BLUE DRAGON BASEBALL
No. 7 Hutchinson (0-0) at Coffeyville (0-0)
When: Thursday-Friday, February 8-9, 2018
Where: Walter Johnson Park, Coffeyville, KS
Game 1: February 8, 3 p.m.
Games 2 and 3: February 9, 1 and 3 p.m.
By Steve Carpenter,
Hutchinson CC Sports Information Director
When Hutchinson Community College head baseball coach Ryan Schmidt analyzes his 2018 roster, he sees several different things.
+ Schmidt sees what he lost in an entire infield gone to graduation. That infield included a national player of the year (Michael Helman), a career home run leader (Caden Doga) and a shortstop who was selected in the 2017 MLB Draft (Shane Cooper).
+ He sees 3 of his top 6 hitters from 2017 are back, including a player who tied a Hutch single-season record for RBIs and between those three players, a 176 RBIs last season.
+ He sees two quality starters and a closer who proved invaluable in a 2017 Jayhawk West championship and a climb in the national rankings to as high as No. 3.
+ He also sees a talented group of freshmen who could provide the remaining pieces in putting together a team that could go to Grand Junction in May.
The process of figuring all that out begins on Thursday as the No. 7-ranked Blue Dragons travel to Coffeyville for a season-opening three-game series against the Red Ravens. The season starts at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
For the first time in program history, the Blue Dragons have a preseason ranking with that No. 7 ranking in the NJCAA preseason poll. Baseball Times has Hutch at No. 10.
"That national ranking helps recruiting, it helps narrow your focus when we are trying to replicate the intensity in practice to mimic what we are going to see on the field during games," Schmidt said. "What it really does is big a bigger target on our back. It's a nod to your program that good things are expected and with a young crew, it's going to make us group up a little faster."
The 2017 Blue Dragons tied a program record for wins in a 47-13 season that yielded a Jayhawk West championship, the second in Schmidt's tenure with the Blue Dragons. Hutch fell short in the Region VI Tournament, but that didn't negate numerous accomplishments.
Hutch hit .340 as a team and set program records for runs scored (559), hits (674), doubles (136), triples (26), home runs (92) and total bases (1,138). On the mound, the Dragons posted a 4.85 team ERA and allowed an opponent batting average of .281.
Morgensen, Hutch's starting leftfielder in 2017, returns after hitting .368 last season with 85 hits, 19 doubles, 10 home runs and a Hutchinson single-season record-tying 87 RBIs. He is projected to start either in left or right field.
Divis hit .397 with 62 hits, 18 doubles, 10 homers and 61 RBIs. He was also 6-2 as a pitcher with a 3.95 ERA.
"The sophomores are doing a really good job and being consistent for us," Schmidt said. "We have a ton of guys who lead by example. We have a bunch of guys who have been through the fire. These are the guys who you are going to lean on this year. They are showing us the way."
Among the other returning players is a pair of catchers who both started as freshmen. Scott Wolverton hit .308 with five homers and 28 RBIS. Garrett Stephens missed most of the second half of the 2017 season with an injury. He hit .241 last season.
Julian Rip was a reserve outfielder who hit .308 in 35 games. Brock Schaffer took over in right field over the last third of the season and hit a deceiving .230 last season with many good at-bats down the stretch.
On the mound, right-handed starter Zach Moore posted an 8-0 record as a freshman with a 3.88 ERA. He struck out 44 in 58 innings and allowed a .252 batting average. Divis struck out 43 in 54 2-3 innings. Dayden Lane posted seven saves and a 3-1 record with a 3.60 ERA.
The rotation for the Coffeyville series is expected to be Moore, Divis and freshman Mason Palmier. That could change as the opening series at Coffeyville was moved up two days because of potential winter weather on Saturday and Sunday. The first month of the season, Schmidt anticipates, will see the bullpen roles become much clearer as nothing has been defined entering the season opener.
The catching duties are set with Wolverton and Stephens. Between the two, they threw out 11 of 61 base-stealers last season and committed only one error in a combined 438 defensive chances.
The infield will have a completely new look with a bunch of versatile players who can play multiple positions.
"The luxury that we have is that we recruited a bunch of shortstops who can play all over the infield," Schmidt said.
"You can pencil any of those guys in at any spot on the left side," Schmidt said.
"There just hasn't been a lot of separation and we are just trying to find our best nine guys," Schmidt said. "We have a lot of good competition in our infield."
As for the 2018 freshmen, they have heard the tales of the 2017 sophomores, arguably the most decorated sophomore class in Blue Dragon history. Schmidt is stressing to those guys to be themselves and make their own mark on the Blue Dragon program.
"Sometimes I think the freshmen are trying to over-try and be Michael Helman or Shane Cooper or Caden Doga or Nolan Hoffman," Schmidt said. "(The freshmen) don't have to be those guys. We recruited Ryan Moritz to be Ryan Moritz and Dylan Nedved to be Dylan Nedved because of their specific skill sets and what they bring to the table. The freshmen have a lot on their shoulders. They are going to be timid until they know their way around and we are letting them know they don't have to be anybody themselves."
Hutchinson's first home game will be February 20 against Independence at Hobart-Detter Field.