Sports

BlueJackets put finishing touches on lineup

By AARON MANAGHAN

Central Kitsap Reporter

While the season opener still is a few months away, the Kitsap BlueJackets’ coaching staff has kept busying finalizing their roster.

Kitsap coach Matt Acker said the team’s roster is close to completion, but he expects some changes before the season begins, which is similar to every year.

“We don’t usually find out about how fall went until January, so it’s kind of that wait-and-see time for us now,” he said. “But we’re in a good position.”

Acker said he’s excited about the players projected to return. Some of those that have signed on include Doug Buser (junior, University of Oklahoma), Joey Lind (sophomore, University of Washington) and Ryan Voelkel (sophomore, Green River).

“We’ve got almost the whole lineup back,” Acker said. “We’ll have a lot of familiar faces on defense and a lot of new pitchers. I think that’s good.”

Last season, Kitsap finished 24-18 in West Coast Collegiate Baseball League play, second in the league’s West Division. As a result, the Jackets made their postseason debut against rivals Corvallis (Ore.), which knocked Kitsap out 2-1 in the best-of-three series.

With the major of the offense returning, Acker is encouraged at the potential of this year’s squad because he said it’s easier to groom a new group of pitchers than it is hitters.

He said pitchers for the most part don‘t have huge adjustments to make when they come in, especially because no one wants to overuse a pitcher.

“That’s not terribly hard to understand,” Acker said, saying the biggest adjustment most pitchers face in the league is switching to the bullpen or the rotation. “Give them a week or two and they’ve got it. It’s not rocket science.”

For whatever reason, Acker said it usually takes WCCBL players an entire season to get comfortable. He said that could be because of different environment or that hitters use wood bats. Collegiate programs use metal bats.

“What I’ve seen is a dramatic batting average jump in the second year,” Acker said. “There’s no better example than (Brandon) Kuykendall.”

Kuykendall, who hit .315 with 20 runs, 10 doubles, two homers and 18 RBI in 39 games and earned co-WCCBL MVP honors, experienced much more production his sophomore year in the league. As a first-year player for Bellingham, Kuykendall hit just .222 with eight runs and three RBI in 30 games.

“When a hitter figures stuff out, they start to take some of the advantage the pitcher has away,” Acker said.

But that doesn’t mean replacing last year's arms will be an easy task.

Kitsap’s rotation was a strength last season, finishing with the fourth-lowest team ERA in the league at 2.74 (opponents had a 3.18 ERA against the Jackets last year). Pitchers such as Matt Rossman (3-0, 1.70, 35 strikeouts, two walks, 37 innings), Poulsbo’s Kyle Howe (5-2, 2.24, 39 strikeouts, 60 1/3 innings), Kyle Nunley (0-2, 2.21, 40 2/3 innings) and Aaron Bronson (3-3, 2.55) anchored the staff, while others like Joe Hagen (2-2, 1.14, 21 games, 9 saves), Barrett Kanyer (3-0, 1.96) and Travis McCracken (3-3, 2.66) helped anchor the pen.

But even with such a high pitching turnover anticipated, Acker said the staff is in place to help ease the transition.

“We’ve got a guy (in pitching coach Scott Colby) that not only has experience and is good, but is organized and direct,” Acker said of the Liberty High School coach. “Scott’s not just a teacher, he’s a head coach. He can take a new staff and mold them much quicker.”

While most the hitters return, the Jackets do lose players like Kuykendall, Jamie Nilsen and Port Orchard’s Josh Meeker, each of whom is no longer eligible for the league.

Kitsap hosts one of the two games to kickoff the 2008 WCCBL season when they host Corvallis on June 12.

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