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Pedro Lopez begins his first full season as the Savannah Sand Gnats’ manager and his second full season as a skipper in the New York Mets organization. It is a return to Savannah for Lopez, who managed the Gnats for the final half of the 2001 season, when the team was a Texas Rangers affiliate, and coached the team in the first half of 2008 when the Gnats were a Mets affiliate. Following a 12-year playing career in the minor leagues, Lopez began the 2001 season as a coach for the Gnats before the Rangers promoted him to be the team’s manager halfway through the season.
The new Gnats skipper is eager to return to Savannah. “I’m excited,” he said, “I can’t wait. The season is around the corner, and I’m just glad. [Savannah] was the first place I managed when I was done playing in 2001. I’m just hoping we can have a great year for the fans and everyone.”
Gnats team President John Katz echoed Lopez’s enthusiasm for the coming season. “We’re excited to welcome Pedro back to Savannah,” he said, “Gnats fans will appreciate how hard Pedro’s teams play and his ability to balance player development with exciting, competitive baseball on the field. We also look forward to continuing the Mets strong tradition of player outreach in the community under Pedro’s leadership.”
In 2009, Lopez led the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets New York-Penn League affiliate, to a 45-30 record and the league’s wild card berth. The team’s 16-2 record to start the season was the best start in Brooklyn’s history. In June 2008, when he was working as a coach for the Gnats, Lopez was promoted to manage the Kingsport Mets after K-Mets Manager Nick Leyva resigned to take a job as the Toronto Blue Jays third base coach just two games into the Appalachian League season. The K-Mets finished 2008 at 34-32. Before joining the Mets, the 41-year-old Lopez coached and managed in the minor leagues for the Texas Rangers for seven years.
Lopez was originally drafted as a catcher in the 21st round of the 1988 amateur draft by the San Diego Padres out of Arizona Western College. He reached AAA Las Vegas with the Padres in 1994 before moving on to the Milwaukee organization in 1995 and 1996 and the Houston chain from 1997-2000. Lopez finished his 12-year minor league career as a .249/.318/.364 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter in 877 games.
The Mets have reunited Lopez with Pitching Coach Marc Valdes and Hitting Coach Ryan Ellis, who were both with Savannah in 2009, and on Lopez’s staff in Kingsport in 2008. Lopez was excited to have both coaches. “Last year, I asked for those guys,” Lopez said. Valdes will begin his second year as Savannah’s Pitching Coach after his Gnats led the SAL in ERA (3.23) in 2009. He was the K-Mets Pitching Coach in 2007 and 2008. A former major leaguer for six seasons from 1995-2001 with the Florida Marlins, Montreal Expos, Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves, Valdes finished his career 12-15 with four saves and a 4.95 ERA. The former first round pick is the University of Florida’s all-time leader in wins (31) and innings pitched (394.2).
Ellis will begin his fourth season in the Mets organization and his second with the Gnats. Ellis, a 28th round pick of the Expos in 2000, played for the Vermont Expos in 2000 and 2001 before joining the independent Washington (PA) Wild Things of the Frontier League in 2002. He coached the Wild Things from 2003-2005.
Bench Coach Luis Rojas begins his fourth year with the Mets after working for the team’s Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2009 and the Dominican Summer League Team in 2007-2008. He managed the DSL Nationals in 2006. Rojas is the son of former MLB player and manager Felipe Alou.
Trainer Brad Hutson begins his second year with Savannah and his third with the Mets in 2010. Strength Coach Kyle Huckins will begin his first year with the Mets organization.