The 2019 season, however, will be a summer of change for the Larks franchise. Hays was
an inaugural member of the Jayhawk League when it was formed in 1976. But the league that
featured players from Barry Bonds to Albert Pujols disbanded after the 2018 season when four
franchises – Derby, El Dorado, Great Bend and Haysville — bolted for the Sunflower League.
That left Hays, Dodge City and Liberal scrambling for a league to play in. With few options
available, the three Jayhawk clubs joined Kansas Collegiate League Baseball for 2019. The 10-
team conference also has the Wellington Heat, Kansas Cannons, Valley Center Mud Daubers,
McPherson Pipeliners, Park City Rangers, Clearwater Outlaws and the Kansas Curve.
“It’s going to be different,” Leo said, adding the goal remains the same. “You bring kids
in to get them to the (NBC) World Series.”
The KCLB will be divided into two, unbalanced divisions. The three Jayhawk clubs,
Hays, Dodge City and Liberal, will be in the West Division. The other seven teams will form the
East Division. The two division winners will play a best two-out-of-three series at the end of the
regular season to decide the league champion. Division winners will be determined by records
within the division. The next four teams, based on overall league record, will play a postseason
tournament. Leo said he still does not know how many league teams will be awarded berths in
the World Series.
The Larks will tune up for league play with home games against the Denver Cougars on
Friday and Saturday. First pitch for Friday’s season opener at Larks Park is 7 p.m. Game time
foe the two teams on Saturday is 6 p.m. Hays is home again Sunday for its league opener, a 7
p.m. game against Dodge City.
Sunday is Military Appreciation Night. All active, reserve and retired military personnel
will be honored before the game. They should meet on the east side of the grandstand at 6:45
Leo is still looking to add to his roster as the season draws near. He is still looking for
pitchers and another outfielder. The Larks will be shorthanded for the early part of the season
while some players finish their college seasons due to postseason action. Hays also could lose
another player or two to the MLB Draft, which starts Monday.
The Larks do return two pitchers from last year that Leo is counting on to lead the
rotation. Right-hander Michael Wong from Texas-Arlington was 4-1 for the Larks last season
with a 2.77 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings. Left-hander Mason Myhre from Arizona
Western was 3-2 with a 4.73 ERA for Hays in 2018, with 36 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings.
“Wong had an outstanding year for us, and we’re excited to have him back,” Leo said.
“Coming into the season you look at the guys you had before. Wong and Myhre, two returners
on the mound, we look to those guys while we get the staff solidified.”
Leo had seven pitchers before adding another to the roster this week; he wants to have at
least a dozen pitchers for the long, hot summer. As well, two of the team’s pitchers are still
involved in postseason play with their collegiate teams and Leo is unsure when they will be able
“It’s a big concern right now,” Leo said.
Once he has a full roster, Leo likes the looks of his position players.
“Position-wise, I feel very comfortable,” Leo said. “I think we’re going to have a very
good core of position players.”
The Larks return one of their top hitters in Texas-Arlington third baseman Wyatt Divis,
who established a new record in on-base percentage last year at .505 and also batted .340 with
one homer and 29 runs batted in. Divis also was one of the team’s closers, going 3-0 with one
save and a 1.17 ERA.
“Wyatt put up some nice numbers for us last year,” Leo said.
If he is not drafted, Mikey Gangwish, a senior catcher from Colorado School of Mines,
could anchor the middle of the batting order. The left-handed hitting Gangwish belted 24 homers
and batted .373 as a junior and hit 15 homers with a .385 average for the Orediggers this spring.
“I feel like our batting order will be very strong if Mikey doesn’t sign,” Leo said, adding
if Gangwish is drafted, he expects to lose the slugger.
One of the team’s other catchers, Cochise College’s Hernan Yanez, also could be drafted.
The switch-hitting Yanez batted .287 with two homers and 30 RBIs this spring.
“If we lose two catchers, we’re really in trouble,” Leo said.
Leo likes to carry three catchers; the other Lark behind the plate will be Max McGuire
from Hutchinson Community College (6 HR, 30 RBI, .236).
Once Jacksonville State finishes its postseason run, right-handed slugger Alex Strachan
(10 HR, 22 RBI, .254) will see action at first base. Also at first will be Jarrod Belbin, a left-
handed hitter from Australia who played at Arizona Western. Belbin, also an outfielder, batted
.293 with one homer and 41 RBIs this spring.
Leo is counting on Jimmy DeLeon from Cochise College at shortstop. DeLeon batted
.283 with four homers and 38 RBIs this spring. Texas-Arlington infielder Matthew Cavanagh
will back up DeLeon and also see action at third and second. Other middle infielders are
Jacksonville State’s Brook Brannon and Austin Peay’s Skyler Luna.
Cochise College’s Justin Lee, who is expected to split time with Dodge City Community
College’s Drake Angeron in center field, also can play second. Lee batted .261 with three homers
and 34 RBIs this spring. Leo looks at Angeron – who will play for Fort Hays State next year — as
a leadoff hitter; he hit .370 with three home runs, 25 RBIs and 22 stolen bases this spring. The
Larks also have another Cochise College player in the outfield in George Sutherland, who batted
.301 with two homers and 41 RBIs.
Leo wants another outfielder and added right-handed pitcher Rustin Hays from Williams
Baptist just this week. Right-hander Christian Pearcy from Rockford University could get some
starts as Leo looks to add to the staff. Pearcy was 1-3 with a 4.81 ERA this spring. Left-hander
Michael Gilliland could be in the rotation once Jacksonville State finishes it season. He was 3-1
with a 6.75 ERA this season.
Leo has a pair of hard-throwing right-handers on the staff; New Mexico’s Drew Marrufo
and Colorado Mines’ Nash Neff each can hit 90 mph with their fastball on the radar gun. Fort
Hays State left-hander Ryan Ruder, who was 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA for the Larks last summer,
will be counted on in middle relief. Leo is looking at Mesa Community College right-hander
Tommy Garcia to close out games once his junior college team finishes its postseason run.
Garcia is 2-0 with three saves and a 2.23 ERA this spring. Leo is looking at Divis as a possible
starter or setup man this season.
Leo spent the offseason recruiting players for this summer. Friday, he gets to see them in
action as the Larks’ manager begins his 37 th year.
“Just getting them in a Larks uniform, putting them on the field,” Leo said, “it’s exciting
to see what you’ve got.”