Thanks to a new cooperative agreement with Pea?body-Burns High School, the Trojans? 2016 roster includes 23 athletes vying for playing time, 12 of them coming from Pea?body.
Doug Dick, now in his seventh year as head coach (68-62) following three season as an assistant, said he has never before worked with this kind of depth?quantity and quality?heading into competitive play.
?A lot of good things can happen when you have numbers,? Dick said. ?It provides a lot of challenges in practice, but it also has its benefits. We have depth at some positions that we?ve never had before.
?The attitudes have been really good,? he was quick to add. ?The kids are working hard, the effort?s been there every day. A lot of them, obviously, are competing to be part of the varsity, if not for a starting position.
?That?s been a real plus.?
The primary challenge that accompanies a larger roster is evaluating the abilities of the athletes.
?We have a lot of good kids, and you hate to see any of them not playing even though they have been working hard,? Dick said. ?The big thing is making our evaluation points fair, trying not to create any bias based on Hillsboro-versus-Peabody type of thing. We don?t want any of that.
?We just want the kids who hit the best, field the best and throw the best in our lineup,? he added ?That?s going to be the challenge.?
Dick is pleased with what he has seen from the Pea?body contingent so far.
?They?re bringing some athletic kids,? he said. ?The talent is raw in a lot of places, but their work ethic is really good. There?s going to be two or three who are going to find themselves in the starting lineup consistently, and there?s a couple of others who are battling for positions.
?They?re so eager to learn to do things right, it?s really a neat thing.?
Performance in competition will be the ultimate determinant for playing time as the season progresses, Dick said.
Last year, with a roster of 13, the 3-18 Trojans struggled for depth at key positions?and as a result struggled to win games.
?I think we?ll field a team that can compete with anybody in the league on any given night,? Dick said. ?It comes down to throwing strikes and producing runs.
?Last year, we were in a lot of games that we didn?t end up winning,? he added. ?We?d do one or two things really well, but late in the game we couldn?t close it out.
?It will be interesting to see how these kids perform,? he said. ?That?s the thing we?re most interested in as coaches?giving kids a fair chance to show what they can do during a game.?
Pitching is key for success. The Trojans return their ace pitcher and top player in senior Austin Cross. The 6-foot-6 right-hander made the All-Central Kansas League second team as a pitcher.
On the mound, Cross posted a 3-4 record with an earned-run average of 2.63. He struck out 65 batters and walked 38 over 37.1 innings. Earlier this year, Cross signed to pitch for Cowley College next year.
Cross, who also received all-league honorable mention at first base last season, finished with a .952 fielding percentage. As a hitter, he batted .353 and drove in a team-high 18 runs.
Augmenting the starting rotation are junior Braden Vogt and freshman Kaden Kleiner. The trio is ?looking really good,? accord?ing to Dick.
The potential pitching pool also includes freshmen Brooks Gardner and Jorge Hanschu and junior Jayton Scott. Freshman Paul Baatrup and sophomore Bryant Young are potential relievers.
Dick also highlighted Ryan Stepanek as a potential fourth starter or middle reliever, with junior Zachary Baatrup, sophomore Chance Elliott, juniors Austin Purk and Thomas Paquette showing potential as well.
Junior Tyson Reimer returns as the only catcher with varsity experience.
?Obviously, he has great leadership skills,? Dick said. ?If he?s not catching, he?ll be playing outfield. There?s no question that he?ll be in the lineup.?
Hanschu and Gardner are both showing great potential at catcher. Dick said the two freshmen have consistently registered the team?s top ?pop times,? which is how long it takes to throw down to second base on steal attempts.
?They?re both athletic kids,? Dick said. Hanschu will be the No. 1 catcher as the season gets underway. Paul Baatrup will catch in junior varsity games, and may see some time in varsity games.
Dick said all of his pitchers also will play other positions in the field, with Cross being a prime example. Cur?rently, Cross is the team?s best shortstop and his height and fielding abilities make him a prime asset at first base, too.
When Cross is pitching, Vogt will take step in at shortstop.
Meanwhile, the two primary challengers at second base are Young and Purk. Vogt may put in some time there as well when he isn?t pitching.
At third base, Clayton Philpott and Scott are the top two contenders, with Paquette also in the mix.
Stepanek has experience at third from last season, but as a left-hander, he?s more likely to see time at first base, Dick said. Gardner has shown potential at first base as well.
Kleiner is projected to start in center field when he?s not pitching, with Reimer, Gardner and juniors Marcus Sanders and Ben Koop vying for time at the other two outfield positions.
With so many legitimate options, Dick said he expects to adjust positions and playing time during the season.
?I want to get to the point where I?m not second-guessing myself as a coach,? he said. ?I?m still leaving the window open for a lot of guys to keep developing as the season progresses.
?Aside from a couple of guys who have played a lot for me in the past, I don?t want anybody to become lax and think, ?I?ve got this position sewed up.? Their mentality has to be, ?I?m working every day in practice because I want to keep my spot.??
Dick is confident this year?s team will improve on last season?s record.
?This team definitely has enough quality,? he said. ?If those seniors and juniors can provide positive team chemistry, we could see ourselves at state again. There?s no question. Positive team chemistry is going to be the determining factor.?
The Trojans opened their season April 1 with a doubleheader split against Smoky Valley.