It was a season the New Britain Bees wanted to put behind them.
Fresh off their second season as a franchise, in which the Bees went a league-worst 58-81 - 17½ games behind the now-defunct Bridgeport Bluefish - they knew a change was necessary.
Amid the house cleaning that saw an overhaul of the front office and coaching staff, was the roster. Gone were many of the players who had been with New Britain since its inception.
“We worked hard in the offseason to get guys,” Bees first-year manager Wally Backman said. “We made a lot of changes and we’re excited about it.”
Only six players - outfielder Conor Bierfeldt, catcher James Skelton and pitchers Jonathan Pettibone, Kyle Simon, Brandon Fry and Newington native Mike Hepple - were retained. Most notable is the amount of former big leaguers brought it, 14 in total, including Pettibone, former Yankee Reid Brignac, former Red Sox Manny Delcarmen and former Giant Tony Abreu.
There was also the Atlantic League dispersal draft after the Bluefish folded, which New Britain used to bolster its depth.
“That’s a bigger number than we had last year for sure,” Bierfeldt said. “Last year, we had mostly pitchers and this year, my locker’s next to [former New York Met and Toronto Blue Jay Darrell] Ceciliani. It’s nice to be able to pick some of their brains of the guys that have been to the big leagues and get some hitting insight from them. I think with that experience and the influx of players we got from Bridgeport, I’m pretty excited about the prospect of winning a lot of games.”
But it wasn’t just a matter of getting rid of a majority of the players who had been on a bad team. Backman and assistant general manager Paul Herrmann had a vision for the kind of roster they wanted to put together.
Experience was one factor, so too was finding players they believed would mesh well together. Players, especially ones who could get on base, had speed or power were also high on the priority list, as was fortifying a bullpen that had trouble closing out close games.
With the talent on the team, each expects New Britain to contend. From top to bottom, they figure they not only have one of the most potent lineups in the Atlantic League with the No. 1-9 hitters each capable of hitting a minimum of 10-15 home runs, but a pitching staff that is just as good.
“I think we have a very complete team,” said Ozney Guillen, one of the team’s new players. “We have guys that can bunt. We have a lot of power. We have a lot of baseball IQs. We know how to run the bases. We’re going to be good at doing a lot of the little things. We’re going to be good at pitching. I think we’re going to be top three in the league with the names that we have. We have a lot of depth.”
Of course, it will be a matter of proving it on the field. The way the Bees see it, it’s just a matter of time.
“They want to win here and I don’t see why we can’t,” Pettibone said. “We have a lot of guys that have been to the majors and high-level minors and guys that have been around a while. We have everything we need.”