2015 River Valley League season preview

Posted on May 11, 2015 by CJ Siewert

(Team snapshots by CJ Siewert, article courtesy of ScoreMonster’s Jeff Barthel)

The River Valley League is set for its 2015 season with the same 14 teams as last year. Five teams make up the Class B East Division, five in the Class C West and four in the Class C Central.

This season preview consists of two parts. The first is a brief snapshot of each team’s roster makeup and possible expectations from team representatives. The second part is an article courtesy of Score Monster’s Jeff Barthel, which provides more analysis.

TEAM SNAPSHOTS 

Central Division (Class C) 

Belle Plaine Tigers

Manager: Mike Schultz

2014 record: 15-15 overall, 9-4 RVL (Region 6C 3rd place)

Returning starters and role players: Travis Latzke, Zach Juaire, Johnny Egan, Zac Dahlke, Derek Dahlke, Dylan Nyberg, Josh Terrio, Tyler Hartman, Zach Horning,  Pat Schultz, Mike Schultz, Matt Schultz , Jesse Oelfke and Matt Ruehling

Departed players: Ryan Diers, Brad Lawson, Dan Huber, Jake Fiedler, August Farruggia and Shawn Larson

Newcomers: Jonny Vinkemeier, Wes Sarsland, Cameron Lark, Aiden Ladd, Joe Hankins, Ben Wagner Jacob Meger and Chase Emmers and Houston Niesche 

“2015 will be a rebuilding year for us,” said manager Mike Schultz. “We lost five of our top six pitchers this year. Also lost our 3, 4, 5 hitters who are also some of our best defensive players. We will be much younger and much more inexperienced. We do have some talented young players, though. In past years making a deep run in the state tournament was our main goal. This year if we make the state tournament it will be a major accomplishment.”

Henderson Tigers

Manager: Cody Boelter – “I have been with the team for the past 10 years and I am taking over the managing duties for the Tigers this year.”  

2014 record: 10-11 overall

Returning starters and role players: “We will have most of our starters returning this year. We have a good group of veterans, and some good young players mixed in as well.”

Departed players: Mat Peot, last year’s manager and a main pitcher, has retired.  

Newcomers: Trevor Latzke (Belle Plaine) and Ben Wilmsen (Arlington).  “They will add depth to the infield and Latzke will be looked upon to give us quality innings on the mound as well.”

“We were a game away from the State Tournament last year, and we hope to build off of last year’s success,” said Boelter. “We have a good group of guys that have played together for many years, and we expect to compete in every game we play this year.”

Jordan Brewers

Manager: Scott Hollingsworth (1st season)

2014 record: 33-10 overall, 13-0 RVL (Region 6C runner up)

The Brewers are returning the complete starting lineup.

Departed players: Mike Beckius, Scott Breimhorst and five players with minimal experience

Newcomers: 15-year-old bat boy is now a signed roster player and Craig Allen (Utah) moved into Jordan last December. 

“The Brewers just hope to stay healthy for another good year,” said manager Scott Hollingsworth. “The team is made up of basically an over-35 team still trying to compete at the highest level it can … great veteran leadership.”

Le Sueur Braves

Manager: Mike Feeney

2014 record: 9-17 overall, 5-8 RVL

Returning starters and role players: Ryan McPartland, Matt McPartland, Mike May, Matt Rinehart, Jason Sunderman. Brent O’Connell, Ryan Wolf and Jordan Sinell

Departed players: Ryan Moriarty (leading hitter gone to live in Oregon), Dan Morrill, (#3 pitcher with 40 innings last year), Nic and Nate Haller, both pitchers, and Mark Roby. 

No new roster additions.  

“We hope to compete and get through this grueling schedule without any long term health problems,” said manager Mike Feeney.

