Whit Baseball Team Eyes Season Start

News Release Date:
Saturday, January 31, 2009

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – As baseball coach Casey Powell eyes the start of his seventh season at Whitman College, good weather tops his immediate wish list.

But with a roster sitting on the south side of 20, his greater hope is for good health as his squad embarks on the long haul of a 40-game season.

The start of that season is just days away. The Missionaries leave Wednesday and wing their way to the Los Angeles area for a three-game series with Occidental College, beginning Friday, Feb. 6.

         Casey Powell

“So far, the weather hasn’t cooperated here at home, which means all of our workouts have been indoors,” he says. “We think we do a good job of preparing the guys with indoor workouts, but it would be great if we could actually get outside before we head to California on Wednesday.”

Once the season starts, Powell says that keeping his team healthy will be paramount. “For different reasons, we’ve lost some guys from a year ago, so we might go to California with just 16 players,” he says. “Compensating for that lack of depth by keeping guys healthy is going to be a big key for us this year.”

A year ago, Whitman opened its season in fine fashion by taking two of three of games from Occidental.

“It looks like we’ll be facing an entirely different team this year,” he notes. “They have a new head coach and a smaller roster by choice. It sounds like they cut 10 from the guys who turned out in the fall.”

Occidental has an edge in that it’s been working outdoors and will have three games under its belt before Whitman shows up. “Game speed is always a little different, and we’ve got some freshmen who will be playing their first college games,” Powell says. “Our freshmen might have that deer-in-the-headlights look, but that’s the way it works.”

Whitman Pitching Staff

One one reason for optimism, as Whitman prepares for Occidental, is that senior Pete Stadmeyer and junior Blaine Mercado are anchoring the pitching staff.

“When you look at the top of the rotation, Pete and Blaine should be the best one-two punch that we’ve had in a few years,” Powell says. “This is Pete’s fourth season, and I always feel we’ve got a chance to win when I hand him the ball. Blaine is a transfer (from Walla Walla Community College) who has a lot of experience on the mound, and he’s very competitive. He’s going to give us that same chance to win games.”

                  Pete Stadmeyer

Stadmeyer, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound lefty, earned Northwest Conference Pitcher of the Week honors last spring after hurling Whitman to a 3-1 victory over Whitworth. Earlier in the season, he struck out nine in six innings in hard-luck 2-0 loss to George Fox.

“Pete didn’t get a lot of run support last year, and the defense behind him wasn’t always the best,” Powell says. “He just needs to work on keeping his walks to a minimum. If he does that, he’s going to have a strong senior season.”

Stadmeyer honed his skills last summer with the Bend Elks, one of the region’s top teams in the summer league for college players.

“Pete’s velocity has continued to increase compared to his freshman and sophomore years,” Powell says. “In the past, you could classify Pete as one of those crafty lefties. Last year he started to realize that he can also be a power pitcher in this conference, and that he beat guys with his fastball and not just his change-up.

"Pete's fastball is better now with some good late movement, and he hides the ball well with his delivery. But his change-up is still his best pitch. With his increased velocity, that change-up is even more deadly. He’s still working on his curveball, and while it’s his third best pitch, it’s still a good one.”

After playing his first two seasons of college ball at WWCC, Mercado stayed for a third year and worked as a pitching coach. “We really like Blaine’s talent, experience and competitiveness, and not just on the mound,” Powell says. “He’s also going to play third base, and he can swing the bat.”
                Blaine Mercado

“On the mound, Blaine has command of all three pitches, and he throws strikes,” Powell adds. “He threw a great simulated game in the bullpen last week. I think his work as a pitching coach last year at the CC made him a better pitcher. Plus, it’s like he gives us a second pitching coach. We feel comfortable leaving him alone to work with the younger pitchers.”

Jason Sease, a junior, and rookie Peter Olson begin the season in the third and fourth spots in Whitman’s starting pitcher rotation.

“Jason was throwing really well for us last year until the Pacific series, when he banged up his arm sliding into a base,” Powell says. “He never quite bounced back from that. So far, he’s looked good again in the bullpen.”

Olson, a freshman from Lake Forest Park, Wash., has “already thrown some good bullpens for us,” Powell says. “He has a good breaking ball, and he understands how to pitch. He’s not going to overpower a lot of people, but he knows that, and he throws a lot of strikes.”

        Calvin Davis

Whitman’s relief corps includes seniors Trygve Madsen and Calvin Davis.

“Trygve was probably our most consistent reliever last year,” Powell says. “He throws offspeed stuff, and he’s good one time through a line-up. We’re looking for the same kind of contributions from him this season, although he’s been sick the past week and might not be ready for the Occidental series.”

