26 March 2014

Baseball: Pitching depth a good start

Head coach Jon Graff
Any high school coach will tell you that pitching is the key to success in prep baseball. Fortunately, that should be one area that at least for now doesn't keep first year head coach Jon Graff up at night.

Now generating enough offense to support a veteran pitching staff and trying to put together a solid defensive infield, well, that might be a different story. 

" Everyone is always looking for pitching and we’ve got some and so that’s a good thing," Graff said. "That should be able to keep us in each game as long as we make the plays behind them."

Graff inherits a nucleus of 10 players from last year's team that finished 7-7 in the Missota Conference.

Among the returnees are seniors Johnny Dittman, Jonathan Hinks, Jordan Beschorner, Jordan DeCroock, Landon Neilson, Ryan Giebel and Nick Schoening and juniors Bobby Eckert. Parker Holmstrom and Austin Martinsen.

Another starter from last year, shortstop Zach Speikers, will miss his junior season after suffering a serious knee injury in basketball.

Hinks, Beschorner and Holmstrom all bring varsity mound experience to the table with Martinsen also slated to see some hill duty this spring.

.Johnny Dittman may move to shortstop this season (photo by Jim Lindquist)
Dittman, who earned all-conference honorable mention last year, started both in the outfield and behind the plate in 2013 but might find himself at shortstop for his senior season. Schoening is also a capable catcher and could also see some action at first base. Eckert, another all-league honorable mention selection a year ago who hit .306 as a sophomore, can catch and also logged innings at third base last year.

DeCroock and Neilsen both roamed the Tiger outfield last year while Giebel saw limited time there. Seniors Tyler Clayton and Kyle Johnson should also vie for playing time in the outfield with Johnson also a possibility for some pitching duty.

"We''ll have good competition for the outfield spots," Graff said.

Perhaps the biggest job facing the Tigers is trying to deal with the absence of Spencer Merle and Jordan Lugowski, a pair of .400 hitting, all-conference players who graduated last spring.

"We'll be looking to fill some infield openings and we’re always looking for someone to step in and help out offensively. "

One aspect that Graff likes about the 2014 edition of Tiger baseball doesn't lend itself to statistical analysis.

"One thing that can get overlooked is that we’ve got guys that really care for each other, like each other and want each other to do well," he said. "It is really a great group of kids who are willing to do whatever they have to to help the team. Team chemistry is such a big thing, and these guys have it."

.Bobby Eckert hit .306 last year (photo by J. Lindquist)
As for how all of this translates to performance on the field, Graff said he wasn't going to put that into numbers of wins and losses.
"It all depends on how quickly guys can adapt to play their new roles at the varsity level, he said.  "But one thing for sure is we’ve got a group of kids willing to do what is asked to have the level of success we want.  We have kids with good experience which will help and I expect that they’ll step up to the challenge and we’ll be just fine."

In addition to improving the on-the-field product Graff said he has some other goals for his team.

"With this as my first year as head coach, our mission is to develop ambassadors of the game of baseball who exemplify the characteristics of teamwork, integrity, perseverance and sportsmanship," he said  

" If we do this, we’ll be successful on and off the field. Win or lose, I want people to be able to say we play the game the right way, play hard, and represent Farmington in a way everyone would be proud of. "

Graff predicted defending champion Shakopee would be the team to beat in the final go-around in the Missota Conference with Northfield also a contender. The Raiders along with a couple of the Big Nine Conference schools should also be in the hunt for Section 1AA honors.

Brent Grengs moves up to Graff's former varsity assistant position this spring with former head coach Mike Winters taking over the junior varsity coaching chores. Matt Grove and Brian Louis will work with the ninth grade team.

The 2014 schedule is slated to open Wednesday, April 2, at home versus Hastings, a date that will no doubt be pushed back due to the late arrival of spring weather.