Baseball Preview: Perry's young roster looks at learning for the future

Sean Cordy
Correspondent

After escaping 2020 with a pair of wins to snap a multi-season losing streak, Perry comes into the new year with a green roster led by first-year head coach Michael Craig who had previously coached the JV team the past two seasons.

Playmakers

The Bluejays come into the season ready to hit the books with a young roster that is propelled into the spotlight losing their three starting pitchers Kato Dougan, Avery Meister and Keghan West, who all found themselves on college rosters and doubled as the team’s most prolific batters.

Looking at weighted on-base average, West and Dougan were Perry’s lone that ranked among the conference’s top 25 batters. Dougan added extra value as a base runner, ranked 11th in power-speed ratio. And all three at least 15 innings off the mound for a combined 68 frames. Now Perry comes into 2021 with a roster that has just 17 innings of pitching experience and a combined 35 hits. Every other team in the conference has at least double those totals.

Caden Steva runs the bases on Monday, May 24 during Perry's season opener against Carlisle.

Part of that attrition is due to the team’s sheer inexperience that was on the field last year. Perry had four players in eighth or ninth grade take in at least 10 at-bats. No other team in the league had even two such players. That gave players like Fausto Beato, Gavin Hegstrom, Drake Levan and Juan Hernandez invaluable, real-game experience. Still with three seasons ahead of them, they are the immediate future of the Bluejays.

“As far as the roster goes, we put out who we think is going to be competitive as well as a learning situation. We want them to advance for the years to come,” Craig said.

While the majority of players are underclassmen, players like juniors Caden Steva, Kaleb Lyddon and Carter Iben come in as the team’s eldest leaders. Overall, Hegstrom, Beato and Steva lead the team with 10 total bases from last season. Iben, Steva and Beato come in as the most experienced pitchers and will get on the mound in a rotation to continue adding experience.

“We pick a couple of purposes for each game. So [against Carlisle] it was really about intensity. Every play, trying to get to the ball. Trying to make that play you know you can make,” Craig said and added an example pointing to Carlisle’s performance. “Pop-ups in foul territory, there were three or four guys covering each time. And our guys also did a great job backing up. Every play I saw our pitchers backing up the cutoffs. We’re always in the right position and those are small victories for us.”

Carter Iben pitches for the Bluejays on Monday, May 24.

Follow the Metrics

Without the team’s three most dominant and experienced hitters returning, Perry’s plate presence takes an even sharper decline. As a team, the Bluejays ranked second in the conference with 69.4 percent of bases coming from singles. Subtract the senior production, that rockets to 77.5 percent to lead the league.

On that same note, losing a speed demon like Dougan causes Perry’s stolen base rate to drop from 4.3 per 10 bases to just 33 percent. With low marks in both the isolated power index, OPS+, and on-base rate, steals (particularly from first to second) were the Bluejays’ bread and butter in hopes to create runs. That may put some extra responsibility on Beato, who leads the returning players in both OPS+ (.690) and stolen bases (5). Steva also has a .690 OPS+ while Juan Hernandez’s four steals rank second among the team.

Streak to Know

As the Bluejays finish their tenure in the Raccoon River Conference this school year, Perry hopes to pull out at least one more win in league play to snap this cold streak. The Jays haven't won in the RRC since the 2018 regular season finale against Winterset and are 0-21 the past two seasons.

State of the Conference

The RRC was a powerhouse last season. Not only did ADM and Gilbert make the state tournament, Boone also advanced to the substate finals while conference champ Winterset was a regular season juggernaut. Aside from ADM losing the majority of its runs and hits, the conference’s elite look awfully familiar. Winterset comes in hot with the best on-base percentage, while Boone and Ballard have the strongest bats and Gilbert returns 90 percent of its overall production. 

Head coach Michael Craig watches the action during Perry's season opener against Carlisle on Monday, May 24.