They say that there are two things that you can always count on – death and taxes. There is one more thing as well – the Wichita Wingnuts making the American Association playoffs. The team has only been in the league for eight seasons, but has made the playoffs in each of the last seven, including three straight appearances in the championship series form 2012-2014. They know how to win in Wichita and the results speak for themselves.
One reason that this team has always been so successful has been continuity, and that began with Kevin Hooper being the manager the last seven seasons. Kevin moved on to the San Diego Padres organization, opening a big hole to be filled. The team did an amazing job in bringing in Pete Rose, Jr. to be the team’s skipper, and replaced one of the best hitting coaches in the league, Jose Amato, with Jim Foltz, after Amato took a job with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
There has clearly been a great deal of change in the Kansas city, a lot more than the team is used to, but one thing they can truly count on this season is that this is likely to be the American Association’s top pitching staff. With three of their dominant veterans returning and two relative newcomers, anything short of a title would be a huge disappointment for the Wingnuts.
The three veterans are names that fans of the Wingnuts have come to know and love. Jon Link returns to be the No. 1 starter again this season. The big right-hander is just four wins from tying the team record for career wins and the way he has pitched the last two years it is likely he will have that number by mid-June.
Link has been nothing but a straight up stud for Wichita. This is his fourth season with the team, and he has posted a ridiculous 23-3 record with a 2.62 ERA. Last season, after his surprising release from the Miami Marlins organization, Link returned to the Wingnuts and was 6-0 with a 1.89 ERA. He allowed just 46 total base runners in 47.1 innings pitched while striking out 46.
Following Link in the rotation is wily left-hander Anthony Capra. Capra has been with Wichita for four seasons now, posting a career mark of 19-9 with a 3.96 ERA. He started last season with the Wingnuts before joining Monclova of the Mexican League. There he was 3-3 in 9-starts, striking out 40 in 47.1 innings pitched.
Tim Brown returns for his third season in Wichita. The right-hander, affectionately known as “The Professor” for his Greg Maddux-like approach to pitching, has won 10-games in each of the last two seasons. Last year was his best, going 10-2 with a 3.29 ERA. He will give up hits at times (153 in 131.1 innings pitched), but Brown does not hurt himself, walking just 20, and he doesn’t allow innings to get out of control. He is very smart and is such a perfect complement to the staff.
RHP Eddie Medina returns for his second season in Wichita. The 25-year-old was a late season signing when the team needed a starter for their games in Canada. Medina impressed and proved to be an incredibly valuable member of the staff. He made eight starts, going 4-1 with a 3.50 ERA. His career mark of 13-5 proves he knows how to win, and he throws strikes, something pitching coach Luke Robertson loves.
With those four spots in the rotation filled, the final spot will likely go to left-hander Charlie Leesman. Leesman is another veteran arm that the Wingnus always seem to find (aka, Scott Richmond last season). Leesman has two years of experience in the Majors, most recently in 2014. Last year he pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates AAA-Indianapolis team, where he was 4-1 with a 3.74 ERA in 10 appearances, three of which were starts. In eight minor league seasons he has posted an impressive 59-38 record and a 3.51 ERA in 153 appearances, 142 of those were starts.
They say that pitching wins championships, and this group is going to be really tough to beat. All four veteran starters have the kind of stuff and intelligence that they can easily dominate their opponents, and Medina may only be scratching the surface of how good he can get.
There are many that think that this may be the best Wichita Wingnuts team ever and, astoundingly, that may be true. It is hard to imagine after all the success that they have had that this is the best team they have ever assembled but, if they can stay healthy, this team may retake the best record in league history mark again.
Wingnuts Notes: Former Wingnuts Manager Kevin Hooper always loved to build his defense around a solid catcher, aka John Nester and Chris McMurray, however, Manager Pete Rose has decided to go with two rookies behind the plate. Brent Dean has been with Wichita the last two seasons, but his limited at-bats still makes him a rookie. Brennan Salgado comes from Cal Poly Pomona and is making his professional debut with Wichita. Many teams would worry about such a young catching corps, but Dean knows these starters well and this is a veteran staff that knows how to pitch.
By Robert Pannier