A young Jefferson City Jays’ baseball team will open its season at 5 p.m. today against the Warrensburg Tigers at Vivion Field.
Jefferson City knows it will be a grind with its young group but likes where it stands heading into the season opener today.
“I’ve always been a go that likes to take it day-by-day,” Jefferson City coach Kyle Lasley said. “It’s a process, it’s a long season, it’s a grind season. … But I like the team, it’s a good group of guys.”
The Jays will play the two home games -- today against the Tigers and tomorrow against Capital City -- at Vivion Field this week, head to Emerson, Ga., for five games during spring break and play another two Central Missouri Activities Conference games on the road against Sedalia Smith-Cotton and Rock Bridge.
Then at 10 a.m. April 7, Jefferson City will open up the Jays Baseball Classic against Lutheran: St. Charles on its new baseball complex on campus.
“They told us the field would be ready (March 31), so that is what I am going by,” Lasley said. “As long as it is ready for the start of our tournament, that is all I care about.”
The Jays will be back at full strength today for the season opener, as the four basketball players -- seniors Cole Heller and Tripp Maassen, junior Brody Johns and sophomore Jordan Martin -- will be with the team full time after the Final Four wrapped up last weekend.
All four will be getting significant playing time. Martin will slot in as the top pitcher and starting shortstop, Maassen will see a lot of innings on the mound and start in center field, Johns will see time at second base and shortstop and Heller will be in the mix at first base.
The group has been very supportive of their teammates as they have been slowly working into the mix during the basketball postseason.
“Those four basketball players have been so supportive of the other guys,” Lasley said. “They show up to practices after they get done with their basketball practices, they were at the Jamboree.”
Martin, Maassen and seniors Zac Arnold and Dylan Wallace will be at the top of the Jays’ pitching rotation this season.
But with arms getting stretched out early in the season, expect innings to be spread out in the first few weeks.
“We are going to piece it together the first couple games because we never want to stretch anybody too quick,” Lasley said. “If anybody goes this long, you’re looking at 55-to-60 pitches max for one guy. We will be cycling guys in and out.”
Behind the plate will be a combination of sophomores Mason Wall and Will Carroll. Wall will get the first crack at it but playing time will depend on who is controlling the game defensively behind the plate.
“At this point I would rather take a defensive catcher over a guy that can swing it,” Lasley said, “just because I think it is so important to have somebody back there that can manage the run game and throw guys out, and overall just awareness of what is going on.”
At first base, Arnold, Heller, Giovanni Fornelli and Ben Bates will all get a chance. But unlike the catcher spot, whoever is swinging the best will likely be the person in the lineup.
“That spot may come down more to who is swinging the bat,” Lasley said. “… That’s one position where it has to be a guy in the lineup that’s swinging it. It could be a game by game thing, so hopefully there is a lot of competition over there in practice.”
The middle of the infield will be based on who is on the mound.
Martin will start at shortstop and Johns will start at second, but if Martin is on the mound, Johns will slide to shortstop and Charlie Morgan will play second. Ryan Tadsen will be the starting third baseman,
Ethan Lipp will start in left field and Maassen in center with Lipp moving to center if Maassen is on the mound.
Right field will be another committee approach, as Wallace, Ethan Garnett and Peyton Locke will be see opportunities.
“That last spot will come down to who’s hitting, who’s not, how things are working and who is pitching, too,” Lasley said.
The Jays know their offense will need to be more productive this year after finishing last season with a 7-25 record.
“We have to score more runs than last year,” Lasley said. “We have to manufacture runs. Whether that is bunting, stealing, hit-and-running, we have to find a way to score more runs. That will be a huge, huge thing for us throughout the season and into the postseason.”