The Kansas City T-Bones entered August last season in competition for the Central Division title in the American Association, but a 6-12 start to the month severely hampered their chances, despite winning their final six games of the season. Lincoln got hot and Gary stayed competitive to the end, making Kansas City an also-ran by mid-August. It was a disappointing finish to the season that has given the team more fire for the 2015 campaign.
A bevy of moves this off-season have transformed the T-Bones roster, and should give the team a real shot to compete in the Central this season. It is clear that there are still moves to make, and by opening day this should be a roster that is loaded and ready to compete for a title.
Almost immediately after the season ended, Kansas City took steps to ensure that a third place finish was not going to be in the cards for 2015. It began on the first day after the end of the 2014 regular season when the T-Bones exercised the options on 20 of their players, including utility player T. J. Mittelstaedt and pitchers Kris Regas and Patrick Mincey. While not signed to new deals, the team retained the rights to these players.
Two weeks later the team acquired the rights to infielder Blake May from Trinidad of the Pecos League. May has a solid bat, hitting .355 in 57 games for Trinidad, with 6 home runs and 63 RBI. He should be a solid run-producer in their lineup, and adds a quality glove at third base.
Ten days later Kansas City struck a deal with Trinidad again, this time acquiring left-hand pitcher Josh Tols. Tols appeared in 12 games for Trinidad, nine as a starter, and posted a perfect 5-0 record with a respectable 3.28 ERA.
In October the T-Bones made moves to shore up their battery. The team announced that catcher Jake Taylor had been acquired from St. Paul, and Kyle Brady had been brought to Kansas City in a trade with River City of the Frontier League. Taylor is a durable backstop, who hit .283 last season with a career high 9 home runs and 34 RBI in 61 games.
T-Bones manager John Massarelli sees the benefit of Taylor for Kansas City. “Jake is multi-position guy who can catch and provide some power offensively.”
Brady is a big man with a lot of potential. The 6-9, 240 pound right-hander made 25 appearances last season, posting a 4.98 ERA and striking out 72 in 59.2 innings pitched. Massarelli is giving Brady a shot to take the mound every fifth day. “Kyle has an average major-league fastball, and he’ll come in to compete for a spot in the rotation.”
The T-Bones were quiet for the rest of October, but got busy in November. On November 12 Kansas City announced the signings of pitcher Garrett Granitz and first baseman/outfielder Joe Rapp. At 6-2, 195, Granitz is another towering force on the mound. Last year he pitched for Rio Grande Valley of the United League, where he was 1-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 31 innings pitched.
“Garrett is a submarine pitcher who will scrape his knuckles on the CommunityAmerica Ballpark turf,” said T-Bones manager John Massarelli. “He’ll come out of the bullpen and hopefully make it tough for right-handed hitters to elevate the ball.”
Rapp played for the Greys in the Frontier League last season, where he hit .256 with 19 home runs and 55 RBI. He has power and a quick bat that should fit in nicely in Kansas City. “Joe was on our radar last spring when he left the Giants organization, but we didn’t have a roster spot at the time,” Massarelli said. “So he spent last season in the Frontier League and put up solid numbers.”
Less than a week later the team reached out to the Frontier League again, this time to make a deal with Washington. Kansas City acquired 6-3, 215 pound right-hander Jonathan Kountis in exchange for Andy Noga and Hamilton Bennett. Kountis was the Relief Pitcher of the Year in the Frontier League last season, after posting a 1-4 record and 32 saves. He had an impressive 2.51 ERA in 41 appearances, striking out 50 in 43 innings, while walking just 10.
The big righty will be a dominant force at the back end of games for the T-Bones, and should be one of the most dominant closer’s in the league. “Jonathan brings a power arm to the back end of the bullpen,” Massarelli said. “Royals fans know how important that can be.”
With a bevy of moves to bolster the team’s pitching staff, it was time to add a little more pop to the lineup, and the acquisition of Jake Blackwood from Winnipeg did just that. The 29-year-old can play third and second, and has a smooth swing. He hit .321 last season with 10 home runs and 49 RBI last year. He played for Kansas City in 2010.
