MISSOULA — The first thing you need to know about the 2019 Missoula Osprey is they're still the Osprey.
At least until late August.
"We get asked that a lot," O's executive vice president Matt Ellis said of a January move soliciting new nickname ideas for the 2020 season. "We're going to announce (the nickname decision) during the last home stand.
"The fans were great. There's been a lot of passion for the Osprey, a lot of passion for some new ideas. We're pretty excited about what we've come up with. We feel it represents Missoula really well. We're trying to capture the lifestyle and what makes Missoula special."
Former Major League standout Mike Benjamin will again play a leadership role for the Osprey after serving as manager the past two seasons. This year he'll assume the role of bench coach, making way for new skipper Juan Francia.
Francia is a longtime minor league player who spent the past two seasons as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks' Dominican Summer League Rookie team in Boca Chica. He led his first Osprey practice Tuesday at Ogren-Allegiance Park.
"Juan is great with the players," said Ellis, who has been in charge of Osprey day-to-day operations since 2001. "He's very upbeat and will do a great job teaching these guys how to be professional players.
"Our coaching staff is always really good. That's one of the reasons we're with the Diamondbacks as an affiliate. They always give us really quality coaches."
Francia, Benjamin and the rest of the Osprey coaching staff have an older group to work with this season. The O's were exceptionally young last year and failed to repeat their success from 2017 when Benjamin became the first Missoula manager to win both halves of the Pioneer League North Division season.
"It's one of the older teams we've ever had — not as many 18- and 19-year olds," Ellis said of a fluid 25-man roster released this week. "There's a lot of them in their 20s and some of our 20-year-olds have played since they were 18, if not longer, in the Diamondbacks' system.
"We're used to playing teams that have the age group we have this year. We've always had a tendency of being a stronger team in the second half because of the age difference. This year it's going to be interesting."
One player to watch right out of the chute is 18-year-old middle infielder Liover Peguero. Signed for close to a half million dollars when he was 17 years old, he is one of the top prospects in the D-backs organization.
Peguero's greatest strength is his consistent, disciplined hitting. He has also shown himself to be a solid defensive player at shortstop.
"Then we're going to get some guys from the draft," Ellis said. "They're still in the process of getting all their stuff done. But we are expecting to get some quality bats from the draft.
"We already have some quality arms. We've got some non-drafted free agent guys that we think are going to make a major impact on our team. I'm excited about our pitching rotation with (Wilfry) Cruz and (Edgar) Martinez probably going 1-2. That's two guys who have pitched for two seasons in this league."
Ohio native Patrick McGuff has the skills and staying power to be an anchor for Missoula's rotation. Drafted by the Minnesota Twins back in 2016, he pitched for the Dayton Dragons of the Midwest League last summer.
New Osprey owners Peter Davis and Susan Crampton Davis, both of Seattle, have wasted no time in making their mark on the Osprey. They have pumped close to a half million dollars into ballpark improvements.
"We have a brand new video board that's state of the art and that's a large part of the investment," Ellis explained.
The Osprey will play their first six games on the road. Great Falls will host the O's on Friday through Sunday. Then Missoula will head south for a three-game series against the Idaho Falls Chukars before returning home for their Garden City debut on Friday, June 21, against Great Falls.
Because Helena no longer has a team, the Chukars have joined Missoula, Great Falls and Billings in the Pioneer League North. The Pioneer League South consists of two Utah teams (Ogden and Orem) and two Colorado teams (Grand Junction and Colorado Springs).
Notes: Improvements at Ogren-Allegiance also include a new pub area down the left field line with lounge chairs and fire pits and a new all-you-can-eat section ... Tom Willms will be the new radio and TV voice for the Osprey. All of Missoula's games will be broadcast on the radio. The home games will also air on SWX Montana. Due to MiLB reserving the streaming rights, the feed will only be available over-the-air (antenna) or on Spectrum cable ... The Osprey are looking for families interested in housing a player or players for the 2019 season. For more information, contact Kim Klages Johns or Dawna Kulaski at 543-3300.