West Division (Class C)

Arlington A’s

Manager: Bryce Eggert (first season)

2014 record: 5-14 overall

Returning starters and role players: Nathan Henke, Shane Henke, Lucas Bullert, Matt Pichelman, Michael Bullert, Tyler Agre, Scott Husfeldt, Josh Nelson and Nathan Thomes

“We are very young … we will do our best,” said manager Bryce Eggert.

Fairfax Cardinals

Manager: Scott Black takes over for longtime player/manager Keith Buboltz

2014 record: 1-13 overall, 0-13 RVL

Returning starters and role players: Scott Palmer (P/3B), Mark Yrjo (P/INF), Austin Black (OF), Lucas Seehafer (P/OF) and Cody Loverude (P)

Departed players: Adam Buboltz (C/1B), Pat O’Malley (SS/OF), Kevin Erdal (SS), Brandan Kerling (UTL) and Billy Melius (P)

Newcomers: Signed two new players from GFW High School – Rafael Herrera (INF) and Brendan Kienlen (OF)

“With a bunch of departures it will be a rebuilding year,” said Black. “We hope to get better each game and be a competitive team.  New starting players will have to step up and fill in for the departed veterans so we can improve from last year.”

Gaylord Islanders

Manager: Mike Walsh

Returning starters and role players: The nucleus is back, but some players will contribute in a limited role. Brody Rodning is playing in Eau Claire (Northwoods League) this summer and the Gaylord manager hopes he gets his four league games in. Ed Reichenback is playing in a Kansas summer league and is in the same situation as Rodning as far as being eligible for the Islanders come playoffs. Veteran Brad Walsh had his labrum repaired during the offseason and his manager (and father) says the pitcher/shortstop no longer has pain and is good to throw on his own.

Departed players: starting catcher Jon Waltz

Newcomers: Angel Munoz, Jr., formerly of Fairfax, will catch. Two former players return in Jack Mages and Darin Hendly. Mages returns on a limited basis and Hendley – a pitcher – returns via the Heritage Rule. A couple of high school players also join the team.

“Pitching is key and I’m feeling good about our offense,” said Walsh. “If Brody is back for playoffs we should be strong. I’m looking at Jordan and St. Peter as the top two and we should be right in line after them.”

New Ulm Kaiserhoff

Manager: Tim Reinke

2014 record: 3-12 overall

The Kaiserhoff remains a bit unknown as to how the 2015 season will unfold. It’s only assumed that New Ulm’s starters from last season will return, but time will tell. Center fielder Erik Curry was the K’s leadoff hitter last season, usually backed by Keith Besemer and Mike Schlottman, who has been a staple on the mound. Other starters included Matt Bergmann, Jordan Schneider, Dan Reinke, Justin Bruns, Travis Kretsch and Rick Jensen.

St. Peter Saints

Manager: Tom Lacina (25th season)

2014 record: 24-8 overall, 11-2 RVL (Region 6C champions)

St. Peter returns its entire starting roster from last season’s Region 6C championship. Staff ace Matt Lewis returns for his second season wearing the blue and white after posting a 9-2 record in 2014, including seven complete games, four shutouts, a 106/27 strikeout/walk ratio and a 0.91 ERA in 79 innings of work.

Returning to the mound for his 18th season is Jesse Anderson. The seasoned veteran went 5-1 last year with a 3.74 ERA. The rest of the staff consists of Jeff Wenner (3-1, 5.88 ERA) and Ty Kaus (3-1, 3.79 ERA). Others who will see time on the mound include Grant Nelsen, Jeremy Braun and Kevin Sandborg.

Last year’s leading hitter Jesse Munsterman (.417 average) is recovered from Tommy Johns Surgery and is currently competing in his first year for South Dakota State. This summer Munsterman will play in the MINK Collegiate Baseball League, leaving a hole to fill in the middle infield.

Fourteen-year veteran Ryan Wenner will see the bulk of the time at shortstop with the other middle infield duties to be handled by Jordan Wilmes, Jayme Munsterman and newcomer Tyler Stoffel. Stoffel has signed his first amateur contract with the Saints after graduating from Mankato West in 2014. 

