TERRE HAUTE —
Perseverance was one of the stories for the Terre Haute Rex during the 2011 season as manager Brian Dorsett took the team to its first playoff berth in its second year of existence.
As can happen in a 56-game schedule, injuries to the pitching staff and on the field created adversity, but a deep bench and midseason acquisitions helped the team push through to a Prospect League West Division title.
Key players — and leaders — from last year such as two-year Rex standout Koby Kraemer, big midseason pickup Steven Bruno and Indiana State outfielder Lucas Hileman are gone.
Except for reliever Nick Cunningham, the entire pitching staff will be brand new to Rex fans, who built on the inaugural 2010 season by averaging more than 1,000 fans per home game at Bob Warn Field.
Indiana State catcher and Missouri Valley Conference Most Valuable Player Jeremy Lucas is on the roster, but the West Vigo graduate is expected to be drafted in next month’s MLB Draft.
Terre Haute native Jacob Hayes, who redshirted for the Sycamores this spring, returns to the team as a quality left-handed hitter.
“Versatile player, can play infield and outfield. Look for him at both spots,” Dorsett said. “He’s got a lot of upside and will be a big plus for Indiana State next year.”
Another MVC player, Southern Illinois’ Nick Johnson, is a returnee who could bat in the middle of the order but could be a late arrival due to a knee injury.
Catcher Brett Teschner is back behind the plate, and Cunningham will return after his season with the Arizona Wildcats.
Chris Roglen, a part-time starter in 2011, is back and Dorsett expects more in 2012 from the big right-handed hitter.
“He did not have a good year last year for us. But I knew he possessed the ability to get it going when we brought him in,” Dorsett said. “Sure enough, he had a tremendous season at Scottsdale Community College. They’re going to the JUCO World Series, and hit third for them all year.”
Late-season pickup Michael Schroeder, a Northwest Indiana native who provides a left-handed arm and a capable bat, is another player Dorsett is excited to get back in Terre Haute.
“With the returning guys, what’s nice about that, they know what it’s like to play here,” Dorsett said. “They’re excited to be back. They can pass that message to the other players that they’re going to love it. A lot of these kids don’t play in front of these types of crowds so that’s something the new guys can look forward to.”
As noted above, pitching depth can be big in wooden-bat collegiate summer leagues such as the Prospect League.
Dorsett is excited about a staff that includes Indiana State right-handed starter Ryan Torgerson, the Sycamores’ No. 3 starter.
“He’s going to be big for us we believe. We’re excited to have him,” Dorsett said.
Purdue’s Robert Ramer who has tossed 40 1/3 innings this spring with a 4.91 earned-run average, could be a key player for the Rex.
Dorsett and pitching coach John Howes will have multiple left-handers to send to the hill this year.
“We’re really excited about our pitching. Added quite a few lefties to the staff, something we were a little deficient in last year,” Dorsett said.
Among the lefties will be: Kyle Zimmerman of Wayne State, John Oltman of Creighton, Clay Manering of Parkland Community College, Ben Dartnell of Eastern Michigan and Christian Hull of Southeast Missouri State.
Right-hander Will Robinson of Valparaiso University and Billy Timmerman — a Valparaiso native who plays for Belmont Abbey — and Tommy Strunc of Creighton round out the pitching staff.
Terre Haute’s bullpen could be a strong point. University of Tennessee closer Nick Blount, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, will take over closing duties. Blount had 10 saves for the Volunteers, and Cunningham is a likely candidate for a set-up role.
Newcomers in the field include infielders Edwin Cheatham, Jason Blum, Spencer Mahoney, and Jeff Limbaugh, who is also an outfielder. Indiana State outfielder Casey McCurdy should also provide another solid left-handed bat.
The Rex open the season Tuesday at Danville. The Prospect League schedule has changed this season, with teams only playing teams within their division. The Rex and Dans will play 12 times this season, for example.
Rex general manager Roland Shelton hopes to capitalize on this opportunity to solidify a rivalry with the nearby Dans. The Rex are hoping the two teams can award a traveling trophy to the team that wins the season series.
A schedule heavy with division foes will limit travel and create more three-game series vs. opponents.
For Dorsett and his coaching staff that includes Ronnie Prettyman and newcomer Bobby Segal it’s a chance to do more coaching since they’ll get to know the opposing players better.
“We’ve always tried to make sure we were able to record as much as possible as far as pitching charts go. We also have a book on the opposing hitters,” Dorsett said. “We want to chart what they swung out and where it was hit. Then we’ll show our guys the chart on how to play them. We’ll go over that prior to the at-bats, prior to the game. Guys will tend to start moving on their own and getting in position. It will make it a little more fun because u truly do build a book on them.”
The Rex home opener is Thursday against the Quincy Gems. Fireworks will follow after the game’s conclusion.