While the American Association has not named their Manager of the Year for 2014, the Minor League Sports Report made their choice on Friday, selecting Wichita Wingnuts Skipper Kevin Hooper. Hooper is likely to be named the winner by the league as well, making it the second consecutive year that he is league’s choice. Hooper recently guided the team to the most successful season in league history, despite facing a significant number of changes in the last month. As a result he was the logical selection.
Hooper is in his sixth season with the team. After winning 50 games in his second season the team has improved its win total each year since. In 2013 the Wingnuts set an American Association record for number of wins in a season with 68. The record lasted just one year as this year’s team won 73 games and finished with a record winning-percentage .730.
During his time at the helm, Wichita has had three first place finishes and he has guided the team to the championship series in each of the last two years, but they fell short of winning it all both times. He has had a winning record in all six seasons and has taken the team to the playoffs in five of those years. It is a truly remarkable achievement for the former Wingnuts player.
He has always been an exceptional manager, but this past season he took his game to a whole new level. The Wingnuts were well over .500 in every month this season, but the last two months they were ridiculously hot. Wichita was 12-5 in May and followed that up with a 17-11 June. In July the team went 18-6, including a season-high 10-game win streak early in the month. The 18-6 record is even more impressive considering that the team endured a four-game losing streak just before the All-Star break.
In August/September the Wingnuts took their game to a whole new level, going 26-5 and posting win-streaks of seven, eight and nine games. It was a run that gave the team 73 wins, five more than the previous record season they had.
Hooper showed how impressive his managerial skills were in a variety of ways. First was the fact that the team led the league in ERA, batting average, runs scored, stolen bases and fielding percentage. The previous season’s team had been built around power, but lost some key offensive weapons from the previous year, forcing Hooper to evolve his team’s game into one of speed and run manufacturing. He not only accomplished this goal, but Wichita set an American Association record for stolen bases by a team in a season. It showed the genius of the Wingnuts Skipper for sure.
If that wasn’t reason enough for Hooper to have been selected, no one needs to look much further than the amazing way that this team kept winning after a large amount of changes occurred during August. All-Star closer Matt Nevarez was signed by the Pirates organization as was ace starter Jon Link, who signed with the Marlins. Super second baseman Jake Kahaulelio was lost for the year with a thumb injury. Justin Klipp was dealt to St. Paul, key set-up man turned closer Alex Hinshaw was traded to Grand Prairie, and the team added Abel Nieves, Victor Diaz and Jared McDonald to their lineup, as well as pitchers Celson Polanco, Chase Johnson, Chris Peacock and new closer Dan Sattler, all within the last three weeks of the end of the season. All the team did was win 18 of their last 21 games.
The selection of Kevin Hooper was the natural choice as American Association Manager of the Year, and the Minor League Sports Report is proud to name him their inaugural choice for the league.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA