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Blue Dragons Look to Simplify in 2023

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By Steve Carpenter, Blue Dragon Sports Information Director

 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The game of baseball has been overrun with analytics.

Players and coaches have so many numbers at their disposal now that the mass of information can be a daunting task to figure out and go out and execute the game plan.

As Ryan Schmidt begins his 11th season on Saturday as the Hutchinson Community College head baseball coach, he is looking to take that analytical stress off his players and “simplify” the game for his players.

“We got off to one of the worst starts in a long time,” said Schmidt, whose team begins the 2023 season on Saturday against the Southeast (Nebraska) Storm in a 1 p.m. doubleheader at Hobart-Detter Field. “It took us a while to find our stride, but I was happy with some of the performances from our players late in the season.

“This season, we have a lot of strike throwers on the mound. We have a lot of really good hitters. We have to put our rotation together and put our lineup together. We will have to bring our defense along.”

The Blue Dragons finished 38-23 last season after a dreadful 7-13 start. Five position players and nine pitchers return for the 2023 season for Schmidt, who is 354-192 at Hutchinson and 461-363 in 15 seasons as a head coach.

Third-year sophomore Braedyn Sommer returns as the Blue Dragons’ leading hitter from 2022. Sommer batted in the leadoff spot and hit .366 with a .475 on-base percentage. Sommer had 16 extra-base hits of his total of 48, including seven home runs. The sophomore outfielder, who was the primary designated hitter in 2022, drove in 31 runs, score 44 and stole 10 of 10 bases.

Corner infielder Ryan Henderson smacked 10 home runs from the middle of the order this season. Starting the 2023 season at first base, the Buhler product hit .311 with 56 total hits, 17 doubles and 45 RBIs.

The other two position returnees from 2022 are outfielders Kael Babin and Will Edmunson.

Babin hit .308 with 41 hits, five doubles and 30 RBIs. He stole 17 of 19 bases last season. Edmundson hit .289 with 13 total hits, four doubles and 10 driven in.

The fifth returning players missed 2022, but returns this season in middle infielder Christian Powell, who hit 200 in 13 games in 2021.

Right-handed starter Ben Dandelet draws the Game 1 start on Saturday for the Blue Dragons. Dandelet was 2-1 with a 5.62 ERA in 12 appearances, 11 of those were starters. Dandelet brings plenty of momentum into his first start of 2023 after a breakthrough moment in 2022 when he pitched a nine-inning complete game in a 5-3 Region VI Tournament elimination game victory over Butler last May. Dandelet struck out four and scattered eight hits in that game.

Sophomore right-hander Reed Scott had a strong first season out of the bullpen. Scott went 1-1 with four saves and a 5.87 ERA. Brady Beverman was also solid out of the bullpen going 4-1, but had an elevated 8.88 ERA in 24 1-3 innings.

Kaden Wickersham makes the move from back-end of the bullpen to the starting rotation this season. Wickersham started as the closer last season but struggled through the middle stages of the season and produced a 3-2 record with three saves and an 8.19 ERA.

Pitchers who return with a lot of time on the mound last season are: starting pitcher Jackson Blue (1-3, 11.49 ERA), reliever Michael Uhler (0-1, 8.88 ERA) and Derrick Johnson (0-0, 4.15 ERA).

The obvious reasons for simplification for Schmidt are these … offensively, the Blue Dragons in 2022 hit .319 and averaged 8.5 runs per game. They produced those numbers with 460 strikeouts last season. The pitchers allowed 265 walks and hit 96 batters last season in a team 6.65 ERA, the highest of the Schmidt era.

“We had a lot of pitching issues early,” Schmidt said. “We couldn’t throw the ball over the plate. We had some games in a really good spot. We had two eighth-inning leads against No. 1 McLennan last season and we didn’t hold them. That scared us out of the strike zone and we didn’t think our stuff was good enough.

“This year, we are looking to simplify. We aren’t making things more difficult; we are keeping a very simple approach and we are going to through the baseball over the plate with as much conviction as we can on every pitch.”

Looking ahead to this season, the Blue Dragons open the season with four games against Southeast – two on Saturday and two more on Monday in Beatrice, Nebraska. The starting rotation will have Dandelet, Justin Smith, left-handed freshman Gus McKay and Wickersham.

Scott, Beverman and Uhler will lead the bullpen. Some first-year arms Schmidt excited about are Cole Tourneau, Ethan Giesbrecht, McKay, Sam OjedaSam Wragge and Sam Ojeda.

“Reed is a guy the team trusts and he’s been in the fire before,” Schmidt said. “The sophomores are throwing the ball well, but they are going to have to prove it. The freshmen are guys who are saying, ‘coach, we can pitch, too.’ ”

The Blue Dragons will have two freshmen catchers in Cody Gunderson and Colin Cymbalista. Schmidt already feels very good about his first-year catchers.

“I love our catching corps,” he said. “They catch the ball extremely well. They have a chance to be some of the best catchers we’ve had here. Gunderson might have a higher (batting) average and Cymbalista has more thump. But I feel really good about how they receive and throw the baseball. They can play at a high level.”

The infield will have Henderson at first half, Powell at second base, freshman Cooper Wesslund at shortstop and freshman Max Childress will be at third.

“Cooper has been a pleasant surprise for us,” Schmidt said. “He’s owned that spot since Day 1 of fall ball. We are excited about what he can do. He’s a great athlete. We knew he had the capability of being our shortstop and he’s earned it.

“Max is a guy who won the job because he’s been one of our most productive hitters. He finds a way to drive in runners and move runners.”

With Babin, Sommer and Edmundson back, the outfield is the most experienced group. Babin, slated for centerfield, but has been slowed some by injury, showed he can go gap-to-gap to chase down balls. Freshman Blake Bradford, the son of former Blue Dragon and major league draftee Josh Bradford. Will be in the lineup and likely in the No. 2 spot in the order. Jon Davis is another outfielder who will warrant playing time.

“We have a lot of good pieces,” Schmidt said. “We just have to piece them all together.”

The Blue Dragons were picked to finish fourth in the Jayhawk West preseason coaches’ poll. The Blue Dragons finished fifth in the league last season, the lowest finish since 2013.