The start of the season for MINK League baseball teams is always a bit of a scramble, as coaches and players try to figure out as quickly as possible where each individual fits best. The fact that year-to-year roster turnover is almost always north of 90 percent adds to the difficulty.
The Jefferson City Renegades open their season today at 7 p.m. at Ozark. Head coach Mike DeMilia, three days removed from leading the Blair Oaks Falcons to a Class 3 state baseball title in O'Fallon, is back for his third season.
It's rather normal even he's not fully sure what to expect of the Renegades this summer, coming off the team's first playoff victory and a 20-win season that ended one game shy of the MINK Championship Series.
"It always plays out," DeMilia said Wednesday evening during the team's first practice. "You always have these plans, and then you might as well not even plan, because it never goes the way you think it's going to."
That's also the case for Jordan Smith, who has played for the Renegades all three seasons and is one of the team's two returning position players, along with Ethan Rackers (Blair Oaks High School).
Smith hit .326 with 21 runs, 16 RBI and 14 walks for Jefferson City in MINK League games last season, third in batting average on the team that led the league in runs (337), hits (436) and RBI (287), and was second in walks (250).
"It's a great league," Smith said. "We're facing some pretty good pitching, everybody's just out there trying to get better so you're always seeing everyone's best."
Jefferson City lost some big bats from last season's team, including Logan Hudson, Justin McIntyre and Mike Million, but added some big bats as well.
First baseman Logan Haring hit .336 as a sophomore and .345 as a junior this past season at Central Methodist, and hit 17 home runs and drove in 84 runs between the two seasons. In his junior season at Harris-Stowe, shortstop Dede Cole hit .333 with five home runs and 37 runs scored. Outfielders Ryan Missal, Hudson's teammate at Western Michigan, and Southeast Missouri State's Trent Pobst could also factor as major contributors on offense for the Renegades.
"We've got some guys that can hit," DeMilia said. "Definitely have some power, we have some guys who can run a little bit. We'll see how it all shapes up, but we've got four or five kids that are middle-of-the-order guys at their college and a couple others that are leadoff guys, so I hope we've got a good mix, but we'll just have to see."
The Renegades start the season with two catchers — Gaven Strobel (Jefferson City High School) is with Central Missouri at the NCAA Division II College World Series in Cary, N.C., which runs through June 8 — and four outfielders, one of whom, Lincoln Orellana, is committed to Hawaii and graduated from Sheldon High School in Wilton, Calif., this week.
DeMilia said he does not anticipate any major contributors apart from Strobel missing time with the team at the start of the season. And eight infielders on the roster means positional flexibility will be explored.
"We'll play a lot of different guys, early on especially," DeMilia said. "We have 15 position players, they're all going to play. It won't be equal, but yeah, it'll be a lot of different lineups to start."
For guys like Smith, who is a shortstop in college, that might mean a brief stint in the outfield, while Rackers and Peyton Leeper (South Callaway High School) can both pitch and play infield. That flexibility should prove useful until the full squad is present and DeMilia is able to set consistent lineups.