The corner infield positions will remain the same. Jeff Menk returns to first base for his fifth season, while Shea Roehrkasse and Billy Hanson will handle third. Between Roehrkasse and Hanson, it will be a continuous tradeoff between third base and catcher.

The starting outfield also remains intact with Ryan Kapsner in left, Kaus in center and Seth Wenner in right. Depth at outfield is thin with CJ Siewert and Gage Paur as backups.

Utility players include Sam Wenner, Nick Kempenich and newcomer Bryan Dilbeck.

Mike Enz, the Saints’ most experienced player, has decided to hang up his cleats after 30 seasons with the team. Nine-year pitcher Jordan Seebach has also retired and last year’s newcomer Cameron Victor has moved out of town.

East Division (Class B)

Chanhassen Red Birds

Co-Coaches: Mike Arnold and Mike Ralston

2014 record: 12-18 overall 

Returning players: Jeff Pavlovich OF, TJ Gulden INF, John Gulden INF, John Leighton C/P/OF, Kyle Kemble UTIL, Nate Swenson INF, Luke Penovich P, John Eischens P, Justin Kurth P, Adrian Turner P and Shawn Riesgraf 1B

Newcomers: Brandon Arnold OF, Sean Hennen C, Jack Mattson DH, Trevor Patterson P, Kyle Horstmann INF, Chance Panning P, Ryan Diers P, Kasey Ralston P, Chris Choles P, Justin Arnold OF, Nick Smith INF and Dan Furhman P

“We have a very young team that will play with energy, hustle and respect for the game,” said co-coach Mike Ralston. “They will represent the city of Chanhassen with pride, while building a quality entertainment the community of Chanhassen will appreciate, much the same way that our fellow class B Section C rivals, Chaska and Shakopee have done in their respective communities. The Red Birds are honored and excited to be playing in such a strong a veteran laden section 3B.  As coaches we look for this team to jell as the year goes along and create some excitement for the Chanhassen community. Playing against some of the strongest Class B teams, will aid in the development of our young team.”

Chaska Cubs

Managers: Bob Poppitz (3rd year) and John Seifert (21st year)

2014 record: 24-14 overall, 13-5 RVL

Returning starters and role players: everyone but Cory Glieden

Departed player: Cory Glieden

Newcomers: Josh Anderson, Brian Astry, Jack Claeys, Ryan Zimmerman and Chase Hentges 

“We have a lot of veteran guys hungry to get back to the State Tournament (currently on a two-year drought),” said player Tony Lane. “We are hoping that some of our new additions will help us make a run. Looking forward to getting to play at Chaska Athletic Park this summer after having to watch it endure yet another flood last summer.”

Prior Lake Jays

Multiple time RVL All Star and 2009 All “B” Tourney IF/OF Dusty Olynyk on sabbatical in 2015 with work travel.  OF Taylor Branstad (MSU Mankato ’16) & Alex George (Upper Iowa ’16) are not expected to return as well.  

Larger contributions expected from 2014 PL graduates Tyler Edwards (1B, P, OF SE Nebraska CC ’16), Austin Truso (P, Util Mankato State Mavs ’19),  Zac Repinski (IF, P, DMACC ’16) and 2015 PL grad Tommy Keating (C, Util, SE Iowa ’17).  Infielder Bryn Forstner will be joining the Jays following completion of his USMC tour of duty following PL High as well it is likely for a couple additional new players joining the Jays.

Mark Schroeder returns for his 4th season as Field Manager and will be assisted by GM Tex Chapman.  The Jays have turned over the roster in recent seasons and have a capable roster of youth led by longtime veteran presence of Adam Cress OF, Scott Geisler 1B, and Jim Schroeder 2B who are remaining members of the 2009 RVL Champs/MBA Runner Up and 2010 Final 16 team.  Completing college ball in 2014 TJ Larson MSU Mankato should anchor the pitching should further professional opportunities not be available as well Ryan Mestnik (Augsburg ’15) and Christopher Kelly (Gustavus ’15) should be keys on the hill (and field) for the PL Jays 2015.  

