For Tim Epling, it must feel like 2010 all over again.
Not since the West Virginia Miners’ inaugural season has there been so much unknown in regard to the players who will be wearing the green-and-gold. One year after the Miners won the Prospect League Championship, only one member of that history-making team — Marshall reliever Kolin Stanley — will return when the team starts the season next month.
“It’s like trying to bake a cake and not knowing what all the ingredients are,” said Epling, the Miners manager. “You hope you can make something that people want to sink their teeth into.”
Winning the league title in its third year of existence is sure to have fans excited for the start of season No. 4. But gone are familiar names such as Gray Stafford — the only three-time Miner — Clayton Prestridge and John Spirk.
And with league rosters expanded by two to 28 players, that made Epling’s endeavor all the more challenging.
“I think we’re going to be more athletic than we have ever been,” Epling said. “The key of it is that I don’t know what kind of pitching we are going to have. We’ve always had really good pitching.”
West Virginia had one of the league’s top staffs, led by the likes of Sam Lewis — who threw the first two no-hitters in team history — Jared Messer and Jake Johansen. Messer and Johansen were chosen in last year’s amateur draft, and Lewis signed as a free agent with Kansas City after the season was over.
Also gone are infielder Bradley Strong and outfielder Luke Meeteer, two of the league’s top base stealers. Strong started in the PL All-Star game and is set to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer.
Epling said it was important to recruit versatility to this year’s infield.
“We’ve got three or four shortstops that we are going to be moving around,” he said. “Our outfielders are six really, really fast (guys). And our catchers are very athletic.
“I tried to get better athletes than what I had last year, so we’ll see what happens.”
There will be some interesting stories around the Miners camp this summer.
Pitcher Trace Dempsey of Ohio State is a Huntington native who pitched for the Chillicothe Paints last season. Jaesung Hwang, a pitcher at Lipscomb University, is the son of Hongchul Hwang, who ran the 400-meter hurdles for South Korea at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Outfielder Kaeo Aliviado comes to the Mountain State via Ewa Beach, Hawaii. He is a 5-foot-6 sophomore for the Rainbows.
The Miners have already lost two prospective players to injury. Outfielder Blake Sipe of Radford is out with a torn ACL, and catcher Tyler Latham from Bryan College suffered a broken arm after being hit by a pitch.
Stanley played a key role in the 2012 run, pitching a perfect ninth to get the save in the Miners’ 6-3 title-clinching win at Dubois County.
“Kolin was steady. You knew what you were going to get from him,” Epling said. “We started him, we relieved him. I even closed with him. He was the kind of kid, he didn’t throw 94, but you knew what you were going to get. He understood how to pitch, and he knew his strengths and weaknesses right off the bat.”
The Miners will open the season Tuesday, May 28, at home versus Slippery Rock.
— E-mail: gfauber@
Stanley only player back from 2012
For Tim Epling, it must feel like 2010 all over again.
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