Decade of Dominance: Wichita Wingnuts All-Decade Team

Decade of Dominance: Wichita Wingnuts All-Decade Team

Over the course of the Wingnuts time in Wichita, dozens of great players have donned the red and black. With 10 seasons of baseball now in the rear-view mirror, take a look back at some of the best Wingnuts to step between the lines over the past decade at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

Coaching Staff

  • Manager – Kevin Hooper (2009-2015)
    • At the helm of some of the best teams in Wingnuts history, “Hoop” guided the Wingnuts to a division title in six of his seven seasons as manager. Originally signed as a player, Hooper spent one season at shortstop and banged out a .373 batting average, the highest for a single player in franchise history, while also swiping 34 bases. He took over managerial duties the next season, and helped Wichita to their first postseason appearance. Now a minor league infield coordinator in the San Diego Padres organization, Hooper led the Wingnuts to their lone title in 2014, capping off a season in which the team won a franchise-best 73 games.
  • Hitting Coach – Jose Amado (2010-2015)
    • Much like Hooper, Amado’s career with the Wingnuts began as a player, as he wrapped up a 14-year career by spending the 2008 season in Wichita. Over that 14-year stretch, he hit .308 in more than 4,500 professional at-bats, including a stint with the Wichita Wranglers. Amado transitioned smoothly to the role of coach on Hooper’s staff, helping to craft some of the most dominant offenses in American Association history. Under his direction, the Wingnuts led the league in batting average three times, while consistently ranking at the bottom of the league in strikeouts. Amado is now a hitting coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
  • Pitching Coach – Luke Robertson (2008-2016)
    • Prior to handing off the reigns to Anthony Capra for the 2017 season, Robertson was the only pitching coach in Wingnuts history. His staffs led the American Association in ERA four times, including a franchise-best 3.38 mark in 2013. Perhaps most impressively, Robertson had a hand in sending 23 players from the Wingnuts to affiliated baseball, most notably current Major Leaguers Junior Guerra, James Hoyt, and Chris Smith. Twice Robertson was tasked with taking his talents to the mound for emergency outings, and he delivered one of the most memorable starts in Wingnuts history in 2014, tossing five strong innings versus Laredo to secure the South Division Championship.

Catchers

  • John Nester (2015)
    • Hailed as a master pitch-framer and game-caller, Nester anchored Wichita’s 59-win 2015 club by playing in 80 games behind the plate. The American Association All-Star and his strong throwing arm were responsible for a staggering 44% caught stealing rate, while helping the Wingnuts pitching staff to a 3.61 team ERA. At the dish, Nester put together a solid .281/.354/.420 slash line, smacking five homers and finishing second on the club with 19 doubles.
  • Chris McMurray (2014)
    • A member of the Wingnuts title-winning 2014 squad, McMurray has a well-earned reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in franchise history. The backstop threw out 43% of attempted base stealers in 2014, gunning down 26 runners. The right-handed hitter was no slouch with the stick either, posting a .261 batting average with seven homers and 60 RBI. In the playoffs McMurray brought his game to another level, recording hits in six of the seven postseason games and homering in the championship series against Lincoln.

First Basemen

  • CJ Ziegler (2012-2013)
    • After an impressive 58-game stint with the Wingnuts in 2012 in which he slugged 18 home runs with 61 RBI, Ziegler put together one of the best seasons in Independent baseball history the following year. Playing in all 100 regular season games, Ziegler set an American Association record with 30 long balls, adding 32 doubles on his way to 99 runs driven in. The former Arizona Wildcat was named Pointstreak’s Star of Stars and Baseball America’s Independent Leagues Player of the Year for his accomplishments. He holds the Wingnuts record for career slugging percentage (.630) and ranks second in homers (48).
  • Matt Chavez (2016-2017)
    • Chavez kicked off his Wingnuts career with a bang, securing the league batting title and Rookie of the Year honors in 2016. His .359 batting average ranked sixth for a single season in franchise history, supplementing 16 home runs and 61 RBI despite playing in only 68 games. The right-handed slugger followed it up with an equally impressive 2017 campaign, hitting .330 with 17 round-trippers and 84 RBI. Chavez was named both a Mid-Season and Post-Season American Association All-Star.

