The boys of summer are back in town.
The Texas Rangers assigned 28 players to the Spokane Indians on Saturday for the start of the Northwest League season, which opens on Friday. The 28-man roster includes 15 pitchers and 13 position players.
The Indians start on the road with a three-game series in Vancouver and four at Salem-Keizer before the home opener against Boise on June 21.
The Northwest League abolished five-game series for the 2019 season.
The Indians are expected to receive players from the 2019 MLB draft, although their arrival time is still to be determined. Last season, Spokane received nine players from the draft.
In addition, the Rangers officially announced who will join new manager Kenny Hook on the Indians’ 2019 coaching staff. Indians 2014 assistant coach Salomon Manriquez is back to serve as the team’s hitting coach, and the pitching coaches will be Henderson Lugo and Cody Aden.
Most of the players arrived on Saturday at Spokane International Airport, eager to get the campaign underway.
Six players return to the Indians from the 2018 roster that went to the NWL championship series. The returners include starting outfielder Starling Joseph (11 home runs, 30 runs batted in), catcher and NWL All-Star Francisco Ventura (five HRs, 22 RBIs) and catcher Kevin Mendoza (.231).
“I feel so good to be back and get started again,” Joseph said. “We’re all excited to play hard, and we want to win the championship this year.”
Spokane veterans Cristian Inoa (.255, 13 RBIs) and Jonah McReynolds (.223, 13 RBIs) return as well.
“It’s a very familiar place, obviously, this being year three for me here,” McReynolds said. “Same goal, though, you know – try to get better, win baseball games and be available for my teammates.”
In his third season, McReynolds would seem to be a natural leader for teammates new to Spokane and the Indians.
“I mean, I would hope so,” he said. “I feel like I’m kind of a voice in the locker room. Plus, I play a lot of positions, so I can give a lot of insight to guys and stuff from what I see, so I’m looking forward to that, too.”
Ten players on the 2018 roster were selected by the Rangers in the 2018 draft. That list includes infielder Jayce Easley (fifth round), infielder Kenen Irizarry (13th round), and pitcher Theo McDowell (14th round).
Easley is the son of former major leaguer Damion Easley. Last year, he ranked second on the Rangers’ Arizona Rookie League team with 22 steals while hitting .287.
Easley doesn’t feel the pressure of carrying his dad’s name into his journey as a minor leaguer.
“I want to be a leader my myself, not based off what my dad has set for me,” he said. “But it’s just a great opportunity. I love that the Rangers have the belief in me to be here and I’m just excited to get after it.”
Other notables on the roster include catcher David Garcia, who ranks as the Rangers’ No. 29 prospect. He started 31 games in the Arizona League last year and threw out 17 baserunners on 53 attempts.
Former Gonzaga Bulldogs pitcher Sam Hellinger returns to Spokane to make his professional debut. Hellinger last pitched for the Zags in 2017 and went 4-3 with a 3.79 ERA in his senior season.
“It’s almost like coming home,” Hellinger said. “My first pro ball experience being in Spokane is both very comfortable and very exciting.”
Hellinger is looking forward to getting out in front of the crowds as Avista Stadium.
“We were just down at extended spring training,” he said, “and the only fans are the opposing scouts and our teammates, so it will be nice to play in front of some fans that really love baseball, and it’ll be fun to play in front of them.”
The roster also includes other standouts from the 2018 AZL Rangers.
First baseman Maxwell Morales led the team in home runs and RBIs, while fellow first base Stanley Martinez led the Rangers with a .336 average and a .413 on-base percentage.
Joshua Javier and Ricky Vanasco were two of the notable pitchers for the AZL Rangers. Javier went 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA and 45 strikeouts. Vanasco can reach the upper 90s with his fastball and won three of the seven games he appeared in last season.
The Indians lost in the NWL championship series last season, and McReynolds hopes this group can lead Spokane to a title.
“I feel like we have a scrappy group of guys,” he said. “So we’re all going to get our chances to play, and hopefully this year we can actually finish the deal with a ring.”
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