The Swift Current Indians have begun to release the names of some of the anticipated members of this summer’s team as the 2014 Western Major Baseball League season quickly approaches.
Leading the way is a trio of players with local roots, including a pair of returnees from previous seasons.
Towering pitcher Justin Kehler will return for a second season with the Tribe after an impressive debut season in 2013. The 6’8’’ right-handed pitcher came up through the Swift Current Minor Baseball system and currently pitches for the Merced College Blue Devils in the Central Valley Conference.
Kehler made his WMBL debut last season and was a main contributor right from the start of the season with his hometown team. He finished with three wins and a 4.80 earned run average over 24 innings. Kehler worked primarily in relief and struck out 19 batters while walking only four.
Kehler redshirted his first season at Merced and is back on the mound this spring for his freshman season. He is currently 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA over 26.2 innings in 14 games played. He has allowed 22 hits and eight earned runs with 10 walks, while striking out 14 for the Blue Devils, who are 16-5 in conference play and have a 20-13 overall record. The team is 5-1 in games he has pitched in and Kehler has an impressive .216 opponents batting average.
“I am expecting Hoss to make a big jump from last summer to this summer," said Indians coach Joe Carnahan in the team's announcement. "He changed his arm angle back to three-quarters and his velocity has increased as a result. He’s a big presence on the mound and loves to compete. Last year he showed that he can compete at this level and his arm bounces back quickly after appearances. This spring he is having an outstanding year at Merced out of their bullpen and will have the opportunity this summer to be a shut down guy at the back end of games for us. He is going to be a very important part of our success this summer.”
Returning to the Indians after a one-year absence is Swift Current native Luke Barry. The 6’0’’, 195-pound Junior is currently in his second season at Mount Olive College in North Carolina, a program that is annually ranked and competes for the National Championship at the NCAA Division 2 level each season.
Barry, who also came up through the Swift Current Minor Baseball system, played for the Tribe in 2011 and 2012 before missing last season due to shoulder surgery.
Barry has played outfield, catcher, and first base during his time with the Tribe and was named a WMBL Second Team All-Star as an outfielder during his rookie season. He was slowed by injury during his second WMBL season but he still had 14 runs batted in and 20 runs scored in 35 games.
Barry is now completely healthy and is hitting .311 through 28 games with the Trojans. He has 18 runs batted in and has scored nine runs to go along with an impressive .405 on-base percentage.
“I am very excited that Luke will be back on the field for us this summer,” said Carnahan. “He is a very hard worker, ultimate team guy and will bring toughness to the club this summer. He has gained 15 pounds in the weight room since he last suited up for us so I am excited to see the ball jump off his bat. Luke will provide us with a very important left-handed bat that is going to have the opportunity to drive in a lot of runs this summer. Now in his third season with the organization, he will be looked upon as a leader for us both on and off the field.”
Adding to the local flavor on the Indians will be former Swift Current resident Justin Lee. The 5’10’’ 170-pound infielder/outfielder is in his senior season at Texas A&M – Kingsville. Lee began his baseball career in Swift Current before moving to Alberta. He has competed for two elite programs in Texas during his collegiate career, first at national junior college powerhouse Midland College before transferring to NCAA Division 2 Texas A&M University – Kingsville.
Lee was hitting .315 through his first 39 games with the Javelinas this season. He had scored 26 runs and also had 17 runs batted in. He was six-for-seven in stolen base attempts and also sported a .933 fielding percentage to help his team to a 28-13 overall record as they look to reach the Division 2 World Series after falling just one game short last season.
“Justin is having a very good season at Kingsville. To have a guy like Justin, who can play both corner spots in the outfield and all four infield spots, is invaluable, especially with how busy our schedule is during the summer. Then throw in the numbers he is putting up offensively, I am very excited to have a player of his talent and versatility suiting up for us,” said Carnahan.
The Indians won the Central Division with a 29-17 record last summer. They swept out Weyburn in the opening round of the playoffs before being eliminated by Melville in the semi-final series.
The Indians will open the regular season on May 29 when they visit the defending champion Melville Millionaires at Pirie Field. Their home opener will be May 31 when they host the Weyburn Beavers at Mitchell Field in Swift Current.
Season tickets are currently available from any Swift Current Indians board member or at Pharmasave. Season tickets include 23 tickets for $180 that can be used for any game during the 2014 regular season.