April 18, 2014 - American Association (AA) - Wichita Wingnuts
WICHITA, KS (April 18, 2014) - Way back in 1939 when Abner Doubleday wrote the rules for the sport we call baseball; the game was dominated by players from America. In the present day, however, there are talented players in every corner of the globe, giving teams an opportunity to search internationally for quality players to fill out their rosters. The Wichita Wingnuts have caught on, as evidenced by their latest round of additions: Dillon Hazlett from Topeka, Chad Kruse from San Antonio, Texas, Jose Roman from Puerto Rico, and Chun-Hsiu Chen (pronounced CHUHN-sue-CHEN) from Taiwan.
The 25-year old Chen has been playing affiliated ball in the Cleveland Indians organization since 2008 when he was signed at the age of 19. In Taiwan he played mainly as a pitcher and a third baseman, but was converted to catcher with the Indians. After starting his career slowly in rookie ball, Chen quickly adapted to the new position and advanced steadily through the organization. In 2011, with Akron (Double-A) he put up the best power numbers of his career by launching 16 home runs and driving in 70. In 2012 he was moved to first base and has played mainly that position since then.
Wingnuts' manager Kevin Hooper was looking for a big bat to add to the lineup and feels like he has found that in Chen, "I got great reports on him and I love the fact that he has a lot of experience at the upper levels in the minor leagues," said Hooper. "I am anxious to see him produce in the middle of our order. He can DH, play first base, and is also capable of playing some outfield."
Last season Chen, born in Hualien County, Taiwan, played 38 games with Akron and 94 games with the Indians' Triple-A affiliate in Columbus. He combined to hit .253 in 132 games with 15 home runs and 69 RBI. He also racked up 23 doubles, three triples, 13 stolen bases, and 60 walks. In 76 games at first base and 20 in left field, Chen finished with .987 fielding percentage, committing eight errors in 611 chances.
"I am going to enjoy playing for the Wingnuts, they run everything as close to an affiliated team as possible," said Chen. "They take care of their players, there aren't a ton of teams that are worth playing for, but Wichita is one of them. I appreciate the opportunity and cherish what I have now."
Roman (pronounced roh-MAHN) was born and raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. He played two years for the Pittsburgh Pirates' affiliate in the Venezuelan Summer League, but the 2014 season will be his first playing professionally stateside. In 2010 and 2011 for the VESL Pirates the 23-year old Roman played first base as well as all three outfield positions. In those two seasons he played in 126 games and hit an even .300 with eight home runs, 86 RBI, 33 doubles, eight stolen bases, and 64 walks while striking out just 74 times.
"I am hoping that Jose will be one of those hidden gems that you are able to find every once in a while. I like what I've heard and seen on video and am excited to see how he can help us," Hooper said. "He will come into camp competing for our first base job, but can also play some outfield, which is always a bonus."
Hazlett (pronounced HAYZ-lett) grew up, played high school ball, finished his college career, and now will resume his professional career in the state of Kansas. After starring at Topeka High, Hazlett attended Allen County Community College in Iola, KS for two years. Playing shortstop, he was named the Jayhawk Conference Freshman of the Year and then as a sophomore hit .462. Hazlett transferred to the University of North Carolina for his junior season, hitting .325 with four home runs and 54 RBI. Finally, he chose to move closer to home and finish his collegiate career at Emporia State University in 2011 where he was an All-MIAA and All-American selection after driving in 42 runs, stealing 43 bases and hitting a whopping .433.
Hazlett played 77 games for the Seattle Mariners Single-A affiliate in High Desert during the 2013 season. He hit .211 with seven home runs and 31 RBI while playing almost anywhere on the infield. The Mariners originally selected Hazlett in the 20th round of the 2011 draft and he has spent the past three seasons at rookie and Single-A affiliates in their system.
Hooper explained that he was impressed with Hazlett's versatility and athleticism, while also partial to his home state, "We brought Dillon in for an individual workout after being released this winter and fell in love with him. The fact that he is a Kansas kid is also a plus as we like to bring in as many quality local guys as we can." Hazlett will begin the season at third base.
The versatile Kruse (pronounced KROO-zee) will be playing his second season of professional baseball in 2014. He began his career playing for the Roswell Invaders of the Pecos League in 2013. The 24-year old infielder split his time between second and third base last season on his way to hitting .321 with 38 RBI in 59 games. In addition he tallied 20 doubles, two triples, and 24 walks. The right handed Kruse committed seven errors 161 chances. After the season he was named to the Pecos League's All-Star Team.
"Chad will come into camp competing for a utility spot. He played in the Texas Winter League and the feedback I got from folks was very positive," Hooper said while adding that he likes the way Kruse plays the game. "He seems to be a grinder/dirtbag type of guy and as far as I'm concerned, you can't have enough of those."
After playing two seasons at Richland College in Dallas and redshirting one year at Sam Houston State the right-handed Kruse came into his own during his two years at the University of Houston-Victoria. While playing for the Generals in 2011 and 2012 Kruse compiled a .367 batting average in 89 games and finished with a .951 fielding percentage. He also put together 25 multi-hit games and a 10-game hitting streak. During his summers he played a pair of seasons for the Victoria Generals of the Texas Collegiate League. Due to his exceptional performance with them he was the first player in the five year history of the team to have his number retired.
"I am extremely excited and blessed to have the opportunity to play for the Wingnuts," Kruse stated. "There are going to be a lot of talented and experienced players on the roster so it's going to be an exciting challenge to compete for a job. I can't wait to get things rolling in a few weeks."
The seventh season of Wichita Wingnuts baseball begins Thursday, May 15th against the Grand Prairie AirHogs at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. For information on season tickets, group outings, and party packages, call the Wingnuts' main office at (316) 264-NUTS, or visit the Wingnuts' official website at www.wichitawingnuts.com .