The offseason recruiting trail for the Joplin Outlaws was a broad one, to say the least.
With newly acquired players from far-reach places such as California, New York, the Dominican Republic and Japan, diversity is one feature the MINK League baseball club doesn’t lack as it opens its 2019 summer season in Springfield Thursday night. Joplin will take part in a non-league twinbill with the Cobras and Wild at U.S. Baseball Park starting at 5.
The Outlaws, coming off a 16-26 season that saw them finish fourth in the MINK League South Division and miss the postseason for a second straight year, sport 10 returners and 29 newcomers on this year’s roster with players from 10 states and two countries.
“We have more of a world-wide representation thanks to the recruiting efforts that were made since last season,” third-year Outlaws coach Danny Weaver said. “With this being my third year with the team and having the addition of (Crowder College pitching coach) Jason Immekus on the coaching staff, we’ve been able to stretch our recruiting ties a bit and get some quality guys in here.”
One of the acquisitions is Nozomu Yamauchi, a lefty pitcher for Tohoku Gakuin University in Tohoku, Japan.
“Technology these days is amazing, and with our pitcher from Japan, it helped get him on our radar and bring him out to Joplin,” Weaver said. “It’s a computer-driven world, and you know a guy who knows a guy who says, ‘Hey, you’re going to get a call from Japan.’ Then you get a video sent and kind of make contact that way, and he ends up wanting to come here. We liked him right away, so we’re glad it worked out the way it did.”
Newcomer Freilin Cabrera, who hails from the Dominican Republic, isn’t a stranger to the Joplin area after playing in the middle infield at Crowder in his last two collegiate seasons. The sophomore led the Roughriders in their most recent campaign with a .396 batting average, logging 225 at-bats with 19 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 75 RBI.
Most of the personnel additions on Joplin’s roster have been to its pitching staff, which Weaver tabbed as one of the biggest keys to the team being able to clinch its first winning season since 2016. Last year the Outlaws ranked second to last in the MINK with a 6.26 earned run average.
“We need guys who are going to throw a lot of strikes,” Weaver said. “We have to have guys fielding it and throwing it well behind our pitchers, too. You know, I think we showed at times last season that we could be pretty good in those facets, but one of the priorities for this season is to be better and more consistent.”
Jared Wells, a Carl Junction native who recently completed his junior college career at Highland Community College, is one of four returning pitchers on the 21-man pitching staff.
“I think the improvements that this team needs all starts with the pitching,” Wells said. “We were OK as a pitching staff last year, but we have to be better. And this year I think we are. Even our hitting, from what I’ve seen so far in (batting practice), it looks like it’s improved. It’s early, but everything I’ve seen has me thinking we can be the well-rounded team we’re wanting to be.”
Among the new bats Joplin has at its disposal is that of Mike Million, who hit .278 with 34 runs batted in as the leadoff hitter for Missouri Southern in his senior season. Other MSSU players on the team are returning catcher Alex Wheeler, who ranked third on the Outlaws with a .295 batting average last season, returning pitcher Cole Gacke and returning infielder Joseph Kinder.
Pittsburg State catcher Ryan Cedeno and pitchers Tyler McGrew and Dalton Weaver also return to the Outlaws, while fellow Gorilla Chase Plymell joins the team for the first time as a righty pitcher. McGrew, the lone Joplin native on the Outlaws' roster, posted a 3-3 record in 11 appearances last summer.
Following Thursday’s season opener in Springfield, the Outlaws will play their home opener on Friday at 7 in a non-league game against the Midwest Nationals at Joe Becker Stadium. One promotion is 50-cent hot dogs, and there will be a fireworks display after the game.