With only seven returning players, there will be a lot of new faces for Clinton baseball fans to get used to when the LumberKings open the Midwest League baseball season.
Fans don’t have long to wait until they can get a peek at the players — both returning and new — as Clinton opens the season Thursday by hosting Burlington at Ashford University Field.
The LumberKings arrived in Clinton on Monday afternoon and were excited to get to the business of playing baseball.
“We’re always eager to get out of spring training and play some games that count,” pitcher Stephen Kohlscheen said. Kohlscheen went 5-3 with a 4.44 ERA in 22 games for the LumberKings last season.
“I’m anxious to get started,” Jabari Blash said. Blash — expected to be the opening day starter in right field — batted .218 with three home runs and 13 RBIs for Clinton last season.
Other players who spent some time on the LumberKings roster last season and open the season in Clinton this year are catchers Steven Baron and Carlton Tanabe, pitcher John Taylor and infielders Ramon Morla and Anthony Phillips.
Baron, who batted .197 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 57 games, is expected to start behind the plate on opening day. Morla hit .170 with seven RBIs in 28 games with Clinton last year. He is the likely starter at third base for Thursday’s game. Next to him defensively will likely be Phillips at shortstop.
Phillips played in 100 games for Clinton last season, batting .199 with four home runs and 25 RBIs. Phillips was second on last year’s team with 23 stolen bases.
Taylor went 0-2 with a 3.78 ERA in 10 appearances last year after being promoted late in the season. He said he was looking forward to starting the year in Clinton.
“The caliber of hitting took a big jump from rookie to A-ball,” he said. “I got off to a rough start (in Clinton), but then I found my way and was more consistent. I hope to start off the season like that.”
Tanabe batted .219 with 14 RBIs in 48 games for the LumberKings last year.
“I expect good things from the team this year,” Tanabe said. “We’ve been jelling pretty well at spring training. I’m excited to get started.”