September 20, 2014

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Prospect League: Ironmen believe older roster is ready to win in 2014

Pitcher Sam Clarke of Mount Union, right, practices Tuesday for the Ironmen. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Pitcher Sam Clarke of Mount Union, right, practices Tuesday for the Ironmen. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

LORAIN — Entering their sixth year of competition in the Prospect League, the Lorain County Ironmen have taken a different approach to building their roster.

In previous seasons the Ironmen have focused on the development of prospects, keying primarily on younger college players that were looking to play against elevated competition for the summer while preparing for the next step in their college careers. Though the goal of player development remains at the forefront, this year the roster is built to compete. That is what is expected when the team opens the season tonight against the Butler BlueSox at The Pipe Yard.

“Last year with the younger team you really want to develop the kids and give them a chance to play,” fourth-year manager Joe Rhomberg said. “This year we have more established players, so that gives us the chance to try to win a little more, to be more aggressive and try to win games. You can also trust those players a little more. They will let you know when they’re tired, sore or hurt.

“I also think we have good leaders. We have mature guys that are going to take care of the clubhouse. I think it’s going to be a good year.”

The Ironmen have 12 players from Division I schools, including a pair from Ohio State and nine from Mid-American Conference schools. There are five juniors and three seniors, and five Division I pitchers on the staff.

“We definitely have more pitchers,” Rhomberg said. “We have three or four left-handers on the roster, which is nice. We had good pitchers (last year), we just didn’t have enough of them.

“I think we retooled well. We went out and got a lot of good hitters. We have some older players, too, which should help.”

Amherst resident Tyler Bires, a junior at Coker College in North Carolina, played for the Ironmen last season. He is optimistic about this year.

“It looks like we have some arms in the bullpen, which is going to be good,” he said. “It’s still early in the season and we can’t make any definite assumptions. We’re also pretty deep, position-wise, with some good hitters. We’ll see how that goes.”

The Prospect League is a wooden bat league that gives college players a place to play during the summer. Numerous former Prospect League players played Major League Baseball, including Norm Charlton, Duane Kuiper, Roger McDowell, Jonathan Papelbon, Kirby Puckett, Dan Quisenberry, Jim Sundberg and Mike Schmidt.

“In this league there is a lot of talent,” Rhomberg said. “We have the players that have not had the chance yet to play pro ball. This league surprises some hitters how good the pitching is. On average there are 12 kids drafted out of this league, sometimes a little more.

“The talent is there and they have all the tools, it’s just a little raw. We have two or three pitchers this year that can throw into the 90s. We’re going to have scouts around just about every game this year.”

Westlake resident Joey Stoll, who pitches for Ohio State, explained why he wanted to play in the Prospect League.

“It’s 20 minutes from home so that was a big thing. I haven’t been home since the summer of my junior year in high school, so it’s nice to be home,” he said. “It also will be tougher competition than I went up against last year in the Great Lakes League. That was more local Ohio kids. It’s going to be cool to get to move around a little more.

“You are only going to get better if you play against the best players. This is a level of competition I would like to say I can play with. We’re going to see this year.”

Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or macsportstalk@gmail.com.

Tonight

WHAT: Season opener
WHO: Lorain County Ironmen vs. Butler BlueSox
TIME: 7:05
WHERE: The Pipe Yard, Lorain

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