for the upcoming season after Manager Billy Horn signed three to contracts.
Pegged as the likely starter by Horn is Tanner Lubach, a midseason Frontier League all-star last season for Lake Erie. Lubach finished with a .223 batting average, seven home runs and 23 RBIs in 148 at-bats.
“The pitching staff will love throwing to him,” Horn said. “He’s a good leader and provides a little pop, too. We have some guys with electric stuff coming in so we need a guy like him to handle the staff.”
Lubach was a ninth round draft choice of the Los Angeles Angels in 2015 and played in the Class A Midwest League in 2016.
Other catchers signed were Daniel Delaney and Cody Erickson.
“Delaney is probably the favorite to be the backup. He’s a good catch and throw guy who could step in and take over a starting role,” said Horn.
“I saw Erickson in Arizona (Winter League). He can catch, play infield and play outfield. He could give Delaney a run for his money.”
Normal also signed right-handed pitcher Jacinto Garcia and first baseman-designated hitter J.J. Bissell.
“Garcia is an odd situation. He's played in Mexico for a number of years, but is a 25-year-old rookie based on his playing status,” Horn said. “He’s a low 90s (mph) guy with good control and a good breaking ball. He could start, be a long guy or a one inning guy.”
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Bissell was the offensive Most Valuable Player of the Empire League last season after batting .286 with nine homers and 43 RBIs. Bissell hit .359 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs in his final season at NAIA Oklahoma City.
“He can hit the ball a long way and moves pretty well for a big guy,” said Horn. “He’ll be competing for time at first base and designated hitter.”
Santiago added to coaching staff: Horn has hired Pascual Santiago as his assistant coach for the upcoming season.
The 2017 Empire League Manager of the Year, Santiago will be Normal’s hitting coach and coach third base.
“Pascual has been in the Frontier League and American Association for about a decade,” Horn said. “I felt he would be a perfect fit for our organization. He’s very well versed in hitting and has a lot of experience coaching third base.”