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Indians open minicamp with familiar-looking roster

Pitcher Alex De La Cruz laughs with teammates on Tuesday at Avista Stadium during the Indians’ first practice of the season, which gets underway Friday. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Pitcher Alex De La Cruz laughs with teammates on Tuesday at Avista Stadium during the Indians’ first practice of the season, which gets underway Friday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s a warning sign when a Northwest League baseball team returns a big chunk of players from the previous season.

Spokane Indians manager Tim Hulett and returning Indians infielder Cam Schiller would like to dispel that notion.

The 2013 Indians took the field at Avista Stadium for the first time on Tuesday, beginning a three-day minicamp that leads up to Friday’s Northwest League opener against visiting Everett.

The first released 30-player roster includes 10 players who spent time with the 2012 Indians: pitchers Richard Alvarez, Eric Brooks and Abel De Los Santos; catcher Brandon Garcia; infielders Schiller, Gabriel Roa and Barrett Serrato; and outfielders Chris Garia, Saquan Johnson and Hirotoshi Onaka.

Since the goal of every minor league player is to move up the ladder, a roster that is one-third full of players who didn’t advance from short-season Class A ball could be viewed suspiciously.

Not so fast, Hulett and Schiller said.

“I think it’s OK because those guys weren’t guys who were everyday players, for the most part,” said Hulett, who is entering his seventh season as Spokane’s manager. “So it’s a good opportunity for them to get in here and get an everyday opportunity, which is what everybody wants.”

Schiller, a second baseman who missed the last three weeks of the 2012 season with a broken thumb, pointed out that the parent-club Texas Rangers drafted many talented high school players last season who played rookie ball in Arizona and jumped past the NWL to Class A Hickory this year.

“Our young guys last year put up some very, very impressive numbers in rookie league and deserved to go up,” Schiller said. “They deserved every chance, so we’re just going to keep competing here.”

That process began in earnest Tuesday with workouts and meetings in preparation for the 76-game summer season.

“We have a lot of guys who have been here and a lot of guys who have been in extended spring, so that makes it a little bit easier,” Hulett said. “Those guys don’t need as many reps to learn bunt defenses, pickoffs and different things like that.”

Right-handed pitcher Alex Gonzalez, the Rangers’ first-round selection in last week’s draft, could have been forgiven if his head was spinning a bit.

Gonzalez signed with Texas for $2,215,000 on Monday, attended the Rangers’ home game against Cleveland, then woke up at 6 a.m. CDT to catch a flight to Spokane. He arrived in town not knowing that he was expected at Avista Stadium in 30 minutes.

“It’s a shock, because it’s my first time coming to the minor leagues, but that’s just the way it is,” said Gonzalez, Schiller’s former teammate at Oral Roberts. “You have to get your things and move quickly.”

Gonzalez said the Rangers told him he would be the Indians’ Opening Night starter as long as he was ready. Gonzalez said he threw in the bullpen on Tuesday and felt good to go.

Gonzalez had never seen the Northwest and will get his first view of Canada next week, when Spokane plays a three-game series at Vancouver. Gonzalez said he would lean on Schiller and other returning players to get a feel for Spokane and the NWL.

“The best piece of advice I can give to anybody is to just go out and do your thing,” Schiller said. “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, because it’s your first year.”

Schiller, who grew up in Wenatchee before moving to Arizona prior to starting high school, hit .281 for Spokane last season before his injury. He’ll play this season with his thoughts on Arizona and wife Kelli, who is due to deliver their son on Aug. 3. The timing may be perfect, because the NWL All-Star Break is set for Aug. 5-7.

Besides Gonzalez, other high draft picks in camp include right-hander Collin Wiles, selected in the first round last year; outfielder Jamie Jarmon, second round last year; right-hander David Ledbetter, third round this year; right-hander Kyle Castro, third round in 2011; and catcher Joe Jackson, fifth round this year.

“My initial response would be I like the pitching,” Hulett said. “I think we have a lot of good arms, a lot of guys with some pretty good experience.”

Today’s minicamp, open to the public, will start about 12:30 p.m. The Indians will practice under the lights on Thursday at about 6.

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