There were plenty of happy faces Monday afternoon at Avista Stadium.
Not many of them, however, were familiar faces.
The Spokane Indians began their three-day minicamp with 34 players on the roster, 10 more than when the Northwest League team started practice sessions in 2014.
“Our numbers were really low last year to start the season off, but this year we have a full boat,” said Tim Hulett, ready to begin a record ninth season as Indians manager. “I think that really brings a great competitive nature every day out there, because if you don’t show up, there are plenty of guys who will.”
Most of the 20 pitchers, six outfielders, five infielders and three catchers on the roster will see the facilities for the first time. The rare exceptions are pitchers Jason Hoppe and John Kukuruda, and outfielders Doug Votolato and Diego Cedeno. All played for last year’s Indians except 23-year-old Kukuruda, who pitched for Spokane in 2011 and ’12.
“We have a good group of guys this year, just being around them the last two months (in extended spring training),” said Hoppe, who finished 1-4 last year with a 5.50 earned-run average in 15 games, including four starts. “Everybody gets along really well.”
Hoppe, who weighed 175 pounds last year, added 15 pounds during the offseason with a strict regimen of extra calories and weight training. He rolled his ankle throwing a bullpen session in Minnesota three days before reporting to Arizona. The injury limited his spring workouts and led to his return to Spokane.
“The coaching staff wasn’t able to see me go out there and pitch,” Hoppe said. “They saw me a lot last summer, but you obviously have to perform in spring training to put a good thought in the coaches’ minds that you’re ready to move up to the next level.”
Last year’s minicamp was a downer for Votolato after being drafted in the ninth round out of Central Arkansas. Votolato suffered a stress fracture during the practice sessions and was limited to two games and seven at-bats.
“Last year I saw how awesome the fans are and just how meaningful it is to the city, so I was just excited to come back and play,” Votolato said. … “I stayed for the first half. I left two days before they clinched (the North Division first-half title), but I got to see some good baseball.”
Cedeno hit .312 in 36 games last season.
Among the newcomers to Spokane are pitcher Dillon Tate, the fourth overall selection in last week’s Major League Baseball draft; third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes, a second-round draft choice last year; and Dan Scheibe of Richland, a free-agent signee who pitched a no-hitter for Whitworth University in April at the Northwest Conference tournament. Tate is expected in camp Wednesday.
“I think this is going to be a group that’s a lot like last year, really gritty, hard-nosed guys who really get after it,” Hulett said. “I see a little bit more team speed than we had last year. We have some guys who can really run, especially (outfielder) LeDarious Clark. He has exceptional speed.”
The minicamp continues today and Wednesday. Spokane will begin the regular season with an eight-game homestand, starting Thursday against defending NWL champion Hillsboro.
Hulett said right-hander Luke Lanphere, a 21st-round selection in 2013, will be Spokane’s opening-night starter.
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