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The structure of NCAA Division II baseball, second-year Barton College head coach Jim Chester points out, has changed dramatically the last decade or so.
Four-year players remain a necessity, but Chester explains successful Division II programs rely upon junior college and Division I transfers.
Thus, Chester’s 2019 Bulldogs will attempt to blend 12 transfers, 45 newcomers (including freshmen) and 11 holdovers into a turnaround season after the disaster of 2018 — when Barton posted a 12-36 record, the worst in its Division II history.
The roster numbers a record 68 players that will be divided into varsity and developmental teams. Thirty-plus players will form the varsity that travels to St. Augustine, Florida, to open the season with a three-game series against Flagler, beginning Saturday afternoon.
The varsity faces a 50-game schedule and the first developmental team is slated to play 20 contests.The varsity home opener will be Saturday, Feb. 9, against Nyack College.
“We have two more practices before the first game,” Chester noted in an interview Tuesday, “and we are trying to keep everything even keel and evaluate our team right up until the final practice. Every pitcher will be ready to pitch Saturday. You’ve got to earn the right to perform.”
Chester added: “We have tried to improve in a lot of different phases” and listed community involvement, doing the job in the classroom, improving the baseball culture and the practice approach as respective priorities for his players before turning their concentration to baseball.
“All those traits lead to more wins,” the 39-year-old coach of 13 seasons reasoned. “These guys are hungry. We are making sure we become a better club every day, and we’ve done that up to this point.”
The lineup is far from settled and Chester emphasizes: “With everybody that shows up in a uniform, we have confidence to put into the game and feel they can help us in some way.”
Already, junior left-handed pitcher Jakob Ryan, a transfer from Div. I George Mason University, and returning sophomore Colby Warren, last season’s Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year, have been labeled “players to watch” in the league.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ryan played sparingly last season at George Mason, but is a candidate to be the opening-day starting pitcher.
Warren, who has shifted from third base to first base, batted .313, slugged 12 home runs and drove in 31 runs as a freshman. He slugged at a .572 percentage and posted a .387 on-base percentage. Warren also enjoyed a successful stint with the Wilson Tobs of the summer collegiate Coastal Plain League.
Chester mentions Ryan as the possessor of a fastball with velocity at mid-80 MPH and an above-average curve ball.
“We expect Ryan to pitch very well for us,” Chester said, “and be a leader on the pitching staff. He has worked very hard.”
Warren’s bat will be a lineup fixture, but the right-hander is also being counting upon as a starting pitcher of weekend caliber.
Junior right-hander Collby Shimmel, a transfer from Hagerstown (Maryland) Junior College, could fit into the starting rotation, and the coaching staff would welcome a “big senior season” from senior right-hander Dylan Ward. After an excellent sophomore season, Ward struggled with a 1-7 record and 6.43 earned run average last season. He did work a team-high 71 innings.
Don’t be surprised if Barton resorts to the pattern of working the starting pitcher maybe five innings, a reliever the next two or three and a third moundsman the final one or two innings.
If so, “high-velocity guys” Chase Long, a senior right-hander from Hunt High; freshman left-hander Connor Patterson and junior right-hander Fredrick May, a transfer from American River Junior College (California). are candidates. May “brings it” at 90-92 mph and is suited for the closer’s role.
“We are 9-12 deep with guys that can get outs, and that’s a huge upgrade,” Chester declared.
Chester contends the staff faces a tough decision as to whether junior Brayden Olson, a junior transfer from Spokane (Washington) Community College or junior Juan Martinez, who previously played at Florida International and Wabash Valley Community College, will start behind the plate.
Both, said Chester, can “catch, throw and hit the ball out of the yard.” They are among several candidates at designated hitter and the non-starter, insists Chester, will be the best back-up catcher in the conference.
First baseman Warren will likely be joined junior Christian Murua, a transfer from American River, at second base, highly regarded junior Jojo Allen, a transfer from the University of Tennessee at Martin, at shortstop and returning senior Gatlin Pate at third base.
Pate played shortstop last season and batted .315 with five homers, 17 doubles and 25 RBIs.
Chester lauds Allen’s talent and work ethic and notes: “We are really hoping it all comes together at this level.”
Another infield candidate is freshman Davey Morgan of Bunn.
Being counted upon to patrol center field is 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior Trevor Edior, a transfer from Yavapai Community College in California. Edior was drafted out of high school by the Colorado Rockies and is tabbed by Chester as “a special athlete.”
Returning senior Troy Maslowski provides consistency and leadership in right field. A season ago, he batted .352 with 17 doubles and 29 RBIs.
Senior Hunter Pearre, who red-shirted last season, is ticketed for duty in left field along with Jacob Marcos, a freshman from the Miami area. Also in the outfield mix is returning sophomore Hunter Little, a .294 hitter last season.
WHAT TO EXPECT
“The lineup will be one of the strengths of our team,” Chester speculated. “We are deep at every position; we have options and experience.”
Which will be needed in a rugged conference where Chester expects defending champion North Greenville (South Carolina) University to be very good and Mount Olive to be Mount Olive. Barton’s head coach also projects Belmont Abbey will be a tough obstacle.
Chester declines to predict win totals or pinpoint expecations. He does consider the Bulldogs’ season-opening, three-game season against Flagler of the Peach Belt Conference to be a “great measuring stick.”
He assures a win or wins against Flagler will be huge, but emphasizes: “Leaving St. Augustine a better team is more important at this stage of the season.
“If we come out and play hard every game, everything else will take care of itself.”