TRAVERSE CITY — For Traverse City Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn, the goal remains the same.
"To compete for a playoff spot," he said. "That's what you play for."
The Beach Bums start workouts here in just over a month. They played for the Frontier League championship in 2010 and then came up a run short of qualifying for the playoffs last September, losing to Lake Erie in extra innings in the regular season finale. That loss put Lake Erie in the post-season and Traverse City on the sidelines.
"The last couple years we've put together some good teams," Langbehn said. "2010 was certainly a great season. We had the right pieces. We did last year, too. Unfortunately, we had a slow start, weathered it, and put ourselves in position to make it. Obviously, it was a disappointing end. Nonetheless, it was a good season and that's what we expect this year. We feel we have more than enough to compete again."
Jason Wuerfel, director of baseball operations, is putting the finishing touches on the training camp roster. The Beach Bums report May 2, then begin workouts the next day. The opener is two weeks later, May 17, in Florence, Ky.
With the season fast approaching, Langbehn discussed his team.
The strength of the staff is in the bullpen with set-up man Scott Dunn and closer Scott Mueller returning. Dunn finished 9-3 with a 2.58 ERA while Mueller recorded 21 saves with a sterling 1.31 ERA. Mueller struck out 53 in 55 innings.
"It's unfortunate Scott hasn't been given another affiliated opportunity because he's earned it," Langbehn said. "He works harder than anybody. He's all business. He knows the role and he's prepared when we call for him. Rarely does he let the team down. He's been extremely durable and reliable. You've got to have that. It can be so demoralizing if you don't have guys that can close games out for you."
Langbehn moved Dunn into the starting rotation down the stretch last summer, but he'll go back to his familiar role in 2012.
"He did a fantastic job for us (as a starter)," Langbehn said. "We did that out of necessity. He had the ability to do it. Obviously, I'd prefer to keep him in the bullpen."
As of now, Langbehn is expecting David Deminsky, Reid Kelly, Jacob Clem and Bennett Whitmore to challenge for starting roles.
Deminsky went 6-3 with a 3.84 ERA after joining the Beach Bums in June.
Kelly pitched in the Chicago White Sox farm system a year ago.
"He was in the Astros organization when I was there," Langbehn said. "I'm real excited to see him throw. He has a big strong arm. He's an 88-92 (mph) kid. A big power curveball. He just wants the opportunity to be in the rotation and get some innings and he'll be given that opportunity."
Clem, who pitched at the University of Washington, is another newcomer who will get a look.
"He's a kid we're really excited about," Langbehn said. "He pitched in the Australian Winter League and did a really good job. He's a big kid, a ground ball pitcher which should work nicely at Wuerfel Park."
Whitmore, a lefty like Deminsky, pitched previously in the Seattle Mariners system.
The Beach Bums have three under contract — Travis Higgs, Kip Masuda and Chris Kay. A fourth — Jon Hurst — is also vying for playing time as a corner outfielder.
Higgs hit .300 in the Mariners system last year while Masuda led the Pecos League in throwing out runners.
"On paper, we're probably stronger at catcher than last year," Langbehn said. "That's not a knock on the guys we ha, but we were looking to upgrade and we think we've done that."
Three positions appear set — Jose Vargas at third, Tom Zebroski at second and Chase Burch at first.
Vargas hit .261 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs, Zebroski, who had a 13-game hitting streak late in the season, finished at .281.Burch, after a sluggish start, bounced back to hit .260 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs.
Vargas spent some time at short in 2011, but will remain at third this season.
"He and Andrew Davis of Lake Erie are the two best third baseman in the league," Langbehn said. "They make every play."
Burch, one of the most feared hitters in the league in 2010, has been playing in Australia this off-season.
"(2010) was a tough year for him," Langbehn said. "He had some different things going on in his life personally. He started off slowly offensively and that was tough for him because he had never struggled before. He had a strong finish, though. That was the guy we saw for almost the entire 2010 season. He carried us for awhile. We're excited to have him back."
Jeff Flagg, another long ball threat, can play first and third and will now try corner outfield as well.
"We'd like to keep his bat in the lineup," Langbehn said. "That versatility (in the field) increases his value."
Flagg hit 13 home runs after joining the team June 28.
Stephen Shults, who led the Frontier League in home runs in 2010 and was eighth in hitting, came over in a trade with Florence in mid-August. With Burch at first, Shults could add punch as the designated hitter.
This is where the Beach Bums need to retool following the retirements of J.T. Hall and Matt Brown.
Brown, a top-flight defensive outfielder, led the team in hitting at .299. Hall set a team record with 23 home runs.
"Those are significant losses," Langbehn said. "With J.T., obviously he's a great player, but we'll miss his presence in the clubhouse, too. He was a fan favorite. But he had to make a decision in his life and he moved on."
Greg Burns is ticketed for center or left field. Flagg will be given an opportunity as will Hurst.
The Beach Bums have also inked Matt Howard and Sam DiMatteo.
"We're still talking with a couple other guys," Langbehn said.
Players report on May 2, season opens on May 17
TRAVERSE CITY — For Traverse City Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn, the goal remains the same.
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