Legion baseball welcomes new faces as season begins

MIDDLEBURY — The 2014 Addison County American Legion team will be a tough act to follow. A number of veterans, including the program’s top two hurlers, graduated from the squad that came up just one run short in late July’s Vermont championship game.
Still, said Coach Mike Estey, seven veterans return, most of whom played significant roles a year ago, to provide leadership as AC tries for a top-four Northern Division finish and the playoff berth that comes with it.
“We try to keep it simple every year. We try to make the top four in the North,” Estey said. “We’ve got seven newcomers, and some of them are young, very young. But we’re optimistic.”
The veterans, all of whom are likely to start, are Aaron Smith, who will be the No. 1 pitcher and play center field; Chris Leach, who will start behind the plate, play some infield and pitch; Dylan Raymond, the probable starter at shortstop and the projected No. 3 starter; catcher, infielder and pitcher Bryce Burrell; outfielder Devon Kimball; first baseman Sam Messenger; and outfielder/first baseman A.J. Benway.
Smith is coming off his freshman season at Castleton State College, where he saw spot duty on the mound and allowed one run over three innings in three appearances.
Estey expects Smith to anchor the Legion staff.
“Aaron will be the guy,” he said.
Estey is counting on newcomer Hunter O’Connor, coming off a strong sophomore season at Vergennes Union High School, to slot in as the No. 2 starter, with newcomers James Conley Lincoln and Will Wormer joining Raymond, Burrell and Leach on the mound staff.
Given the loss of some offensive thunder from the 2014 squad, Estey said it will be important for AC to support the team’s pitchers.
“The key is if we can get outs, play defense,” Estey said. “We’re going to have to really work on our defense and make plays.”
Leach and Burrell should see most of the time behind the plate; both are coming off solid high school seasons. Messenger will probably get the bulk of the starts at first base, although Benway or newcomer Greg Whitney can spot in there.
Newcomers Calvin Desforges and Liam Smith both can play second base, as could possibly Whitney. As well as Raymond, Burrell, Leach, Lincoln and Desforges could play on the left side of the diamond.
The outfield mix includes Benway, Kimball, Aaron Smith, Pat Messenger, O’Connor, Whitney, possibly Sam Messenger, Liam Smith and Wormer.
Offensively, Estey said AC will be more aggressive this summer rather than sitting back and waiting for big hits.  
“I think we’re going to see some smallball,” Estey said. “It will be back to scrapping for everything and trying to manufacture some runs.”
AC started its season this past Thursday, and was scheduled to play five games on the road between Thursday and Sunday in a demanding early start to the season.
“We’re going to find out a little bit this weekend about ourselves,” Estey said on Wednesday.
He was looking forward to seeing how his team answers the bell this summer.
“This will be a challenge for us. We’re young,” Estey said. “We’re going to have to hit behind runners. We’re going to have to move guys. We’re going to have to play smallball. If the opportunity’s there, we’ve got to capitalize. But it will be exciting with the leadership we have.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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