---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT -- From Thurman Munson to Johnny Bench to Buster Posey, catchers by nature are natural leaders.
It should come as no suprise when new Williamsport Crosscutters skipper Nelson Prada, a former catcher with the Minnesota Twins who has a winning record in six of his eight seasons as a manager, had a very short answer when asked about his expectations for the team this season.
"The ring," he said in reference to winning the New York-Penn League title.
The Cutters will begin their 15th season in Williamsport and seventh as the Single-A short-season farm team of the Philadelphia Phillies tomorrow at State College.
The home opener for the Cutters at Historic Bowman Field is set for Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., also against State College.
Williamsport was 30-46 last year, the second-worst record in the league. As a team, they were fourth in batting average (.249) and last in pitching with an earned run average of 4.42.
"We want the guys to compete and we want the guys to work hard," Prada said. "A lot of baseball people say you don't have to win, you have to develop players. I think when you are winning, you are developing players."
Last season, the Cutters longest winning streak was four games, which occurred twice. They lost four or more games in a row on seven different occasions.
"If they are coming to the ball park every day and their record is 20-5, it is different when the record is 5-20. I always talk to the guys about winning. We are in the baseball business and we need to win," Prada said. "I told the guys that we are going to play 70 games and all I want is a chance to win in the ninth inning. For me, I can go 0-and-70 and if we have the tying run at the plate in the last inning, that means we competed that day."
A total of 29 players are on the opening-day roster including the Phillies second round draft picks of outfielder Dylan Cozens (2012), catcher Andrew Knapp (2013) and right-handed pitcher Mitch Gueller, who was selected 54th overall in the 2012 draft.
Knapp, a switch-hitter who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, played college ball at the University of California.
"I am super excited to be here and to finally play some ball," Knapp said. "The Phillies do a great job with their minor league affiliates and building their players up to get to the big league and that is what I am here for: to get better and hopefully make it to the big leagues."
Knapp's father, Mike, was a draft pick of the then California Angels, and played 11 season in the minors. He made it as high as Triple-A in the Pacific Coast League.
"They'll be seeing a hard-working kid who knows how to play the game right and a player that hustles everywhere," he said of what the fans will see when he's behind the plate. "I'm a student of the game and I like to see myself as one of the smartest guys on the field. Being a catcher, I have to be a quarterback out there and call the game."
Pitcher Josh Warner from Queensland, Australia, is among five players on the roster this year who have played in Williamsport before.
"This year we have to do the small things, get runners over, get them in," Warner said of having a better record than last year. "We have to score runs any way we can. That was what we had trouble with last year in the early part of the season. I think our pitching is going to hold us up again this year."
Warner was 4-7 last year with an ERA of 4.19 in 15 games.
This years team features 14 players from Latin America and 13 players who have played together last season for the Gulf Coast League Phillies.