A Preview of the 2012 Baseball Season
Let's Play Two!
That will be the cry for much of the 2012 baseball season as The Master’s College embarks on a campaign that may be the most grueling and challenging in program history. Over the years, the routine of playing multiple single games during the course of a given week has evolved, for several reasons, into the compression of a schedule that is now dotted with doubleheaders. Playing two will become more than a trite phrase and the implications will be significant for everyone that dons a Mustang uniform over the course of a season that features a school-record 20 twinbills. Coach Monte Brooks, piloting his 16th Mustang club, and his staff will rely on depth more so than in the past in addition to shuffling the lineup more frequently. But, the highest consideration will be given to the pitching staff, specifically the starters, who will be watched carefully so as not to wear down and put their arms at risk.
To counter those concerns, Brooks may go to a five-man rotation, one that features the two top winners from last year’s staff, a pair of closers-turned-starters, and a wild card. Although there’s a reluctance to name an ace, certainly junior lefthander A. J. Work pitches like one and should be the first starter a Mustang opponent faces in a series. The fast-working southpaw pounds the strike zone and has proven he can finish what he starts. Joining him from the other side is senior Charlie Gillies, a hard-throwing righthander who possesses the club’s best strikeout pitch and goes deep into games.
The biggest transition to the starting staff will be made by sophomore James Scott who will now start games instead of finishing them. He shined as the closer last year but now brings his competitive spirit and a sinking fastball to the rotation. Senior Daniel Sheaffer may be the perfect mentor for Scott through a year of change since he made the same segue last year, relying on a crafty style and living on the corners. Rounding out the rotation will be junior Zack Anderson who returns following a year away from the game due to Tommy John surgery. If healthy, he could make a huge impact as workhorse, eating up a lot of innings.
Because of his experience, Sheaffer could still be the first choice in save situations but that task could also go to sophomore righthander Tommy Kister who relishes having the chance to close out games. Senior Tom Gilbertson should get the call in long relief while freshman Bryce Clancy will be used in key matchup situations.
Throwing down the signs and receiving the pitches from all of these hurlers will be veteran catcher Bryan Lucas. The junior backstop possesses invaluable experience, showing itself in close relationships with the staff, throwing out runners who dare to steal on him, and blocking the plate with courage. He’ll get periodic help from junior Chris Talley, who caught on a regular basis two years ago in Lucas’ absence, and freshman Spencer Toth.
Talley’s appearances behind the plate will be infrequent since his experience in right field with its short porch is necessary. But, the junior is best known and needed at the plate where he’ll be counted on to punish the ball and knock in a lot of runs. One of those he may be driving in quite frequently is fellow outfielder Tanner Leighton. The senior centerfielder is the prototypical leadoff man who excels at setting the table for his teammates while running down anything hit in front, behind, or to the side of him in the field. Joining these two veterans in the outfield will be Steven Karkenny, a highly-touted and very talented freshman who will man the left field post and hit in the middle of the order.
In contrast to previous years, the infield should be a model of consistency despite the presence of three, or four if you take into account platooning, new starters. The only returning regular is sophomore third baseman Cody Harris who plays superb defense and is becoming a force at the plate. To his left, freshman Jonathan Popadics has earned the job at shortstop where he has the defensive skills to be the regular there for the next four years. Teaming with to form a dynamic double play combination will be the second base platoon of senior Bryan Mitchell and sophomore Ryan Shackelford. Since both hit from the right side of the plate, Brooks may go with who has the hot bat.
Speaking of a hot bat, Brooks is hoping that sophomore Joe Riddle, who was a regular in the outfield last year, produces one in his new role of designated hitter. His biggest challenge will be to keep his focus as he prepares only to bat during each game. Depending on the situation, Brooks will also insert sophomore Spencer Toth or James Scott into the spot in the lineup.
The regular-season schedule that will take the Mustangs from late January through April is home-friendly with 20 of the club’s 52 games on the FieldTurf confines of Reese Field. The Mustangs are hoping to turn that into a huge advantage but that won’t be an easy task, especially against GSAC opponents who are used to playing on the Placerita Canyon turf. Highlighting the 32-game conference schedule will be series against defending national champion Concordia, which enters the season as the NAIA’s No. 2 team, No. 10 Biola, and No. 17 Fresno Pacific, who both earned spots in last year’s national tournament.