Dom Reed (P, DMACC ’14, UST ’16) should also contribute on the hill for the Jays.

The Jays expect continued improvement and are hopeful to advance in Section 3B playoffs.  “Every year is a new challenge in building the excellence which we are striving for in Prior Lake and if we can continue to see improvement in the players added over the past 4 seasons, we are hopeful for a long Summer concluding in Cold Spring but we know it will be a challenge given the depth and quality of Section 3B” said GM Tex Chapman.  

The Jays will also be participants in the Elko New Market Budweiser Invitational Tournament in early June.

Shakopee Indians

Manager: Gary Schleper

2014 record: 26-12 overall, 12-3 in the RVL, 6-3 Section 3B (Section 3 state participant)

Returning starters and role players: Brandon Olson – SS, Alex Bade – Utility, Zach Bohar – C, Chris Rupert – P, Aaron Olson – INF/P, Greg Campbell – OF, Andy Gibart – P, Sheldon Miks – P/1B, Pat Lenton – P, Troy Wasiloski – 1B/3B, Nate Brown – P, Kyle Ryan – 2B, Dominick Schleper – C/INF, John Hellkamp – OF/P, Mark Dolenc – OF

Departed players: Brannon Weigel, Zak Hoffman, Matt Conrad, Chase Hentges 

Newcomers: Tom Hellkamp, Kyle Hoover, Dane Secott

“The Indians lost a number of good young ballplayers but have a number of very talented veteran ball players that hope to pave the way to another state tournament run,” said manager Gary Schleper. “Starting pitchers Chris Rupert, Andy Gibart, Nate Brown and Sheldon Miks give the Indians a solid rotation that should keep them in most games. We are hopeful a couple young guys can step in and fill the void left by some off-season departures.”

Victoria Vic’s

Manager: Mike Poppitz

2014 record: 31-19 overall, 11-2 RVL (Section 3 state participant)

The core players back are Eric & Greg Winegarden, Sam Rothstein, Matt Mann, Adam Dittrich, Tony Kjosling, Chris Volkman, Rollie Lacey, Corey Binger, Riley Sweeney, Corey Eckhoff and Alex Summer.

Departer players: Brandon Arnold and Nick Volkman

Newcomers: “Haven’t signed anyone at this time but have 8-9 new players coming in,” Poppitz said. “With the style that we play we should be in the hunt once again this year, when you haven’t had a game or practice it’s hard to see if the core player became gray beards over the winter or can they still play.” 

• • • • • • • • • •

2015 RVL Season Preview, by Score Monster’s Jeff Barthel

Familiar foes return, yet changes are afoot for the River Valley League as it begins a new season. The St. Peter Saints appear to be as strong as ever in the West Division; an impressive Jordan team returns its core players in the Central; and the Class B East has undergone a last-minute, offseason shake-up.          

The RVL West contains five Class C teams but the discussion must start with St. Peter, the Region 6C champions. The Saints posted a 6-0 record against division foes last season en route to a 24-8 overall mark (11-2 RVL). Led by a 9-2, 0.91 ERA-season from ex-St. Scholastica (Duluth) standout Matt Lewis and an offense that scored 6.3 runs per game, the Saints were winners of seven straight and nine of 10 entering the state tournament last summer.    

“St. Peter is far and away the preseason favorite in the West,” said Tony Beneke, general manager of the RVL West’s Arlington A’s. “[Saints manager TomLacina seems to be able find players the last few years to add to an already good team, and make them better.” 

But after an impressive regular season and first-round state tournament bye all that momentum came to a screeching halt, as the Saints were blanked 3-0 in the second round by the Ada Athletics. While St. Peter aims to get back to state, fellow RVL West foes Gaylord, New Ulm, Fairfax and Arlington will try to get their swings in as well.

