MISSOULA — The Missoula Mavericks have six players on their roster who’ve signed to play college baseball next year and a seventh who’ll be playing college football.
But their status as starters is far from solidified heading into the season opener on Sunday as the Mavs are fostering competition among a deep, veteran roster.
“It’s that open. It really is,” Mavs manager Brent Hathaway said ahead of the doubleheader against Great Falls that starts at 1 p.m. at Lindborg-Cregg Field. “We have 21 guys that are trying to make an 18-man roster. That 18-man roster is going to be very competitive.
“We’re not setting anything right now. We’re going to let them compete for it. The guys that produce are going to be the guys that are consistently on the field. Nobody’s got anything locked up.”
About half of those 21 players are seniors, and 11 of them suited up during last year’s American Legion Northwest Regional, where the Mavs went 0-2 to end their season. The big question for Hathaway is if this year’s group will be able to fulfill the potential he sees in them.
“We have skill. We have depth. We have guys that have been around with experience,” Hathaway said. “It’s a matter of ‘don’t tell me you’re going to do it. Show me you’re going to do it.’ That’s basically the attitude that we’re taking going in is you’re going to fight for a spot, you’re going to fight to stay in that spot. It’s a good situation. It really is.
“Last year we didn’t have that. We didn’t have competition. We didn’t have the numbers. It just got away from us.”
For Hathaway, success starts with the pitchers, a group that lacked experience last year. This year’s staff will feature returners Brendon Hill, Dylan Chalmers and Parker Stevens. Hill signed with Wenatchee Valley College, while Chalmers signed with Yakima Valley Community College.
Dane Fraser, a Yakima Valley Community College signee, is back from offseason surgery, Hathaway said, but how much he pitches isn’t known yet. Kaden Heidrick has a partial MCL tear, Hathaway said, which means “it doesn’t look like he’s going to be pitching for us this year,” although he could possibly still play elsewhere.
“Last year, I really feel like we had a case of we lost a lot of arms, which is the No. 1 priority,” Hathaway said. “We have most of those guys back, and they’re fairly healthy now. If we stay healthy on the hill, it should be a much better season than last year.”
Among other returners, Sam Bucy has signed with University of Sioux Falls, Tradd Richardson will be playing at Lassen Community College in California and Thomas Martin has signed with Miles City Community College. Beau King will be playing football at Montana Tech.
As for what to expect at the plate, Hathaway doesn’t foresee the Mavs being a power-hitting squad because they hit just one home run last year. Throughout that season, inconsistency at the plate hurt them. In the field, it’s about limiting errors.
“We have to understand that for us to be offensively productive and consistent we have to hit line drives, we have to stay gap to gap and stay within ourselves,” Hathaway said. “Defensively, just fundamentally stay clean, be able to make the routine plays on a consistent basis. Pitchers, throw strikes and gives the guys a chance behind you to make the play.”