Wichita Wingnuts

Hooper willing to give players a chance to succeed

When considering acquiring a new player, Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper gives less weight to the player's baggage and more to the possibility, and even likelihood, that the player will thrive in the positive environment Hooper and the Wichita coaching staff create.

Other teams may have shied away from Jimmy Mojica and Mitch Einertson, who present varying degrees of off-field issues. It would probably be understandable if Hooper had decided the risk for disruption was too great for a team chasing a playoff spot.

But Hooper acquired them six days ago, and like many players before them, there has been no trouble. The three-year era with Hooper as manager has been marked by the lack of disciplinary action, save for a few players being benched for failing to run out a groundball.

"I always take that into consideration," Hooper said. "But I also think about guys and their past and this being a great situation for them, just the way I do things and the way I am and the way we all are around here. We put them in a good environment and a good situation. Expectations are high and there's a lot of structure, and it's not going to be a free-for-all."

In August 2009, Einertson was suspended 50 games for violating minor league baseball's drug policy. Einertson was suspended for a drug of abuse, meaning his punishment wasn't for performance-enhancing drugs.

Einertson, Wichita's center fielder, seems to have put those problems behind him, pronouncing himself clean for the past two years. He's mild-mannered and quiet, and Wingnuts closer Josh Dew, Einertson's teammate in Chico last season, vouches for him.

"He's back on track," Hooper said. "He's a heck of a ballpayer, too. He's my type of guy, too. He plays the game the right way, no question. He wants to be in the middle of everything, he wants to help us win. I think this is going to be a great fit for him."

Mojica's past isn't as cloudy, but there have been questions about his maturity and discipline. He wore jewelry during batting practice while playing for Kansas City, and though that may seem minor, it's a no-no under Hooper.

Mojica and Hooper had a conversation about the expectations with the Wingnuts, and the message seemed to be received when Mojica sprinted to first base in his first at-bat with Wichita.

"There are some things that he has to get better at," Hooper said. "But I think this is a good place for him to do that, to learn some things and how to carry yourself on and off the field. The expectations here are very high."

Studying chemistry — The acquisition of Mojica brought the number of players on the Wingnuts' 22-man roster who were born in Latin American countries to 10. Two other such players, Carlos Rivera and Gerardo Bustamante, were signed earlier this month.

The Latin players typically gravitate to one another because of their shared language. But Hooper said there has been little separation in the clubhouse and that part of the reason the Wingnuts are in playoff contention is because the players get along.

"You hope that they all jell together in the locker room," Hooper said. "It's not always going to happen. The feeling I get is that they all get along really well and pull for each other. That's a big thing. If we're going to make a run for this thing, we've got to support each other and pull for each other and do it as a group, not individually. That's what it's going to take."

Lefty specialists — When Ryne Reynoso pitched for Gary Southshore against the Wingnuts on Friday, it marked the first time in nearly two weeks that Wichita had faced a right-handed starter.

The Wingnuts faced a left-hander the previous nine games, and a new streak started when Gary's Trent Lare, a former Wingnuts left-hander, started on Saturday.

Wichita is 19-16 when facing left-handed starters and is hitting .313 against southpaws. The reason for such success might be because Wichita has had two left-handed hitters for most of the year, going to three when Rivera was acquired.

Lefty Mike Conroy is batting .250 in 106 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, but Josh Workman is hitting .348 with a .565 slugging percentage through Friday. Wichita's leading hitter against lefties is shortstop Josh Horn, who is batting .362.