Stingers ready to take the field
WILLMAR — The Willmar Stingers had a record-setting season in 2012, showing off one of the most powerful offenses in the Northwoods League and riding it to a 41-28 record and the franchise’s first playoff berth.
A first-round exit from the postseason ended the year on a sour note and they will try to take it the rest of the way in the 2013 season starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bill Taunton Stadium against the Thunder Bay Border Cats.
The Stingers will return three core members of their 2012 offense in Michael Suchy (Florida Gulf Coast), Steven Brault (Regis) and Max Kuhn (Kentucky). J.D. Dorgan (St. Thomas) and Karl Sorensen (St. Cloud State) will also return on a temporary basis.
Coming back for his fourth season is field manager Matt Hollod, and assistant coach Steve Sanchez will be back for his second. Carlos Leyva, who played for the Stingers in their inaugural 2010 season, and P.J. McIntee will make their Stingers coaching debuts.
Hollod said he likes his team on paper, particularly the pitching staff.
“This could be the best pitching staff we’ve had in a few years,” he said. “I think we have more depth than we’ve had in the past, if everybody shows and everybody stays healthy, but that can change in a heartbeat.”
The offense may not be as explosive as it was in 2012 when Hunter Dozier, Dillon Haupt and Kenny Roberts were hitting in the middle of the lineup, but Hollod said he thinks this season’s lineup will compete.
“The power we have on this year’s roster is coming from guys who didn’t play much at their schools,” he said. “Now they’re going to get their opportunity and we’ll see if that power will show up.”
A prime example of that is Suchy, who struggled as a freshman in the spring of 2012 before breaking out as a Stinger to hit .349 and earn a trip to the NWL All-Star Game. As a Florida Gulf Coast sophomore this spring, Suchy upped his batting average over 100 points from his freshman year and socked 9 home runs while driving in 46.
One breakout candidate is California freshman Nick Halamandaris. He was injured early in the season and only had 107 at bats, but his power potential was enough to make him an eighth-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in the 2012 MLB draft.
Hollod said speed could also be a factor with this year’s team.
“We always steal bases and have guys that can run,” he said. “It doesn’t look like we have the burners, but five or six guys who are pretty good runners. I think we can be good at going first to third but maybe not steal as many bases.”
Brault could be another force with the bat, but he is eligible for the MLB draft on June 6 and may get taken after hitting .397 for Regis in the spring. Loyola Marymount pitcher Bret Dahlson is also a candidate to be drafted. Beyond Brault and Dahlson, the draft is not likely to hurt the Stingers, as freshmen and sophomores account for 23 members of the team.
Newcomers who could have an impact with the bat include Monmouth’s Jake Gronsky who hit .302 and was All-Northeast Conference Second Team, and St. Louis’ Alec Sole who hit .332 and stole 10 bases for the Billikens.
On the pitching side, Florida Gulf Coast’s Michael Murray helped anchor the Eagles’ starting rotation along with ex-Stinger Ricky Knapp. Murray finished his freshman season with a 5-1 record, 2.93 ERA and 55 strikeouts. St. Cloud State’s Chris Kubitz was 5-0 and posted 0.77 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 46.2 innings, and St. Louis’ Nick Bates was a workhorse, starting 15 games and racking up 93.1 innings with a 4.05 ERA.
The Stingers will be close to a full roster for Wednesday’s opener. With some Division I teams still playing in regionals for the College World Series, Willmar will start the season missing Logan Davis, Max Homick and Drew Jacobs from San Diego; Sole, Bates and Danny Brennan from St. Louis; and Abe Bobb and Sheldon Lee from San Francisco.
Notes: Early signee Jonathan Davis (Central Arkansas) will not be joining the Stingers … Pitchers Abe Bobb (San Francisco) and Andrew Crook (Meridian CC) will be on innings limits