Last season ended in disappointment as the Charlotte Stone Crabs couldn’t nab the final playoff spot after losing the final game of the regular season. They finished a half game back of the Fort Myers Miracle.

Coming up just short has given the players who remain from last year an ignited fire to turn the tide in 2019.

“Obviously you wanted to win that last game. I think it was a close one,” outfielder Carl Chester said. “That was tough, but Port Charlotte wants to see a playoff run and championships for the fans and stuff. I think we can give them a good run.”

As for this year’s roster, which takes the field tonight in Fort Myers to open the season, it features eight of the organization’s top-30 prospects and a handful from last year’s team.

A large percentage of the 2019 Stone Crabs were part of a team that won 90 games and captured the 2018 Midwest League Championship for the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

Five of the organization’s top-14 position players will begin the season with the Stone Crabs, including baseball’s sixth-ranked catching prospect in Ronaldo Hernandez, according to MLB Pipeline.

With so many top-rated guys, players welcome the added competition.

“Every kid is really good so it’s kind of good being all on the same team playing together, but you’re also kind of battling them,” Chester said. “You’ve got kids below you that are really good and guys in front of your that are really good. It’s just about playing your best game and keep moving up.”

To prime the season, here are some prospects to know:

Ronaldo Hernandez

Age: 21

Position: Catcher

Measurables: 6-1, 235 pounds

Acquired: Signed as international free agent in 2014

Hernandez, a Colombian native, broke out in 2018 with Low-A Bowling Green. He placed third in the Tampa Bay organization in home runs (21) and RBI (79), batting .284 over 109 games.

His skills at the plate are easily visible. His fielding is catching up. After switching form third base to catcher early on and dealing with an injury, Hernandez has become solid behind the plate as well. In 2018 he threw out 36 percent of base stealers.

He could find himself moving up to Double-A by season’s end.

“I feel great, I feel ready for everything,” Hernandez said. “I don’t think about (pressure). I want to play hard, that’s it. Everybody has a goal, I start here, but want to finish in Double-A. I don’t know what will happen. I’m working on my defense every day and focus on my hits.”

Moises Gomez

Age: 20

Position: Outfielder

Measurables: 5-11, 195 pounds

Acquired: Signed as international free agent in 2015

Gomez, the 13th-ranked Rays prospect, led the Midwest League in RBI (82), doubles (34), extra-base hits (6) and total bases (237), recording 10 more extra-base hits than anyone else in the league.

He played 103 games in left field and played in eight games in right. Chester played along side Gomez with Bowling Green. Gomez will join a talented outfield, which includes Chester and Garrett Whitley, who is coming back from injury.

“You see how big he is and I think he hits the ball over 100 (mph) every time he touches the ball,” Chester said of Gomez. “He’s just another great player that’s come through the organization and he’s only 20 right now, which is scary because he’s only a baby.”

Tyler Frank

Age: 22

Position: Infielder

Measurables: 6-0, 185 pounds

Acquired: 2nd round draft pick in 2018

Frank has had the luxury of staying in Florida for most of his career. Drafted out of Florida Atlantic, the Rays 22nd-ranked prospect said it’s exciting to continue to play in front of friends and family.

Approaching his first full season, his mindset hasn’t changed. After batting .288 with 22 RBI in Low-A Hudson Valley last year, the grind doesn’t stop there.

Frank earned 33 walks compared to 28 strikeouts last year and prides himself on his plate discipline.

“It was a big part of my game in college,” Frank said. “I feel like I’ve tried to translate it here and it’s something I try and pride myself on. What you do in practice and BP with good strike zone awareness translates to the game.”

His best stretch of last year came in July where he posted a line of .356/.495/.507 in 22 games.

Tanner Dodson

Age: 21

Position: 2-way player (OF, RHP)

Measurables: 6-1, 180 pounds

Acquired: Selected in Competitive Balance Round B in 2018 (71st overall)

As the 18th-ranked prospect in the organization, Dodson is trying to follow Brendan McKay’s footsteps in becoming the Rays’ next two-way player. With Mckay being the guinea pig, Dodson has had extra time to develop.

Dodson hit .273 while pitching to a 1.44 ERA for Hudson Valley last summer. Pitching out of the bullpen, Dodson held New York-Penn League hitters to a .143 average over 25 innings of relief.

He throws a fastball, changeup, slider, curveball with a velocity in the mid-90s. He splits his time wisely and is focused on keeping his body in shape through his first full season.

“It’s my first full season, so that’s 140 games,” Dodson said. “I’m just trying to keep the body in shape and I want to keep improving on everything I’ve been doing since I got here with pitching and hitting. As a pitcher, just going out there and attacking batters, not being afraid of anyone. As a hitter, I’m pretty aggressive too. I’ll use the whole field.”

Carl Chester

Age: 23

Position: Outfielder

Measurables: 6-0, 200 pounds

Acquired: 12th round draft pick in 2017

Chester was with the Stone Crabs for the late-season push before finishing out the season with Bowling Green in the playoffs after Charlotte was eliminated.

He batted .346 with 8 RBIs and two homers in 14 games in High-A.

Before moving up in August, Chester drove in 63 runs with five homers.

Coming into this year, it’s all about consistency and driving the ball more for extra-base hits.

“Every year I just try to be more consistent,” Chester said. “You can come out and hit well three days out of the week, but I want to hit well seven days. Just picking up from where we left off and continuing to win games.”

Vidal Brujan

Age: 21

Position: Second baseman

Measurables: 5-10, 175 pounds

Acquired: Signed as international free agent in 2014

Brujan was the team’s best hitter for the final third of the season once called up to High-A, earning his ranking as the Rays’ seventh-best prospect. He scored more runs (112) than any player in Minor League Baseball in 2018, finishing second in stolen bases (55), behind only the Astros’ Myles Straw.

Brujan was called up to the Stone Crabs in August and hit .347 with 13 extra-base hits in 27 games. His best outing came against Bradenton on Aug. 22 where he went 3-for-3 with two home runs, five RBIs and four runs scored.

“He was such a strong hitter for us,” Chester said. “He came up last year and just got red hot. He’s a great hitter with good power and does a great job in the infield too.”

Resly Linares

Age: 21

Position: Left-handed pitcher

Measurables: 6-2, 170 pounds

Acquired: Signed as international free agent in 2014

Wielding one of the strongest left arms in the organization, Linares went 7-3 with a 3.20 ERA over 84.1 innings for Bowling Green last season.

After spending five weeks on the disabled list, Linares came back and went 6-2 with a 2.49 ERA over the second half of the season. In his final 11 2/3 innings in the Midwest League playoffs he only allowed two runs, leading the Hot Rods to the title.

As the 20th-ranked prospect, his floor continues to rise each season.

Email Jacob Hoag at jacob.hoag@yoursun.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJacobHoag.

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