Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shoes to be filled... Part 3

Here are 4 more Pirates that we’ll be replacing in ’10-’11. As I’ve been working on these posts and sifting through memories and numbers as deeply as I am, 2 things have really occurred to me.

  1. It’s easy sometimes, even for me, to take for granted how close you get with your club after spending so much time together in the trenches.
  2. How exciting it is going to be next year having so many new faces and a team with unlimited potential waiting to forge their own unique identity.

With those thoughts in mind, here are some more shoes waiting to be filled:

Derek Varnadore, RHP - Dominant and consistent are the two words that pop into mind when I think about Varnadore. Dominant because the guy whiffed 197 hitters in 161 and 1/3 innings, not to mention the fact that he went 13-6 in his career and 7-1 in 2010. Consistent because in each of his two seasons at Chatt Valley he threw 80 and 2/3 innings, allowed just 35 earned runs, walked only 30 hitters, allowed only 85 hits and struck out about 100 hitters. His lines were so similar that in 2009 he faced 321 hitters and in 2010 he saw 320. How’s that for consistency? Varny has been no stranger to big games either. In 2009 he was a conference starter as a freshman, and if it weren’t for a handful of mistakes by our club, he probably would have racked up 10 wins. He was asked to come in and clean up a mess against a tough Wallace-Hanceville team in the ACCC tournament that year and responded by tossing 6 and 1/3 innings in relief allowing just 3 hits and striking out 8. He followed that up with a 6 inning, 7 strikeout performance just two days later against Southern Union. By the time we started the season in 2010, the expectations on Varnadore could not have been any higher. To open the season, he threw in front of 18 Major League scouts, firing 93-94 MPH fastballs past hitters for 4 innings. Not bad for a guy that came to us from Oconee County topping out at 87 only 16 months earlier. Varny served as our Friday night starter in 2010, and without a doubt, not a single team we faced all year was looking forward to stepping in against the intimidating righty. He brought to the mound an aggressive attitude, and he brought to our team a front line starter that you handed the ball knowing that when you got it back, it was going to be with a lead. We didn’t send Varnadore out to pitch, we unleashed him on the opposition. He has signed to play at Auburn University next fall and is likely to be selected in the June 5 Major League Draft.

Kevin Putkonen, OF - Sometimes you spend 10 months recruiting a guy and after running the treadmill you sign him. Sometimes you run that treadmill and you lose him. Sometimes, inexplicably, a fantastic player just falls into your lap. Put’s was a case of the latter. In October of 2007 I got a phone call from Kash Beauchamp, a well known baseball man from Phenix City who played at CV a while back and spent some time playing and managing in the minor leagues, telling me that he had a kid from Windsor, CT that might be able to help us. The honest to God’s truth is that I had no idea what to expect, but he had the kid in town and asked if he could bring him over for a workout. Turns out, the kid had a sweet left handed swing and the ball jumped off of his bat. We offered him on the spot, and he agreed on the spot, making Kevin Putkonen arguably the best player we never had to work to get. It didn’t take Put very long to get going, either. He blasted 18 dingers in his career at CV, hammering 9 each year, and he drove in an impressive 95 runs in the process. Put also put up a .329 average and smacked 19 doubles in the pinstripes… And he did a lot of this after missing the entire 2009 fall with a shoulder injury. Had he been able to work out all fall, I have no doubt that his already impressive .329-9-52 line would have been even better. Put was also a great guy to have around off the field. He always had a good thing to say about everybody he met, couldn’t get enough time in the weight room, and he was a tireless worker and a quality student. I was fortunate enough to have gotten to know Kevin on a personal level, and I consider him to be a good friend. Kevin has signed to play at Samford University next fall.

Matt Black, 1B/3B - What do you say about a guy who hit .351 with 20 doubles and 100 RBI’s in 92 games while sporting arguably the best leather at first base in the league? He’s damn good, that’s what. Matty was a big time run producer for us over the last two seasons. In an injury shortened 2010 season in which he only played 35 games, he still managed to drill opposing pitchers to the tune of a .388 batting average with 47 RBI’s. His career total of 100 places him dead even for the all-time Pirate lead, and he was on pace to obliterate the record when injuries and rain outs kept him out of at least 20 games this year. Matt was a quiet leader for us at Chatt Valley, never speaking unless he had something worth listening to say, and never asking his teammates to do something he wasn’t willing to do in return. When it was time to get going though, he’d be the guy right in the middle of it, ready to smoke a base clearing double, or to dig a tough throw out to bail out an infielder. Matt was and is everything you want from a player as a coach. He always gave his best effort, he never let his teammates down, and he was the first to take responsibility for his actions. I know I’ve said this about every guy on this list, but sticking true to the trend, you couldn’t ask for a better man to have on your team than Matt Black. Matt has received numerous scholarship opportunities to play at the DI level, and as soon as he makes his final decision, I will post an update to this section of my blog.

Lawrence Jackson, OF - Larry was a transfer for us this year from Andrew College in Cuthbert, GA. At Andrew he had an impressive freshman year, batting .325 with 5 homers and 45 RBI’s. Though he was forced to platoon this season in an outfield that was loaded with talent, he was still able to post quality numbers and bring explosiveness to our lineup. In 62 at bats, Lawrence batted a solid .306 with 4 doubles, 16 runs, 16 RBI’s and 2 homers. In addition, he took 10 hit by pitches and turned in more than a handful of clutch pinch hit performances. His bat was crucial in victories over conference rivals CACC and Wallace-Dothan, and against non conference foes Darton and Middle Georgia. Jackson possesses well above average speed and outstanding power at the plate. He is a tough competitor and a consummate team player who always put the team’s benefit above his own. He’s also got a hell of a sense of humor, and he’s always willing to laugh at himself. Larry gave us flexibility in the outfield and at designated hitter that we had never had before, as he was one of 6 guys to see regular action in the Pirate outfield. He also gave us a reliable bat off the bench, collecting a team leading 5 pinch hits on the year. It takes a special kind of guy to come into a situation knowing there are 4 returning starters, but Larry did it and even found a way to carve his own niche in our offense. He’s a first class guy, a first class personality, and he’s going to make an immediate impact wherever he lands next fall. Lawrence has received several scholarship opportunities to play at the DII and NAIA level next fall, and as soon as he makes his final decision, I will post an update to this section of my blog.

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