More than half of the 2011 Chattanooga Lookouts called AT&T Field home a year ago, but the nucleus of last season's team has moved on to Albuquerque.
Shortstop Dee Gordon, center fielder Trayvon Robinson and left fielder Jerry Sands played well enough in spring training to solidify promotions, Los Angeles Dodgers player development director De Jon Watson said this past weekend. The biggest promotional surprise of that trio is Sands, who played just 68 games with Chattanooga after coming up last June from Single-A Great Lakes yet led the Lookouts in home runs with 17.
Sands then posted the highest average (.364) with the Dodgers during his stint last month in big-league camp before getting sent down to the minors.
"We just feel he's ready for the next challenge," Watson said. "Sands showed last year that he can hit a fastball. He showed he can drive in runs. He showed that he's a solid defender in left field as well as first base. Now we're at the point where we want to prepare him for what's in front of him."
Sands was the organization's minor league player of the year after hitting a combined .301 with 35 homers in Single-A and Double-A, and Gordon is the organization's top prospect according to Baseball America for a second straight year.
The most touted player returning to Chattanooga is right-handed pitcher Rubby de la Rosa, who went 3-1 with a 1.41 earned run average in eight starts with the Lookouts late last season. De la Rosa is rated by Baseball America as the No. 3 organizational prospect, one spot ahead of fellow right-hander Chris Withrow.
Withrow is returning to the Lookouts after going 4-9 with a 5.97 ERA in 27 starts last season.
Catchers Matt Wallach and Jessie Mier are returning to the Lookouts, as are infielders Corey Smith, Jaime Pedroza, Elian Herrera and Pedro Baez. Smith led Chattanooga last season in RBIs with 86 and hit .275 in 115 games.
A newcomer to the infield will be 28-year-old shortstop Ivan Ochoa, who played 47 big-league games with the San Francisco Giants in 2008.
Returning outfielders include Kyle Russell and Scott Van Slyke, while making their way back to Chattanooga's bullpen are Javy Guerra, Josh Linblom, Cole St. Clair and David Pfeiffer.
"We like the team that we're sending," Watson said. "We think the team will be competitive. It's always about the pitching, and you're always as good as your next day's starter. It's a young rotation, but hopefully the kids who are there can produce some consistent outings.
"I think the people of Chattanooga will enjoy the brand of baseball that they will see."
The opening-day Lookouts are scheduled to fly out of Arizona today and will play Chattanooga State in a seven-inning exhibition game Tuesday night. They open their Southern League schedule Thursday night at AT&T against the Tennessee Smokies.