INDIANOLA, Iowa - Already with two games under its belt, the Simpson baseball team enters the heart of its schedule Sunday, March 14 when it begins play at the 2010 Russ Matt Greater Phoenix Invitational. There, the Storm will play nine games against five opponents over Spring Break. To learn more about this year's team, read the season preview below.
Losing 13 letterwinners and six starters from last year's squad, the Simpson baseball team and fourth-year head coach Ben Blake will have a new look in 2010.
Although this year's club doesn't have the experience last year's 19-23 team did, Blake believes depth on the mound and overall athleticism will dictate the direction of the season.
"We return a good core of pitchers, which should allow us to compete with pretty much everyone we run into," Blake said. "From an offensive and defensive standpoint, this is a very athletic group. What we lack in experience, we make up for in athleticism."
With a young squad, Blake is excited to see what they can do on the field.
"I think this year's outlook is sort of a question mark," Blake said. Even though we don't have a lot of experience, I honestly feel we should be able to compete with anyone. Winning 20 or more games is an annual goal, but I want these guys to go out, play hard, compete and surprise people every time out."
Between Clint Rhodes (Legrand, Iowa/East Marshall), Kyle Hanna (Ankeny, Iowa/Ankeny), Mike Huyser (Indianola, Iowa/Indianola) and Chris Dorff (Urbandale, Iowa/West Des Moines Valley), returning Simpson pitchers started 24 games last year in 63 appearances. Add to the mix Des Moines Area Community College transfer Paul Brown (Polk City, Iowa/North Polk) and sophomore left-hander Kyle Ruhle (Cherokee, Iowa/Washington) and the Storm have a tested group of arms on which to rely.
A senior right-hander, Rhodes led the team with 11 starts last year, going 2-3 with a 4.92 ERA. Huyser, a junior right-hander, started six games in 11 appearances, tying a team-high with four wins (4-3). His 4.39 ERA is the lowest of any returner while his 33 strikeouts is second only to Rhodes' 35. Rhodes tossed 62.1 innings on the year while Huyser threw 41.
Another senior righty, Hanna went 2-2 a year ago with a 5.64 ERA in 17 appearances. Sophomore right-hander Dorff saw action in 16 games, going 2-4 and striking out 17. Left-handed sophomore Ruhle should see an increased role after making three appearances a year ago.
Returner Robert Endriss (Indianola, Iowa/Indianola) and freshmen hurlers Jose Rodriguez (Huntly, Ill./Huntley), Warren Drucker (Fremont, Neb./Fremont) and Stephen Henrich (Mason City, Iowa/Newman Catholic) will also vie for time.
On the other end of the battery, junior transfer Grant Thomas (Indianola, Iowa/Indianola) and junior Drew Yarkosky (Albia, Iowa/Albia) figure to share time behind the plate. Yarkosky appeared in eight games a year ago, starting four.
Although neither has appeared in many games for the Storm, Blake is confident they have what it takes to complement the pitching staff.
"Both Grant and Drew are very solid defensively," Blake said. "They also know our pitchers well and do a good job of handling them."
Junior Tyler Larson (Ankeny, Iowa/Ankeny) is a veteran of the program and could see time behind the plate as well, in addition to appearing in the designated hitter role.
A few familiar faces will occupy Simpson's infield, although the positions will be different. Starting in all 38 games a year ago – predominately at first base - junior Dave Johnson (West Des Moines, Iowa/Valley) will head the effort in the middle infield as the team's starting shortstop. Johnson hit .288 a year ago, driving in 22 runs and tying for second on the team with three long balls.
His middle-infield partner will likely be junior Zach Smith (Indianola, Iowa/Indianola). Smith bounced around to a number of different positions in 2009, seeing time at third base and in the outfield in addition to three appearances at second base. He hit .174 last year in 23 at-bats.
For the second-straight year Scott Ethell (Knoxville, Iowa/Knoxville) will serve as Simpson's starting third baseman. Ethell hit .309 and drove in 28 runs a year ago, the most of any returner. His 10 doubles and .463 slugging percentage are also the most of any returner.
With Johnson moving to shortstop, the first base spot opens for Justin Svehla (Lincoln, Neb./Lincoln Northeast), a junior transfer from Coe. Svehla appeared in 10 games last season for the Kohawks.
"The competition is still open, but Svehla has gotten a majority of the work at first base," Blake said. "He handles himself well around the bag."
A designated hitter, sophomore Brad Agan (Knoxville, Iowa/Knoxville) will also serve as a utility infielder.
A host of additional infielders will compete for playing time, including returners Bobby Bieniek (Barrington, Ill./Barrington), Ryan Dahlstrom (Dayton, Iowa/SE Webster-Grand) and Ty Larson (Des Moines, Iowa/Roosevelt). A number of newcomers will also factor into the equation.
The centerfield duties are owned by 2009 Second Team All-Iowa Conference performer, Corey Rasmussen (West Des Moines, Iowa/Valley). The speedy Rasmussen went a perfect 23-for-23 in the stolen base department a year ago, second most in the conference. He owns the best batting average of any returner after hitting .359 while coaxing 17 walks, roping 12 doubles and driving in 22 runs.
In left field, the position looks to be won by either junior John Hupp (Scranton, Iowa/Jefferson-Scranton) or junior Tyler Pearson (Knoxville, Iowa/Knoxville). Both saw limited time in 2009, but hope to increase their contributions in 2010.
In right field, two-sport athlete Colton Calvert (St. Charles, Iowa/I-35) has a leg up on the starting spot. Also a quarterback and defensive back on the football team, Calvert appeared in three games as a freshman. A multi-purpose athlete, Calvert will also see time in the infield.
Sophomore Mike Smith (Lawton, Iowa/Lawton-Bronson) will also compete for time in the outfield.
Already having the opportunity to play a pair of games in Arkansas in February, the meat of Simpson's schedule begins with its annual trip to Phoenix for the Russ Matt Greater Phoenix Invitational March 14-19. There, Simpson has the opportunity to play nine games in ideal weather conditions – something that is a question mark during an Iowa spring season.
After the Arizona trip, Simpson opens its home schedule with a doubleheader against Nebraska Wesleyan March 24. After that, the Storm enter their 24-game conference schedule, spotted with a home-and-home series with Grinnell (April 29 at Indianola, May 4 at Grinnell).