TERRE HAUTE —
In his first season at the helm, first-year Terre Haute Rex manager Ronnie Prettyman is going to be surrounded by men he knows and trusts.
He can turn to new pitching coach Neil Walton, a former teammate of Prettyman’s on a national champion Cal State Fullerton squad.
The 31-year-old former infielder also expects to rely upon returning infielder Nick Johnson, returning first baseman/pitcher Kyle Zimmerman, relief pitcher Josh Dove and returning center fielder Kyle Kempf — who posted a team-high .365 batting average during a run to the West Division Championship.
“We’re having them back for a reason. We feel like the right type of kids, the right type of people we want representing the town,” Prettyman said. “Zimmerman’s a two-way guy, and both had pretty good offensive seasons for us.”
Prettyman, an Indiana State assistant coach, has also seen shortstop Tyler Wampler up close and expects the former West Vigo standout to be a critical piece of the Rex defense.
“He’s kind of an old school shortstop,” Prettyman said. “Anything that he lacks offensively, he makes up for on defense. He’s an outstanding defensive shortstop. Pitchers love pitching when he’s out there. They know he’s going to make plays. He’s fun to watch, makes exciting plays out there.”
While he had a .965 fielding percentage, Wampler finished with a .214 batting average for ISU, but Prettyman has faith he can make strides this summer.
“He’s got some things to work on. Hopefully he’ll have an outstanding summer for us,” Prettyman said.
Prettyman’s also seen Dove during his first year for the Sycamores. He hopes to see growth from the big right-handed reliever out of Terre Haute South as well.
“He’s had good outings and had some rough outings. Had tough luck as far as a lot of bloop singles and that. With his kind of stuff, he’ll get opportunties. I look for him to be a big part of the bullpen,” Prettyman said.
Dove is excited to be back in front of the hometown fans. And he’s ready to maintain the Rex’s winning ways.
“Playing with a group of people you’ve played with before definitely helps out. You know the capability of the team and you have some team chemistry already. You don’t have to wait for the team chemistry to build,” said Dove, adding that the players are excited about working with Prettyman on a daily basis again. “He’s one of the coaches, he can almost put down to a tee to make you understand what you’re doing wrong. He’s an amazing coach. He works well with everybody, and he konws a lot about the game.”
Several other Wabash Valley high school products are joining the team in 2013.
Former Terre Haute North teammates Cody Gardner and Bryan Nacke are coming aboard, along with former Riverton Parke right-handed pitcher Tim Johnson.
General manager Casey DeGroote, himself a former high school star at West Vigo, enjoys bringing the hometown talent to Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium for the summer.
“We try to get the good local talent,” DeGroote said. “Fortunately, we’ve had a good run. This year, we had five guys that are from here. It’s worked out pretty good. It’s a good baseball town so our high school coaches produce great talent. And we try to get guys that are ready to play in this league.”
Gardner just finished a freshman season at Division I Wright State in which he started 29 games and batted .210 with 14 RBI.
“I’ve probably learned more about baseball this year than through all my life,” Gardner said. “It was honor to be asked to play for the Rex. I’m real excited for it. I know the management and how it’s run is definitely top notch. It’ll be nice playing in front of the hometown and with some hometown guys.”
Nacke, a lefty who throws his fastball between 88 and 91 regularly, has spent two seasons at Vincennes University, primarily as the team’s closer. The time has been well spent, Nacke explained shortly after his season ended this spring.
“I added a new pitch this year. Started throwing a knuckle ball. I’ve gained a lot more accuracy with my curve ball. My mechanics are a lot better,” Nacke said.
Johnson, Nacke’s teammate at VU, could be in the mix in the starting rotation.
Finding some power bats to replace guys like Michael Schroeder could be key to the Rex success.
University of Washington junior Brian Wolfe is a big first baseman with that potential. He hit a pair of home runs for coach Lindsay Meggs’ Huskies during the spring. Outfielder Owen Conway has potential to provide power as he hit four doubles and a home run in 106 at-bats for Indiana State.
For everyone on the roster, Prettyman looks forward to helping them progress as young players.
“My goal for these guys is to help those guys develop. I expect them to play hard. I believe in developing winners and a winning mentality,” Prettyman. “Teaching them how to be pros. coming to the yard to work and making sure they’re focused every day. That said, teaching [that] it’s a long season. Successful baseball players don’t get too high, you don’t get too low.”