Season Preview: Kenosha Kings

April 16, 2012

Read the 2012 Kenosha Kings season preview by coach Tim Pulizzano.

Wisconsin State League

The following is the 2012 Kenosha Kings season preview from the Kenosha Kings Website.

“Share the work and we shall share the success.” Every year a coach needs a rally cry. May seem little cliché, but also may become the answer to success for the 2012 Kenosha Kings season. There is no doubt the track record of the past several years speaks for itself, but the challenge comes in what price the Kings are willing to pay for that success going forward. Can they stay hungry? With over 20 returning players, 10 of which have 3 or more titles under their belt, is the drive for success still there? We think so!

Coming off their 5th Consecutive Langsdorf League Championship, new challenges arise in 2012. With a target on their backs, a new nemesis has joined the Langsdorf league in the likes of the Sheboygan A’s. The Sheboygan A’s are founding members of the Wisconsin State League and now will become an instant front runner for the Langsdorf League title. With the A’s joining the Langsdorf League, EVERY game matters. Games against the A’s now count for both leagues which makes every game like a playoff game. “Every team has gotten better, in both leagues, that‘s just a fact. We need to bring our A-game night in and night out if we want to be, where we want to be, when it’s all said and done at the end of the year. Sheboygan’s move into the Langsdorf League just makes it that much tougher. We seem to falter mid season with injuries, fatigue and other life events that come a long. That just can’t happen this year, or we will find ourselves quicly sliding in a direction we don’t want to go. We have held a pretty simple formula over the years, good pitching, solid defense, and timely hitting. If we have a breakdown in any of those, on any given night, it’s going to be a struggle. It really all starts with trust. We have a good core of guys, and have for quite some time, we need to keep that core strong and realize that there comes a time where we need to groom the younger guys. Let’s face it, we all cannot play forever, so this may be a year, more than ever, where we have to put ego’s aside and make sure we are building for a common goal, and that is to win games and continue this strong program that we have all invested so much of our time and efforts into. With that said, I think we have the guys to do it. Our guys are very passionate about success in all phases of the game. That is what makes us Kings.”

On the mound in 2012 the Kings will be led by WSL Pitcher of the Year, Randy Johnson (1.46 ERA), Langsdorf League Pitcher of the Year, Travis Vanderwall (1.65 ERA) and Jon Olson (3 Time WSL Pitcher of the Year). “It is a gimme that these guys are going to give us a quality start each and every time they take the hill, it is the next 7 in line that usually determine where we end up.” Rounding out the rotation will be Jason Bunton, Jon Kleinmeier, Andrew Paulauskas, Sean Kennedy, Ryan Kennedy, John Snelton and rookie Caleb Haley. “What we simply need is consistency and the ability to stay healthy and committed from the entire staff. Absolutely anyone of these guys can be shut down pitchers on any given day. Outside of our rookie, Caleb, they have all proven that. We just need commitment and consistency. We may even need to see a bit more of these guys out of the bullpen this year. I think if they all come into the season with their arms and bodies in shape, and maintain it throughout the year, we got one of the strongest staffs in the Midwest. I believe that 100%. As far as Caleb is concerned, we may have found a diamond in this kid. He is a big hard thrower, and with more and more experience and working with some of the older guys, he could climb his way up the top of the rotation rather quickly.”

Out of the bullpen, The Kings return all time saves leader Chris Wolcott (17 Appearances), Kyle Stone and Will Mueller. “What’s great about these guys, is that they know their role, they are reliable, and they take the pressure off the rest of the team. The ‘dog days’ of summer are just that… I think sometimes, what they do for the team goes under appreciated, on and off the field. It truly is a joy having them part of this club. They are 3 guys who everyone enjoys having around and always step up in whatever roll is needed. That is exactly what we need out of our relievers!”

