A large group of returning letterwinners and an influx of talented young players are making it a difficult week for Farmington baseball coach Mike Winters.
Fifty players reported to Tiger Field for the first day of practice Monday afternoon, including 12 returning contributors from a team that went 4-17 a season ago. In all, 12 seniors and nearly 40 sophomores and juniors are vying for the 14 or 15 spots Winters has available on his varsity roster.
"It's gotten to the point where it's a lot tougher to make the cuts because we have so many more quality players," said Winters, who plans to continue player evaluations through the end of the week. "We have a huge crop of younger players to choose from and the talent level is definitely getting better."
Among the returning talent looking to lock down a varsity spot is returning all-Missota Conference second baseman Jake Baskerville. As a junior, Baskerville batted .358 with a .394 on-base percentage, a team-leading 24 hits and 16 runs scored. He is joined by honorable mention all-conference selection Nathan Graham, who had 17 hits and a .288 average while playing mostly outfield a season ago.
Three other players are back in the fold after seeing action in the majority of the team's games last season -- Ty Vincent, John Stibal and Spencer Merle. Vincent, an outfielder, led the team with a two home runs and 11 RBIs; Stibal, a third baseman, hit .306 with 10 RBIs; and Merle emerged as a sophomore to hit .283 and score 10 runs.
Other players who are back in the mix after getting some varsity time last season include first baseman Nick Newman, outfielder Drew Hegseth, third baseman/catcher Ryan Schoening, outfielder/pitcher Jonathan Ellis, pitcher Andy Sharratt and pitcher/infielder Andy Morris.
"Last year was a tough year in the win-loss columns, but we got some quality experience back with all these players, which is big," Winters said.
Ellis did the bulk of the team's pitching last season, starting eight games and working 35 innings with 22 walks, 21 strikeouts and a 5.64 ERA. Merle and Graham each pitched 11 innings a year ago and Morris, Vincent and Sharratt saw limited action in the center of the diamond.
"We need to find guys that can throw strikes, not walk a lot of guys and let the defense play behind them,"?said Winters, whose squad had 53 errors last season. "We have some experience there. We'll just have to see who steps up."
The Tigers won't make their usual spring trip to Arkansas this season. Instead, they will spend a day practicing at the Irish Dome in Rosemount and will play Hastings at the Metrodome on April 4. The team has also rented out batting cages in Lakeville.
"Since we're not going to Arkansas this year, we're doing some different things to change it up and keep it fun for the kids," Winters said.