I sent some questions to Wingnuts radio announcer Steve Schuster, whose claim to fame is being thrown out at the plate as the potential winning run for my slow-pitch softball team last season. Despite his embarrassment from that moment, he has bounced back and was kind enough to respond.
Can you think of one negative attached to bringing Kevin Hooper aboard as manager?
None whatsoever. Kevin's reputation as a player and as a person have, and will continue to take his career far. The bus driver for a minor league sports team can often be a thankless job, but I distinctly remember our bus driver telling me last year that he appreciates how Hooper treats everyone with respect, no matter who it is. That's when it really struck me as to what kind of person Kevin is. Managing a baseball team is a lot like managing a company. Yeah, you've got to have baseball credentials and baseball know how to be a manager, just like a CEO needs to have proper training in finance, economics, etc. What makes a great leader though is their ability to manage the actual people, and that's where Hooper's skills have the biggest impact.
Which newcomer do you expect to have the biggest impact on the team?
This might be a surprising answer, but I believe that player will be Tyler Rhoden. I think you know what you're getting with the new position players in Porter, Hunt, etc. But with Amad Stephens moving into the closer's role, there was a big hole to fill in the 8th inning. The setup man is less heralded than the closer, but in today's game of specialized relievers, it is just as important of a position. Rhoden has looked flat out dominant in his first three outings and if he keeps it up, it's going to change how opposing managers make decisions early in the game.
Will Dustan Mohr put up big numbers and prove last year’s health problems are behind him?
His early start is a good indication of what the rest of the season might hold. He is healthy and in good spirits, and I think he will have a very nice year.
Will Amad Stephens succeed as closer?
Definitely. He was the setup man last year, but he has been a closer for most of his professional career, including a Reliever of the Year award in 2006. He's going to help shorten games this season.
Which is the team to beat in the powerful AA North Division?
You always have to respect the defending champions, so until someone knocks them off, Sioux Falls is the team to beat. With that being said, every team in the North looks very strong and I could see a record of 28-20 or 27-21 getting the job done in the first half. The Wingnuts should be right there with the other four teams. I think there is a good chance the race comes down to the final week, with all five teams potentially still in contention.
Can Brenan Herrera duplicate, or even surpass, last season’s offensive outbreak?
He's the smoothest player on the team, offensively and defensively, so yes. There were only three times last year in which he went consecutive games without getting a hit, so that gives you a good indication of how consistent he was. He was also moved around in the batting order a lot, hitting second, third, and fifth intermittently, and still put up the numbers that he did. Now that he is pretty much going to be the number two hitter everyday, I think his play will improve even more.
Who will lead the team in home runs?
I think Kelly Hunt is a good bet. He led the Frontier League with 26 last year, but what was most impressive was that he missed over 20% of the season. I was comparing his numbers to Lincoln first baseman Phil Hawke during the last series, and I'm pretty shocked that Hawke won the MVP award over Hunt. Hunt had a higher average, more home runs, and more RBIs while playing in 21 fewer games.
Who will lead the team in wins?
I like Derek Blacksher's power stuff, so I'll go with him. Realistically though, if the offense continues to perform the way that it has, all five starters have the chance to hit double digits in wins.
Can Nick Blasi be the catalyst at the top of the order that the Wingnuts believed they were getting when they signed him?
I think so. He hit .316 in AAA one year. He's gotten off to a slow start in terms of batting average, but he is seeing 3.6 pitches per plate appearance, best on the team, and has drawn three walks in five games. The quality at bats are there, so it's only a matter of time before the hits start to come.