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Texarkana’s second season in the Continental Baseball League will be different to say the least. <br />The Gunslingers have new ownership and a lot of new faces on the roster, and the CBL has expanded to six teams with Texarkana and the defending champion Bay Area Toros the only familiar franchises. <br />Alexandria, an Independent League force for more than a decade, joins the CBL this year and could be the team to beat. The Coastal Kingfish, based in Houston, replaces the McKinney Blue Thunder, with the South Louisiana Pipeliners and Big Bend Cowboys completing the league. <br />League play is scheduled to begin Thursday, and the Gunslingers will be hosting Bay Area at George Dobson Field in Spring Lake Park. <br />“Right now there are two minority owners and Ron Baron (CBL President) is the majority owner of the Gunslingers,” Texarkana manager Chris McKnight said. “For us it’s a pretty good situation. We can get things done pretty fast now. Ron has been great with the players and getting things done for us to be successful.” <br />McKnight settled on his roster this week despite the fact his team has practiced outside only two days since spring training began May 4. The team has worked indoors at a local facility. <br />“We’ve been practicing at Squeeze Play, but you can’t run your plays in there,” McKnight said. “Our roster positions are based on the two days outside. A lot of our guys just finished their college careers and they’re reporting in good shape. The others are OK, they were told to be in good shape with such a short training period.” <br />McKnight’s philosophy centers around good pitching, and “small ball” on offense. However, he notes this year’s Gunslingers are more balanced with several batters capable of hitting the long ball. <br />“I like to run and bunt a lot,” he said. “Pitching-wise we had some good guys throwing last year, it was our strong point. This year we should be pretty solid in the outfield, and we’ve got some experience in the infield. We’ve also got some great competition at catcher.” <br />If the weather cooperates and the Gunslingers open Thursday as slated, veteran right-hander Tyler French is the likely starter for Texarkana on the mound. <br />“Tyler was our bulldog last year,” McKnight said. “We’ll also be starting Kevin Froeman, Jordan McCavitt and Nick Sottung. Froeman pitched in the San Francisco Giants’ organization and is trying to get back. McCavitt was our setup man last year and probably will return to that role in a couple of weeks. Sottung is a power pitcher with some big-game experience.” <br />McKnight contends a team cannot have enough pitching, and that he’ll likely keep 10-11 pitchers on his active roster. <br />Offensively, the Gunslingers welcome back right fielder Anthony Edwards, who led the CBL in hitting last summer with a .324 average. <br />“I don’t understand why Edwards didn’t get picked up by some organizations,” McKnight said. “If he replicates last year, he’ll put all those doubters to bed.” <br />Edwards, outfielder Trey George and infielders Corey O’Neill and Justin Armiger should provide the Gunslingers with some power this season. George playing in the Colorado Rockies organization for four years before taking the last couple of years off. <br />“All of those guys have some pop in their bat,” McKnight said. “The league has also changed baseballs. The ones used last year were soft, and definitely hard to hit out of the park.” <br />Ray Hastings is back at shortstop, and the team could be stronger with Clint Toomey at second and Brad Menadier at third. <br />“I think we’ve upgraded at a couple of spots,” McKnight said. “Toomey played at South Alabama where he was Conference USA Player of the Year. He’s a little lefty who puts the ball in play and he’s fast. We’ve definitely got more team speed this year, with three or four guys that can really run.” <br />Catcher wasn’t necessarily a strong point for the Gunslingers last season, but could be this summer with veteran Phil St Amant, Zach Welch and Adam Harvey, who is currently on the team’s inactive list. <br />“Phil played in the New York State League and may get the early nod,” McKnight said. “Welch is younger, with less experience. I’m really high on him, he’s got a great release. Harvey played at New Mexico State and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. He’s a guy to watch down the road when we feel he’s 100 percent.” <br />The CBL is cutting its regular season down to 60 games, which McKnight favors. <br />“I think the quality of the league has gone up,” he said. “We’re starting to attract more players with experience. I think the players realize we had some success with placing some players in organizations. <br />“The fact we won’t be playing on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays is great. This is a developmental type league, and now we’ve got a chance to work with these guys. Last year we were playing six days a week, but now we’ve got an opportunity to help them make the transition from college to professional. <br />“The guys we have this year are good baseball players, but more important to us, and the organization, is that they’re good people and they’re trying to do the right thing.” <br />McKnight emphasizes his players will be more visible this year. <br />“We’re going to be in the community and doing a lot more stuff because we have those days off,” he said. “We’ll do more with camps, coaches’ clinics, etc. We’ve got to be accessible to the community to be successful. The key to our success is getting the fans out there. The fans make or break a team.” <br />Beer sales could be a contributing factor. <br />“It’ll add to the atmosphere,” McKnight concluded.
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