The Smith-Cotton baseball team enters the new season with a deep pitching staff and a lineup that can hit for power and run.
“We’re going to try to hit doubles and when we don’t hit doubles we’re going to look to steal,” said right fielder Ian Dotson.
Smith-Cotton has had plenty of time to work on hitting at the team’s indoor facility.
“We get a lot of cuts in every day,” said Tigers coach Jeff Mays. “That’s an advantage we have here.”
Mays sees a group that is showing more maturity this season after getting a lot of playing time last year.
“Predominately all these guys played last year on the varsity level,” he said. “They’re a year older, a year stronger. We’ve been impressed with their work ethic. They don’t want to have another season like they had last year.”
The Tigers went 7-22 last year, falling 11-1 in the districts to Lee’s Summit West.
“We’re aware of it,” Dotson said. “We’re looking to flip it.”
Part of the key to flipping that is the work ethic, which Dotson and Mays both said is much improved this year.
“In the past sometimes we’d get lackadaisical,” Dotson said. “Come in here every day and you get 100 percent from the start. It’s a big difference from the last two years.”
Fielding was the Achilles heel of the team last season and fielding is the one thing the Tigers haven’t had much time to work on with bad weather forcing the team to train indoors.
“We’ve been in the gym a couple times,” Mays said. “You can simulate a few things in the gym but the ball doesn’t bounce on a gym floor like it does on a baseball field. You can’t get the right depth perception and get things spread out and make the throws you need to make.”
Once the team does get outdoors, Mays said working on fielding becomes the top priority.
Mays hopes to have improved fielding behind his well-stocked pitching staff. Mays expects Dalton Christian to be at the top of the rotation. A.J. Paul, Taylor Schubert and Mason McCown are also likely starters with Cody Kozak possibly getting starts as well, though the rotation is still largely up in the air.
“As far as a set one through five, we’ve not even had a scrimmage yet, so it’s kind of hard to determine that,” Mays said.
Whoever does end up in that rotation is likely to be experienced.
“We had a lot of younger pitchers who have come up and improved,” Christian said. “We’ve got a lot of varsity innings under our pitching staff. Hopefully that will show during games.”
Christian said he is locating his 86 mph fastball pretty well and is now focused on doing the same with his off-speed pitches.
“I need to work on my changeup and curve, make sure I can locate those wherever I want,” he said.
In Christian, Mays sees a pitcher coming into the season with added strength and maturity.
“He’s throwing the ball harder and I think all of them are throwing the ball with more velocity,” he said. “He’s on track with where he wants to go and what he wants to do and I’m very pleased with the work he’s been putting in.”
On offense the Tigers have spent a lot of time in the batting cages this spring and Mays expects the team to hit the ball well early in the season.
“We’ve got Dalton and Ian Dotson who can hit the ball with power,” he said. “Kozak was showing some power in the summer.”
At the top of the order Mays has several candidates in mind but said it is a spot that someone is going to have to go out and earn.
“Chance McMullin is going to play some outfield for us and with his speed you’d like to see him at the top,” Mays said.
“We’ve got some other guys. That’s going to have to be earned. Leadoff position is not an easy position. They’re going to have to find their way quickly.”
Returning to the lineup this year is junior outfielder Cole Simoncic who missed all of last season with a torn labrum.
“It feels good, just like it did before I tore it,” he said. “Everything’s back to normal. We’ve been working hard in here all fall and all winter. We should be good to go.”
Mays expects Simoncic to help the team both with his glove in the outfield and at the plate.
The Tigers open the season against Camdenton at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Liberty Park Stadium.