Loaded in the pitching department, experienced in the middle infield, fast in the outfield, the Ashland Pilots may have the pieces this summer to get back to the American Legion A state tournament.
Head coach John Wallace isn't quite ready to make any bold predictions. But that doesn't mean he doesn't like what he's seen so far, including a season-opening doubleheader split against the Grants Pass Miners on Sunday.
That's because unlike the last two seasons, depth does not appear to be a problem in Ashland, at any position.
"What we have now on this Pilots team is really our core coming in for the next couple years," Wallace said. "This is the new wave coming through, and it's a good group of kids that loves to play baseball, and they're really talented. Hopefully, we can build on that together."
Ashland, which beat Grants Pass 6-3 and lost 8-6, continues its 32-game summer schedule Friday at North Medford. The first game of the doubleheader is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at North Medford High School.
While the Pilots don't have a bona fide shut-down ace on their pitching staff, they have plenty of quality arms. Kyle Milgram, brothers Jerry and Jesse Carroll, transfer Caleb Bell, Nick Sanderson, Chris Buckley and Matt Flynn all are expected to see action this summer, as will Noah Falkner and Tyler Clary.
Milgram, who will be a senior in the fall, is the most experienced pitcher on Ashland's roster after going 4-0 with a 2.76 ERA for the Ashland Grizzlies during the spring. He pitched 25 1/3 innings for the Grizzlies, and also batted .419 in 31 plate appearances.
Jerry Carroll, another senior to be, and Sanderson, a sophomore, are the only other Pilots' pitchers who have seen varsity action, but the others have plenty of junior varsity experience and are expected to share the load.
"We're just going to be on a rotating schedule," Wallace said. "We're not going to be saving guys for certain games. Everybody's going to get their fair share of innings."
Defensively, Ashland is two deep at every position. Jett Hamik will start behind the plate, but Jesse Carroll and Nate McLennan will rotate in as needed.
Aaron Scott will start at shortstop, where he played the previous two springs for the varsity team, and Shea Scott will also play there occasionally. Jose Perez, another varsity starter, and Bell will trade off at second.
Milgram will start at third when he's not pitching, with Chris Buckley and Jacob Heckerman also taking over occasionally. Sanderson, Flynn and Jake Hansen will be the first basemen.
Wallace loves the versatility in Ashland's infield and believes that having so many interchangeable parts will come in handy as the season goes on.
"The depth of the infield and the ability to play different positions and be comfortable there, I see it as a strength," he said. "I've got 12 infielders that can play different spots and move around."
In the outfield, it's more of the same.
Tarquin Daley, Falkner and Clary will all see time in left, as will Jesse Carroll and Frankie Mora in center and Jerry Carroll and Elliot Melon in right.
Wallace says getting Jerry Carroll in the game is a priority, but the others will be shuffled in and out.
"Jerry's going to be a senior and he'll get to play every day because he's a guy we're counting on heavily going into varsity ball next year," Wallace said.
Offensively, Wallace said the Pilots' batting lineup will be probably be fluid until the cream rises to the top, but there are a few likely constants. At the top, Scott will try to continue his stellar upswing that began early in his sophomore varsity campaign. The junior to be batted .338 with four doubles and 15 RBIs for the Grizzlies.
Also batting high in the Pilots' order will be Milgram, Bell, Sanderson and the Carroll brothers. Sanderson is coming off a spectacular freshman varsity campaign in which he batted .372 with eight doubles, three homers and 30 RBIs, tied for the team lead.
"Really, one through six are varsity quality players," Wallace said, "so I'm hoping for power and to hit some doubles, with guys like Nick Sanderson and Jesse Carroll providing some power for us. I think this summer we've got a chance to do some things offensively."
Wallace believes the Pilots have plenty of potential, but isn't going to leave bodies on the bench in order to pick up a few more wins. His primary goal, he says, is to get players ready for next spring. Everything else is secondary.
"My philosophy is, I'm trying to develop for next year," he said. "The whole concept behind the Pilots is to develop guys for the Ashland varsity team, so that's our goal. I'm always coaching to win the game and I'm always going to put guys out there who are capable of giving us a shot, but I'm definitely going to rotate pitchers and position players. We're going to give guys some shots to improve themselves for the spring."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.