KITCHENER – The Kitchener Panthers have signed a new import pitcher who may have an inside track in the competition to be the team’s closer.
Detroit’s Russ Luxton, 24, who set a school record at Michigan’s Oakland University for career saves (20) but began his college career as a starter, could join the team for a workout as early as this weekend.
The club said Luxton will have a chance to earn the team’s closing role, once he gets here.
“He’s got experience in all different roles, but we see him as a guy who will pitch out of our bullpen,” said Panthers general manager Scott Ballantyne. “He has some pedigree in being able to close out games. He seems pretty cool under pressure, the kind of guy you’d like to have late in the game.”
Luxton doesn’t possess the velocity of a typical closer, but he’s a command pitcher who gives up few walks and keeps runners off the bases, Ballantyne said.
He helped the West Virginia Miners to a championship in the independent Prospect League in 2012. At Oakland University, Luxton was a perfect 20 for 20 in save opportunities, finishing with a 2.10 earned run average in 30 innings of work.
With a new manager in Steve Scagnetti and a key off-season signing of league MVP Sean Reilly, the Panthers off-season workouts have taken on a different tone. A few younger players are competing for jobs, too, which means the club’s indoor practices this spring have been unusually intense.
“These guys are getting after it early, and working hard. We have a few position battles, and a few guys who have come up who are looking for a spot on the team,” Ballantyne said.
The Panthers top-nine starting positions are mostly filled by veteran or important players. But among those trying earn one of the remaining spots on the roster are Trevor Nyp, the Kitchener-born starting second baseman for the championship-winning Laurier Golden Hawks last year.
Two players from the University of Waterloo, outfielder Chris George and infielder Nolan Pettipiece, are also in the running to make the team, Ballantyne said.
“Those guys are definitely in the mix, and they’re showing us they can play at this level,” he said.
Another young face will be Waterloo’s Mike Schnurr, who went 9-0 at Erie Community College in New York last season and factors to be in the bullpen if he’s healthy.
The competition for backup catcher includes Mannheim’s Jeremy Schwartzentruber and Saul Tahuite, a former junior player. Most of the starting catching duties will be handled by Californian import Scott David.
Last year’s starting catcher, Ricky Murray, is pursuing his chances in independent leagues. If he returns to the club this summer, the Panthers would find a spot for him off the bench because of his potent bat, the general manager said.
The team doesn’t know yet if third baseman Mat Taube will return, which means there could be an opportunity for one of the younger players.
Luxton’s signing means there’s one import spot left on the team. Ballantyne said his intention is to fill that with a starting pitcher.