By STEVE KRAH
Indiana has a number of talented teenagers on the diamond.
Not all of those are wearing high school uniforms.
Some are professionals.
As the the Fort Wayne TinCaps (affiliate of the San Diego Padres) get ready to being the 2017 Class-A Midwest League season, they sport a roster with six teenagers and four 20-year olds.
“There’s been a lot of hype and talk about this group,” says Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras, who returns for a second season as skipper at Parkview Field. “I want to see what it looks like under the bright lights.
“It’s going to be fun to watch them.”
Fernando Tatis Jr. will be the TinCaps’ 18-year-old shortstop when the season opens Thursday, April 6 at Bowling Green (the home opener is at 6:05 p.m. on Saturday, April 8).
“He’s a very dynamic young player,” says Contreras of the 6-foot-3 power-hitting athlete from the Dominican Republic. “He’s got some of the best pop I haven’t seen in awhile.”
Contreras expects Tatis to keep things loose while also bringing some of his unique experiences to the team.
“I’m here to have fun and do what I do,” says the son of major leaguer Fernando Tatis Sr. “It’s fun (being around other young players). We have the same mentality.”
The young Tatis grew up around big league clubhouses.
“He knows what it’s like to be a professional in this game,” says Contreras. “He’s going to thrive in this type of atmosphere.”
Contreras (age 33) and his coaching staff will be looked upon to develop the young talent for the Padres.
“There’s a a lot of pressure put not the minor league side,” says Contreras. “They’ve invested a lot of money (in player development).”
With many players who have yet to experience the grind of a 140-game season, the manager knows he will have to manage the inevitable bad days.
“That’s minor league baseball,” says Contreras. “That’s the experience they have to go through. When they move up and get the major leagues, they’re going to fail as well so you want to address it but not dwell on it.
“A lot of these guys are going to go through some slumps for the first time. It’s my job and the staff’s job to keep them focused.”
Besides Tatis, Contreras expects his regulars to include third baseman Hudson Potts (18), second baseman Eguy Rosario (17) with G.K. Young (22) and Brad Zuinca (21) sharing time at first base and Reinaldo Ilarraza, (18) playing various infield positions.
“We should have a very good team, from what I saw in spring training,” says Young. “These young guys don’t play like young guys. They can swing just like grown men.”
Young played with NCAA Division I national champion Coastal Carolina in 2016.
“Going through the College World Series, I understand what it takes to win at a championship level,” says Young. “I can honestly say I was not ready in high school to come and do this, but some things I went through mentally (in college) strengthened me to go through this game.”
Fort Wayne’s outfield includes Jack Suwinski (18) in left, Buddy Reed (21) in center and Jorge Ona (20) in right.
Marcus Greene Jr. (22) and Webster Rivas (26) will take turns at catcher.
A six-man starting pitching rotation includes (in order): right-hander Jesse Scholtens (22), left-hander Logan Allen (19), right-hander Austin Smith (20), left-hander Jerry Keel (23), right-hander Hansel Rodriguez (20) and left-hander Will Headean (23).
Burt Hooton is back for his fifth season as Fort Wayne’s pitching coach.
The 67-year-old is teaching his young arms to “keep things simple and keep progressing.”
“I tell them not to bite off more than they can handle,” says Hooton, who was a big leaguer for 15 seasons. “You want to master your pitches and take the time to do it.
“You learn from your experiences — both good and bad.”
Fort Wayne’s bullpen includes returnees like right-hander David Bednar (22) and Lou Distasio (23) as well as right-hander Mark Zimmerman (23) and Ben Sheckler (21).
“There are no roles defined,” says Hooton. “They’re in the bullpen and, a lot of times, we’re going to use them when it’s their turn to pitch. We’ll use two or three guys to close out games. We’ll use two or three guys as long (relievers).”
Doug Banks (32) is the TinCaps hitting coach.
The former scout is telling his young players to focus on the positives.
“The biggest thing with these guys is that they trust themselves and they stick to their approach — whatever it is that night — and they believe in themselves,” says Banks. “That’s a big one.
“I’m exciting about this season. I hope they live up to the potential they have.”
As a young coach in the Texas Rangers organization, Banks learned from veteran baseball minds Ron Washington, Clint Hurdle and Mike Maddux and watched veteran Michael Young and Josh Hamilton.
“That was a big opportunity for me,” says Banks.
And opportunity is what’s in store for these young Fort Wayne TinCaps.