The first version of the 2016 Wingnuts will have Kevin Hooper’s fingerprints and Pete Rose Jr.’s personality.
Thirteen players who played baseball for Hooper last season returned to Wichita and will play for Rose, who was hired to replace Hooper in February. Hooper left after seven successful seasons, including an American Association championship in 2014, to become the minor-league infield coordinator for the San Diego Padres.
The team begins workouts this weekend with the opener May 19 at home against Lincoln.
Rose had most of his roster built when he was hired and much of the rest was furnished by general manager Josh Robertson, who handled those duties while Rose became acclimated. Rose is partial to offense but finds greater importance from intangibles.
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“We’re going to show up on time and we’re going to play hard,” said Rose, son of major-league baseball’s career hits leader. “Other than that I don’t know what kind of type (of team) or what kind of this or what kind of that. Those two things, that’s what we’re going to do. I like to play wide open and that’s being aggressive and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
The Wingnuts’ pitching staff includes four of the five former major leaguers slated for the opening-day roster. Hard-throwing left-hander Andrew Taylor is the likely closer while returner Jon Link and newcomers Charlie Lessman and Robert Mosebach could help mainstays Tim Brown and Anthony Capra complete the starting rotation.
Several Wingnuts pitchers have the ability to start or relieve and have experience doing both. That versatility helps both groups, especially the rotation if a starter is forced to miss a turn. Rose could call upon a reliever to join the rotation temporarily – or longer, if needed.
“If you can pitch, you can pitch as a starter, you can pitch as a long (reliever), you can pitch for an inning,” Rose said. “I think pitching is pitching, just like if you can play the infield I think you can play the outfield. (The depth) is very important. You look at all the guys and look at all the track records of the guys that are here and we look like an unbelievable team.”
Wichita’s offense will likely be built around returners Harrison Kain, Brent Clevlen and T.J. Mittelstaedt, along with first baseman Dustin Geiger, who was traded by Wichita early last season.
Some new names have a chance to make a similar impact. Christian Stringer, who played for Rose in the Chicago White Sox organization, has 57 extra-base hits in 180 career minor-league games. Matt Chavez, Wichita’s likely designated hitter, had 31 home runs in the independent Pacific Association in 2015.
“(Robertson) has done a great job. He’s done this for God knows how long,” Rose said. “It would have been crazy if I had just tried to step in here and (make roster moves). No, no. I just kind of set back and got on board with what he’s doing. It turned out the way I think he wanted it to, and I added a couple guys, and I think it’s going to work out great.”