WICHITA, KS- The Wichita Wingnuts added two players to their 2011 roster, signing pitcher Cephas Howard, and outfielder Eric Williams.
Howard served as the Wingnuts' primary setup man last season, working 36.2 innings over 35 games. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound right-hander went 3-3 with four saves, and a 4.17 ERA. Howard averaged more than a strikeout per inning, fanning 39 while walking 13, and allowed only two home runs all year. The 26-year old Howard yielded just 23 hits, holding opponents to a miniscule .185 batting average. The Augusta, GA native had a dominant second half of the season, managing a 1.90 ERA in 23.2 IP from June 30th-August 22nd.
"Cephas played a huge roll in our bullpen and I'm expecting even bigger things from him this year", said Wingnuts' manager Kevin Hooper. "He has a great presence on the mound, and will definitely be a late inning guy for us. Cephas is a great guy and works hard everyday to get better."
Howard was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 37th round in 2007. The fourth-year professional spent three years in the Angels' organization before joining the Northern League's Schaumburg Flyers in 2009. With Schaumburg, Howard pitched to a 1.71 ERA in 42.0 IP and earned the Northern League's Rookie Pitcher of the Year award. A converted catcher, Howard did not start pitching until he reached the professional ranks. Baseball America rated Howard as the third best independent baseball prospect in 2009.
Williams, who spent most of 2010 in Wichita, was re-acquired from the Sioux City Explorers at the end of the regular season. The Carmel, NY native hit a combined .275 in 72 games last season with 43 runs scored and 15 RBIs. A left-handed hitter and fielder, Williams ranked eighth in the American Association with 61 walks while striking out just 22 times in 233 at bats. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Williams' finished 10th in the league with a .439 on-base percentage and stole 19 bases in 24 attempts. The 26-year old was unfazed by left-handed pitching, hitting .373 (19 for 81). Williams delivered one of the Wingnuts' most memorable hits of the season on July 9th versus Grand Prairie. With two outs and a two-strike count in the ninth inning, Williams singled home the tying runs in an eventual extra-inning victory that contributed to a seven-game winning streak.
"He has a knack for getting on base", said Hooper. "His eye at the plate is second to none. His walk to strikeout numbers last year were unheard of in this day and age. He's getting better and better defensively with more experience. 'E' is always looking to learn and improve his game anyway he can."
Last year followed a 2009 rookie campaign that saw Williams hit .365 for the Continental League's Big Bend Cowboys. In addition to winning the batting title, Williams also paced the Continental League in walks (73), on-base percentage (.547), and runs (63). Williams played three seasons of college baseball at Wake Forest University, and also played one year at Arizona State.
The signings give the Wingnuts 10 players under contract for the 2011 season.
2011 Wingnuts Signings
RHP Cole Akins
C Edwin Bellorin
2B Jason Diaz
LHP Eric Gilliland
C Ben Harty
RHP Cephas Howard
RHP Brandon Mathes
RHP David Miller
RHP Sean Teague
OF Eric Williams
The Wingnuts open the 2011 season on May 12th at Amarillo. Wichita's 2011 home opener is Friday, May 20th versus the El Paso Diablos. For more information, call the Wingnuts' office at (316) 264-NUTS or by visiting the Wingnuts' official website at www.wichitawingnuts.com