With the American Association season about six weeks away from getting underway the Lincoln Saltdogs are making their final moves to tweak their roster, looking to return to the league championship. In March the team made a few calculated moves looking to find players that were the right fit for the squad. Manager Ken Oberkfell has some work to do to get this roster ready for opening day, but he showed last season that he can rally his team when it matters, and so Lincoln fans can be rest assured that their team will be ready come May 21.
On March 27, RHP Zach Varce re-signed with the Lincoln Saltdogs for 2015. The right-hander spent the first four seasons of his professional career with the New York Yankees organization, reaching the High-A Tampa club in 2013. In 2014 he joined Lincoln and went 5-9 in 19 starts with 2 complete games and a shutout. Varce had an ERA of 4.19 in 118 innings pitched. He has a career professional record of 12-15.
On April Fool’s Day RHP Zach Staniewicz was signed by the club. The righty split time between Quebec and New Jersey in the Can-Am League last season. Twenty of his 24 appearances (13 starts) were made in Quebec, where he was 6-7 with a 5.26 ERA. For the Jackals he pitched much better, going 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA in four appearances. Staniewicz’s biggest issue has been the number of walks he has issued. Last season he issued 73 free passes in 107.2 innings pitched.
On April 7, OF/1B Jeremy Hamilton was re-signed by Lincoln. Hamilton played in 76 games last season for the Saltdogs, hitting .245 with a homer and 33 RBI. He has been playing independent baseball since 2010, playing in the Frontier and Northern Leagues before joining Lincoln last year. His first two seasons in professional ball were with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Overall, Hamilton has a career .249 average in six professional seasons with 21 home runs and 167 RBI in 429 games. He has also scored 190 runs.
While the signing of Hamilton buoyed the club’s hopes for 2015, the loss of closer Marshall Schuler to Mexico City of the Mexican League was a gut-wrencher to say the least. The right-hander set an American Association record last season with 34 saves, and was one of the key reasons why the Saltdogs reached the American Association championship series. Schuler had been a star in the independent leagues since 2011, posting 68 total saves, but now moves onto the next challenge.
While teams lose key players all the time, this will be an especially tough one. Despite Schuler’s ERA (4.26), he delivered. In the last month of the season the right-hander had 11 saves, including five in a row form August 3-7. This will make manager Ken Oberkfell’s job a lot more challenging this season not having his ace closer to turn to late in games. No doubt that Oberkfell has something up his sleeve however.
By Robert Pannier