Second Basemen

  • Jake Kahaulelio (2012-2014)
    • A stalwart in the lineup and up the middle for three of the best teams in Wingnuts history, Kahaulelio’s name litters the franchise record book. He ranks in the top-five in eight different categories, including runs scored (4th), hits (4th), doubles (2nd), home runs (5th) and RBI (4th). During his time in Wichita, Kahaulelio never posted a season batting average below .320, earning an All-Star selection in 2014.
  • David Espinosa (2014-2015)
    • One of the most decorated players in American Association history, Espinosa played seven different defensive positions during his 15-year professional career. He joined the Wingnuts during the stretch run in 2014 and made an immediate impact, hitting .338 with six home runs over the final 36 games. The switch-hitter then followed it up with a 2015 season in which he hit .290. Espinosa ranks first all-time in league history in hits, runs scored, and triples.

Shortstops

  • Ryan Khoury (2012-2014)
    • A stalwart defender on the left side of the Wingnuts infield, Khoury posted a career .967 fielding percentage while playing in 299 out of a possible 300 games over the course of his three seasons in Wichita. The former Red Sox minor leaguer owns the Wingnuts single-season and career records for stolen bases, swiping 37 in 2012 and 94 for his career. He is one of just four players in franchise history to record at least 300 hits.
  • Josh Horn (2009-2011)
    • The owner of the second-most hits in Wingnuts history with 341, Horn posted a batting average of at least .310 in each of his three seasons in Wichita. After starting his Wingnuts career as a second baseman, Horn shifted to the left side of the diamond in 2010, eventually helping the 2011 team to a Central Division title.

Third Basemen

  • Abel Nieves (2013-2014)
    • With a .378 batting average in his Wingnuts career, Nieves can stake a claim as the best hitter in franchise history. After scalding the league for a .357 clip in 2013, the Wingnuts traded Nieves to Grand Prairie, then reacquired him for the final 13 regular season games of 2014. All Nieves did during that two-week stretch was put up a .558/.635/1.309 slash line, proving instrumental in the Wingnuts title-winning run.
  • TJ Mittelstaedt (2015-2017)
    • One of the most versatile players in the entire American Association, Mittelstaedt has been a remarkably consistent presence in the middle of the Wichita order for three seasons. His 295 games played in a Wingnuts uniform ranks third in franchise history, and he sits in the top five of 12 other team categories. The only player in American Association history to lead the circuit in walks for four straight seasons, Mittelstaedt tops the franchise career charts in bases on balls (249) and triples (17).

Outfielders

  • Brent Clevlen (2011, 2013-2017)
    • Without question the best player in Wingnuts history, Clevlen is the franchise leader in virtually all major offensive categories. Most notably, he tops the charts in runs scored (315), hits (513), doubles (131), home runs (71), and runs batted in (312). His 2014 campaign, in which he hit .372 with 20 home runs and 80 RBI, earned him the American Association Most Valuable Player award. The former big-leaguer started his Wingnuts career in centerfield, eventually sliding over to left and even spending time at first base towards the tail-end of the 2017 season. This past season he set a career-high and topped the league with 34 doubles, moving him into the top five of the American Association’s all-time list.
  • David Peralta (2012)
    • Now a regular in the everyday lineup for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Peralta got his start with the Wingnuts in 2012. The sweet-swinging rightfielder put up a .332 average in his lone season in the ICT, driving home 70 runs while also swiping 25 bases. He was traded to Amarillo the following season, then signed with the Diamondbacks organization after 42 games.
  • Carlo Testa (2014)
    • Another one-year wonder with the Wingnuts championship-winning club in 2014, Testa hit .338/.398/.521 while playing in all 100 games. His 134 hits recorded during the campaign are the fourth-most any Wichita player has logged during a single season, including 25 doubles and 10 home runs. Testa used his blazing speed to steal 24 bases and slap nine triples, second-most in franchise history.
  • Mike Conroy (2011-2012)
    • Known as one of the grittiest and hard-working players in Wingnuts history, Conroy’s all-out playing style made him a fan favorite for his two years in Wichita. Second in franchise history with 16 triples, the former first round draft pick hit .302 with 23 doubles in 2011, then battled through injuries to check in at .287 the following year.
  • Greg Porter (2009, 2012)
    • Few players in Independent baseball history have put up a season like Porter did in 2009. The former Texas A&M Aggie cracked 25 doubles, 21 homers, and drove in 86 runs on his way to a .372 batting average, tied for the second-highest single-season total in Wingnuts history. Perhaps most impressively, Porter struck out just 39 times in 95 games, while drawing 56 walks. He rejoined the Wingnuts in 2012 for 31 games, helping them to a Central Division title.

