The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Other Sports

April 29, 2014

Miners look to avoid pitfalls

Rampant loss of players a focus in Epling’s recruiting efforts

BECKLEY — On the way to a second straight Prospect League championship, West Virginia Miners manager Tim Epling had to wear another hat.

“I had to play Dr. Phil a lot,” he said. “And I’m not a very good psychologist.”

That the Miners were able to win another championship under last year’s circumstances is a testament to the job performed by Epling and his coaching staff.

First, it took the team nearly a month to develop a winning chemistry. At one point, the Miners were 12-12 and bore no resemblance of a team built to win a title. Finally, things started to click and West Virginia ran away with the East Division championship.

Even so, players seemed to be leaving on a daily basis. From college coaches shutting their pitchers down, to homesick players calling it a summer, the attrition was relentless. West Virginia went undefeated in the postseason, including a two-game sweep of Quincy in the league championship series, but did so with only 18 players remaining from what had been a 28-man roster.

Winning was nice, but Epling never wants to go through those circumstances again. That was a major focus as he and his coaches built the roster for the 2014 season, which will begin Thursday, May 29, at Butler.

The rigors of the summer season were addressed up front with players and coaches as Epling recruited his team.

“I think communication, making sure the player understands what he is going to be coming into, I think that is vital,” Epling said. “The coaches have the power of the pen (in determining) whether they can come or not. I have not only persuaded the coaches, but also persuaded the players. Sometimes that’s easy, especially if you’ve got relationships with some of these guys. But then when you are trying to build new relationships with new players, it’s tough.”

Of the 27 players on the roster, only three were here last year: pitchers Kolin Stanley and Quinton Yocom and outfielder Zach Woolcock.

Stanley has been instrumental in both of the Miners’ championships. He got the save in the 2012 clincher at Dubois County, and he was the winning pitcher in West Virginia’s 4-3, 11-inning walkoff against Quincy last summer.

When Stanley puts on his jersey this year, he will become just the second three-year Miner in team history, joining former Marshall teammate Gray Stafford.

Epling is excited about the roster overall. He’s always encouraged by the pitching, which he says has been a “hallmark” of the Miners in their first four seasons, but he also thinks he will field a fast team that could hit well.

“You never know about paper. You look at the kids’ stats and those things can be deceiving,” Epling said. “But, for the most part, the coaches have given us pretty good accolades on the kids that we’ve gotten this year.”

Of course, a lot depends on how deep into the college postseason each player’s school goes. Then there’s the Major League Baseball draft, which Epling says could pluck two or three of his players before they even get to Beckley. That includes J.D. Hammer, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-handed pitcher at Navarro College, and 6-7, 210-pound RHP Jake Paulson of Oakland University.

Hammer is 2-0 with a 3.00 earned run average. Paulson, who beat nationally ranked Oklahoma State early this season, is 3-5 but has a 2.94 ERA (38 runs allowed, only 16 earned).

The Miners’ first home game is set for Saturday, May 31, against league newcomer Champion City Kings. First pitch will be 7:05 p.m., and the game will be followed by the traditional fireworks show.

— E-mail: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber.

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