Luis Bolivar made an immediate impact on the Dragons last season, his first as manager of the Cincinnati Reds minor-league baseball affiliate.
The Class A team qualified for the Midwest League postseason by going 41-29 in the first half of Eastern Conference play. Dayton eliminated the West Michigan Whitecaps in opening-round play and pushed the Fort Wayne TinCaps to a third and deciding game in the semifinals.
That was the deepest the Dragons had ventured in the postseason since the popular club made its Dayton debut in 2000.
That also didn’t go unnoticed by the brass. It’s why Bolivar, 36, has been invited to the Reds’ spring training camp at Goodyear, Arizona, a week early and by invitation only. He leaves Saturday.
Just like many of the Dragons, this is a manager on the rise in the Reds’ organization.
“This means a lot to me,” Bolivar said earlier this week. “They’re taking into consideration the job we did. To get invited to spring training and see how they run the camp there and working with the players, it’s nice. I really appreciate the opportunity they gave to me.”
Bolivar is the only former Dragons player to return to the organization as a coach; he was a hitting instructor from 2013-16. The native Venezuelan relates well to players, especially Latin Americans. He also has a fierce competitiveness that belies an easy-going manner. He’s entrenched in the community as a Vandalia resident. He also became a U.S. citizen in midseason last year.
Here’s five things to know about the Dragons as spring training for minor-leaguers approaches:
1. Nothing is official, but pencil in Hunter Greene as being a Dragon sometime this season. The second overall pick in last June’s amateur draft, this power pitcher continues to generate buzz throughout the organization and among fans. He’ll likely stay in extended spring training and join the Dragons after the season begins.
“To see that guy with that talent, we’re excited about him in the organization and I’m excited to see him here in Dayton with us,” Bolivar said. “He’ll be here at some point, but we don’t know when exactly that will be.”
2. The coaching staff is mostly the same. Returning with Bolivar are bench coach Kevin Mahar and batting coach Daryle Ward, both in their second seasons at Dayton. Seth Etherton was promoted from the Billings Mustangs (rookie) to succeed Derrin Ebert as pitching coach. Ebert likely will join the parent club in another capacity.
3. All Reds’ minor-league pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 28. Minor-league position players report one week later. The Dragons’ first spring training game is March 15, their last on March 30.
The roster won’t be official until spring training closes.
4. There are seven Reds’ minor-league affiliates: Louisville Bats (Class AAA), Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos (AA), Daytona (Fla.) Tortugas (Advanced-A), Dragons (A), Billings (Mont.) Mustangs (rookie), Greeneville (Tenn.) Reds (rookie) and Goodyear (Ariz.) Reds (rookie).
This is the first season for Greeneville to be a Reds affiliate. The Appalachian League member was an Astros minor-league team from 2004-17.
5. The trend the last two seasons has been for a core group of Dragons — about 15 — to return from the previous season. That likely will happen again, although many of last year’s standouts are headed for promotions. That includes Midwest League record-setter Jose Siri (39-game hit streak), outfielder Taylor Trammell and catcher Tyler Stephenson.
Joining Greene as top prospects who could be headed to Dayton — according to Baseball America — are infielders Jeter Downs and Jose Garcia, outfielders Stuart Fairchild and Miles Gordon, and left-handed pitchers Jacob Heatherly and Packy Naughton.