The Ottumwa High baseball team held its first practice of 2014 on Monday, the first day high school teams across the state were allowed to conduct practices. Most of the work on the first day involved conditioning and fundamentals.
“It is nice to finally get outside and be able to get some things done on the grass, and have control of what our kids are gonna do,” said head coach John Jaeger. “We’re going to start with the basics, and we’re going to progress from there.”
The Bulldogs have a mix of old and new faces on this year’s squad, and while Jaeger has two accomplished senior pitchers in Spencer Fuller and Cooper Smith, he thinks his staff will get a big boost from the junior class.
“We have about five or six very quality juniors that look to make a bang right away, and then we have a lot of guys that can give us innings here and there,” Jaeger said. “We’re a little bit deeper this year, and that’s always a key.”
Offensively, Ottumwa has to replace last year’s speedy trio of table-setters, now that Seth Griffiths, Kyle Keck and Collin Schulz have all graduated. Jaeger isn’t changing his offensive philosophy, but he knows his lineup will be built a little differently.
“Last year we had a little bit more speed on the basepaths, but this year I would say we have a little bit more power,” he said. “Still, it’s not going to change what we’re going to do. We’ll move the ball around with our small-ball game.”
Offensively, Ottumwa brings back first baseman Chris Peden, as well as Fuller, who was a solid hitter in addition to being one of the Bulldogs’ best pitchers in 2013. Jaeger hopes the juniors added to the mix can help produce more runs, but in the end, he says it all comes back to pitching.
“The biggest step for us is being able to pitch consistently on a day-to-day basis,” Jaeger said. “This year, we’ll have to look to improve our strikeout-to-walk ratio, consistently throw strikes and give ourselves that opportunity to win.”
Ottumwa opens the season May 27th at Centerville.