CHS Hall of Fame
Season Preview: 5 Questions
February 6, 2014Crawfordsville High School
When the dust settled at Jasper's Ruxer Field on June 8th, there were no shortage of tears or lack of heartache in the Crawfordsville dugout. Though the team got hot at the right time, achieved memorable things on the field, and fought hard to the last out, the ultimate prize, a trip to Victory Field, proved to be just out of reach.
But while nine seniors moved on, it is already evident that the returning players from last year's highly successful team are eager to build on the lessons of that run.
We'll take a look at some of the early indications of what the 2014 version of Crawfordsville Baseball has to offer on paper.
1. What are this team's strengths?
The Athenians return a stable of strong arms to the pitching staff. In fact, returning pitchers combined last spring for 12 wins, five saves, 146 strikeouts, and a 2.46 ERA in 130.1 innings. Four names, in particular, stand out for their contributions as Varsity pitchers thus far in their career.
Senior Garrett Phelps had a great sophomore season in 2012, going 5-0. As a Junior, coming off a back injury, he struggled to find the form at times, yet had a number of noteworthy performances as well. He started off the season with a bang, earning the win against a tough 4A New Castle team. He later closed out the game against a stalwart McCutcheon squad. Phelps had a great summer of travel ball and has been making the rounds on the showcase circuit in the offseason, showing off an 88 mph fastball at the Junior Showcase in July and topped out at 89 mph at a recent PBR Showcase.
Another senior, Connor Smith went 6-0 last season, often coming out of the bullpen. He was solid from the get-go, but saved perhaps his best for the Regional Final when he tossed 6.2 innings and struck out 10. Smith implements, primarily, a two-seam fastball that darts in on right-handed hitters and an overhand curveball. Connor has recently committed to Anderson University.
Justin Raters is a left-handed Junior who emerged last season as a crafty arm with a lot of upside. He went 4-4, posting a 2.35 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. It was a trial by fire at times as the newcomer earned experience against such top tier competition as Scott County (KY), Bloomington South, Crown Point, and McCutcheon. Raters, who displays natural finesse on the hill, has bumped up the "velo," topping out at 83 mph in a tournament at Indiana University in August.
Dane Baldwin is a sophomore who had a good summer pitching for the Indiana Thunder and brings back 13.1 innings from last season. Baldwin is a strike-thrower and a poised competitor who appears to have added some velocity. His top performances included nailing down the save on Opening Day with a scoreless seventh inning to hold off Fountain Central; he later tossed a scoreless inning against Crown Point.
There are no less than seven others arms who could see time on the mound this spring. Candidates include (but are not limited to): Chase Roberts, Dalton Scaggs, Nick Corbin, Nathan Busenbark, Brian Boehm, Tyler Reeves, and Shad Conrad.
2. Can the lineup produce enough runs?
With the departure of the four bats who produced the most hits last season: Jordan Jackson, Cam Monroe, Jake Zurawski, and Logan Meadows, this year's batting order will necessarily include major changes. The guys responsible for 70.8% of the team's hits from last spring are out the door.
That means returning offensive regulars Shad Conrad, Nick Page, and Dane Baldwin will be looked to for major production.
Statistically-speaking, Dane Baldwin had one of the better freshman seasons of any Athenian in the annals. From the left side of the plate, he batted .307 and reached base at a .435 clip while notching 28 RBI. While this would be impressive in any season for a ninth grader, Baldwin posted these numbers against a schedule that featured ten 4A schools, and no less than six pitchers who have committed to pitch for Division 1 college programs. In the intervening months, Baldwin has made noticeable gains athletically, and is putting in the time to fine tune his swing.
The 6'5" Shad Conrad brings the potential for power and showed continual improvement during the course of last spring. He slashed .264/.350/.683, smacking 23 hits, six doubles and batted in 16 runs. Most of Conrad's best performances came in the latter part of the season, including hammering a big double in the Sectional Final, driving in two runs to help put away North Putnam. If Conrad's maturity and improvement on the basketball court this winter (12.5 PPG/7.3 REB) is any indication, the senior could have a big last hurrah this spring.
Nick Page brings a combination of speed and power, with the ability to hit the ball to all fields (and bunt). He recorded 21 hits, batting .263 with a .404 OBP. While Page spent much of the season in the nine-hole, he will now likely move towards the top of the order and be looked to for steady on-base production. He'll look to increase his stolen base total of six to nearer the 20-30 range.
Besides these three players, there are more questions than answers at this point, with just 66 Varsity at-bats from last season returning spread out amongst Phelps, Michael Minks, Sam Page, Raters, Smith, Dalton Scaggs, and Nick Corbin. Incoming Freshmen Caden Jones and Trent Johnson could also crack the batting order this spring, while move-in Chase Roberts (Junior) has entered the fray as well.
3. Who are the leading candidates to fill the open infield positions?
With First Team All-Conference performers Jake Zurawski (shortstop), Cam Monroe (third base), Chandler Pursell and Chase Justus (first base) graduated, new faces will have to emerge in order to fill those defensive positions.
Mid-way through 2013, Sam Page made the jump from JV to Varsity and didn't miss a beat. Page looked like a natural at second base and has also played plenty of shortstop over the years. Incoming Freshman Trent Johnson is a polished player for his age and expects to compete for a spot somewhere in the infield. Nick Corbin is a Junior who has played a lot of third base and can also play either shortstop or first base. Raters, while an excellent outfielder, also has the skill set to hold down the first base spot. Baldwin is a corner guy who will compete at third and/or first, likely moving out of his DH role of a season ago. Given the overall program depth, other faces are expected to make a push for time at these spots as well.
Logan Meadows caught 95% of the innings last spring, making way for two catchers who have been waiting in the wings. Senior Nathan Baer missed virtually all of last spring with a knee injury, but is back to full health. Michael Minks is a junior who handled the vast majority of the JV innings behind the plate last spring.
4. This year's schedule can't possibly be as tough as last season....right?
The Athenians have been straightforward and unreserved about pursuing the best competition around in order to increase the team's overall expectations and, ultimately, chances in the state tournament. Last spring's competitors featured eleven 4A-size schools, a number of whom were ranked and stacked with D1 talent and, in some cases, MLB draft picks. CHS went 6-5 in games against school's with at least two and a half times their male enrollment. Those experiences, not always pretty in the early going, seemed to pay off late in the year. The team went on an eight-game winning streak at end of the season that extended through the Sectional and Regional rounds of the postseason tournament.
The schedule varies considerably in 2014. There are number of unknowns, including the four opponents the Athenians will face in Nashville, Tennessee over Spring Break. Montgomery Bell Academy are defending state runners-up and figure to be a very formidable early season matchup. In early April, the Athenian Invite will again bring in Bloomington South, Western, and Westfield. In May, Lafayette rival McCutcheon is back on the schedule. Overall, the Sagamore Conference is on the upswing and it could be another close finish for first place in the league. Frankfort, Lebanon and North Montgomery are much improved and look to challenge the Athenians this spring.
5. What's new?
When Athenian fans walk into the Complex this spring, it will impossible not to notice some of the changes to the facilities. An upgrade long in the making is finally coming to fruition. The old chain-link fence backstop will be done away with in favor of a new brick wall and suspended net style of backstop. This will allow fans to sit directly behind home plate and have a less obstructed view of the action. One set of bleachers will be directly behind home plate, while two others will butt up on either side. It will also prevent the vast majority of foul balls from dangerously flying onto the softball field. A turf halo around home plate has also been installed.
This is part one of an ongoing series, discussing the upcoming Crawfordsville High School Baseball season.