Gaylord appears to be the most likely team to compete with St. Peter and potentially earn a second state bid out of the division. The Islanders, 12-12 overall last year (8-5 RVL), feature one of the league’s most electric arms in Minnesota State, Mankato freshman pitcher Brody Rodning – a cool 8-0 so far this season for the Mavericks. He is the son of Brian Rodning, a long-time former Islander great.

“When Brody Rodning is on the mound, [Gaylord] can beat any team in our league,” said Beneke. “Collin Grams in center field is as good as anyone in the league at his position. They have a veteran group – led by [manager] Mike Walsh – that needs to stay healthy for them to knock off St. Peter for the No. 1 spot.” 

Fifth-year Islander Paul Mages hit .420 with 20 RBI last year while Ed Reichenbach, an RVL All-Star in 2014, batted .400 with 26 runs driven in.

The New Ulm Kaiserhoff (3-10 RVL), according to Beneke, are a “wild card.” He said the team has struggled to keep players while competing with last year’s Class C state-runner up New Ulm Brewers, and other Tomahawk League teams. But that’s something that could be rectified in short order in a city of New Ulm’s size (population: 13,210).

Fairfax, 1-12 in the RVL last season and 0-7 in the West, has been under construction as well. The team’s manager, Keith Buboltz, and the Cardinals’ clean-up hitter, Keith’s brother Adam Buboltz, have both left the team. Fairfax absorbed players from their former rival, the Winthrop Eagles, when the teams merged rosters in 2013.

As for Arlington, Beneke said his team is high on pitching depth but low on experience. The A’s GM likes the talent, though, and can see them finishing anywhere from second to last, depending on how the young squad matures. Arlington was 3-10 in the RVL last season and ended its year with a 10-3 lost to Gaylord in Region 6C play.

* * *

The RVL Central hosted a successful state tournament last season between Belle Plaine and Jordan, with Le Sueur serving as the third site. With all that hard work now in the rear-view mirror Jordan is once again a heavy favorite, ranked third in the Minnesota Baseball Association’s initial Class C preseason rankings. Since dropping down to Class C three years ago, the Brewers have lost just one Class C league game during the regular season.

After eight years at the helm Jason Chalupsky stepped down as team manager for the Brewers. In his stead will be long-time assistant and veteran stalwart Scott Hollingsworth, entering his 15th season with the Brewers. The former Texas Rangers prospect has high hopes in his first year at the helm.        

“I expect to be there in the end [of the state tournament] again,” Hollingsworth said of his squad, which made the state semifinals each of the last two seasons. “This team has a big veteran core of leadership and knows when to turn it on.  Playoffs tend to be that time.”

While high on his team’s talent, Hollingsworth is cautioned by the team’s age. Last year’s team had an impressive 33-10 (13-0 RVL) record that culminated with its long run at state – often on familiar turf at its famed Mini-Met Stadium. The Brewers won their first four games before falling in dramatic style in the semifinals, losing 5-3 to the New Ulm Brewers after taking a 3-1 lead into the ninth.

“The loss was very tough,” said Hollingsworth, “but to be honest, we were running out of gas as a team.” 

Hollingsworth would love to add some youth to the team – citing the starting lineup’s ages as 27 years old, 27, 39, 39, 52, 39, 33, 28 and 29, as well as starting pitchers at ages 39, 38 and 34. “We have the drive and talent to do it,” Hollingsworth said, “but we are just getting older and it makes it difficult to compete with guys who are 10 to 12 years younger.”

With a desire to add youth in mind, the Brewers were approached this offseason by Chase Hentges, a 24-year-old pitcher for the Shakopee Indians and a close friend of Lucas. In early April a special RVL meetingamong Class C teams was called to discuss potential reclassification for the Chanhassen Red Birds, who signed a bunch of players from fellow RVL teams, and for Jordan – if they were to sign Hentges.

