TRAVERSE CITY — When Traverse City Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn met with his players this week he did not talk about goals.
He did not talk about winning the Frontier League East Division again — although qualifying for the playoffs is always the main goal.
Instead, Langbehn wanted his players to know that politics will not play a role in determining the 2013 roster. Whereas in affiliated ball, where teams have greater investments in certain players and those players are given more opportunities, that is not the case here, he said. The most productive players will make team. Simple as that.
“We told them, ‘Now make our job hard,’” Langbehn said.
The Beach Bums officially opened spring training Thursday, hosting media day early in the afternoon and then following that up with an intrasquad scrimmage.
Traverse City has 35 players on its roster and must whittle it down to 24 before the season opener May 17 at Joliet.
The Beach Bums return a solid nucleus from last season’s squad that went a league-best 64-32. The returnees include third baseman and league MVP Jose Vargas, who hit .290 with 29 home runs and a league-high 100 RBIs; first baseman Chase Burch, who hit .304 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs; second baseman Ryan Still, who hit .301, had a league-record 110 walks, and scored a league-best 82 runs; rightfielder Sean Gusrang, who hit .266 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs; and catcher Marcus Nidiffer, who handled the pitching staff and hit .241 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs. Gusrang and Nidiffer were the seventh and eighth hitters in the order.
“We had the big guns ahead of us — Vargas, Burch, (Jeff) Flagg (20 home runs and 83 RBIs) and (Kyle) Colligan (.290 with seven home runs and 56 RBIs),” Gusrang said. “We always joked that if anybody was left on base after those guys, it was a miracle. Marcus and I had to fend for ourselves for RBIs.”
The Beach Bums had three of the league’s top five run producers.
Traverse City must replace two starting outfielders and two starting pitchers who were a combined 20-6. Those will be two of the major points of interest in the next two weeks.
“It will work itself out,” Langbehn said.
With Reid Kelly and Brooks Belter gone, Jacob Clem is poised to be the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation. He was 7-4 a year ago.
“I felt I had a good year,” Clem said. “I felt like I got better and figured a lot of things out as the season went on. I worked on things that I wasn’t as good at during the off-season. Coming in, I’m more prepared and I feel I can be better than I was last year.”
Clem said he worked on his mechanics and change-up in the off-season.
“I didn’t have as much confidence in my change-up as I should have last season,” he said. “I want to be able to throw it when I want to.”
After winning the East by seven games last season, the Beach Bums were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, losing three one-run games to eventual champion Southern Illinois.
“Obviously, we were disappointed when we lost in the playoffs because we felt we had the best team,” Gusrang said. “But you have to tip your hat to Southern. They came and took two from us here (Wuerfel Park). Our expectations have not changed. We want to win that championship.”