Depth, talent give Legion nine hope

MIDDLEBURY — Despite the loss of a few starters from the summer of 2017 there are good reasons to think the 2018 Addison County American Legion baseball team could take a step forward from this past season’s six wins, possibly even doubling that total and moving into contention for one of four Northern Division playoff berths.
As Coach Mike Estey pointed out during a recent practice at the Middlebury College field, where AC will again play its home games, the local nine will return its top four pitching starters from a year ago, Adam Whitcomb, Dustin Whitcomb, Wyatt Cameron and Hunter O’Connor.
Meanwhile, Estey said, a pitcher who was not healthy a year ago, George Bailey, is back and ready to go; reserve arms Chris Wood and Devon Kimball also return; and newcomers Nolan Whitcomb, Hale Hescock and Tucker Stearns all show promise on the mound.
Those two back-to-back weekend doubleheaders on AC’s schedule (see sidebar) don’t look as problematic this year as last year, when Estey and assistants Jim and Greg Lutton were holding tryouts on the fly to see who could find the strike zone.
“The first thing that comes to mind is depth,” Estey said. “Even defensively we’ve got better depth, and pitching-wise we have the four guys, and we have George able to throw again.”
Certainly, AC has a versatile, veteran core that, along with several youngsters who made an impact this year for the Middlebury, Mount Abraham and Vergennes union high school teams, will make competition for playing time tougher — and should also make the team tougher to play.
“We’ve got depth in the infield and outfield. And I think we’ve got a little better speed. Everybody’s gotten a little stronger in a year’s time,” Estey said. “And they seem pretty hungry.”
The pitching staff will probably throw most of its offerings to second-year catcher Jeffrey Stearns, with veteran Devon Kimball and newcomer Tucker Stearns ready to fill in, especially when the doubleheaders pile up.
The rest of the positions are fluid, according to Estey, at least entering play. Kimball, Adam Whitcomb, newcomer Cooper O’Brien or even one of several strong shortstop candidates could play first base. Wood, veteran Wyatt Gendreau or Hescock are all available at second base.
Dustin Whitcomb and Cameron are both coming off strong high school seasons at shortstop, while Estey said Wood was playing as well as anyone in the preseason. Bailey, Dustin Whitcomb, Nolan Whitcomb and Tucker Stearns could all see time at third base, Estey said.
Veteran outfielder Pat Messenger returns and could also DH for a pitcher, while Wood, Kimball, fellow veterans Keion Correll and Nicholas Kaufman, and O’Brien could all end up patrolling the outfield.
With so many talented players Estey said competition for spots would boost the team, but he would also do what he could to make sure all got playing time, including by making good use of the re-entry and pinch-running rules.
“That’s going to help. Even years ago when we were good we were able to re-enter guys and play guys and keep everybody active,” he said.
Estey said while it’s good the players are hungry, execution and focus will also be critical given the competitive nature of the Northern Division.
“We’ve got a group of kids, they want to prove they can play some baseball,” he said. “We’ve got to do all the little things. We’ve got to make the right plays, throw to the right base, make good throws, not give up unearned runs, throw strikes and pound the strike zone, be aggressive with the bats, and catch fly balls.”
Estey wants the AC players to break the game down to each individual play rather than think about larger goals.
“Our goal is still to be one of the top four in the North,” he said. “But our starting goal is to be competitive, competitive on every pitch, every at-bat, and defensively. Keep it simple to begin with, keep it to a smaller focus instead of the big picture. I think if we can do that we can compete.”
MIKE ESTEY, COACH of the Addison County American Legion baseball team, is optimistic his 2018 team can improve on last year’s six wins.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
If AC does all those things Estey said the team should be able to pick up some wins against the cream of the Northern Division and then more than hold its own against the rest of the league, a formula that could add up to a playoff berth.
“It’s going to be pretty tough. The North is pretty strong. But we’re excited and optimistic,” he said, adding, “I still think if we could win 11 games we could sneak in.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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