By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Beach Bums roster is nearing completion.
With Wednesday's addition of outfielder Mike Mergenthaler and pitchers Johnny Omahen and Michael Kerschner, the team's roster sits at 28. Manager Gregg Langbehn said they have one more left-handed pitcher on the verge of signing a contract and will add more players from the Frontier League draft right before the start of spring training in two weeks.
"We're pretty pleased with where we're at right now," Langbehn said.
Mergenthaler — who has 102 games of affiliated minor-league experience under his belt, including a brief stint at AAA last year — has a professional batting average of .252 after hitting 31 home runs collegiately at Richmond.
"He's another guy that wasn't getting the at-bats he thought he deserved in affiliated ball," Langbehn said, comparing him to recently-signed infielder Brandon Brewer. "We're really excited about him. He can play all three outfield spots. Left-handed bat. Big kid."
He'll compete with returners Sean Gusrang and Matt Howard and newcomers Scott Woodward and Shaun Cooper for outfield playing time. Infielders Jeremy Banks and Brewer also have outfield experience.
Omahen will be one of numerous arms competing for up to four spots in the Traverse City starting rotation. All-Star Jacob Clem is the only starter back.
Other rotation candidates include Jake Sabol, Michael Devine, Shaun Marquardt, Chris Kaminski, Andrew Morris, Burny Mitchem and side-armer Philip Brua.
Kerschner is a former University of Michigan hurler. Langbehn said Beach Bums general manager Jason Wuerfel didn't want to risk losing the right-hander at the Frontier League tryout camp, so the team preemptively signed him.
Brewer — who can play all over — also pitched in the minors. The knuckleballer will be given a chance at camp to see if he can contribute on the mound as well.
Marquardt and Kaminski are Frontier vets who pitched for the London Rippers/Road Warriors last season and were snapped up quickly by the Bums in free agency.
"He's not an overpowering lefty," Langbehn said of Marquardt. "If you look at him, he's really similar to what (Enrique) Lechuga did for us a few years ago. He's a left-handed pitcher that throws strikes and isn't overpowering. That's all I'm looking for. I want guys who throw strikes and get outs. I don't care how hard they throw.
"Kaminski is another kid that we really liked last year. He always did a good job against us. He's not a really big kid, but he's aggressive and throws strikes and doesn't back down. The thing that impressed me the most about him is his demeanor on the mound."
The Bums have almost their entire infield returning intact, including All-Stars Chase Burch, Ryan Still and Jose Vargas and catcher Marcus Nidiffer. Brewer and Andrew Cohn will compete for the shortstop job after incumbent Kyle Eveland was released Tuesday.
Langbehn didn't rule out a return later this season by Eveland, "if there's mutual interest."
The bullpen also appears to be a unit of strength, with closer Matt Miller, former All-Star Scott Mueller, Scott Dunn, Nick Capito and Jason Mattila back.
"We're really happy with the bullpen — who knows how it's going to play out? — but the experience and what guys have done in the past, we're pretty happy with the bullpen," Langbehn said.
Catchers Chris Cowell, Zach Kometani and Isaac Wenrich will compete to back up Nidiffer.
Woodward looks like a potential top-of-the-order hitter who gets on base frequently and can pair with Ryan Still to give the heart of TC's order a lot of RBI opportunities.
"The only thing holding him back was a couple injuries," Langbehn said of Woodward. "He had a couple in college and one in affiliated ball and never really got on track. If he turns out to be what we think he'll be, I think our top two are going to be awfully hard to deal with."