Long-time Marshalltown baseball coach Steve Hanson admitted that the 2013 Bobcats have plenty of unknowns heading into a new season on the diamond.
MHS returns some solid pieces from a 19-23 squad a year ago but the rest of the lineup will be filled with inexperience players hoping to make a name for themselves.
"We have some seniors in the key positions and that is a good thing," said Hanson, who begins his 28th year with the program and 20th season as head coach. "But we will have an all new outfield. There are just a lot of unknows right now and we won't find out where we are until we play some games."
Missing from the roster in 2013 is first-team all-state shortstop Kyle Carnahan, who led the CIML last year with a .457 batting average. Also gone is first-team all-CIML Iowa Conference outfielder Bennett Mann and and second-team all-conference outfielder Alex Thompson.
But back is a good core of veterans who have played significant innings despite the Bobcats fielding seven seniors last year. That group of seniors includes second-team all-CIML Iowa Conference infielder Ryan Mitchell and Blake Judkins, who was an honorable mention all-conference selection last year.
Mitchell hit .313 and stole 25 bases a year ago, while Judkins batted .295 and was third on the team in RBIs wiith 28. Hanson will rely heavily on Mitchell and Judkins for leadership and also will look for Hunter Hillygus to have an expanded role.
MHS Baseball Schedule
(All 5 p.m. doubleheaders unless noted)
May 20, NEWTON
May 23, at DM Hoover
May 27, CR KENNEDY (1), 3 p.m.
May 29, at Waterloo East (1), 5 p.m.
May 31, at Indianola (1), 7 p.m.
June 3, FORT DODGE
June 7, DM NORTH
June 10, at Ames
June 12, VALLEY
June 14, NORTH POLK (1), 7 p.m.
June 17, MASON CITY
June 21, at Ottumwa
June 24, at Fort Dodge (2), 3:30 p.m.
June 26, SE POLK
June 29, at Ankeny Tourney (2)
July 1, AMES
July 2, at Urbandale
July 5, ANKENY (1), 7 p.m.
July 8, at Mason City
July 10, WAUKEE
July 12, DM EAST (1), 7 p.m.
July 15, at Johnston
July 16, at Roosevelt (2), 3:30 p.m.
"They have to look to their left and right and take care of other guys," Hanson said of the seniors. "You can't just do your job. You have bigger responsibilities. There is more stuff on your plate. But it's part of the deal and it should be part of the deal. They have been around."
Many of the other Bobcats fighting for at-bats and innings in the field will be new to the varsity game.
The three starting spots in the outfield will be played by any three of seven guys battling for time. The seven players include junior Derek Mann, senior Jacoby Jay, sophomore Michael Schrempf, junior Austin Lovin, sophomore Colton Hanke, junior Mason McCarville and junior Dylan Diveney.
Other position battles will be held at catcher and second base. Fighting for time at catcher will be senior Connor Ruddick, McCarville and junior Justus Bjelland, while senior Tyler Moranville and sophomore Grant Thimesch will each battle for playing time at second base.
Judkins is the team's ace on the mound and will play shortstop when he is not pitching. Mitchell will hold down third base and play shortstop when Judkins pitches and Hillygus will start at first base.
But according to Hanson, no starting job is safe, and the players know that.
"The lineup Monday may not be the lineup in two weeks," Hanson said. "Every day is a competition for the guys and I hope they view it that way. There is no free lunch."
Versality is a must at Marshalltown because numbers are down in all sports. The pitchers are playing somewhere else in the field when they are not on the mound. The three other pitchers expected to hold down starting roles include Austin Sowers, Hanke and Diveney. Hillygus, Mann, Ruddick, McCarville, Moranville and Schrempf all could see time out of the bullpen as well.
Judkins made a team-high 21 appearances on the mound last year and finished with an earned run average of 4.06. Sowers went 1-1 in two starts, Moranville made 17 appearances out of the pen and Hillygus, Hanke and Mitchell all saw spot duty.
The spring hasn't been too kind to the Bobcats or any baseball team around the state. Cold weather, rain and even snow in May has given the Bobcats what Hanson called "a sporadic spring" but MHS is doing its best to get ready for Monday's home opener against Newton.
"We want to be committed to workng hard," Hanson said. "We want to be good people in the classroom and do all the extra curricular stuff that we can.
"Its no longer recreation at this level though. It's a business. Our guys have to be devoted to it and they have to be anxious to work. We need to get more consistent with that."
The CIML Conference has changed its format with the addition of divisions. The Bobcats play in the Northern Division with Fort Dodge, Mason City and Ames.
The Dodgers are the favorite to win the division after reaching the state championship game last year.
"They have a bunch of guys back from that team," Hanson said. "Ames has a core of juniors who will have been playing together for the last three years and seven or eight of those are outstanding and they will be very good.
"It doesn't matter who is that division though because the entire CIC is great. We will play all the good teams. It would be easier talking about who is not good than who is good."
Ankeny went 43-2 last year on its way to the state title and returns nearly everyone. Fort Dodge finished 36-8 and Cedar Rapids Kennedy was 33-6.
The Bobcats will play all three of those squads as well as Johnston, Dowling Catholic, Waukee, West Des Moines Valley and Southeast Polk, who Hanson said are all very good.
"If you can live through our schedule, it has the chance to make you tougher," Hanson added. "That's why we get after it every day. You have to have some grit to keep battling.
"We just have to put a good effort out there every night and be consistent every night. You just have to keep your nose down the grindstone for eight weeks. Because in eight weeks it's done."