YOUNG BUT PROMISING KCKCC BASEBALL TEAM OPENS HOME SEASON
"Potential," a term used frequently by Steve Burleson, "means that you have not done it yet." Which aptly describes Burleson's young but promising Kansas City Kansas Community College baseball team.
"Potentially, I think this team is talented with a chance to have some effectiveness but it is extremely untested," says Burleson. "Obviously, it's a crucial area, one in which we're eager to find out if we can sink or swim. But the enthusiasm and willingness to learn and try new techniques has been encouraging."
It all starts Saturday and Sunday when the Blue Devils host Des Moines Area Community College to kick off a schedule of 18 home dates at the year-old baseball complex. A doubleheader will be played Saturday with a single game Sunday, all starting at 1 p.m. followed by a single game with Midland JV Tuesday and the Jayhawk Conference doubleheader opener against Fort Scott on Thursday,
It's season No. 35 for Burleson, whose Blue Devils are coming off a 35-23 season last spring but graduated all but two starters – catcher Garrett McKinzie and centerfielder Lucas Norton. "The only returnees with significant playing time," says Burleson, who enters the season with a career record of 1,062-650.
A sophomore from Raymore-Peculiar, McKinzie was second in hitting last year with a .331 average along with 34 RBI and a .473 slugging percentage that earned him second team All-Jayhawk honors while Norton played errorless ball in centerfield while hitting .215.
There are only four other sophomores, pitcher Cole Frakes of Raymore-Peculiar and outfielder Mitch Glessner of Blue Valley Northwest, and two transfers, shortstop Zane Mapes and pitcher E.J. Merlo, both of whom are expected to make major contributions.
A transfer from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, Mapes will anchor an otherwise all freshman infield that will include Eric Hinostroza of Brandon, Fla., at first, either Tyler Raymond of Brandon or Sam Baxter of Platte City at second and Daniel LaMunyon of Blue Valley at third. Tanner Foerschler of Harrisonville is a quality backup at all four positions along with Kyle Stonestreet of SM Northwest. Hunter Walsh of Bismarck, N.D., is also a possibility at first base but recent arm surgery will limit Tanner Thibodeau of Omaha to the role of designated hitter.
Alex Thrower of Toronto, Ontario, will team with Norton in anchoring a swift outfield defense. "Those two could probably cover 80 percent of the outfield," says Burleson. Christian Arnold, a redshirt freshman from Raymore-Peculiar, will likely get the nod in right field after a strong start in a five-game Texas swing but will be challenged by Glessner, who hit .222 in 12 games last year, and freshmen Danny Kralicek of Blue Valley and Easton Edmond of Leavenworth.
Called by Burleson one of KCKCC's best catchers in recent years, McKinzie will handle most of the backstop duties backed by freshmen Eli Keppler of Leavenworth, Trevor Norbury of Rich Hill, Mo., and Brenndon Tindall of O'Fallon, Ill.
Other than Frakes, a southpaw who was 2-0 in nine games and 25 innings last season, it's an all new pitching staff. Merlo, the sophomore transfer from Blue Springs South, will be joined at the top of the rotation by Geoffrey Birkemeier of Papillion, Neb., Preston Bailey of Savannah, Mo.; Jonathan Boyer, a transfer from El Paso Junior College; Jonathan May of LaPorte, Tex.; and Spencer Nielsen of Keller, Tex., all right-handers.
Hunter Phillips of Raymore-Peculiar, the lone lefthander among the freshmen, and Adam Rea of Lawrence, Derek Watkins of Brentwood, Tenn., and Wilfred Rivera, a recent addition from Puerto Rico, round out the staff although Eric Hinostroza and Daniel LaMunyon could be summoned from their infield positions.
"Potentially, it's a talented staff," says Burleson, whose Blue Devils were 3-2 against Richland and Eastfield colleges in a Texas road trip. "Hitting-wise, I think we have some potential for some gap power but to be most successful, I think we'll need to start runners and put the ball in play. Defensively, our coverage should be pretty good. We now have a full year playing and practicing on artificial turf so there will be some adjustment to playing on natural grass."
Burleson will again be assisted by Matt Goldbeck, Damian Stambersky, Bill Sharp and Jason Brower. "A head coach's dream," says Burleson. In his 20th season, Goldbeck handles the infield and defense; Stambersky works with the hitters and catchers and is the main recruiter in his 10th; Sharp works with outfielders, coaches first base and does the bulk of scouting on the road; and Browar handles the statistics and day to day operations.