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Indians expect to contend again

Another hot start would be welcomed

There are no guarantees during any Northwest League baseball season, but it’s all but certain that the Spokane Indians won’t get out of the gates as quickly as they did in 2014.

After all, last year’s Indians became the first Spokane team to start a season 13-2 since the 1911 group.

But a quick glance at Spokane’s 2015 roster shows encouraging signs that the Indians should again put a winning product on the field at Avista Stadium.

Spokane, last year’s North Division first-half champion, will begin its 33rd consecutive NWL season at 6:30 tonight at Avista with the first of five games against the defending league champion Hillsboro Hops.

Spokane right-hander Luke Lanphere will start the opener. Lanphere was 2-2 with an earned-run average of 3.42 last season for the parent-club Texas Rangers’ Arizona Rookie League team.

The Indians started last season 6-0 and won their first eight home games. Spokane captured the North’s first-half title with a record of 25-13 and lost a pair of one-run games to Vancouver during the divisional series.

“Our scouts did an exceptional job last year and I’m hoping these guys pan out just as well as last year’s crew,” said Tim Hulett, beginning his record ninth season as Indians manager.

Texas has stocked its short-season Class A team with 12 players who were part of the 2014 Arizona Rookie League team that won a first-half divisional title and advanced to the postseason semifinals.

“We were pretty good,” said Indians infielder Ti’Quan Forbes, who hit .241 with 27 runs and 10 stolen bases last season. “We had a good first half and made the second round of the playoffs. I think we’re in for a run here.”

The Rangers also sent Spokane 14 players selected in last week’s Major League Baseball draft, including five chosen in the top 10 rounds. Texas’ first selection – and the fourth overall pick – right-hander Dillon Tate, reported to town Wednesday as the Indians wrapped up their three-day minicamp.

“There’s going to be a ton of energy out here, excitement of the fans and I think the Spokane Indians are excited as well,” said the UC Santa Barbara product, the first pitcher taken in the draft. “I know the guys are going to come out and put on a show.”

The other top-10 selections are: infielder Dylan Moore, seventh round; right-hander Blake Bass, eighth; right-hander Peter Fairbanks, ninth; and infielder Leon Byrd Jr., 10th. Bass and Fairbanks are two of the four Indians pitchers who are 6-foot-5 or taller.

The current roster of 34 features just three returners from last year’s quick-starting team: pitcher Jason Hoppe and outfielders Doug Votolato and Diego Cedeno. Votolato was limited to two games and seven at-bats because of a stress fracture in his left ankle.

“This will be a different dynamic, to see how everybody blends together,” Votolato said. “There’s a good core coming from extended (spring training).”

Spokane will play its first eight games at home. The Indians are also hosting this year’s All-Star Game on Aug. 4, which for the first time will match the NWL against the Pioneer League.

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