Early Season Preview
If I had to sum up what it is like to be a division III athlete in two words, those words would be “a chance.”
For most of the athletes at Maryville, that is all they really wanted, a chance to compete on another level. For the Fightin’ Scots baseball team this season, “a chance” is exactly what they have.
With new head coach Paul Henry at the helm, the Scots enter this season with high expectations and a different philosophy.
Whether by circumstance or injury, the Scots pitching depth has taken huge blows this off season. With Number 1 starter Robert Brown graduating, and Number 2 starter Scott Roseli transferring to Central Florida, the Scots will enter the season with almost an entirely new rotation.
Leading the charge will be Junior Nick Bowers, who made great strides last year being the third pitcher in the rotation. It will be depth this year that will be the real issue, as Coach Henry has had to deal with injuries.
Pitchers Cory Midget, Nick Dean, and Chris Sutherland have all dealt with significant arm injuries this offseason, all requiring surgery. Even with Outfielder Ryan Roach converting to a pitcher, which leaves only 11 pitchers for Coach Henry to fill over 300 innings.
Coach Henry identified that issue saying “Ideally, you want about 15 pitchers on the roster. With Roach, we have 11 pitchers on the roster, which clearly isn’t ideal.” Henry went as far as to say that pitching depth was the team’s greatest weakness going into the season.
Despite the lack of depth at the position, there is some promising quality in this line up. Bowers, Garrett McDaniels, Matt Dyer, and Keylon Holloway have all shown good control of their primary pitch, the fastball.
Despite none of these guys hitting 90+ speed on the radar gun, the ability to hit their spots with the fastball will dictate their success this season. Once you get past the starters, the bullpen has some quality arms in it as well. Stalwarts Wes Dobson and Austin Patton will bare more of the load, as closer Mark Morales and relief pitchers Logan Brady, Joshua McKenzie, and Kevin Clifford all left the Scots at the end of last season. The rest of the group is really unknown, but they will all get their opportunity to step up and contribute this season.
For anyone who came to a game last year, it will be easy to recognize just how different this team looks when they step up to the plate this year.
Gone are last years “sultans of swat” Kyle Cyprysiak and Myles Cordell, who combined for 12 of the Scots 20 home runs last year, as well as 78 of the Scots 192 runs batted in.
Their production will be hard to replace, as Coach Henry put it “In division III, guys like that don’t come around every year.”
Yet, I think this team is in a position to be more productive than last year. The home run total may go down, but runs scored will go up.
Back this year, after ending last season with over .400 on base percentages are Mikee Moore, Cory Kopec, and Blake Gentry. These guys will lead the parade of singles and doubles which I think will result in more runs scored.
The rest of the line-up is promising, but unknown as well. Shortstop Andrew Mabini, First baseman Jeremy Goolsby, and Outfielder Nic Baker all came off the bench last year, so it will be interesting to see how they do over the course of the whole season.
Baker’s speed makes him a threat on the base paths, so the Scots have a good advantage when he gets on base.
The position that needs to improve the most from last year is the catcher spot. Neither Sam Waltermyer or Travis Scates got the bat going in 2011, with batting averages of .189 and .245 respectively. Both will need to show more discipline at the plate, as both had more strikeouts than hits last year.
All in all, the plate discipline was pretty poor last year, with four players striking out over 30 times last year. I attribute some of the blame to the emphasis placed on the long ball last year. With Myles and Yak receiving a lot of the acclaim last, it was only natural for most of the Scots to try swinging for the fences.
This year, runs will be scored through the small ball approach.
Coach Henry suggested that “singles, bunts, and steals” would be the essential ingredients to run production this year.
Though there have been quite a few changes this year for the Scots, the goal remains the same for their new Coach.
“Win Conference and make it to the NCAA regionals,” Coach Henry told me are his goals for this season.
Out are the “kings of crush” and in is a philosophy of small ball and run production. Out are the 90+ mph fastballs of Mark Morales and in is the bulldog mentality of the new bullpen, whose job will be to chew up innings.
Out are the days when home runs were traded for errors in the field and in are a group that really believe in one another.
Out is individual achievement at the expense of being a teammate and in is a team that really believes in one another and their ability to succeed as a team.
Coach Henry said that chemistry is the team’s greatest strength this season, the ability to rely on one another for support and encouragement.
The goal is 29 wins. That is one more than the school record for wins in a season.
For the seniors, it is their last chance.
For Coach Henry and the rest of the team, it is their first chance.
For the team as a whole, it is just “a chance.” And what more could one ask for?