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Spokane Indians manager Tim Hulett returns after unique opportunity in the Philippines

Spokane Indians players and coaches take to the field during the first day of baseball minicamp on Tuesday  at Avista Stadium. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Indians players and coaches take to the field during the first day of baseball minicamp on Tuesday at Avista Stadium. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Josh Horton joshho@spokesman.com

It’s business as usual for Spokane manager Tim Hulett on the first day of workouts for the Spokane Indians.

Putting names to faces and getting a feel for a roster consisting of players from different backgrounds with only three days of practice are some of the challenges of managing a minor league club. But thankfully for Hulett, who is entering his 10th straight year as the Indians’ manager, he feels more prepared for those challenges this season.

In February, Hulett coached the Philippines national team at the World Baseball Classic qualifying round in Sydney, Australia, where Hulett ran a minicamp before the competition so a diverse roster could be acquainted on the diamond.

“It’s exactly what we are going through right now in the minicamp,” Hulett said Tuesday. “It was a little tuneup for the minicamp here.”

Hulett landed the gig with Team Philippines through a connection with Will Ireton, a former Indians video coordinator who was tasked with recruiting players and coaches to the national team. Ireton, who formed a close relationship with Hulett during his stint with Spokane in 2013, reached out to the Indians manager after a couple of other candidates backed out.

“I appreciate the fact that Will thought of me and gave me that opportunity,” Hulett said.

Hulett’s team was bounced in the double-elimination tournament in two games with a pair of blowout losses, losing 11-1 to Australia and 17-7 to New Zealand. While the outcome wasn’t what he wanted, the new experience was what made it memorable.

“I’ve coached at a lot of different levels,” Hulett said, “but to go to Sydney, Australia, and do the international was a great experience.”

Fast forward to June and Hulett is again tasked with getting to know a mostly new roster. His biggest takeaway from the first day of practice was the pitching staff.

“It looks like we have some really good arms,” Hulett said. “It looks we are going to able to go right after guys and be really competitive on that side.”

The Indians’ preliminary 2016 opening-day roster, which is open to change before Friday, features seven who have played in Spokane and 14 picks from the recently completed Major League Baseball Drafty.

Fourth-round pick Charles LeBlanc joins the team as the highest draft pick. He won the Atlantic Coast Conference’s batting title while at Pittsburgh, hitting .405 as a sophomore.

“LeBlanc, at shortstop, showed really well today,” Hulett said. “I like his actions. I like a lot of the things he’s done.”

LeBlanc, 20, is from Lavan, Quebec, and is one the most highly touted players on the roster. Despite coming in as a prolific hitter at the college level, learning to use wood bats again is his biggest focus.

“That’s the only thing I’m kind of worried about right now,” LeBlanc said. “I’m sure with a couple of at-bats and a couple of games, I’ll be all right.”

Seth Spivey returns to Spokane looking to again make a name for himself. Spivey played with the Indians in 2014 and enjoyed immediate success. His .334 batting average was the third best in the Northwest League.

But he looks to prove he can do that again, while making the transition to catcher after playing his first two minor league seasons as an infielder.

“I’ve caught before growing up, but this will be my first time catching pro ball on a regular basis,” Spivey said. “I just want to catch a lot of wins. My goal is to maintain the pitching staff and to be able to hit also.”

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