Hitting for batting average and for power are separate tools used to evaluate baseball players, because it’s difficult to do both.
Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper, however, has managed to consistently find players who excel at both tools, even though versatile, balanced hitters are constantly sought out by affiliated teams.
Hooper seems to have built another such team this year, hanging onto players such as Jake Kahaulelio and Brent Clevlen while adding J.T. Wise, Chun Chen and former Royals prospect Carlo Testa.
“I honestly think, a full season, (that) Clevlen, Wise or Chen could hit 30 home runs. I honestly believe that,” said Hooper, whose team plays its first of seven exhibition games at 2 p.m. Sunday against Friends at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. “Any one of those guys could legitimately hit 30 home runs, they’re that type of guys.”
The Wingnuts must replace the American Association-record 30 homers hit last season by C.J. Ziegler, who was plucked by the Minnesota Twins organization before settling in the independent Atlantic League.
Adding Chen, who played last season in Triple-A with the Cleveland Indians, and Wise, who won the Johnny Bench Award as college baseball’s top catcher for Oklahoma in 2009, could help Wichita absorb Ziegler’s departure.
Chen and Wise could fit nicely into the tradition the Wingnuts have established. In their six years, 14 players have batted .290 with double-digit home runs over a single season, with the power seemingly growing exponentially each year.
In 2011, Clevlen, Ryan Patterson, Juan Richardson and Josh Workman each hit at least 10 homers but combined for 43. Last year, Clevlen, Kahaulelio, Ziegler and John Rodriguez totaled 80 home runs as each batted at least .318.
Those four used the tutelage of hitting coach Jose Amado to help Wichita lead the league in batting average and homers.
“He works his tail off in the cage and takes a lot of pride in what he does as a hitting coach,” Hooper said. “I give him a lot of credit, I always do, that he does a tremendous job with what we bring in every single year.
“Wise is a .286 career hitter and Chen is a .275 career hitter. When you look at that in the past, those guys are going to turn into .300, .320 hitters here, when you look at (how numbers translate) from the past when you look off the numbers. We’ve got not only some punch, but some guys who are going to be able to hit for average.”
Wichita’s offseason seemed complete before Wise and Chen became available late. Chen, who played in 94 Triple-A games last season, carried significant interest but the Wingnuts proved to be the best option. Wise reached out to Hooper and was signed more quickly.
By the time they were added, the Wingnuts had already acquired Testa, third baseman Dillon Hazlett, catcher Chris McMurray and others.
“I was happy,” Hooper said. “I was at peace with what we had, because I knew we had some good guys coming in. To add two guys like that both no-brainer guys, big power guys, and they kind of fell in our lap. You always make an adjustment, and they were just kind of late-spring present for us.”