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Rogues eager for return

A fourth season in the Rogue Valley for the Medford Rogues begins Friday, offering a new level of competition and a renewed vigor to provide the community with an entertaining product on and off the diamond at Harry & David Field.

After three years in the West Coast League, the Rogues are making a switch to another collegiate wood-bat summer program as one of six franchises in the inaugural season of the Great West League.

“It’s a new opportunity and obviously all of us coaches are very excited,” said Rogues manager Josh Hogan, who enters his fourth summer in Medford with pitching coach Jeff Lyle and will add fellow Lane Community College assistant coach Zach Kayser to this year’s staff.

“Jeff and I have been in the West Coast League for five years now,” added Hogan, “so this is going to be a great experience to see new towns and new competition and have new teams and coaches to compete against.”

Joining Medford in the Great West League are the Portland Pickles, who come to town for a season-opening three-game homestand on Friday, and California’s Chico Heat, Marysville Gold Sox, Sacramento Stealth and Lodi Crushers. Each will play a 60-game schedule over a 10-week period, with Medford serving as host for the inaugural GWL All-Star Game July 25-26.

“It’s pretty exciting to get this going again,” said Carolyn Birch, acting general manager of the Rogues. “This season we want to obviously build on previous seasons and I feel like we really did that in kind of an ambitious way with all the theme games we have. I think we’re doing some pretty big-league stuff and really boosting the entertainment value for our fans and hopefully a new group of people interested in all we have going this summer.”

Birch said the Rogues have been working hard to give back to the community and will have a number of special events during the season to honor various organizations in the valley.

All three games this weekend offer promotional aspects, highlighted by Saturday’s “Medford A’s Throwback Night,” where the team will be wearing throwback jerseys from when the Oakland Athletics farm system called Medford home. All jerseys can be bid on during the game to own, with a fireworks show slated following the 6:30 p.m. game with Portland.

On the field, the Rogues will boast a handful of familiar faces but, like any year, will be comprised of mostly new players. The bulk of the regular roster likely won’t get into town until mid-June, with 10-day contract players doing what they can in the meantime to make a name for themselves in hopes of sticking with the club for the entire summer.

“It’s kind of a cool opportunity to maybe add some extra faces that we weren’t necessarily thinking of putting on the team,” said Birch. “Last year, Derron Davis was a 10-day guy and he went on to make the All-Star team so you never know.”

Davis is one of seven holdovers from last season and played a key role in helping Medford finish 25-27 overall and third in the WCL South division. Davis (Winthrop University) batted .286 and scored a franchise-record 38 runs to go with a single-season record-tying 12 stolen bases.

Joining the outfielder among the returners is catcher T.K. McWhertor, outfielders Billy Fredrick and Brock Pradere and pitchers Kade Wagner, D.J. Wilson and Jamie Flynn, a former Ashland High standout.

McWhertor (Cuesta College) is coming off an injury and Hogan said will likely join the Rogues midway through the season. Last summer, he was second on the team with a .321 batting average.

Fredrick (UC-Santa Barbara) was third on the team with a .315 average and 25 RBIs last year to go with 17 runs scored. Fredrick set a Rogues record with his 15-game hitting streak and tied another franchise record for single-game RBIs (6) and single-season triples (3) while joining Davis to set the club record with most hits in a game (5).

Pradere (Western Oregon) tied the single-game stolen bases mark with three last summer and hit .230 with 23 runs and 10 RBIs.

Wagner (Sterling College) and Wilson (Lane CC) each tied for team-high honors in wins after each went 3-1 last summer. Wagner (3.05 ERA in 56 innings) expects to be one of the team’s top starters again, while Wilson (1.16 ERA, three saves, 31 innings) had some early spring arm issues but should be good to go as a starter or closer. Flynn (Cornell University) was 2-2 with one save and a 3.37 ERA in 26⅔ innings of work last summer.

Overall, Medford finished fifth in the WCL in team batting average (.261) and average attendance (1,231 per game) and sixth in team ERA (4.08). Committing 77 errors, however, hindered the Rogues in their pursuit of division leaders Bend and Corvallis.

Hogan, who was en route to Medford with his fellow coaches Wednesday, said he’s excited about his team’s prospects this summer.

“I feel like this is one of the best teams on paper right now that we’ve recruited,” said Hogan. “Even if we were in the West Coast League I still would feel same way. I’m excited and it’s more about the character of the guys returning and the character of the guys that are coming in whose coaches have raved about the type of players they are.”

Medford will boast an entirely new infield, anchored by catchers Brandon Stutzman (Oregon), Jared Denning (Utah) and Robby Teel (Orange Coast College), who is the younger brother of former Rogue Ryan Teel.

Among a host of players in the infield mix will be Johnny Delacruz (Blackhawk Junior College), Cameron Russ (Lane Community College), Connor McNally (Utah), Spencer Steer (Oregon), Ian Novack (UC-Riverside), Parker Kelly (Oregon) and Aaron Cisneros (UC-Riverside). Davis, Fredrick and Stutzman also have infield experience.

If there is a concern heading into the summer — and it’s a routine one for any in the wood-bat collegiate system — it will be in the Rogues’ limited pitching depth.

Notable names expected to throw innings this year include Utah’s Trenton Stoltz, Oregon’s Kyle Robeniol and Tristan Duncan, Winthrop’s Reece Green and Bryon Foust, former Crater High standout Dylan Pearce (SWOCC) and Joe Record and Kevin Chandler of UC-Santa Barbara.

Overall, though, Hogan is confident the Rogues have the type of players they need to contend for the first GWL crown.

“It’s kind of cool to get four Utah guys after they just won the Pac-12 championship and four Ducks and a couple of those UC-Santa Barbara guys,” said Hogan. “When you add that to the returners we have with the junior college scrappers and warriors we have who are going to grind things out, I feel like that’s going to mesh pretty well for what we want as players and coaches.”

Different this year is there will be no preseason games, meaning everything kicks off with a purpose come Friday night.

“I have first game jitters no matter if it’s the preseason or league so it’s going to be even more exciting this way,” said Hogan. “The fact that we’re going to be home with a decent crowd, it should be exciting and very fun.”

For more information, go to medfordrogues.com or call 541-973-2883.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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Catcher T.K. McWhertor, who was second on the Medford Rogues with a .321 batting average last year, will return but may not join the squad until midway through the season with an injury. Medford opens its season on Friday at home. PHOTOS BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Birch