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SIOUX CITY -- Two former fourth-round major league draft picks, both lefthanders, are the latest additions to a revamped pitching staff the Sioux City Explorers hope will lead them to a third American Association playoff appearance in four seasons.

Fifth-year X’s Manager Steve Montgomery has announced the signings of southpaws Hunter Ackerman and Ryan Horstman, who have seven and five seasons of professional baseball experience, respectively.

Ackerman was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2010 after earning junior college All-American laurels in his only season at Louisburg College in North Carolina. The Midlothian, Va., native went 8-1 with a 1.41 ERA for Louisburg, striking out a whopping 92 batters in 57.2 innings while surrendering only 38 hits.

Making his professional debut at age 19, he had a frustrating three-year stint in the Cubs’ farm system before sitting out the 2013 campaign and launching a comeback in 2014. He has been a starter the last four seasons for four different teams in the independent Frontier League.

Ackerman posted a 15-12 record the last two seasons as a starter for the Evansville Otters, who he helped win a league championship in 2016. He was named the championship series MVP after allowing just one hit in 7 2/3 innings as the winner in the deciding fifth game of the finals.

Horstman’s fourth-round nod came from the Seattle Mariners in 2013 after pitching just one season for St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. A native of the Springfield, Mass., suburb of South Hadley, he redshirted in 2012 and then earned third-team All-Big East laurels for a freshman campaign that saw him post a 6-6 record with a 2.33 ERA.

“Ryan Horstman’s a big-time pick,’’ said Montgomery, who sees Horstman in a relief role. “He’s only pitched 70-some innings (78 1/3 in five seasons with the Mariners) due to injury, but he finally got surgery this offseason. He finally feels like he’s back, so we’re going to take a chance. He has a big breaking ball and we’re trying to get a little balance in the bullpen, trying to get a lefty down there.’’

Assigned to Class AA affiliates the last two seasons, Horstman’s limited duty has yielded a 6-4 record with a 3.38 ERA.

Seeking to shore up a pitching staff that turned to 14 different individuals for the team’s 100 starts last season, Montgomery now has seven pitchers under contract for 2018.

Justin Vernia, a rookie acquisition midway through last season, is the only holdover on that list thus far as the team prepares for a campaign starting May 17 in Lincoln. The home opener is May 25 against the Cleburne (Texas) Railroaders, a second-year franchise.

In other team news, the X’s have released lefthanded pitcher Cody Forsythe and infielder Joe Bennie.


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