WILSON TO SKIPPER 2012 BLUE ROCKS
Luebber Returns, Hollins, Stone & Vish Added
Kansas City, MO – A slew of new faces will flock to the northernmost Carolina League city in 2012 as the Kansas City Royals have announced the coaching staff for the 2012 Wilmington Blue Rocks. For the first time since 2009, the Blue Crew will have a new skipper as former major league catcher Vance Wilson receives a promotion from Low-A Kane County to Wilmington. Veteran pitching coach Steve Luebber will call Wilmington home for the sixth straight campaign and former big league outfielder Damon Hollins will reprise his 2011 Kane County role as Wilson’s hitting coach. Athletic trainer James Stone and strength and conditioning coach Adam Vish round out Wilson’s staff.
Wilson skippered Kane County to a 65-74 record in the Midwest League last season, his first as a minor league manager. The Cougars advanced to the playoffs thanks to a 37-33 second-half showing and defeated the Burlington Bees in the opening round before falling to eventual champion Quad Cities in the semifinals. The elimination game for the Cougars was decided by just a single run, 6-5.
The 38-year-old Wilson starred at Red Mountain H.S. in Mesa, AZ before becoming a junior college All-American at Mesa Community College in 1994. The New York Mets selected the backstop in the 44th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball draft, and signed him the summer after he concluded his college career. After five injury-plagued seasons in the Mets’ minor league system, he made his major league debut on April 24, 1999 against the Chicago Cubs.
He grew into the role of back-up and usual defensive replacement for perennial All-Star Mike Piazza. He ranked among the top National League catchers for lowest opposing stolen-base percentage in both 2002 (1st, 49.0%) and 2003 (3rd, 44.6%). The Mets traded Wilson to the Detroit Tigers on January 5, 2005, making him a back-up to the other standard-setting catcher of the generation, Ivan Rodriguez. Wilson played 56 games for the 2006 American League champion Tigers and hit .250 over 403 career big league games. He spent the 2008 and 2009 campaigns on the Royals’ farm as a player before retiring in April 2010.
Luebber, a Clinton, MO native, will enter his 45th season in the game. He joined the Royals in 2006 with Low-A Burlington after five years as the Double-A pitching coach for the Texas Rangers. Since first hitting the Riverfront in 2007, his mentoring has twice helped the Blue Rocks lead the Carolina League in team ERA. The 2011 season saw the club assemble a 3.86 ERA while issuing the CL’s fewest walks (378) and allowing its second-fewest homers (80).
Individually, Elisaul Pimentel ranked ninth in ERA (3.59), Tim Melville tied for second in wins (11) and Justin Marks led the loop in strikeouts both overall (140) and in ratio per nine innings pitched among starters (8.56:1). A slew of other Blue Rocks failed to qualify for the league leaderboard thanks falling short of the innings pitched requirements due to in-season promotion. The list included Carolina League All-Stars Jake Odorizzi and Michael Mariot along with closer Kelvin Herrera who concluded the year as a September call-up in the major leagues.
Selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 13th round of the 1967 amateur draft, Luebber made his big-league debut on June 27, 1971, starting the backend of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers. He pitched professionally for 17 seasons and posted a 6-10 record and a 4.62 ERA over 66 major league appearances for the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The 62-year-old lives in Joplin, MO. He attended Missouri Southern College and has two daughters, Lindsey and Carly, and a son, Wyatt.
Hollins hit .242 with 28 homers over 256 career big league games for the Braves, Dodgers and then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays before spending a season with the legendary Yomiuri Giants in Japan. A product of Vallejo H.S. in Vallejo, CA, Hollins was a fourth-round pick by the Braves in 1992. Hollins spent 2008 in the Royals’ farm system and nearly landed a spot on the team’s 40-man roster based on a great spring training. He served on the 2010 Burlington Royals staff before spending last year with Wilson in the Midwest League.
His Cougars hit a collective .242 highlighted by Brian Fletcher capturing the circuit’s slugging crown at .557. Angel Franco and Guelin Beltre co-led the loop with 16 sacrifices while Franco also placed second in best ratio of plate appearances to strikeouts (10.93:1).
The Blue Rocks’ 2012 season gets underway on Friday, April 6 in Myrtle Beach, SC against the Pelicans (Texas Rangers). Frawley Stadium lights the lights for the 2012 home opener on Friday, April 13 when the Blue Crew hosts the Frederick Keys (Baltimore Orioles). For ticket information, please call 302-888-BLUE or visit bluerocks.com. Season tickets are on sale now and the team’s 2012 schedule is available online.