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Guelph Royals open 2024 season this weekend

Royals visit Hamilton Friday; host Toronto Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.
Guelph's Josh Garton connects with a pitch. He's said to be healthy and ready to go for the Royals season opener Friday.

The road to an IBL championship begins this weekend for the Guelph Royals.

And for the team chasing its first title in 20 years, there is plenty of potential in filling the gaps that hampered the team last season.

“(Pitching) depth-wise, we’re good,” said field manager Dino Roumel ahead of Friday’s season opener in Hamilton.

“The work in progress is going to be on our offensive side, and behind the plate. We’re going to be young, we have some junior-aged players that are coming up that are really talented and won’t be with us all year.”

On the mound, former Detroit Tigers prospect Kyle Thomas will start against the Cardinals.

Then, Guelph native Jacob Kush will get the ball in the team’s home opener Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. against Toronto. 

Kush was with Trois-Rivieres of the Frontier League last season, posting a 6.84 ERA in 50 innings of work.

Roumel said he could return to Quebec at some point, but is happy to have the 25-year-old for the time being.

”He grew up in the Guelph baseball system, and I had him as a 17 and 18 year old with the Ontario Blue Jays, but he had a very good college career,” he said.

Imports Yuki Narita and Hector Yan are expected to split duties in Kitchener Sunday.

Roumel noted that could change, depending on how things go, adding bullpen arms Brandon Deans, lefty Reese Montgomery and Darren Shred will see some time.

“We’re going to be really careful about how we use the guys,” he said. “We have enough arms to get us through this weekend, and hopefully be successful.”

The Royals pitching staff posted a 5.07 ERA last year, good for third in the league.

But the power hitting and scoring production left something to be desired. 

A team batting average of .279 (fifth in the IBL). The 340 runs scored tied them with Brantford for last in the league.

Home runs weren’t their strong suit either, with Guelph hitting just 17 long bombs in 2023.

Roumel said the team will be young to start, and will grow as the season progresses.

On offense, the team welcomed a big addition in the offseason in Garrett Takamatsu. The 2021 league MVP is expected to help lead the way, along with JD Williams and local vet and former Cincinnati Reds prospect Josh Garton.

Roumel noted it’s tougher to hit the long ball at the larger Hastings Stadium, compared to teams with smaller fields, but believes in the firepower on the roster.

“We have guys that are athletic, that can run the bases, that are good quality hitters that never give up an at bat,” he said.

On the injury front, Ethan Hammond is expected to miss four to six weeks with a bulging disc in his back.

Other players have coaching and work commitments to work around as well, but Roumel said the hope is everyone is available and the team is playing its best baseball in August.

Additions are also possible ahead of Friday’s opener.

Roumel will serve a one-game suspension Friday stemming from an incident in last year’s playoffs.

Paul Ante, who will be inducted into the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame Wednesday, will run things in his place for the first game.

On another note, Roumel said there is “still a good possibility” that 2022 IBL MVP Claudio Custodio returns in July, after he is done with his season in Venezuela.

The IBL has also brought in a few rule changes, with an emphasis on speeding up the game.

It includes a few rules used at the major league level, such as a limit on mound visits, and the three-batter minimum rule for pitchers.

As for the playoff structure with a ninth team entering the league, the IBL said it will stick with a top eight scenario, meaning the last place team at the end of the year will miss the playoffs.

The league has also announced it will allow for five import players on the active roster beginning in 2025. Currently, four imports are allowed on each roster.