Designated Hitter

  • John Rodriguez (2012-2013)
    • A former World Series champion with the St. Louis Cardinals, Rodriguez spent the final two seasons of his 17-year professional career putting up eye-popping numbers in a Wingnuts uniform. Splitting time between corner outfield spots and DH, Rodriguez hit .332 with 16 homers and 81 RBI in 2012, then managed to top those numbers the following season. Playing in all 100 games, he slugged 19 round-trippers and drove in 86 runs, all while swinging at a .337 clip. His 167 career RBI ranks third in Wingnuts history.

Starting Pitchers

  • Tim Brown (2014-2017)
    • After acquiring Brown from the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League following the 2013 season, the veteran right-hander immediately cemented himself as one of the top hurlers in the league. He won double-digit games in each of his first two seasons, then racked up nine more victories last year. Re-joining the Wingnuts for the stretch run in 2017, Brown became the franchise’s all-time leader in victories with 33. His 433.2 career innings in a Wichita uniform is a testament to his durability, and his precision control resulted in just 54 walks over that time frame.
  • Jon Link (2013-2016)
    • Link was one of the American Association’s most dominant starters over the course of his four-year career in Wichita. He anchored the 2013 pitching staff that produced a franchise-best 3.38 earned run average, going 6-1 with a 1.74 ERA before being scooped up by the Tigers organization. Link returned the following year to go 11-2 and help the Wingnuts to an American Association title, then followed it up with a 2015 season in which he went 6-0 with a 1.89 ERA. The right-hander also owns the Wingnuts record for strikeouts in a single game, punching out 16 Grand Prairie AirHogs in August of 2014.
  • Ryan Hinson (2011-2013)
    • Few names appear as frequently across the Wingnuts record book as Hinson, who finds himself ranked in the top five of no less than 12 major pitching categories. A consistent presence at the top of the rotation for three seasons, Hinson put together one of the most overpowering seasons for any Wichita hurler in 2013. The lefty started the year 7-2 with a minuscule 1.53 ERA in 10 starts, including two complete games, before having his contract purchased by the Atlanta Braves.
  • Anthony Capra (2012-2016)
    • Now the Wingnuts pitching coach, “Big Game Tony C” and his wicked changeup racked up a franchise-record 305 strikeouts over his five seasons in the ICT. Capra ranks second in Wingnuts history with 55 games started and 294.1 innings pitched, and got the ball in some of the team’s most significant postseason contests. His seven shutout frames against the Grand Prairie AirHogs in 2013 propelled the Wingnuts to the Championship Series, and the following season he picked up the victory with five strong innings in Game Three to help Wichita blow past Lincoln for the league title.
  • Derek Blacksher (2009, 2011-2012)
    • Blacksher announced his presence in a big way after being acquired from the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League in 2009. The durable right-hander piled up an 11-2 record to go along with a 3.38 ERA over 125.0 innings of work, tied for the fourth-most single-season wins in franchise history. After spending all of 2010 with Newark in the Atlantic League, the Wingnuts re-acquired Blacksher the following year, in which he went 5-3 with a 3.97 ERA. In 2012 he set team records for starts made (22) and innings pitched (144.1) on his way to a 10-5 season.
  • Junior Guerra (2011, 2013)
    • The opening day starter for the Milwaukee Brewers this season, Guerra put together two electric seasons in a Wingnuts uniform. In 2011, the hard-throwing righty posted a 9-3 record to go along with a 3.57 ERA, striking out 103 batters (fifth-most in Wingnuts history). The numbers got even better after returning to Wichita in 2013, as Guerra led the league with 126 punchouts, on his way to another nine-win season and a 3.30 ERA. Despite only playing two seasons with the Wingnuts, his career mark of 229 K’s ranks fourth all-time.

