Rotation the Key to Success for Scots' Baseball
Monmouth, IL (03/03/2020) — Now in his fifth season leading the Monmouth College baseball program, head coach Alan Betourne projects his rotation will be the key to advancing to the Midwest Conference Tournament for the third straight season, but it's not just the pitching rotation the two-time MWC Coach of the Year is talking about.
"We'll have a rotation on the mound and in the outfield," predicted Betourne, whose team returns the starting infield but graduated the starting outfield. "We're deep everywhere and will use that to our benefit. We're very talented with a young but veteran group. Everyone complements each other. It's a good mix and we're using last year as our motivation."
The Scots rolled to an MWC South Division title last spring, but were upended in the early stages of the tournament at Glasgow Field a year after winning the league on the same diamond. Last year marked the first time since 2007 the Scots had qualified for the four-team field in back-to-back seasons.
Betourne's boys will rely on veteran pitcher Conner Sharp (Aledo, Ill./Mercer County) to lead the staff. The 6-foot-3 righty tied for the team lead in 2019 with four wins while pitching more than 53 innings, third most on the team.
"Conner is the leader and ready to go," said Betourne. "He's taken control of the staff and probably wants it more than a lot of guys. Conner is bringing a confidence to the season and is working on adding a new pitch or two to his repertoire. He's very competitive and that 'hate-to-lose' mentality is really fueling him in his senior year."
The Scots have plenty of candidates for starters and relievers, giving Betourne a plethora of options, and challenges, to settle on a starting rotation.
Sophomore A.J. Hatlestad (New Windsor, Ill./Sherrard) figures to be just behind Sharp in the early rotation. The righthander fanned 13 in 17 innings of work last year when two-thirds of his appearances were out of the bullpen.
"A.J. has a mentality much like Conner," said Betourne. "They're both extremely competitive and just like brothers. They may have that sibling rivalry going and that can only make each other better. A.J. really benefited last year from being around (four-year starters) Tyler and Connor McDonald. He has similar stuff to the McDonalds and has the same build. He'll be more advanced as a sophomore because of that experience."
The rest of the rotation isn't quite as clear. Betourne figures his starting group could go as many as seven deep. Junior Nathan Willing (Oswego, Ill./Oswego) - a lefty who came out of the bullpen six times last season - and freshmen Kale Ven Huizen (Port Byron, Ill./Riverdale), Jeff Garrett (Aledo, Ill./Mercer County), Cal Engebretson (Knoxville, Ill./Knoxville) and Addison Fletcher (Monmouth, Ill./Monmouth-Roseville) are all potential candidates to start.
"It's really not a bad problem to have," claimed Betourne. "Our staff is really deep. We expect all those guys to get starts in the early season."
If that weren't enough, the Scots have a similar number of able arms in the bullpen, which lost its top two relievers last season - Ridge Greenman and All-American Alex Sheetz - to graduation after the tandem fanned 52 in 46.2 innings of work.
"We knew we had to replenish the pen after our two best relievers graduated," explained Betourne of this season's wealth of relievers. "It's similar to graduating the McDonalds. We just can't replace pitch-for-pitch Alex and Ridge. We feel like the rookie arms we brought in are all ready to go. It could be a case of using six relievers in a Game 4 situation."
That's not to say the Scots don't have veterans in the pen who will get the call. Seniors Josh Fuchs (New Berlin, Ill./New Berlin), Arturo Monroy (Chicago, Ill./DePaul College Prep) and Campbell Quirk (Jerrabomberra, Australia/Marist College Canberra) and sophomore Hunter De La Rosa (Moline, Ill./Moline) form the veteran presence in the bullpen.
"Campbell has been in transition to the mound for the last couple of years," explained Betourne of Quirk, who could also nab an outfield spot. "We're pretty excited about our bullpen. We hold them to very high standards. They're going to have to be our pitching strength this year."
Receiving those pitches will likely be junior Cameron Kellar (Snohomish, Wash./Glacier Peak), who played in 26 of the Scots' 37 games a season ago. Seniors Shamus Murphy (Milan, Ill./Rock Island) and Jake Brewer (Gibson City, Ill./Gibson City) - a transfer - are also in the mix as last season's top backup, Anthony Ruggles (Aledo, Ill./Mercer County), rehabs an injury.
"Cam probably is the best defensive catcher and will be the guy we need to step up for us," said Betourne. "Shamus did a really good job last year coming off the bench to hit and Jake's strength is his hitting, but he's getting better on the defensive side. We have three guys we can put behind the plate that we have confidence in."
