Legion baseball reloads for summer 2016

MIDDLEBURY — A year after playing in the Vermont American Legion championship final and falling just short, the Addison County American Legion team in 2015 saw many players age out of the program, resulting in a young roster particularly short in the pitching rotation.
AC went from a penthouse suite to a basement studio apartment, winning just once and forfeiting a couple late-season contests simply because Coach Mike Estey’s team didn’t have anybody to put on the mound.
But Estey, who — along with assistants Jim Lutton, Greg Lutton and Chad Estey — is entering his 10th season leading the AC squad, believes AC is getting on the elevator to ride up again this season.
For one thing, AC has at least seven starting pitchers: returners Hunter O’Connor and Will Wormer, plus newcomers Adam Whitcomb, George Bailey (those two combined for four playoff wins as Mount Abraham Union High School won the Division II title), Dustin Whitcomb, Wyatt Cameron and Greg Whitney.
“They’re going to throw strikes for us and compete, and last year we gave up games because we didn’t have enough pitching,” Estey said.
The coaching staff also kept the full legal complement of 18 players, and Estey said while there might not be superstars, the roster is balanced and talented and will allow the coaches to make tactical decisions they could not a year ago.
“With the depth in our pitching and the depth in our whole ballclub, we can pinchhit for people and pinchrun for people and defensively make moves,” Estey said.
The pitchers will throw for the most part to veteran catcher Chris Leach, one of just three AC players in his last year of eligibility. Newcomer Brian Foote will also see plenty of time behind the dish.
“Chris will do a good part of our catching and hopefully get our pitching on the right track and get us going quickly,” Estey said.
Estey will be mixing and matching lineups in the field depending on who is on the mound, with a mind also to making sure all the players get time while trying to position the team to contend.
“We made the decision to keep this number of kids because we want to keep them in the program,” he said. “We need to make sure we play them, give them innings. Yet we are going to go after wins. We want to get back in the tournament, which means getting one of the top four spots in the North, and it’s going to be a challenge.”
At first base, veterans Dylan Raymond, Devon Kimball and O’Connor could see time, as well as Wright and Adam Whitcomb.
Veterans Greg Whitney and Liam Smith and newcomer Wyatt Cameron are the primary candidates at second base, with Chris Wood and Cameron the shortstops. Bailey and veteran Calvin Desforges are third basemen, while Estey said versatile Dustin Whitcomb could also pop up anywhere in the infield.
Kimball, O’Connor, Smith, Wormer and veteran Pat Messenger return as outfielders, and newcomers Payson Williams, Keion Correll and Dustin Whitcomb are in the mix there as well.
Among ways to rotate players into the lineup, Estey will probably use a DH for whoever pitches, and might give his starting pitcher a rest the day before he takes the mound.
“We’ve got some good options. Of course, if we’ve got a guy with a hot bat, or defensively they’re really strong (they’ll play),” Estey said.
Overall, Estey said the coaches are excited after a down year. They also hope the influx of a number of Mount Abe’s championship players, who helped the Eagles to a title after an 0-6 start, will boost AC’s intangibles.
“Mount Abe turned it around, and we can use that to our advantage,” Estey said. “They understand it takes team chemistry. They understand it takes pulling for each other.”   
Estey also knows that teams like Essex, the OEC Kings, SD Ireland, Colchester and Franklin County will offer tough competition. 
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Estey said. “But it should be a lot of fun. The fun part will be keeping everyone involved and engaged.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
   COACHES JIM LUTTON, left front, and Mike Estey address the members of the 2016 Addison County American Legion team before their Wednesday practice at the Middlebury College baseball field. The coaches decided to carry a full complement of 18 athletes, some from each of the four local high schools, this season and will rely on that depth.
Independent photo/Andy Kirkaldy

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