Relief Pitchers

  • Daniel Bennett (2013-2015)
    • Getting the call 143 times out of the Wingnuts ‘pen, Bennett has far and away the most appearances in franchise history. The sidewinding right-hander worked in a variety of roles, from mid-innings swingman to ninth inning closer. In all situations Bennett was spectacular, notching a career 2.64 ERA over 150.0 innings of work. His best season was his last; despite a 1-8 record, the former Florida State Seminole allowed just 36 hits in 50.1 innings and finished with an ERA of 1.97.
  • Nick Walters (2012-2013)
    • Perhaps somewhere in the ranks of Independent baseball there has been a more impressive season than the one Walters put together in 2012, but one would be hard-pressed to find it. The left-hander allowed only 22 hits in 52.0 innings of work, holding opposing hitters to a paltry .127 average. Things got even more ridiculous when facing same-side hitters, as Walters allowed just three hits to lefties in 83 at-bats (.036 average.) He finished the year 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA, then followed it up by going 6-1 with a 3.52 mark the following year.
  • Josh Dew (2011-2013)
    • Unequivocally the best closer in Wingnuts history, Dew ranks third in American Association history with 56 saves. Over three record-breaking seasons with Wichita, the right-hander posted the best career ERA in franchise history (1.58), racking up 20, 9, and then 27 saves. In 87.0 total innings of work over those three seasons, Dew allowed just one home run, notching 126 strikeouts while handing out 45 walks. His 27 saves in 2013 remain the most in a single season in Wingnuts history.
  • Frankie Reed (2015-2016)
    • After a brief stint with the Wingnuts in 2015, Reed returned to Wichita as the club’s full-time closer the following year, and piled up 21 saves, good for third-most in franchise history. The longtime Marlins minor leaguer went 6-3 with a 1.87 ERA over 53.0 innings of work, striking out 53 opposing hitters and surrendering less than a hit per inning. Reed was named an American Association Mid-Season All-Star for his efforts, retiring the only batter that he faced in the All-Star Game in St. Paul.
  • Matt Nevarez (2011-2012, 2014-2015)
    • Despite a Wingnuts career that was often interrupted by stints in the affiliated ranks, when wearing a Wichita uniform Nevarez was one of the most consistent bullpen arms the league has ever seen. Over the course of four seasons and 91 relief appearances, the big righty went 8-4 with a 2.10 ERA, registering 39 saves. In 2014, Nevarez dominated hitters to the tune of a 1.58 ERA and 23 saves, then got even better the following year, recording a mind-blowing 0.68 ERA before signing with the Mexican League.
  • James Hoyt (2012)
    • Hoyt’s stint in Wichita was brief but brilliant, appearing in just 11 games during the 2012 campaign. Now a reliever with the Houston Astros, Hoyt displayed dominant stuff to the tune of a 2-0 record and a 2.61 ERA while with the Wingnuts. Before being signed by the Atlanta Braves organization, Hoyt struck out more than 15 batters per 9.0 innings, finishing five games and recording one save.