As a one-time catching prospect, Jeff Christy could have a picked a better organization to join than the Minnesota Twins.
Not that Christy had a choice. He was drafted by the Twins in the sixth round of the 2006 draft. After that, he was blocked at the major-league level by Joe Mauer and by well-thought-of young players such as Wilson Ramos.
"It's a great organization to be in, even though that was the case," Christy said. "Mauer's Mauer. He's going to be there, he's the face of that franchise. I tried to pick his brain whenever I had a chance and hopefully learn from him and try to get better."
After reaching Triple-A in 2008 and 2009, Christy was released by the Twins during the offseason. When he couldn't find another job in affiliated ball, Christy joined the Wingnuts. The Great Bend resident played at Barton County Community College and the University of Nebraska.
Christy's time in the Twins organization was spent mostly as a backup. But he continued to earn promotions because of his stellar defense and for the way he guided Minnesota's young pitchers.
Christy's role kept him from earning regular at-bats — he's never had more than 275 in a season and owns a career batting average of .215.
Joining the Wingnuts will allow Christy to play every day and attempt to rediscover the offensive pedigree that allowed him to bat .390 as a sophomore at Barton.
" (Hitting coach Jose Amado) said, 'It's got to be great to think you might be getting 350 or something (at-bats) this year,' " Christy said. "And it's like, yeah, exactly. I want to see what I can still do playing every day. Getting that opportunity is great for me."
Becoming a starter isn't the only way in which Christy's role changes with the Wingnuts.
Catchers are natural leaders, but in the minor leagues Christy was playing with players of a similar age who had the same level of experience.
The ages haven't changed much, but since the 25-year-old Christy has affiliated experience most of his teammates don't possess, his vocal leadership on and off the field becomes more crucial.
"I do kind of look at myself as being a veteran a little bit," Christy said. "I have to make sure I take charge out there and make sure things are going the way they should."
Now starting — As the Wingnuts' utility player last season, Patrick Brooks' playing time related most often to which player needed a day off or who was battling an injury.
Brooks provided value by being able to play any position, but he wanted something more.
"I felt comfortable for the majority of the year because I knew my role coming in," Brooks said. "As the season prolonged and I felt I was doing pretty well, it got hard at certain times to stick with that role, feeling that I could play every day."
Brooks gets his chance this season as the starting second baseman. He checked the Wingnuts' activity during the offseason and while they looked to upgrade, Brooks proved to be the best option.
That was good for Brooks because he decided after last season he would look for a starting opportunity but wanted it to be in Wichita.
Stuck last season behind an inconsistent Brenan Herrera, Brooks was batting .300 on July 17 before a late-season slump dropped his average to .252.
With Herrera now in Fort Worth, Brooks is locked into one position after playing many in 2009.
I'm not the type of guy to say, 'Yeah, he's better than me,' because that's not my personality," Brooks said. "But I understood my situation. Even though some days I felt I should be playing, I knew that wouldn't help the team to be the guy sulking in the dugout. I had to check that at the door and keep it inside and not really worry about that."
Coaching changes _ The Wingnuts added two coaches to assist manager Kevin Hooper. Joining Hooper and pitching coach Luke Robertson are bench coach Brian Rose and Amado.
Rose was bench coach with Grand Prairie the last two seasons.
"He's going to be my right-hand man," Hooper said. "When we sit somebody down and talk to them about something, usually it's two of us now instead of one. It's a lot easier, coming from someone else instead of just one person."
Amado played for the Wingnuts briefly in 2008. His 14-year-professional career also included a stint with the Wranglers in 1999.
Hooper said Amado will help with the Wingnuts' two-strike approach.
"We're very similar in our hitting philosophies," Hooper said. "We're going to compete, we're going to go to the plate with a plan and we're going to battle with two strikes, because if we put the ball in play good things are going to happen."