In 2009, the Wingnuts were essentially the best team, top to bottom, in the American Association. The only reason that’s arguable is because they lost in the Northern Division playoffs to Lincoln after a 58-38 regular season.
The team has the potential to be very good once again this season, but if it is, it will be for different reasons. Starting pitching and offense were the keys in 2009; this season the Wingnuts will lean more on defense, speed and the bullpen. But it’s still fun to compare the teams position-by-position, so let’s do that.
Catcher2009 — Joe Muich2010 — Jeff Christy
I could see Christy having a nearly identical season to the one Muich had last season, when he batted .260 with seven home runs as mostly a defensive reliability. Christy and Muich were similar hitters in the minor leagues, which is why neither got a chance in the majors. But Christy has a better professional pedigree, so if he has the right attitude about playing independent ball, I think he’ll produce. EDGE: 2010
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First base2009 — Stephen Pearson2010 — Stephen Pearson
Tough call, right? Pearson could improve, and I do expect him to hit more home runs and drive in more runs than he did in 2009, even batting in the No. 2 spot. Still, Pearson is going to be what he has been in the past two years — a reliable, hard-working player who plays good defense and gets on base. EDGE: Even
Second base2009 — Brenan Herrera2010 — Patrick Brooks
Herrera, a fellow Eagles fan, was one of my favorite guys on the team to talk to, and I’ll be monitoring his progress in Fort Worth this year. But after a strong 2008 season, Herrera underachieved last season, thanks in part to nagging injuries that he never really shook. He also never really figured it out defensively, too often losing concentration on routine plays. I think Brooks can at least match what Herrera did in 2009 — .280/4/37 — while playing better defense. EDGE: 2010
Third base2009 — Michael Thompson2010 — Michael Thompson
Another tough call. But if you read my earlier blog entry on what I expect from Michael Thompson in 2010, you know I stopped just short of calling this a breakout year for Thompson. I think he has that type of year in him. So, too, do the Wingnuts decision-makers, otherwise he wouldn’t be back for a third season. EDGE: 2010
Shortstop2009 — Josh Horn2010 — Josh Horn
Like Pearson, Horn is a player who gives you what you expect. He may go into periodic hot and cold stretches, as all players do, but at the end of the season you’re going to be looking at a player who batted .300 with an aggressive approach, played average to above-average defense, and gave the team a lift through his work ethic. EDGE: Even
Left field2009 — Greg Porter2010 — Kennard Bibbs
This obviously isn’t a fair comparison, and I feel bad for Bibbs that I even have to make it. No player will match what Porter provided for the Wingnuts in 2009, when he batted .372 with 21 homers and 86 RBIs, numbers so good that I memorized them. Of course, the Wingnuts didn’t get Bibbs to be a power hitter. They got him to be a tough out at the top of the order and to run balls down in the outfield. He’ll do that. But still… EDGE: 2009
Center field2009 — Nick Blasi2010 — Chris Colton
If you know me, you know of my admiration for Chris Colton. But he’s earned it by being a guy who is never in a bad mood. Not anytime I’ve seen him, anyway. Blasi and I never really clicked on a personal level. We got along fine, but I guess I just didn’t talk to him to get a true read on him. I pegged him as a guy who didn’t like playing on the low rung of baseball, but he insisted that wasn’t the case. He didn’t play to his true potential in Wichita because he never got it going at the plate. EDGE: 2010
Right field2009 — Dustan Mohr2010 — Ryan Patterson
Pretty similar players, actually. Last season, Mohr’s line was .290/13/73; Patterson’s was .284/12/66. The only thing separating them offensively was plate discipline — Mohr had a .362 on-base percentage, Patterson’s was .329. But Patterson had 14 more extra-base hits. And it’s possible he’s better defensively, though I haven’t seen him to make that claim. Mohr’s status as an ex-major leaguer gives him the nod here, but only slightly. EDGE: 2009
Designated hitter:2009: Kelly Hunt2010: Mario Delgado
Hunt and Porter tied the American Association record with 21 home runs last season. But Hunt was fairly one-dimensional hitter, carrying just a .308 on-base percentage with 122 strikeouts. I don’t think the same danger exists with Delgado, who has a .345 career OBP; not great but not horrible. But since Delgado didn’t play at all in 2009, I’m going to make him prove it. EDGE: 2009
Rotation2009: Will Savage, Derek Blacksher, Adam Cowart, Gabe Medina, Brad Davis2010 (projected): Nick Singleton, Cowart, Medina, Luke Massetti, Luke Demko
The last two spots in the roation are still up-in-the-air and could also be filled by the likes of Brandon Mathes or Doug Hurn. I like both of them, but I think Mathes might have pitched himself out of a roster spot with a poor showing against Emporia State, and Hurn is more valuable in the bullpen. Either way, the 2010 rotation doesn’t have the depth that 2009’s did. The top three this year are solid, but you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting from the last two spots. EDGE: 2009
Bullpen2009: Justin Dowdy, Joe D’Alessandro, Diego Soto, Doug Hurn, Justin Young, others2010: Dowdy, Cephas Howard, Will Morgan, Brock Piper, Matt Petty, Dustin Pease, Hurn
One of those seven relievers listed for 2010 won’t make the team, because it’s most likely the Wingnuts will carry 11 pitchers — five starters, six relievers. But Dowdy, Howard, Morgan, Petty, Piper and Hurn are definitely making the team, so draw your own conclusions. Anyway, a full season of Dowdy makes the Wingnuts bullpen automatically better, but adding guys like Howard, Morgan and Petty give Wichita a fairly fearsome group of relievers. It’s difficult to build a bullpen on any level, and the performance of any reliever is unknown on any given day. But on paper, it’s clear which of these groups is best: EDGE: 2010
Bench2009: Several backup catchers (most notably Michael Sharp), Patrick Brooks2010: Any two of Jeff Giacomini, Kent Wright, Eric Williams and Jonathan Dziomba.
I didn’t even look up the spellings of those two crazy-long names, either. Brooks played his way into a likely starting job for 2010, so we know he did a good job off the bench last season. We’ll discuss this again if Dziomba is the starting second baseman for the 2011 Wingnuts. But until then… EDGE: 2009