After finishing in last place in the Frontier League’s West Division last season, the Mid-Missouri Mavericks will take all the help they can get.
The Mavericks signed 13 players to spring training contracts Sunday after two days of invitational tryouts. Jon Williams, a former Missouri catcher, was one of two catchers to sign contracts.
Justin Kelly and Sean Quick, former Hickman players, also were among the 52 hopefuls trying out Saturday and Sunday at Taylor Stadium, but they were not offered contracts. Williams, who played for Missouri from 1998 to 2001, went 1-for-5 in a scrimmage Sunday. His hit came off Quick in his second at-bat, and he hit the ball hard in each at-bat.
“I haven’t seen a whole lot of pitching so there’s a lot to look forward to,” Williams said.
Williams also was strong behind the plate. One of four catchers trying out, Williams threw out three runners attempting to steal second base and blocked a number of pitches in the dirt.
After playing for Missouri, Williams spent the past three seasons in the San Francisco Giants’ minor league organization. He asked for his release after this year’s spring training.
“There’s a difference coming back from pro ball and playing here,” Williams said. “I just felt good today, seeing the ball well, and I got some good swings.”
Tryouts did not go as well for the former Kewpies. Quick, a left-hander, gave up four hits against the five batters he faced. One hit ricocheted off his glove for an infield single, and Williams’ solid single to center finished Quick’s outing.
“These guys are pretty good hitters and they jumped all over it,” Quick said. “It’s a tough league.”
Quick, an MU sophomore, forced a runner at third base and threw some fastballs by hitters.
“I didn’t get my curveball over very well, and I was missing my spots with my fastball,” Quick said.
Kelly, a first baseman and junior at Columbia College, went 0-for-4 during the scrimmage with a strikeout. He hit a ball hard past the pitcher in his first at-bat, but the shortstop caught it behind second base and threw him out.
“Making contact is the main thing I wanted to do,” Kelly said. “I just couldn’t find any real estate out there for it to land in.”
Most of the players trying out had collegiate experience, and many had played minor or independent league baseball. While these players were trying to continue their careers, Kelly and Quick had a different attitude.
“I came to a few games last year… and I started to miss it a little more than I thought I would,” Kelly said. “I didn’t want to go on and look back without doing anything.”
Quick also did not want to give up playing without a second try.
“I thought ‘why not give it a shot,’” he said. “(I wanted to) see if I can hold my own against these guys.”
Bill Clark, the Mavericks’ new director of player procurement, invited Kelly and Quick to try out. Clark organized the tryouts and watched the players Sunday from behind home plate, where he called out instructions. Pete LaCock, the Mavericks’ new bench coach, also helped decide on the new players.
Poor weather Saturday limited the tryouts to fielding practice and hitting in the batting cages. The mound was unusable, and Quick and the other pitchers got little work done in the bullpen.
Ryan Jakubov, a right-handed pitcher and former Kansas Jayhawk, also made the cut Sunday.
Williams, a native of Independence, said he plans to try out for the River City Rascals (in O’Fallon) and Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Ill.) if he does not make the Mavericks after spring training. For now, Williams said he is right where he wants to be.
“I’m not all the way finished,” he said. “I still like to play for the fun of it.”