The Larks (32-10) will have nine new players on the roster when they play their opener
on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against the Waco (Texas) Missions at Wichita State’s Eck Stadium. Of
the 22 players on the roster to start the season, due to injuries and players leaving early, Hays
was down to nine position players who could take the field by the end of the regular season.
After Hays won the KCLB postseason tournament on Tuesday night in Augusta, beating
Wellington 10-9, Larks manager Frank Leo was on the phone Wednesday morning looking for
players to add to his depleted roster.
“You just can’t compete at the World Series with that kind of roster,” Leo said. “We were
forced to get some horses.”
Hays had already added infielder Grant Lung for the KCLB tourney. Lung played for
Valley Center of the KCLB during the regular season, leading the club in hitting.
“He does a nice job for us,” Leo said. “He blended in really good.”
Of the newcomers, two are former Larks, both right-handed pitchers. Nick Goza pitched
for Hays from 2011 to 2015. He was 9-1 with a 1.67 ERA in the Arizona League this summer
and was named the Arizona Athletics Cy Young Award winner. Carlos Tavera pitched for the
Larks last summer, going 4-0.
Hard-throwing right-hander Chris Rodriguez, who pitched against Hays for the Boulder
Collegians, also was added to the roster. Cesar Gomez, a left-handed hitting outfielder and right-
handed pitcher from Texas-Arlington, would be able to join the club for championship week, if
Leo added a third catcher in Enzo Bonventre from the Newton Rebels and one of the top
hitters in the Sunflower Collegiate League. Griffin Everett, a catcher-outfielder who played for
Kansas City Kansas Community College in the spring, also joins the team.
Hays also has a couple of new third basemen, Taylor Daniell, who will play for Central
Arkansas next year, and Austin Bonnel, who played for Coffeyville Community College this
spring. The Larks also picked up outfielder Rey Lozano, who played for McPherson in the
KCLB this summer.
Having almost half a new team at this time of year isn’t ideal, but Leo said his players
understand the situation.
“We’ve got a great bunch of guys, they get along well,” Leo said. “They’re adjusting well
to what’s happening. They know we need some guys to make a run here.”
The new players are needed due to an unprecedented string of injuries, something Leo
hasn’t seen before in his 37 years as the Larks’ manager. He added it’s not just normal baseball
injuries, too. Pitcher Christian Pearcy is sidelined with a hernia. Pitcher Mason Myhre was lost at
midseason due to a respiratory illness. Catcher-third baseman Hernan Yanez had to leave the
team at midseason to get a job back home to help out his family. Backup outfielder Jace
Armstrong, who joined the team during the season, will not be available to play until
championship week. Outfielder and second baseman Justin Lee, one of the Larks’ top hitters, left
the team to go home to have four wisdom teeth taken out. Leo said there was a slight chance Lee
could return sometime during championship week.
Then there are the normal baseball injuries. Slick-fielding shortstop Matt Cavanagh, who
also was having a good season at the plate, was lost with a back injury. Infielder Brook Brannon
barely joined the team before he hurt his hamstring and returned home. Speedy leadoff hitter and
center fielder Drake Angeron, one of the club’s top hitters, tore his hamstring running the bases
in the opener of the KCLB tourney and is gone for the rest of the season. Infielder Skyler Luna,
who hurt his ankle early in the season, came back near the end and hurt it again. He will be
available, but Leo said he is not close to being 100 percent. Left-hander Trevor Munsch, who
joined the team late in the season, has had a shoulder issue but is looking stronger.
Leo also lost two pitchers he was counting on when they were shut down by their college
coaches. Michael Wong, who had an arm issue during the spring, was expected to be the team’s
No. 1 starter. He never threw a pitch before he was shut down. Left-hander Michael Gilliland,
who was another starter, reached an innings limit imposed by his college team late in the season
and returned home.
“We’ve been banged up,” Leo said. “Seems like every day we’ve got somebody who’s
Leo said the team still has a strong core of players who have been with the team all
season. Wyatt Divis has been one of the team’s top pitchers and hitters. Catcher Mikey
Gangwish has battled a thumb injury all season to help the Larks both behind the plate and at the
plate. Max McGuire has been another reliable backstop. Outfielder George Sutherland, first
baseman-outfielder Jarrod Belbin, first baseman Alex Strachan and middle infielder Jimmy
DeLeon have all been solid contributors. Reliever Drew Marrufo has helped out the back end of
the bullpen, and closer Tommy Garcia also has been an effective spot starter. Left-hander Ryan
Ruder has given the team solid innings as both a starter and reliever, and right-hander Nash Neff
has come on as the season progressed. Knuckleballer Rustin Hays has befuddled batters both as a
starter and reliever.
“We have a good nucleus that is here from the beginning,” Leo said. “We’re going to
give it our best shot.”
Leo said that while the players were disappointed in not winning the division title, they
can take pride in taking the postseason tourney championship.
“It’s a good accomplishment for these guys,” Leo said. “We just try to make ourselves as
strong as we can to make a good showing at the NBC.”