With one game already under his belt, third year Kansas City Kansas Community College baseball coach Matt Goldbeck has begun pursuit of a third straight 40-win season – if his squad gets back to full strength..
"We're waiting for a few guys to get healthy," says Goldbeck, who may not have at least four possible starters and his No. 1 reliever for the Blue Devils' 5-game spring trip to the Dallas and Fort Worth area this weekend. The Blue Devils are coming off a 12-10 loss in their season opener against Maple Woods Monday.
Brandon Green, the probable starter at third base; the top two candidates at first base, freshmen Gavin Gifford and Brandon Still; freshman catcher Jared Goodfellow; and sophomore pitchers Maxwell Storch and Julian Rivera are all nursing a variety of injuries or recovering from off-season surgery.
"We can't use that as an excuse; it's an opportunity for others to get the chance to play and prove they belong," says Goldbeck. "There's going to be plenty of opportunities. No excuses. When someone gets injured, the next guy steps up."
The Blue Devils finished 40-21 overall and tied for third in the Jayhawk Conference (24-12) last spring but lost virtually their entire starting pitching staff and most of the infield.
The one bright spot for 2018 is the outfield where Josh Schumacher of Aurora, Colo., Tyler Pittman of Blue Springs South and Corey Combs of Truman are all back after big 2017 seasons. Pittman hit .384, drove in 33 runs and stole 35 bases while patrolling centerfield; Schumacher hit .365 and drove in 33 runs in left; and Combs batted .386 with four home runs and 22 RBI primarily as a designated hitter. "We're counting on big years from them," says Goldbeck. "Pittman has game-changing speed; all are big and can run; hard workers and good team leaders who will be at the top of the batting order."
As it is every season, pitching will be the key. Only three hurlers return, Cole Gacke of Liberty North; Allan Brown, Olathe Northwest; and Rivera of Kissimmee, Fla, A fourth, Max Storch, is sidelined after compiling a 3-0 record in 30 innings last year. Gacke, who was 3-2 in 13 games last season, will be the No. 1 starter; Rivera when healthy the No. 1 closer after posting six saves in 30 games. Brown, who pitched in just eight games last season, will be used mainly in relief.
Joining Gacke in the starting rotation will be a trio of righthanders, Victor Gotay of Kissimmee; Orlando Ortiz, a transfer from Coppin State; and Bret Snider of Liberty North. "Gacke is a great competitor on the mound; the others we'll have to wait and see," says Goldbeck. "All three have good arms."
Brown, sophomore Gunner Vestal of Piper and freshman Carlos Soto of Liberty will head up the long relief corps and spot start. "We're going to need meaningful innings from them," says Goldbeck. Ethan Baltz of Lee's Summit West, Hunter Paxton of Mill Valley and Zach Watson of Pasadena, Tex., also figure in the relief corps along with infielders Brigham Mooney and Gavin Gifford. "Both have good arms and might help if the staff gets short," says Goldbeck.
A graduate of Blue Springs South, Mooney will start at shortstop after hitting .245 in 24 games last year, while freshman Kevin Santiago of Jayua, Puerto Rico, has the edge over Jason Bradley of St. Louis and Brady Holder of Kearney at second base.
Liberty's Brandon Green who batted .286 with six home runs and 25 RBI will be at third when healthy. In the meantime, St. James Academy freshman Kemper Bednar will handle the hot corner. With Gavin Gifford of Brighton, Colo., and Brandon Still of Springdale, Ark., both sidelined, redshirt freshman catcher Billy Kelley of Tonganoxie will be at first base.
Adam North, a sophomore from SM South, gets the edge over Kelly and injured freshman Jared Goodfellow of Broken Arrow, Okla., behind the plate. North saw action in 16 games last season. "A good catch and throw guy," says Goldbeck.
Remington Kelly, a freshman outfielder from Carrollton, Tex., will likely handle the designated hitting duties while freshman Julius King of Antioch, Tenn., heads the outfield backups along with Jacob Jackson of Blue Springs South and Connor White of Coppell, Tex.
After a single game Friday and doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday in Texas, the Blue Devils return home for twin bills with Northeast Nebraska Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 24-25.
Nine weeks of Jayhawk Conference play begins Thursday, March 1, when KCKCC hosts Coffeyville. Each conference team plays home-and-home doubleheaders on Thursdays and Saturdays through April 1 against Cowley, the defending champion and conference favorite.
Bill Sharp again heads the staff of assistant coaches along with former Blue Devils Dean Long, Tanner Foerschler and Ryne McDonald.