Jon Link returns to anchor the starting rotation. As a starter for the first time since breaking in with the San Diego Padres organization in 2005, last year Link went 6-1 with a 1.74 ERA for the Wingnuts before being acquired by the Detroit Tigers. Link, whose 19 starts last year between Wichita and Double-A were 10 more than he had in the previous eight years combined, will be followed by returners Anthony Capra and Justin Klipp. Rounding out the rotation are newcomers Tim Brown, formerly of Lincoln in the American Association, and left-hander Alan Williams, who reached Double-A for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013.
Matt Nevarez, like Link once signed into affiliated ball, returns from his two-year stint with the Tampa Rays system and will serve as Wichita’s closer. Patrick Mincey, a 24-year-old who saved 24 games for Grand Prairie last year, will work the eighth inning. The Wingnuts will use a seven-man bullpen to start the season, with Nevarez and Daniel Bennett the only ones with experience in Wichita. The rest of the group includes Jason Van Skike, Michael Zouzalik, Alex Hinshaw and Matt Robertson, brother of pitching coach Luke Robertson and general manager Josh Robertson.
Never miss a local story.
Manager Kevin Hooper has long coveted Chris McMurray, whose stints in Grand Prairie and Lincoln helped him reach Triple-A with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012. McMurray hit 18 homers in the AA that season with 23 doubles and a .604 slugging percentage. He follows a long run of Wichita catchers with experience in the high minors, including last year’s backstop, Cole Armstrong. For the first time, the Wingnuts won’t have a traditional backup catcher. Instead, J.T. Wise will fill that role while also seeing time at first base and designated hitter. In 2009 at Oklahoma, Wise won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher. He had two 70-RBI seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.
The infield is the area of most familiarity, with returning double-play combination Jake Kahaulelio and shortstop Ryan Khoury. Gone are C.J. Ziegler and his 30 home runs and third baseman Abel Nieves, who batted .357. Replacing them are first baseman Chun-Hsui Chen, a native of Taiwan who hit 15 homers between Double- and Triple-A in the Cleveland Indians chain last season. At third is Topeka native and former Emporia State player Dillon Hazlett, who reached High-A with the Seattle Mariners and had 33 steals in three seasons. Taylor Oldham earned the utility spot for his ability to play multiple positions and after he hit .379 in 29 games in the independent Pecos League in 2013.
David Amberson returns to man right field and provide speed at the bottom of the order. Brent Clevlen, another returner, starts the year with the Wingnuts for the first time in his three seasons. Clevlen has 152 minor-league home runs and blasted 20 last year – 14 for the Wingnuts and six in the Arizona organization. Those 14 homers were supplemented by a .322 average, 51 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 70 games. In left field is Carlo Testa, a one-time Kansas City Royals prospect who hit 15 Double-A homers in 2012.