At the end of last season, Wingnuts manager Pete Rose Jr. offset his disappointment over losing the American Association championship series by looking forward to giving it another shot with the same group of players.
The offseason fulfilled Rose’s promise, as 17 players return to the team. Every member of the starting nine played for the Wingnuts last season, as did four members of the starting rotation.
Wichita supplemented its roster with a handful of new relievers and with former Wichita State starting pitcher Jordan Cooper. The Wingnuts discovered chemistry in 2016 that they believe won’t take much effort to recreate because of the familiar cast.
The Wingnuts begin the season on Thursday against Salina at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
“I’ve never really had a group of guys like this before on a team, so it’s really a great thing,” Wingnuts first baseman Matt Chavez said. “It’s a team. Everybody’s so cool with each other here, and there’s really no bad blood at all in the locker room. It’s great.”
The Wingnuts nearly returned every offensive starter last season, but former first-round draft pick Zack Cox signed with the Detroit Tigers organization. True to Rose’s nature, that problem was solved internally, with T.J. Mittelstaedt moving from the outfield to third base, his former position, and one-time backup Brennen Salgado moving to left field.
Rose has already sensed eagerness among players to start the season and to spend time with one another.
“You just know how they are when they get to the ballpark, and when they show up so early and they show up to be around with one another, you don’t try to mess with it, you let them keep doing it,” Rose said. “That just tells you what kind of togetherness they have. It took us a little while to find it last year, and if it takes us a little while to find it this year, that’s fine.
“But they’re happy to be around one another, and that’s the best part about having these guys.”
The Wingnuts brought most players back for a reason. Chavez hit .359 with 16 home runs in 68 games, anchoring the lineup with Mittelstaedt and Brent Clevlen, who combined for 91 extra-base hits.
Outfielder Harrison Kain batted .358 and Mittelstaedt, Richard Prigatano and leadoff hitter Christian Stringer all stole more than 20 bases.
Three members of the rotation – Alex Boshers, Tyler Kane and Ryan Kussmaul, had a combined 2.95 ERA and another, Charlie Leesman, is a former major-leaguer.
“We didn’t make a lot of moves last year,” Rose said. “And I’m not big on making moves, I think if you have to, you make them. I want all these guys to get signed (by major-league teams), I think a lot of these guys deserve to get signed, so hopefully we’ll be making some moves in the middle of the season or earlier to get these guys out of here.
“But if not, I think (the chemistry) is really rare.”
Salina at Wingnuts
- When: 7 p.m. Thursday
- Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
- Records: Salina 0-0, Wichita 0-0
- Radio: KGSO, 1410-AM
Wingnuts’ opening-day roster
RH Alex Boshers
RH Austin Boyle
RH James Campbell
RH Jordan Cooper
RH Mike Devine
RH Josh Goossen-Brown
RH Seth Harvey
RH Tyler Kane
RH Ryan Kussmaul
LH Charlie Leesman
RH Eddie Medina
RH Jesse Pratt
RH Jared Wilson
1B Matt Chavez
3B T.J. Mittelstaedt
2B Christian Stringer
SS Leo Vargas