On the corners, will be the heart of the Kings lineup. First Team All WSL 3B, Mark Cibrario (.368 Avg, .436 OB%), will anchor third base and be the go to guy in the middle of the lineup. “Not really much else I can say about Cibby that has not already been said by so many. He is truly the heart of our team. He motivates, leads by example and works well with anyone looking for that extra boost in their game. I expect Cibby to have another solid year and keep doing what he does. “ Travis Vanderwall will also be seeing some time at 3B. “I expect Trav to really show us that he is a multi dimensional player. He broke on the scene with us on the mound last year, but also possesses a lot of patience at the plate and can drive the ball in the gap. We also will rotate him in, in the OF and 1B as well. Bottom line… If he hits, we will find a way to get his bat in the lineup.“ At 1B, the Kings return 3 more of their middle lineup guys in John Hasser (28 RBI), Jason Dennis (23 RBI, .432 Slug %) and Jason Acevedo. “Seems like a log jam, but it is a nice problem to have. We have DH, 1B and an OF position that we can work all 3 of these guys into. If they all support each other, focus on solid AB’s, give us good timely hitting and most importantly, have fun where ever we put them, there is no reason they can’t all end the year as All League nominees regardless of the position they play.”

Up the middle the Kings return one of the most exciting duos in the Midwest, Joe Ferro and JT Schneider (.311 Avg, 14 SB’s.). Joe Ferro (15 SB’s) has been one of the leaders on the field for the past several years, and now with JT having a year under his belt, this should be one of most dynamic middle tandems to watch. “Both these guys are the fun to watch. To me, when you look for your best athletes, they are up the middle, and there is no doubt that these 2 are athletic. Joe is our team leader, and JT is a quiet spark plug, that I believe will turn a lot of heads this year, especially with a year of experience. Offensively, all we need is to get them on base by any means necessary. We got the guys to hit them in. Patient, pesky and consistent AB’s is what we are looking for. If we can get them both in that .400 OB % range, it could be a real fun year for our big guys to hit behind them.”

In the OF, the Kings return 3 speedsters in Paul Pulera, Andrew Highland and Kyle Frye. Paul Pulera (First team All WSL) led the 2011 Kings with a .386 batting average and total hits (61). “Watching these 3 track down balls in the OF, is truly a beautiful thing. These guys can move and can make some remarkable plays. Paulie had his best offensive year in his tenure with the Kings. But really for all 3 of them, it’s a simple concept, patience, patience, patience. If they can get themselves in hitters’ counts, they hit the ball well. When they are constantly 0-2 and 1-2, they struggle. I have seen all 3 of them carry our team for stretches of a season, but what a joy it would be to see them have all cylinders clicking at the same time. The bottom line is… with a wood bat, the scores are lower, these guys (along with our middle IF’s) have to get on base for us to succeed, period. If they make a conscious effort to be patient, and simply find a way on base, again, the big guys behind them will be licking their chops.”

Behind the dish, the Kings will be led again by 9th year Catcher Billy Johnson (.411 OB%). Backing him up will be rookie Joe Balestreri. “We know Billy is going to hit the ball for us. Last year he had a bit of down year, for his standards, at the plate, but we expect that to change this year. He possesses a rocket for an arm, so that shuts down a lot of running games. We need him to continue taking on a leadership role with the pitching staff and being vocal, mostly with the little things. Billy has a tremendous amount of knowledge that he can translate to pitchers success, and guys respect him for that. This year he really has a chance to groom a hungry kid behind him, so I foresee a lot of growth for both mentor and student. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the long haul. We are also a little thin up the middle, so we expect Billy to be getting more reps at 2B and SS as well.” “We turned down a lot of catchers this year for Joe. We know he is a worker, and that is what we look for in a catcher, someone to be a leader and not be afraid to get a little bit dirty. He is playing at Div II UM Duluth as a freshman, so that tells us a lot as far as his talent. His year will also translate a lot into our success. The summer is long and hot with a lot of games packed into a short period of time, so Joe will get his chances, probably more than most people realize. It’s always fun to see how new guys respond, but we have high expectations with Joe.”

“2012 will be an interesting year… I feel that more than talent, it comes back to TEAM… The catch 22 is that everyone wants to be great all the time, which is a positive. On the other hand, there comes a time when there has to be a shift in the dynamic of the team, and this may be one of those years. Having a lot of veterans, I want them to know where they came from, and the struggles they overcame to get where they are today, and NEVER forget that. That should be their #1 driving force. If we worry about taking care of our own individual responsibilities, whether it is on or off the field, or in a position they may not feel 100% comfortable with, the chips will fall where they fall. And if we handle that in a mature and structured way, we will be where we want to be when it’s all said and done.”

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