HILLARY SMITH: RailCats in search of hot rookie bat

2013-03-31T18:00:00Z 2013-03-31T20:02:15Z HILLARY SMITH: RailCats in search of hot rookie batHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
March 31, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

Last week, the RailCats announced their annual tryout will be May 2, with fingers crossed the weather holds out.

This is a prime year for young hitters, unlike last year when the RailCats infield and outfield was mostly set.

The team is hoping to spend some of its "rookie" classification on an infielder who can be counted on. It's been five seasons since the RailCats used 2008 Rookie of the Year Mike Rohde as an everyday first baseman. Before that, Eric McNamee was an everyday second baseman as a rookie in 2006. 

Spending their veteran spots on the outfield this year, the RailCats don't want all of their rookies to land in the pitching ranks, like the end of last season, manager Greg Tagert said.

"I've never minded having two rookies on the pitching staff, but to have three or four, it was becoming a little counter-productive for us," Tagert said. "We thought about the process as the offseason moved on, and we decided, 'Let's try to get a little younger in the infield and fill with those rookie spots.' We'll need one of those rookies to win a starting job."

The opportunity is there for a fresh face.

There could be some spots filled this week as Major League Baseball teams break camp and make their final cuts. Young players who didn't reach their dreams of major or minor league ball still have a shot in the independent leagues.

The catch for anyone planning to try out for the RailCats on May 2 is that reaching past the tryout is just one layer to reach the roster.

Tagert said he's afraid players who make the cut from the open tryouts tend to think they're on the team.

That's not quite it.

"We're never going to sign a player based on how he performs against his peers at the tryout camp," Tagert said. "Competing against your peers isn't going to be a deciding factor, you're peers aren't going to be as good as our players or the teams we play against."

This is the first year that the RailCats are charging players to tryout, with a $50 entry fee that Tagert said helps take care of liability fees and insurance.

"I think it's one of those things that has become the norm and we were probably not the last, but one of the last clubs no longer charging," Tagert said. "People sometimes think that clubs think they're providing a service to the players, which if you're holding a fantasy camp, you are. But with a tryout, it's the players really providing a service to the club, and without the players we can't do that. We're sensitive to the fee, and held out as long as we could."

The biggest service the RailCats need now is a young, solid bat in the lineup. If that comes from an infield spot, the team is ready for spring training competition to find the right rookie.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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