WAPPINGERS FALLS — In between the interview portion of Wednesday’s media day and the start of practice, the Hudson Valley Renegades formed a circle around the first-base line, cracking jokes and making small talk. Pitcher Nathan Wiles, who had just arrived to the team an hour ago, asked first baseman Jacson McGowan if he’d ever seen the movie “Like Mike.”

“You look like that guy,” Wiles said, referring to the character played by rapper Bow Wow in the 2002 film.

Wednesday, McGowan was playing the role of catcher, squatting down to receive Nerf gun bullets from pitcher Zack Trageton. “What does James Bond do?” Trageton asked, before turning and firing toward McGowan. This Renegades team, littered with new faces who traveled to scenic Wappingers Falls with a common passion, was already displaying the chemistry of a roster that had been together a whole season.

Typical of a Class A short-season squad, there are nearly triple the number of draft picks from this year than there are players who came back from last year. The 30-man roster includes four returning Renegades, 11 draft selections from 2019 and 11 players who advanced from either the Tampa Bay Rays’ Gulf Coast League or Princeton Rays rookie minor league teams.

Among the draft picks is Greg Jones, the first-rounder out of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. At 22nd overall, the Cary, N.C., native became the highest selection in school history. In his final season as a sophomore, Jones finished with a .341 batting average. He also tied school records last season with 42 steals and nine triples. Jones had not yet arrived in the Hudson Valley as of Wednesday.

The Renegades also boast pitchers taken in the second, fifth, sixth and eighth rounds of the 2019 draft. John Doxakis, the second-round left-hander from Texas A&M, is a two-time Southeastern Conference tournament selection who threw the longest no-hit bid in the history of the conference tournament on May 23 against Ole Miss, pitching eight frames without allowing a hit.

Ben Brecht is another left-hander who entered the draft as a junior. At 6-foot-7, Brecht was an imposing force last season at University of California-Santa Barbara, striking out 101 batters while only walking 18. Colby White was plucked a round later in the sixth by the Rays, but he hasn’t joined the Renegades yet because he’s still competing for a College World Series at Mississippi State.

Finally, Wiles, an eighth-round selection from the University of Oklahoma, was a former all-state high school pitcher in Kansas who went 8-0 his senior year. He also pitched for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League, striking out 19 batters in 26.1 innings.

“Right now I don’t really know a whole lot of what I’m doing, so it’s nice having a guy who knows the ropes and can help us all out,” Wiles said of Trageton, one of three pitchers returning from last season’s Renegades team that made the New York-Penn League championship.

Catcher Jonathan Embry is a 10th-round selection out of Liberty University who batted .312 as a redshirt junior last season with 11 home runs and 44 RBI. Nick Sogard, a 12th-rounder, led his Loyola Marymount team in on-base percentage (.418) and assists (146) as a junior. The versatile infielder is cousins with Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Eric Sogard and the nephew of former major leaguers Steve and Dave Sax. Steve, the younger of Nick’s uncles, played second base for the Yankees from 1989-91.

“You can tell already he knows how to play the game,” Renegades manager Blake Butera said of Nick.

While only four current players were there on Sept. 9, 2018, when Hudson Valley was swept by the Tri-City ValleyCats for the New York-Penn championship, Butera is encouraged that everyone on his coaching staff has returned from last season. His concern is not on avenging that loss so much as building players to be successful enough to progress through the Rays farm system.

As McGowan, an all-star on last year’s Renegades team, noted, the more his team wins, the more opportunities the players have to become all-stars and increase their chances to move up the minor leagues.

For those who don’t get called up during the season, the New York-Penn championship will be front of mind. Before McGowan jogs off to join the rest of his teammates for practice, he utters three words to show that as long as he’s here, he’s going to embrace the team chemistry and leave the selfishness to that bully from “Like Mike.”

“Help us win,” McGowan said, before disappearing into the dugout.

The Renegades begin their season Friday at Aberdeen at 7:05 p.m.

 

jfedich@th-record.com

Twitter: @jfedichTHR