The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 12, 2013

Scott Dudinskie's column on high school baseball: You can bank on these guys


Daily Item

---- — You may have noticed the preseason all-star team published in our annual spring sports preview edition.

That list would probably be better described as "returning players who had the best seasons a year ago."

There are no hunches, only proven commodities. It's difficult to argue with the back of a guy's baseball card.

If a J.V. reserve suddenly makes the quantum leap to varsity stardom, he'll get his due when it matters most (in my opinion) -- at season's end.

While creating this year's preseason team, I kept coming back to the same handful of players.

They're bona fide all-stars, for certain; their places on the team were never in question.

But these few -- "name guys," I find myself calling them -- stand apart from the rest. Their names may as well be written into the batting order with neon letters because they burst off the lineup card when an opposing coach scans it.

Mifflinburg senior Oakley Whitesel, Midd-West junior Shane Connahan and Shikellamy sophomore Nick Dunn are name guys.

They're more than tough outs; they're game-changers who must be handled with care, particularly given the hitters slotted around them.

That's not to say their teammates are poor hitters; they simply don't have the track record of the name guys. Coaches will take their chances with the other eight players rather than let the big boppers beat them.

There's a reason San Francisco's Barry Bonds was walked 232 times (120 intentional) in 2004; he was three years removed from hitting 73 homers and only one other Giant batted .300 that season.

Being the name guy in high school, though, can be extremely challenging. Like Bonds, he may not see a strike (unless it's a mistake pitch) in any of his three or four at-bats.

"We need to hit ahead of him and behind him so (Whitesel) gets pitched to," Mifflinburg coach Tom Church.

While it's easy to be a selective hitter at, say, Milton, in a lineup flush with all-league sticks, it's a different story when your team looks to you to be a difference-maker in each of a few plate appearances.

Like batters at any level, the trick is to stay within oneself and not expand the strike zone for a pitcher fishing the corners or staying off the plate altogether. But it's difficult to take a walk when it means a teammate will be picking up your glove shortly thereafter.

"I just keep telling myself, 'All right, sit first-pitch fastball and if it comes hit it ... (and) don't go after the stuff in the dirt,'" Whitesel said after Monday's 5-3 win at Selinsgrove. "Just keep my head and look for good pitches."

Another issue is where to slot a name guy in the batting order. A coach could hit him leadoff to maximize his at-bats (and possibly LOBs), or in a run-producing spot such as third (Connahan, Dunn) or clean-up (Whitesel).

Midd-West coach Ron Flood considered batting Connahan (he of the .528 on-base pct. in 2012) first because leadoff man Eli Stemm sustained a lingering leg injury during basketball season. Instead, he said he chose to hit Connahan third with the hope the Mustangs would "come up with guys on base for the upperclassmen (seniors Colton Keister, Austin Hockenbrock and Alex Lash, and juniors Luke Zimmerman and Connahan)."

The better the hitters around a name guy, the less of a name guy he becomes. The emergence of senior Logan Hall at the top of Shikellamy's order has taken some pressure off Dunn; sophomore Brady Lloyd and senior Zach Aurand had good at-bats around Whitesel on Monday, combining to go 4-for-6 with 4 RBIs.

"I feel a lot of confidence when the guys around me are hitting the ball," Whitesel said. "Even if they're not getting base hits but if they're getting the ball in play hard, I feel awesome. I don't feel any pressure because I know I know the other guys will come through."

n DAZZLING DEBUT: Upper Dauphin coach Ryan Lentz promoted freshman Kyle Glouner to the varsity team for Monday's game against Millersburg when the Trojans starting third baseman and two players behind him were unavailable for various reasons.

Glouner made Lentz look good when he homered in his first varsity at-bat. He finished his debut 2-for-3 with the homer and double. Glouner followed that up Wednesday with a 3-for-3 effort at Lancaster Country Day.

According to Lentz, the 6-foot youngster was 11-for-11 through four J.V. games.

"He eats, sleeps and breathes baseball," said Lentz. "We knew we were going to bring him up at some point but I figured it would be to pitch because he's probably our hardest thrower."

n Scott Dudinskie covers high school baseball for The Daily Item. Email comments to sdudinskie@dailyitem.com.