The Whitworth University Pirates hope that a deeper roster will bounce the Bucs back to the top of the Northwest Conference baseball standings in 2019.
Whitworth features a 34-player roster that includes 21 returning letter-winners and several key newcomers to bolster the offense, defense and pitching. The Pirates' last NWC title came in 2016.
"We've added quality defensive depth in both the infield and outfield," said second-year head coach CJ Perry, who went 17-20 in his first season guiding the Bucs. "Offensively, I think we will be more balanced and have more weapons in the middle of our order."
Whitworth will have to move on without two stalwarts from 2018 – starting pitcher Hugh Smith, the NWC Pitcher of the Year, and shortstop Joel Condreay, who earned first team All-NWC recognition. Both were selected in the 2018 major league draft.
The Pirate roster is stocked with several key new players who hope to overcome the loss of Smith and Condreay through depth.
"The freshman position players have added an edge to this group, and I have been very impressed with how they accept challenges and approach their work every day," Perry said. "The transfer pitchers bring a boatload of junior college innings and big game experience, which will bolster a veteran staff."
Whitworth returns a pair players with plenty of starting experience on the mound. Ryan Kingma (Sr., LHP) was off to a great start in 2018 before an injury shelved his season after only four starts. He is 12-8 with a 3.81 ERA during his Pirate career. Matthew Young (Jr., RHP) is 8-7 with a 5.74 ERA in his first two seasons. He was a second team All-NWC selection as a freshman in 2017.
Darren Crosby (Sr., RHP), who has been a stalwart out of the bullpen the last two seasons with four wins and four saves in 25 appearances, could move into a starting role.
Connor Grytdal (Jr., RHP) and Tyson Yamane (Jr., RHP) were starting pitchers for the Community Colleges of Spokane and Big Bend CC, respectively, last season.
Cody Simmons (Jr.) started 23 games behind the plate in 2018 and hit .233. He threw out 25% of players who attempted to steal against him. Ian Sugrue started 14 games at catcher and hit .175. Jared McDaniel (So.) will give the Pirates plenty of depth at backstop.
Whitworth returns three senior starters around the infield.
Tyler Bailey (Sr.) earned honorable mention All-Northwest Conference consideration at third base in 2018. He batted .306 with two home runs, 11 doubles and 22 RBIs. Liam Fitzpatrick is a strong back up who played in 24 games last spring.
Nicholas Nerud (Sr.) has been Whitworth's most versatile infielder over the last two seasons. He appears slated to take over the starting role at shortstop after hitting .266 in 24 starts in 2018. Most importantly, he did not commit a single error in 100 defensive chances and his career fielding percentage as a Pirate is .983.
Spencer Locati (Sr.) returns as Whitworth's starting first baseman after he hit .298 with two home runs in 30 games in 2018. Pulliam, when not pitching, started six games as a backup last season.
Whitworth will have to figure out the starter at second base this spring. Casey Isa (Sr.) has played in 70 games during an injury-plagued career with a .250 average. Joe Howell is a transfer from NAIA William Jessup University in California. A pair of freshman, Lukas Seeley and Ethan Schulte, are pushing for playing time as well.
Taylor Poffenroth (Sr.) returns to anchor the outfield as Whitworth's starter in center. He batted .289 and led the Pirates with five home runs last season. Ben Wintringer (Jr.) started 30 games in the outfield in 2018 and could settle in as the regular in left this spring.
Cael McKeirnan (Sr.) and Grayson O'Neil (So.) started 13 and nine games, respectively, last season and will battle for the third starting role in 2019. Sophomores Kaliko Thomas and Connor Johnson also have experience in the program.
Whitworth will open the 2019 season with a four-game set at NAIA-member College of Idaho this weekend. Weather has already impacted the schedule as the teams will attempt to beat a cold-front heading toward the Boise area late in the weekend by playing doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday.
"I look forward to seeing how our guys compete against a very tough and fundamentally sound College of Idaho team," Perry said. "We play four games and the weather will not be warm, so I'm excited to see how we'll compete and respond. It will be a great first series to diagnose where we need to improve before we enter Division III non-conference play."
Following this week's games, Whitworth will travel to Atlanta, Georgia for three games against NCAA Division III Piedmont, Emory and Millsaps on February 15-17. The Pirates will take a trip to California for four games on Feb. 22-24. Whitworth is slated to open its NWC slate on March 2-3 at Whitman.