Chanhassen was on the docket first and on a 6-4 vote, the league’s Class C teams recommended that the Red Birds be bumped up to Class B. Jordan began their discussion by stating that they were only interested in signing Hentges if they would remain a Class C team.

The RVL C’s voted 6-4 to allow Jordan to sign Hentges and remain in Class C, but the state board decided the Brewers would indeed be moved to Class B if they signed anyone outside their school district – which was the parameters given when asking to move down three years ago.

“So we had to tell a very disappointed Chase Hentges that he is too good and he makes us a Class B team,” Hollingsworth said. Hentges, age 24, was a 14th-round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2008. The big right-hander has since signed with the Chaska Cubs.

Finishing second to Jordan in the RVL Central standings each of the past two seasons is the Belle Plaine Tigers, who went 15-15 (9-4 RVL) last year after a second-round exit at state – also in their home ballpark as state tourney co-hosts. The Tigers lost 4-0 to Sartell – the second year in a row the high-powered Muskies ended Belle Plaine’s season, after beating the Tigers in the 2013 Class C championship.

In their five playoff games leading up to the Sartell setback, “Team Tigertown” outscored their opponents by a combined total of 38-4. They clinched a state bid with a 10-0 win over Henderson thanks to a 17-strikeout no-hitter from lefty pitcher Ryan Diers.

“Belle Plaine is always a very good team; they do a great job of developing the kids at a young age and are going to always be there in the end,” said Hollingsworth.

Diers has signed a contract to play with the Chanhassen Red Birds, however, a former RVL-Central member that now resides in the RVL East. Additionally, three lineup staples retired and one took a new job, meaning Belle Plaine will be without their 3-4-5-6 hitters in Diers, Dan HuberJake Fiedler and Brad Lawson – as well as starting outfielder Shawn “Poptart” Larson. Along with August Farruggia, five of the Tigers’ top six arms from 2014 will not be back.

Key Tigers returning for 2015 are perennial RVL All-Stars in center fielder Travis Latzke (.352, 19 runs, 16 stolen bases last season) and 18th-year catcher Pat Schultz (.273, one home run, 14 RBI). Fourth-year player Derek Dahlke, if healthy, is being counted on as the new ace of the staff.

The Henderson Tigers are a team Hollingsworth describes as “up and coming.” Henderson was 6-7 overall in the RVL last season, including 5-3 in the division. Their season ended one game away from a state tourney berth, as they were on the wrong end of Diers’ no-hitter in Belle Plaine.

“They have made huge strides with their field and their team,” said Hollingsworth, regarding Henderson. “Give them a year or two and they will be right there to make the tournament.” 

Wrapping up the Central division is the Le Sueur Braves. Managed by Mike Feeney, the Braves posted a 7-14 record (5-8 RVL) last season that ended with a hard-fought, 1-0 loss to Chanhassen in the Region 6C tournament. The Braves are seeking their first appearance at state since 2004.

* * *

The RVL East’s Class B collection promises to feature some very interesting competition this summer. TheVictoria Vics – 2012 Class B champions – are the odds-on favorites, ranked fifth in the inaugural Class B state preseason poll. The ranking comes following a 26-5 (6-3 RVL Class B) record in 2014. However, no less than seven players from last year’s Vics squad have signed with Chanhassen, who now will compete with Victoria in the East division.

Also in the East are the Prior Lake Lakers, Chaska Cubs and Shakopee, with the Indians ranked eighth overall in the Class B preseason poll.         

Victoria manager Mike Poppitz isn’t seeking any sympathy, despite the challenge to replace so much of his roster. “We just go out and play, and try to have fun and win some games. We will have our core players back with the exception of two starters from last year. We have some younger players coming in to fill spots [as well]. So we should be fine.”

Among the key returning players for Victoria will be catcher/designated hitter Eric Winegarden (.322, 5 HR, 36 RBI last season) and outfielder Chris Volkman (.327, 3 HR, 24 RBI), as well as pitchers Rollie Lacy (5-0, 1.29 ERA) and Alex Sommer (6-1, 2.85).

