By John Miller
To say the Clever Blue Jays are young probably wouldn’t do it justice.
The program graduated seven seniors from last year – six of which were full-time starters and have only two-full time starters returning.
“We have so many new and inexperienced guys coming into the year,” said Clever coach Justin Snider, who carries an overall coaching record of 188-93. “I am blessed that our kids chose to play in the summer and continue into the fall to help us prep for this spring. This is one of the hardest working groups I have coached, and we have very bright things in (our) future.
“If we are consistent in our play …, I think we will be much better than most would expect with what we graduated.”
Last year, the Jays went 15-12 and saw their season end in the district semis to top-seed Stockton, 4-3. Of its seven graduated seniors, three are playing collegiate baseball and a fourth has enrolled in the U.S. Army.
“What we will probably miss the most is the speed from this group of seniors,” Snider said. “They had the ability to change games with their speed in the field, on the bases, and at the plate.”
Graduated seniors include Chris Amtower, the team’s No. 1 pitcher since his sophomore year who went 7-3 on the mound and was named first-team all-district and all-conference. He’s playing collegiately at Evangel.
Also graduated is Dawson Little, a three-year starter that was the team’s closer and one of its best hitters. He’s playing at Lindenwood-Bellevue. Tyler Edwards, now at Harris-Stowe, was Clever’s No. 2 pitcher last spring and a big bat in the lineup.
Instead of relying on those veteran players, the Jays will look to three players to lead the way in 2017: P/1B Spencer Flatt, C/P Logan Peebles, and OF Colby Elrod.
Flatt, the team’s lone senior, went 2-4 with a 1.35 ERA on the mound last spring and hit over .400 at the plate this past fall.
“Spencer was held out of the fall season from pitching because of a shoulder injury, but he should be back to assume a spot at the top of our rotation,” Snider said. “His bat is what we will need the most this year.”
Peebles, a sophomore, added 30 pounds and five inches of height in the offseason and should be a big force this fall.
“He is still improving in all aspects of his game, but is a very consistent hitter for us and led us in RBIs in the fall,” Snider said. “He will also see a little bit of time on the mound, possibly as the closer …, as his velocity has greatly improved.”
Elrod started in 16 games last year as a sophomore, but should have a much more regular spot in the lineup this spring. “He is a consistent outfielder who has some pop in his bat, too,” Snider said. “We will look for Colby and Logan to hit around Spencer to protect him, which should provide us a very good 3-4-5 combo this spring.”
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In addition, Clever will also turn to a strong group of newcomers that includes junior P/OF Tyler Deepe, junior P/OF Calin Springer, junior P/C Cameron Garcia, sophomore P/3B Hunter Eutsler, sophomore P/SS Nathan King, sophomore OF Trace Comer, junior 2B Cooper Duelen, freshman 2B Blaze Akins, and freshman P/DH Caden Sims.
Deepe was the team’s top starting pitcher this fall, finishing 5-3 with a 1.41 ERA and batting .319 with 20 RBIs at the plate. Springer hit over .300 this fall and also went 3-0 on the mound. Garcia should provide some catching depth and also be counted on to pitch. Eutsler started six games at third base last year, but should also slide into the three or four spot in the Jays’ pitching rotation. King will take over the shortstop duties, Duelen and Akins are both battling for the second base job, Comer will be the team’s new centerfielder, and Sims, a transfer from Greenfield, should see some time on the mound this spring.
“Our strengths will be pitching depth and defense,” Snider said. “We may not have the power arms, but with the new pitch count rules, we have eight or nine kids who I feel comfortable throwing in a varsity game that can give us a chance at a win.”