Betourne is also confident in his infield, where he returns the entire starting unit from last season.
Senior Mike Dato (Oswego, Ill./Oswego) - an All-Region selection as a sophomore and all-conference last season - will anchor first base with his 39 RBIs and six home runs from 2019. Sophomores Grant Powers (Kellar, Texas/Timber Creek) and Jackson Holder (Freeport, Ill./Aquin Catholic) are the likely candidates to spell Dato if the need arises.
"Mike is realistic and knows what he needs to work on," said Betourne. "He's worked extremely hard and is doing a great job of leading the team along with the five other captains. Mike, Grant and Jackson have basically been learning first base at the same time after Mike moved there late in his sophomore year from the DH."
There's no change at second, where Matt Temaner (Gurnee, Ill./Warren) returns for his junior campaign after hitting .329 and scoring 37 runs last season, all team highs.
'It HAS to be Temaner at second," smiled Betourne. "He's hit for power and average and we're trying to make him a complete hitter. If he continues his progression, he may become one of the best second basemen we've ever had. We're really deep with young guys on the infield and could easily put (sophomore) Justin Bost (Reynolds, Ill./Rockridge) or (freshman) Nate Melvin (Ottawa, Ill./Marquette) there. Bost is our 'super-utility' guy who might also be in the outfield. We really have a lot of young guys who can play two or three positions, so it might come down to who can hit and has the hot bat."
It's likely that junior Sean Davis (Barrington, Ill/Barrington) will be back at shortstop where he played in 28 games last year and hit .314 after an injury opened the door.
"Sean did a phenomenal job last year," said Betourne. "He took advantage of his opportunity when we had an injury to the starter. Offensively, he's our typical infielder. He gets on base any way he can. He's an old-school player, hard-nosed and that's trickling down to the young guys behind him."
The aforementioned Melvin is Davis' immediate understudy, but Betourne could also see dual-sport junior Trevor Davis (Waterloo, Ill./Gibault) in the lineup once he acclimates following his basketball season.
"Nate is a smooth fielder," explained Betourne. "We could use him as a 'defensive closer' of sorts. He's in the development stage and his bat is coming along with some surprising pop. Trevor is another one of our infielders who can play multiple positions and could see some time at third."
If Trevor Davis is to see time at the hot corner, he'll have to move ahead of last year's starter, senior Tyler Ulfig (Taylor Ridge, Ill./Rockridge). Ulfig knocked in 19 runs a season ago and scored 17 times while playing in all 37 games. Freshman Jack Kuethe (Pekin, Ill./Pekin) is another one of Betourne's crop of local talent who could have an impact and see some time at third.
"Tyler is just a solid defender," praised Betourne. "We'd like to see him hit a little better. Jack is very strong and coming on. He's one of the young infielders we're developing with an eye on next year. He's got a cannon at third and we're excited to see what he can do with some experience."
It will be interesting to see what Betourne can do with an outfield that graduated all three starters from last year's South Division champs. The early returns look like Quirk - who hit .256 in 16 games last season - could get the nod in right. Fleet-footed senior Brett Fordyce (Abingdon, Ill./Abingdon-Avon) might be in center, where he saw late-inning action last year. That leaves Bost in left, provided he's not holding down an infield position. Betourne counts no fewer than nine players in the mix for the three outfield positions.
"We'll find out what our outfield rotation will look like in Florida," predicted Betourne. "We have the ability to put different types of players out there who all have their upside. I could easily see most of our games in Florida having different outfield lineups. We could be all veterans or all freshmen out there, or a mix of all four classes. It all depends on who steps up. Bost is hitting really well, so we'll have to find a spot for him somewhere, whether it's as a position player or something else."
The Scots are equally deep when it comes to finding a designated hitter.
"We could easily go with (backup first baseman) Grant Powers or any of the catchers if they get hot," speculated Betourne. "That's a good option for the catchers to keep their bat in the lineup, but rest their knees. We also have four or five outfielders I'd be comfortable with at DH. It's going to be another area where we could go with a rotation."
Betourne would like to rotate into the team's third straight South Division title and their second league crown in three years. Not looking too far into the future, Betourne sees simplicity as the key.
"We just have to focus on what we do, the pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning, game-by-game and series-by-series," said Betourne. "We have to go out and have fun while not letting the game get too fast for us. These guys ARE good. They just have to be relaxed, but realize as two-time defending South champions, we have a target on our back."
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