The Larks have won 10 league titles under veteran manager Frank Leo and have had 15 top-five finishes at the NBC World Series in Wichita, including five runner-up finishes. “The program has great tradition”, Leo said. “We’ve never knocked down the door and won it.”
Leo tells his players they can be the squad to win it all.
“One of these years you might be the special team that does it,” he said. “Anything can happen. Maybe this is the year.”
The Larks have a strong core of returners this summer. The Larks finished 22-10 last season and won the Rocky Mountain Baseball League in the program’s first year in the Colorado conference.
One of those returners, right-hander Wyatt Divis, is the probable starter for tonight’s non-conference opener against the Colorado Roughnecks. Game time is 7 p.m. at Larks Park.
Divis, back for his fourth year with the Larks, pitched in 10 games and made two starts last season, going 2-0 with a 0.77 earned-run average. Also a designated hitter, Divis batted .344 with three homers and 14 RBI.
“He’s a veteran guy who knows the game,” Leo said.
Hays also has back a pair of middle infielders in Grant Lung and Matt Cavanagh. Cavanagh is expected to miss the early part of the season while recovering from labrum surgery and a back injury he first suffered while playing for the Larks two years ago. Lung batted .283 with two homers and 23 RBI for the Larks last summer, while Cavanagh hit .358 with 14 RBI.
Adding in the newcomers, and Leo said he has flexibility up the middle to match up lineup depending on the opposition’s starter.
“A great amount of flexibility where I can give some guys time off,” Leo said. “I’ve got a bunch of great infielders I can rotate around.”
The Larks also have back center fielder Leo Jiminian, from Saint-Lo, France, and one of three international players on the team this summer. The other two are newcomers, infielder Core Jackson from Wyoming, Ontario in Canada, and right-hander Luuk ter Beek, from Niuew-vennep, Netherlands.
Jiminian, who batted leadoff last summer, hit .240 with a .389 on-base percentage and stole 14 bases for Hays. Leo said Jiminian is hitting for more power, and batted in the middle of the order for his college team this spring.
With newcomers slotted in, Leo can mix up his lineup in the outfield.
“We’ve got four guys we will rotate in and out,” Leo said.
Cam Pehrson, who can play several positions, will see a lot of time at first base this summer. He hit .351 with five home runs and 22 RBI for the Larks in 2020.
Leo said versatility is key for the Larks.
“In summer time, you base your roster on versatility,” he said. “Versatility is big.”
Hays also has back third baseman Palmer Hutchison, who had a big year in junior college this spring. The former Hays High standout batted .216 with two homers and seven RBI last summer.
Seeing limited action last summer for the Larks and also back this season are two other former Hays High players in catcher/first baseman Brock Lummus and right-handed pitcher Trey Riggs. Also returning is left-hander Trevor Munsch.
Two of the newcomers are from Fort Hays State. Outfielder Grant Schmidt batted .316 with 11 homers and 29 RBI for the Tigers this spring, and right-hander Hunter Parker went 4-3 on the mound. Other players in their first year are: Jackson; ter Beek; outfielder Tyler Palmer; catcher Brady Evans; outfielder Zach Henry; catcher/first baseman Sam Crowell; pitcher Maxx Castelullucci; pitcher Corey Bright; infielder Cortland Lawson; pitcher Jose Velazquez; pitcher/utility man Cade Brown; pitcher Jake Fitzgibbons; and pitcher Jackson Blue.
Max McGuire, a catcher whose season last year was cut short due to injury, is now on the coaching staff, joining longtime pitching coach Keith Harper.
“I told these guys they are a special bunch,” Leo said. “They are the 75th anniversary team. Nobody else can make that claim.”