St. Paul Saints ready to defend American Association title

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The St. Paul Saints hope they’ll be able to return to CHS Stadium sometime this season, but unless and until they’re given the OK, they’ll be making Sioux Falls Stadium their makeshift home ballpark as part of this year’s six-team version of the American Association.

Surely that takes some of the shine off the title defense for last year’s league champions, but as perennial contenders in independent baseball, the Saints should be a force in the 60-game season that pits them against Sioux Falls, Milwaukee, Chicago, Fargo-Moorhead and Winnipeg. For longtime manager George Tsamis and his players, hoisting a trophy is hoisting a trophy, no matter where the games are played.

“Obviously we’re all hoping we can get back to St. Paul at some point, but we don’t know how long that might be,” Tsamis said. “It could be two weeks, it could be the whole season. Either way, we want to win and we’re gonna play to win.”

The American Association could end up being one of the only minor leagues to have a 2020 season, which should make premium players available all summer. But for now, St. Paul has a roster that should make them a threat to repeat. 

Here are some of the names to know when the Saints take the field at the Birdcage.

Outfielder Max Murphy is the top returner, back after a big 2019 season that got him signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks midway through the year. Prior to that opportunity, Murphy had hit .343 with 17 home runs in just 50 games for the Saints. First baseman John Silviano is back after hitting 13 homers in 57 games in ’19, while steady infielders Josh Allen and Chesny Young also return. Allen batted .272 with 17 homers last year while Young batted .263 with six round-trippers.

Outfielder Sebastian Zawada comes over from Sioux City, where he hit .263 with 11 homers last season, while catcher Chris Chinea looks like a significant addition. He split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, batting .279 with 10 homers. The Saints’ press release announcing his signing notes that Chinea’s father was a regular extra on the 80s TV show ‘Miami Vice’, and was once slapped by Don Johnson (as part of an episode, to be clear).

JC Millan and Connor Justus are new additions in the infield who each spent most of the 2019 season at the Double-A level.

As for the pitching staff, Tsamis and pitching coach Kerry Ligtenberg have some quality arms to choose from.

Veteran Eddie Molina is back after going 10-3 with a 3.45 ERA last year. The workhorse right-hander has won nine or more games three straight seasons. Ryan Zimmerman, a St. Thomas product who went 7-3 with a 4.16 ERA, also returns, along with Spencer Jones, who made five starts for the Saints and posted a 1.34 ERA in 33.2 innings.

The bullpen looks strong, with several candidates to close games and get through middle and late-inning jams. Tanner Keist had nine saves and 25 strikeouts in 16 innings last year for St. Paul, while Mike Devine posted a 2.00 ERA in 37 appearances. Jameson McGrane comes over from the Atlantic League, where he had a 1.33 ERA and 24 saves for York in 2019, while lefty Jose Velez spent last season in Sioux City and went 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA. The Saints also added former Gopher Mike Glowicki, who holds the Minnesota single-season record for saves with 16.

“We have quite a few guys back and you’re always excited with what you have on paper,” Tsamis said. “But in this crazy year guys have to be ready to go. Once we get started you throw everything out the window because year-to-year you just don’t know how things are going to go. I just know you’re going to see some really quality baseball.”

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