The Wingnuts trimmed their roster to 23 players late Monday. It took the coaching staff and general manager Josh Robertson most of the trip back from an exhibition game in Topeka to come to conclusions, and the team still isn’t done.
After two weeks of the American Association baseball season, the Wingnuts must cut the roster to 22 players. This season is the first time manager Kevin Hooper has opted to start with 23 players, in part to avoid the potentially difficult decision that must be made later.
For now, Wichita will use a 12-man pitching staff, employing one more pitcher than it will use during much of the season. Most of the wrangling done by Hooper and his colleagues was done over the bullpen, which will be trimmed to six members after two weeks.
The Wingnuts begin the season on Thursday against Lincoln at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
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"It doesn’t worry me one bit," Hooper said. "We’ll make another decision in two weeks if we have to. A lot of times, something is going to happen where if we have to make a move pitching-wise, we only have to make a move and we don’t have to find anybody (new).
"If they all stay healthy, we’ll make a decision after a week or two, whenever that may be."
The Wingnuts were essentially decided on the back of the bullpen, which includes closer Josh Dew and setup men Edgar Martinez and Matt Nevarez, before spring training began two weeks ago.
Filling the bullpen around those three proved difficult because it was difficult for any pitcher to separate himself in brief auditions and because most of the pitchers who ended up in relief were candidates for the starting roation.
Hooper and company settled on Moises Melendez and Jeff Nadeau for the final bullpen spots and on Ben Graham as the No. 5 starter. Derek Christensen and Derrick Miramontes were released mostly because they were similar to relievers who were locks for making the team.
"For me it was a big need thing — what did we need the most," Hooper said. "Miramontes probably deserved to make the team, but we’ve got a (side-arming) guy like that in (Jared) Simon. If I went with Miramontes, I wasn’t going to have that long (reliever) down there, either."
If all of Wichita’s pitchers stay healthy, it will be difficult for any on the bubble to separate himself to survive when the next cut is made. It is the same situation as in spring training, when performance was secondary in a small sample size to earning Hooper’s trust.
"I’m a ‘little things’ guy," Hooper said. "I watch everything. In spring training, I don’t say a whole lot. I want to evaluate and see how they respond — how they respond with bunt defenses and things like that. Any minute thing, I’m watching and paying attention to."
There weren’t many other difficult roster choices. The Wingnuts’ lineup features four veterans — returning outfielders Mike Conroy and Mitch Einertson, new catcher Salomon Manriquez and former major league outfielder John Rodriguez.
Now that the occasional agony that comes with picking a team is mostly over, Hooper can examine his roster, which he finds meets his need for versatility and players with intangible qualities.
"I’m excited about what we’ve got," Hooper said. "We’ve got some good baseball-minded guys and it should be fun to watch."
Wingnuts 2012 Roster
Pitchers (12) — Derek Blacksher, Josh Dew, Ben Graham, Ryan Hinson, Josh Lowey, Edgar Martinez, Moises Melendez, Jeff Nadeau, Matt Nevarez, Jose Perez, Jared Simon, Nick Walters
Catchers (2) — Taylor Freeman, Salomon Manriquez
Infielders (5) — Steve Carillo, Jake Kahaulelio, Ryan Khoury, Jared McDonald, C.J. Ziegler
Outfielders (4) — Mike Conroy, Mitch Einertson, David Peralta, John Rodriguez