HOOPER CONFIDENT ENTERING PLAYOFFS

HOOPER CONFIDENT ENTERING PLAYOFFS

Independent Baseball Insider: Vol. 11, No. 29, August 29, 2013

By Bob Wirz

“To be honest, there is no concern.”

How often does a manager talk in such confident terms?   Never might be too soon, right?

Yet, that was exactly what Wichita (KS) Wingnuts Manager Kevin Hooper (pictured) said this week when I asked him what his biggest concern was heading into next week’s American Association playoffs.

Let me make it clear that Hooper never comes across as cocky.  It seems more like confidence, which is understandable since he has led the Wingnuts to three consecutive division titles (although they have not won the postseason championship), has nearly a .600 winning percentage for his five seasons at the helm which came after he had been on eight postseason teams in a 10-year playing career and had helped Wichita State University get into the 1996 College World Series.

He does seem to put himself on a potential hot seat should Fargo, ND or some late postseason qualifier get hot and win it all because Hooper also says of this Wichita team, which is 64-31:  “We’re so talented.  I think we’re motivated…ready.”

The onetime infielder-outfielder, who got into a few major league games with Detroit in 2005-06, did throw out a warning to his team a few days ago.  “I mentioned to the guys that—especially in baseball—the best team doesn’t always win.  I’ve felt like we’ve had the best team the last couple of years and we were unable to win it all.  It (also) comes down to getting hot at the right time.  Winnipeg did it last year (to us) as the wild card.”

Wichita has had a lineup combining speed and power.  “This is my prototypical lineup”, Hooper believes, with speed in the first two slots in the batting order—No. 2 hitter Jake Kahaulelio also has 17 home runs–, power at 3-4-5 and league batting leader Abel Nieves (.358) hitting sixth.

The big name in the lineup is first baseman and cleanup hitter C. J. Ziegler, who is leading Tim Pahuta of Sioux Falls, SD 30 to 28 for the American Association home run title and seems to have the RBI crown under control with 98 so far. “He (Ziegler) has had a special year offensively,” Hooper praised.  “I’d be shocked if he is not (voted) the MVP.”   

For added confidence, the Wingnuts’ staff earned run average of 3.36 leads the other 12 teams.

Photo courtesy of the Wichita Wingnuts