American Legion A is supposed to be the developmental arm of the summer baseball league, and that’s precisely what the Ashland Pilots aim to do this summer: develop talent.
The Pilots boast one of the youngest rosters in team history as they continue their season today at home with an Area 4 South doubleheader against North Jackson. The first game is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at North Mountain Park.
Ashland, which suffered a sweep at the hands of North Jackson in the Pilots’ only other action so far, will lean on a pair of incoming Ashland High juniors — pitcher/outfielder Evan McLennan and pitcher/utility player Tzad Burt — to lead a squad that otherwise has almost zero high school varsity experience from which to pull.
Both McLennan, who has the rare distinction of being a switch pitcher, and Burt saw consistent playing time on the AHS varsity team this spring, while senior-to-be Rhythm Winicour-Freeman, junior-to-be Isaac Evans and sophomores-to-be Eli Westrick, Rowan Amann and Nick Buccino saw limited varsity action. All are expected to play key roles over the next month for the Pilots, who lost 4-3 and 8-0 to North Jackson on June 14.
McLennan batted .228 with six doubles and 13 RBIs at the plate, and was 1-3 with 4.11 ERA and three saves on the mound for the Ashland Grizzlies, who lost in the Class 5A play-in round and missed out on the state tournament. McLennan will not pitch for about two more weeks as he continues to rest his right arm — his dominant throwing side — after suffering from triceps tendonitis, but he may see some action from the left side and will continue to bat high in the Pilots’ order.
“I think really the goal is just to mix pitches up and throw a lot of strikes, that’s really where we’re at,” said assistant coach Daryn McLennan (former Pilot and Grizzly all-star Eric Carlson is serving as head coach).
With a fastball that tops out at 82 mph to go with a change-up and curve, Evan McLennan will likely be the Pilots’ big gun once he returns to the rotation, but even then Ashland will rely on a green stable of arms that includes Burt, Westrick, Amann and Buccino.
Defensively, Evans, Buccino and junior-to-be John Lemhouse will share time behind the plate, Amann (shortstop) and Westrick (second) will be the primary middle infielders, and McLennan (third), Buccino (third), junior-to-be Chadwick Adams (first) and Lemhouse (first) will take turns at the corners.
In the outfield, juniors-to-be Traber Burns and Dane Reynolds, McLennan and Winicour-Freeman will see plenty of action, and junior-to-be Bailey Hanks and senior-to-be Lawson Anderson, who’s also a lefty pitcher, also are expected to get playing time.
“We have a bunch of guys who just really want to get better,” Daryn McLennan said. “I think in the outfield there are guys that are going to fighting for time this summer and next year, and I think they all know that. So I think it’s just going to be really working toward working better and buying into the team concept of getting better all the time.”
Ashland’s batting lineup is sure to evolve as the season plays out, but against Upper Rogue — Eagle Point’s team — Westrick led off and was followed by Amann, McLennan and Buccino.
Ashland has three more doubleheaders in June followed by seven twin bills in July, including the season finale July 19 against Klamath Union.
Only two Pilots — Evans and Winicour-Freeman — will be accompanying the AHS football team to Japan in late July for the Pacific Rim Bowl, which means the biennial game will have a minimal impact on the Pilots this summer compared to prior years.
“The focus really on this team is we really just want to develop that competitive grit,” Daryn McLennan said. “If we can come out of this summer and really learn how to compete together as a team, that would be a success. Obviously, we’d like to win games, but we’re very, very young.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.