The tale of this year's Kennedy baseball team is a mix of the good and the bad.
On the positive side, the Trojans return senior Brett Traeger and Jack Suing — arguably their two best players from last year's team that led the state in runs scored and won a three-way share of the Special District 2 championship.
"If you have to build a team, those two guys are a pretty good place to start," head coach Kevin Moffatt said.
On the other hand, Kennedy lost five all-conference players, including a pair of all-state athletes in pitcher Johnny Inoue and outfielder Tom Schmidt. Together, last year's seniors were part of three league title teams, putting the Trojans in a difficult place in replacing not only lost production, but lost experience and leadership.
"That's the harder part about those seniors — they're all talented, all-league and had great careers, but they're much tougher to replace from a leadership standpoint," Moffatt said.
That puts a lot of pressure on Traeger and Suing, who give Kennedy a pair of cornerstones in the infield at shortstop and catcher, respectively. Of course the pair has been groomed for the role all this season as teammates on the football field and basketball court. They may be wearing a different uniform this spring, but that does little to change their dynamic as team leaders.
"We know what we're going to get from them," Moffatt said. "From a leadership point of view, they're a couple of character guys. They're the first ones here and the last ones to leave the weight room every night."
They'll also be counted on to be the team's primary pitchers throughout the season, a role they'll share with fellow senior Daniel Moreno, who moves from the outfield to third base this year. While Moffatt will lean on those three to take the majority of the work on the mound for Kennedy, new pitching rules mean that just about everyone on the Trojans will get an opportunity to show their stuff on the mound.
Starting this season, coaches will be required to keep track of the number of pitches each player throws and rest them a specific amount of days depending on how much they're used. A player who pitches up to 20 times in a game will have to take a day off before pitching again. Between 21 and 40 pitches requires two days off, 41 to 60 is three days off and 61 to 80 means a four-day break.
"So now if you pitch a guy a full game on Monday, he's not pitching again until Saturday," Moffatt said. "Guys are going to have to develop pitchers, so it's probably a good thing. It keeps people from wearing kids' arms out."
That could mean drastic changes for teams that traditionally rely on one or two pitchers to carry them throughout the season, but Moffatt doesn't anticipate the new rule will affect his team as much.
"We don't really have that ace," Moffatt said. "We were going to be by committee anyway with six or seven guys. I don't know if it has a great effect on us, because we've got a lot of guys."
When the coaching staff includes the junior varsity team, that means the Kennedy baseball program will be looking to develop between 12 and 14 pitchers this year.
Rounding out the infield will likely be junior Jorge Espinoza who started a significant number of games at second base last year and will take over shortstop duties whenever Traeger is on the mound. Sophomore Nick Suing can split time between first base and catcher to occasionally relieve his older brother.
In the outfield, senior Henry Melsness is the lone returning starter, putting him as the team's leader in the grass. The rest of the positions and roles will be up for grabs, which is good news for the glut of first-year players.
"We've got some good, young freshmen," Moffatt said. "They're small little guys, about 5-2, but they know baseball. They're going to compete for some starting spots, so we've got a little competition with the guys out."
The Trojans will have a difficult time retaining their dominance in the conference. Kennedy has won at least a share of the league title in five of the past six seasons, including last year when it split the honors with Regis and St. Paul.
But while Kennedy is breaking in new players and expanding the roles of others, those two return most of their starting core.
"I know Regis is probably the team to beat, and then St. Paul didn't really lose anybody and they were good last year," Moffatt said. "I think everybody's better. It's going to be a nice solid league."
All told, Moffatt isn't too concerned about where his team shakes out this year. The Trojans have built a stable program throughout the years and, win or lose, will continue to do so this season as the team competes for yet another run to the state playoffs.
"I tell them that even if we don't win all of our games, it's still going to be enjoyable because they show up on time and do the right thing," Moffatt said. "We're just going to try to play good baseball and it should take care of itself."
Head Coach: Kevin Moffatt
Last year:19-10 (13-3 2A/1A Special District 2); tied for 1st place in league
Key losses: Johnny Inoue, P (2nd Team All-State); Tom Schmidt, OF (Honorable Mention All-State); Dylan Arritola, INF (Second Team All-League); Owen Seiler, INF (Second Team All-League); Elisha Valladares, OF (Second Team All-League)
Key returners: Brett Traeger, Sr., INF (Second Team All-State); Jack Suing, Sr., C (Second Team All-State)