The Wingnuts of manager Kevin Hooper’s five-year era have been built on starting pitching, and this season appears no different. Anchoring the rotation are right-handers Chris Smith and Jon Link, who both pitched briefly in the major leagues. Another ex-MLB pitcher, Mike Burns, will serve as the bullpen coach and could be activated at some point. Ryan Hinson returns after winning 20 games over the last two seasons, and right-hander Junior Guerra is back in Wichita after spending last season in the Mexican League. In 2011, Guerra went 9-3 for the Wingnuts. Rounding out the rotation will probably be former WSU left-hander Anthony Capra, who had an inconsistent Wingnuts debut in 2012. The bullpen is once again led by Josh Dew, entering his third season as closer. Nick Walters gives Wichita a dominant left-handed specialist or eighth-inning setup reliever, while newcomers Lincoln Holdzkom, Tyler White, Daniel Bennett and Kristhiam Linares will open the season in the bullpen.
Wichita has found good fortune with catchers during Hooper’s tenure, even though none of them have stayed for longer than one year. This year the position belongs to Cole Armstrong, who has played 209 games in Triple-A over the last four seasons with three organizations and slugged .500 in 68 games for Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League in 2011. He’ll hit in the middle of the order, a rarity for Wingnuts catchers who have displayed relatively high batting averages but not the power Armstrong could produce. He smacked a career-high 10 homers with Triple-A Charlotte of the International League in 2010. The backup is Stephen Yoo, a .202 hitter in 55 career games over three seasons at the independent level.
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Three-fourths of Wichita’s starting infield returns, as only third baseman Abel Nieves is new. First baseman C.J. Ziegler blasted 18 home runs in 58 games last year, missing about a month for a stint in the Mexican League. Second baseman Jake Kahaulelio, who also played a month in Mexico, led the American Association with a .372 average. Shortstop Ryan Khoury is perhaps the best defensive player in the league, and his .256 average was boosted by 59 walks out of the leadoff spot that pushed his on-base percentage to a solid .360. Nieves is also strong with the glove, and he reached Triple-A with the Los Angeles Angels organization in 2010. Center fielder Jared McDonald and utility man Colt Loehrs could also see time on the infield.
John Rodriguez, who played part of the 2006 season with the St. Louis Cardinals' World Series champions, returns for his second season as designated hitter. The 35-year-old Rodriguez, in his 16th professional season, batted .332 with 16 homers and a team-best 81 RBIs.
The outfield is the most unproven entity for the Wingnuts. McDonald played rookie ball for two seasons, and neither David Amberson or Derek Perren has reached affiliated ball. Amberson is a true rookie out of Western Oregon, and Perren has played three seasons of independent baseball. His best season was 2012, when he batted .327 with 50 RBIs in the North American League. McDonald batted .236 in 72 games covering two stints with the Wingnuts, with a 17-game stretch in which he hit .304 with Lincoln in between. Loehrs has also never played affiliated ball, but he has a .366 average during parts of two seasons in the independent Pecos League. He hit 15 homers in 51 games there last year.