By Drew Lyon
Special to The Free Press
There are spots to be filled in Mankato West’s 2013 baseball lineup. According to head coach Ethan Anderson, it may take at least half the season before the ideal lineup materializes.
“Our biggest goal for the year,” Anderson said, “is to create a team chemistry that allows for these guys to compete with and against one another to find out who emerges as our top nine, 10 players.
“The good news is that a lot of (the juniors and sophomores) have already been in our lineup before. We’re just going to let them play and find out who wins that job to be on the field for the postseason, because we have a lot of guys that are very evenly talented, and we’re going to have the opportunity to platoon guys.”
Anderson only has a few positions already solidified.
“One of two things can happen when guys are competing for spots,” he said. “They can either sit there and hope the other guy fails and it brings the team chemistry down. Or, they can hope the other guy they’re competing against succeeds and in turn the team succeeds, and that brings the team chemistry up. It can work against you or for you, and we’re hoping to create an environment where it works for you.”
Senior co-captain Ian Schwickert is penciled in at the three spot in the batting order. Schwickert, a 6-foot-5 pitcher and first basemen, already committed to Iowa Western despite throwing only 9 1/3 innings (2.25 ERA) in 2012.
“Ian has really developed the last few years,” Anderson said. “He’d hardly pitched at all by the time he was 16, but he’s got a great body to be a pitcher, he throws nearly 80 and has a lively breaking ball that he can throw for strikes.”
Schwickert also hopes to set an example at the plate.
“Right now, I just want to lead the team in average,” said Schwickert, who hit .269 last season. “Hopefully I can be towards the top of the Big Nine hitting-wise, and just keep working on the same things and improving every day.”
Schwickert — one of just three seniors, along with Sam Olson and Caleb Johnson — possesses the leadership skills and intangibles that don’t appear in the box score.
“Ian’s a very good leader,” Anderson said. “He’s a hard worker, motivated and treats the younger players like they’re upperclassmen.”
Sophomore pitcher and infielder Ryan Schlichte, who finished with a 4-4 record and 1.35 ERA in 2012, is another shoo-in for a spot in the starting lineup and pitching rotation.
“I’m looking for Ryan to have a big year,” Schwickert said. “He is one of the best pitchers in the Big Nine and his hitting is becoming stronger.”
Other returning letter winners from the team’s 6-16 2012 season include outfielder Steven Nessler, catcher Conor Wollenzien, infielder and pitcher Josh Cook and infielder Josh Athey.
“We’re trying to create an environment as a coaching staff,” said Anderson, who is assisted by Cory Smith, Nate Hebeisen and Ben Kincaid. “(An environment) where it doesn’t matter what your last name is or what your age is; it’s about your ability.”
Before Anderson can properly evaluate his roster, he’ll first need to see his team on an actual baseball diamond. Three weeks into preseason practice, and like all area baseball teams, the Scarlets remain cooped up in a gym.
“I’m boycotting the Weather Channel,” Anderson said after a recent practice at Dakota Meadows Middle School. “What can you do? ... We can simulate situations in here, but it’s not realistic. But I do like not having to yell in a wide-open, windy space.”
Weather permitting, Mankato West begins its season April 9 at Owatonna.