Charleston Squirrels throw nine pitchers, assess roster against second Squirrels team

Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Palmer Campbell of the Charleston Fighting Squirrels MLB team delivers a pitch Tuesday night at Hilhouse Park in Charleston, Mo. (David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- In one of their first practices of the season, longtime Charleston Fighting Squirrels head coach Michael Minner instructed his new crop of summer baseball players to take whatever position they felt the most comfortable before a round of infield.

Seven of his 18 players wound up at first base.

There's still more scouting, more preparation and more position-shifting to be done for the Squirrels and Minner knows that more than anyone.

The 12th-year coach of one of the more successful 19U summer baseball programs in the area gave himself another opportunity to survey what he's got on Tuesday when his team faced another Charleston Squirrels squad in a nine-inning contest at Hillhouse Park in Charleston, Mo.

Nine pitchers occupied the mound for an inning apiece. Instead of the traditional nine batters in the lineup, all of their 16 players in attendance, including the other team's 14, had at least three plate appearances.

Minner wanted a look and he got it during his team's 16-5 win over what were called the triple-A Squirrels.

"I want to see them," he said. "I wanted to see them in game situations and it was a nice, solid night."

Tuesday's home opener was more of a soft opening for the Senior Babe Ruth Squirrels and it's counterpart, who are also considered a 19U team. All players had a chance to hit and each team was on pace with a new pitcher each inning until CJ Seger threw back to back innings in the sixth and seventh for the AAA Squirrels. Both squads even wore the same baby blue tops with red lettering and white pants for uniforms.

Brady Bibbs of the Charleston Fighting Squirrels MLB team throws a pitch Tuesday night at Hilhouse Park in Charleston, Mo. (David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)

The exhibition style was more of an extended tryout for Minner, who likes to use the first few games of the season as such. Of his 18 players, 10 of them are new faces.

"The first two weeks is always like this," Minner said. "Some of these guys I don't know and I need to change that. We have to mix and match things and find guys that can fill some spots for us. Ultimately, we want to see arms."

New Madrid County Central graduate Palmer Campbell was the first to toe the rubber. The Squirrels then worked Brady Bibbs, Wyatt Pratt, Bruce Simmons, Garrison Keene, Chandler Young, Kyle Moore, Braedon Dobbs and Jacob Clark.

"We've had guys that have carried big workloads for their high school programs and they've thrown a lot," Minner said. "We want to baby arms for the first couple of weeks and see what they can do. We ultimately want to take a little bit of that workload off but give them just enough to keep them sharp. We want our guys to have their legs under them by the end of the year."

Much like coaching the Charleston Bluejays high school baseball team, Minner is the most concerned about what happens at the end of the year when wins and losses matter the most. He copies that tactic in the summer even more so with an elusive World Series title in mind. Running multiple pitchers like Tuesday probably won't be an ongoing thing, but he wants fresh arms and lots of them when the time comes.

"The last couple of years we've kind of lived off of our good arms," he said. "The past couple of years that hasn't really worked out for us at the end. We want to make sure we're doing a good job of scouting our guys and we're getting them in the right spots."

The Squirrels finished last season with a 19-24 record and missed out on its chance to reach the Senior Babe Ruth World Series for a third-straight time after losing in the Midwest Plains Regional semifinal to Hopkins, Minn. It was the ninth-straight season the Squirrels advanced to the regional tournament.

Wyatt Pratt of the Charleston Fighting Squirrels MLB team throws a pitch Tuesday night at Hilhouse Park in Charleston, Mo. (David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)

The Squirrels' have a collection of players from eight different surrounding high schools. Four are from Charleston, three are from Sikeston and New Madrid County Central, two each from Jackson, Senath-Hornersville and Kelly with one from Dexter and another from Portageville.

Eight of those players are affiliated with college baseball teams, either having signed with a team or played their freshman seasons this spring.

"I think this is a group that wants to work hard," Minner said. "We came in early today and had a great workout even before the game. We came in for an hour before the game and it was as good as a 20-sprint workout. They want to do that and I'm pretty sure all of them want to play college ball down the road."

The Squirrels were originally scheduled to play the Charleston Riverdogs, who are a newly appointed Mon-Clair league team that consists of mostly current and ex-college players, but the Riverdogs were short on players.

The Squirrels (1-2) scored in four consecutive innings from the second to the fifth. They led 7-2 after five until the AAA Squirrels posted two runs in the top of the seventh and another in the eighth to make it a two-run game.

But the MLB Squirrels turned a once tight contest into a rout with nine runs in the bottom of the eighth following six hits and four walks.

"Tonight both our teams ran about 16 or 17 guys out on the mound and held down good offenses," Minner said. "There wasn't a lot of hitting until late and that's whenever you bring in guys that haven't pitched just so we can see them... It was a solid night all the way around and good baseball for about seven innings."

In all, Minner's Charleston Squirrels program is now up to seven total teams after starting with one in 2005. There's two 19U teams, a 17U, 15U, 12U and 10U. The Riverdogs, who will play most of its home games at Saxony Lutheran High School, is the seventh.

"I'm really pleased with where our entire program is," Minner said. "We've got a lot of great kids with great parents and great coaches throughout the teams. We've got 115 or so kids playing baseball in Charleston. This is ultimately what I envisioned when I started this."

Charleston will travel to Kennett on Thursday for a doubleheader that is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

Charleston Squirrels roster (MLB)
Wyatt Pratt, Sikeston
Gavon Turner, Jackson
Chandler Young, Dexter
Garrison Keene, NMCC
Bruce Simmons, Charleston
Kyle Moore, Senath-Hornersville
Palmer Campbell, NMCC
Blake Simmons, Charleston
Ty Householder, Kelly
Levi Alsup, Kelly
Brady Bibbs, Senath-Hornersville
Jon Garrett Kellams, Portageville
Blake Wolferding, Sikeston
Jacob Clark, Sikeston
Drew Pikey, NMCC
Andrew Thompson, Charleston
Dylan Baugh, Charleston
Braedon Dobbs, Jackson

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