The Vics finished their 2014 season with a 5-4, opening-round state tournament loss to St. Cloud Beaudreau’s, who advanced to the championship game. 

Victoria’s top rival a year ago, perennial power Shakopee, figures to be staunch yet again. “Shakopee has a very good team with a bunch of seasoned veterans that know how to win, plus some good young talent,” said Poppitz.

Following its 2013 Class B runner-up season, last year’s Indians team posted a 26-11 record (6-3 RVL) en route to its second straight state berth. Shak-Town bombed Forest Lake 15-5 in the first round but was eliminated in the quarterfinals with a 3-1 loss to the Moorhead Brewers.

This year’s rendition hopes to return to prominence on the coattails of veteran ace Chris Rupert, who enters his seventh season with the team. A former minor leaguer, Rupert anchored the team’s pitching staff with a 7-0 record and 2.32 ERA last season. Shakopee’s top returning bat is outfielder Mark Dolenca 15th-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2006 who hit .341 with 11 HR and 31 RBI.

Chaska looks recharged for the 2015 campaign. The Cubs, who finished third in the Class B state tournament in 2012, will look to punch their tourney ticket for the first time since then.

“Chaska has some new kids coming in that will help them, when added to their core players,” said Poppitz, regarding Chaska’s outlook this season. “They’re very solid on defense, have some punch in their lineup and depth in pitching.”

Though eliminated in Section 3B play, last year’s Cubs finished with a 25-13 (4-5 RVL Class B) mark. Key returning offensive players are infielder Kyle Geason, the Cubs’ leader in both batting average (.411) and RBI (44), as well as outfielders Greg Lane (4 HR, 26 RBI) and former Minnesota Golden Gopher JT Canakes(.324, 24 RBI).

Top starting pitchers are Pete Ohnsorg and Ryan Seiferta 12th-rounder by the Colorado Rockies in 1997. Chaska also welcomes the addition of the aforementioned Chase Hentges, who signed with Chaska after plans with Jordan didn’t come together. 

The Prior Lake Jays are a team that has some nice players, Poppitz said, but is in rebuilding mode. The Jays, who haven’t been to state since 2009, were 11-17 overall and 2-7 in RVL Class B play last season. It should be a stiff year of competition for the Jays, saddled in one of the toughest divisions in the state.

The RVL East’s new addition, the Chanhassen Red Birds, arrive after compiling a 12-17 record (6-7 RVL Central) as a Class C team in 2014. As previously mentioned, however, the Red Birds have seven players from Victoria and dual-threat Ryan Diers of Belle Plaine.

Chan played its first five seasons of existence in Class C. Besides the aforementioned new signees, three others mean that over half of the Red Birds’ 20-man roster will be new faces in 2015.

The team’s new players coming from Victoria feature a quartet of pitchers, including Chris Choles (4-1, 4.09 ERA), and Brandon Arnold, one of the Vics’ top hitters. Arnold led Victoria with a .408 batting average last season, with 25 RBI and 16 stolen bases to boot.

“They have seven of my former players so we do have an idea of their abilities,” Poppitz said. “But when meshed with players who have been there it will be interesting to see how they jell. I think pitching will be their strong suit with who they signed.”

The Red Birds are scheduled to face Victoria three times this season – with the first matchup coming June 16 in Victoria.

Belle Plaine transplant Diers posted a stingy 1.59 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 51 innings pitched for the Tigers last year, while also pacing the team in batting average (.364), home runs (4) and RBI (23). The now 22-year-old even made a strong push for Class C state tourney MVP in Belle Plaine’s runner-up finish in 2013.

# # #

You can follow Jeff Barthel on Twitter @JeffreyRBarthel and check out his blog, JRB Sports Scribe, where he last blogged extensively about the 2014 Minnesota Baseball Association state tournament. 

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