Temps Audition For Bigger Role While Rox Await Reinforcements
The St. Cloud Rox organization signed 40 players for the upcoming season, with 30 full time players and ten "temporary" players set to join the team. Due to the unpredictable nature of the NCAA baseball season, just 27 of those players have made their way to St. Cloud so far, as of the June 6th game against Duluth.
For the first two or three games of the season, the Rox had 16 players in uniform, including just eight position players. However, General Manager Mike Johnson says that most of the players at this level are capable of hitting, despite their "pitcher" designation.
"These guys are not that far away from high school baseball, where they hit every day," Johnson said. "The two guys that we used at designated hitter the first couple of games were recruited to college as infielders, so they certainly were able to hit then."
Rox Director of Baseball Operations and former manager Augie Rodriguez says that when the pitchers are asked to hit, most are excited about the proposition.
“You know how it is, when you are in college everyone wants to be the home run king,” Rodriguez says. “When you are a pitcher, you can throw a shutout, now they want to show they can also hit.”
Rodriguez, who managed the team from 2012-2017, says it is important not to get too high or low at the beginning of the season when the roster is still taking shape. St. Cloud is currently 4-5 on the year.
“For me, it’s how you do in the middle of the season,” Rodriguez said. “It’s such a long season, and of course you want to get off to a good start, but I was just telling (Rox manager) Al Newman that I remember teams starting 7-0 and not making the playoffs.”
“I also remember us starting 0-4 in 2015,” Rodriguez said. “We ended up making it to the championship series.”
Catcher Marshall Gilbert of Mississippi State is the only player signed to the organization that has advanced to a Super Regional. The Bulldogs will play a best-of-three series at Vanderbilt this weekend.
Gilbert is a 6’1”, 205 pound junior from Trevor, Wisconsin.
“Everyone else that isn’t here just recently lost in the regional round, or played in their division’s world series,” Johnson said. “A majority of the guys should be here by the end of the weekend.”
In order to fill the gap left by late-arriving players, teams are allowed to sign ten “temporary” players. Those players are allowed to play for up to two weeks, at which point they could be offered a permanent spot if one is available, or they are sent back to their home or college.
“When we sign a temp player, our goal is to sign them as a full time guy at some point,” Rodriguez said. “Our temps are normally pretty good, there are no pushovers.”
Sometimes those temporary players can end up having a major impact on a team’s season. Last year it was Little Falls native Kyle Boser, who signed just before the season began.
“The most special temp we ever had was Boser, because he pitched the championship game last year,” Rodriguez said. “Boser was a local kid who really brought it and said, hey, I’m sticking to the end.”
Another key temporary player on last year’s Northwoods League championship team was Ricardo Sanchez, who is back with the team in 2018.
“We all can’t forget Sanchez last year,” Rodriguez said. “He was a temp player who became the MVP of the playoffs”
So far this season, that player has been Ryan Lillard of Arizona State University.
“Lillard just signed over Memorial Day weekend and is now leading our team in hitting,” Johnson said. “He also currently leads the Northwoods League in doubles.”
Rodriguez says writing out the lineup card at the beginning of the year can be a bit of a juggling act, but it is important to trust the players that are here as opposed to waiting for the others to arrive.
“It doesn’t make it easy at all,” Rodriguez said. “We have done a great job, we are putting ourselves in good positions and just have a few bad innings that need to be eliminated.”