Massarelli was thrilled with the trade. “Jake wanted to come back home and we’re excited to have him here. Once we added (reliever Jonathan) Kountis last week, we had some flexibility to give up Patrick and improve ourselves both offensively and defensively. Jake gives us that veteran run producer presence in the middle of the lineup.”
With the acquisitions of Taylor, Rapp, and Blackwood, the heart of the T-Bones order suddenly becomes a lot more formidable. These three should add 45 home runs and 150 RBI to the teams’ order, and some solid defense as well.
November had been a big month for Kansas City, but they were far from done. Outfielder Adam Bailey was signed on December 3. Bailey is another big, young man, (6-0, 201) who, last season, played for Long Island of the Atlantic League. He hit an impressive .301, with 20 home runs and 89 RBI. He can play either left or right field, and should be a run-producer for the T-Bones.
On December 15, the team re-signed its 2014 MVP, left-hander Kris Regan. Ragan saved a club record 22 games last season, with a 2.70 ERA and 7 wins. “It’s great to have Kris back for 2015,” said T-Bones manager John Massarelli. “Besides being our MVP and most consistent pitcher last year, he gives us another great veteran presence in the clubhouse.”
With the trade for Kountis, Kansas City now has the best lefty-righty combination in the league. Either of these men can close out games, and should kill any hopes that opponents have to rally late.
Just before Christmas, Kansas City re-signed outfielder Robby Kuzdale. Kuzdale was named the team’s most improved player in 2014 after hitting a career high 7 home runs in 96 games. The 5-9, 179 pound outfielder hit .275 and played spectacular defense for the T-Bones. Kuzdale struggled in the early part of the season, hitting .180 on June 22, but then caught fire to raise his average 95 points in the final 10 weeks of the season.
Just before the New Year, Kansas City re-signed catcher Brian Erie. Erie appeared in 92 games behind the plate last season, and had career highs in hits (70) and runs (29). He also proved to be incredibly clutch, hitting .362 with runners in scoring position and two-outs. Erie is also an outstanding defensive catcher, who has the full confidence of the staff.
“Erie was a great two-out, two-strike RBI guy last season,” said T-Bones manager John Massarelli. “On top of that, he established himself as one of the top defensive catchers in the league.”
If anyone thought the team was done making alterations to their roster they were sadly mistaken as the New Year brought a bevy of moves. Vladimir Frias was re-signed on January 12, after hitting .273 with 23 stolen bases, 33 runs, and 43 RBI last year. He is a defensive wizard, who was named the club’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014.
Two days later the T-Bones inked Taylor to a new contract, as well as signed pitcher Kyle Gehrs and catcher Chris Bianchi. Bianchi appeared in just 10 games for Kansas City in 2014, hitting .143. He graduated from Trinity University in June of last year. Bianchi did not last long on the T-Bones roster, as two weeks later the Los Angeles Dodgers purchased his contract from Kansas City.
Gehrs was released by the Houston Astros organization after last season, and signed as a free agent by Kansas City. He was 1-0 with a 4.95 ERA in 16 appearances for the Astros Rookie League team.
On January 23, the club swapped utility infielders with the Wichita Wingnuts, trading T.J. Mittelstaedt to Wichita for Ryan Cavan. Cavan played for Southern Illinois of the Frontier League last season, where he hit an impressive .309 with 44 RBI and 14 stolen bases. The 27-year-old is an outstanding defensive second baseman, winning the 2012 Minor League Baseball Gold Glove Award at second base.
All the acquisitions should give Kansas City a decidedly different look this year. With five new pitchers, a new catcher, three new infielders, and two new outfielders, it is a good thing that the players’ names are on the backs of their jerseys. There were many moves made, but they all bring quality additions to the team, and there is no doubt that Kansas City has a real shot at the Central Division title this year.
By Robert Pannier