Davis is back on the squad after a one-year absence. “He gives us another lefty. Again, he’s not overpowering, but he’s working hard on his breaking stuff. His last bullpen was a good one, so we’re happy with his progression. If he throws well, he might get a start or two.”
       Trygve Madsen

Junior Brian Kitamura and sophomore Erik Korsmo will make most of their contributions as position players, but Powell also expects them to throw in relief. “From the fall to now, Erik has probably shown more improvement on the mound than any of our guys.”

Eric Tolleson, a freshman from Vancouver, Wash., was part of two state titles at Portland Christian, but he starts this season on the disabled list. “He’s coming off shoulder surgery, so we haven’t seen him throw yet,” Powell says. “He’s just playing catch at this point. Once he gets healthy, we could give us another reliable arm in relief."

Powell also has hopes that senior Chris Faidley and freshman David Michaels might bolster the Missionary pitching staff once the basketball season is over.

“Chris was a three-sport athlete in high school, and David also played baseball for three years in high school,” Powell says. “Chris is a great all-around athlete, and David already has a big league frame with those long arms and body. It would be great to have them start off in relief and see what they can do.”

      Michael Lazcano

Whitman Catching

Regardless of who’s on the mound, the Missionary catching chores are in good hands with junior Michael Lazcano, Powell says.

“In terms of his defense behind the plate and arm strength, Michael is as good as anyone in our conference. He makes the throw to second base and blocks balls in the dirt. I’m hoping this is his breakout year, and that his talent and maturity behind the plate really start to show. He’ll catch the majority of our games.”

Korsmo and Kitamura, who will see most of their playing time in the outfield, will be Whitman’s backup backstops.

Whitman Outfield

     Brian Kitamura

“The best depth we have right now is in the outfield,” Powell says.

        Dan White

“We have five guys who can play any of the three positions. We don’t lose much regardless of which five are out there. They all make the necessary reads from all three spots.”

“Brian Kitamura has the best speed and makes the best reads, and he will anchor the outfield in center,” Powell says. Senior Dan White joins Sease, Korsmo and Davis in the outfield rotation.

“Dan seems to play his best ball late in the season, but we’re hoping his game clicks early this season and goes from there. Calvin and Jason also have good experience in the outfield. Jason did a good job moving to the outfield last year after playing the infield as a freshman.”

Powell also expects Olson, one of his freshmen, to see time in the outfield. “What Peter needs to work on, whether we’re talking about the mound or the outfield, is his strength.”

Whitman Infield

“We’re getting better in the infield, but that’s where we lost the most from last season,” Powell says. All-conference second baseman Adam Knappe graduated, and shortstop Austin Shackelford transferred to the University of Utah. Shackelford, who led Whitman in doubles, home runs and RBI last season, is redshirting this season at Utah.

 Matt Morris-Rosenfeld

Sophomore Jay Richards, who split most of his time last season between first and second bases, replaces Shackelford at short. “Jay will do fine there,” Powell says. “He won’t make the glamorous throws from the six hole, but he’ll make the routine plays and do a good job.”

Patrick Stauffer, a freshman from Portland, Ore., fills the void at second base. “He’s got a good glove and picks the ball well,” Powell says. “He runs well, which will help on the offensive side.”

Skyler Bissell, a freshman from Paonia, Colo., will also see time at second base.

When he’s not pitching, Mercado will play third base. “Blaine hasn’t swung the bat in a few years, but he has some pop in his bat,” Powell says. “He can hit and make the plays in the field.”

Sam Schonfeld, a 6-foot, 190-pound freshman from Santa Rosa, Calif., is also ticketed for time at third. “Sam rolled an ankle early in our fall ball season, so we didn’t get a good look at him then,” Powell says. “But he’s impressed us the last two weeks with his work in the batting cage. We’ve tried to help him with a few things and he’s done a good job absorbing that. He’s been hitting the ball well, and he’s a strong kid.”

Senior Matt Morris-Rosenfeld returns at first base. “Matt has made some good improvements in his four seasons, and he’ll do a good job there,” Powell says.

“Once he gets healthy, Eric Tolleson might also get some at first base in addition to the mound,” Powell says. “He was MVP in the state championship when he was a junior at Portland Christian. We knew he could pitch, but he also has good bat speed. He can hit. We’re hoping that Eric might be healthy and ready to go by Spring Break.”

Another wildcard for the Missionaries is sophomore Nate Rankin, who showed promise at the plate last season while continuing to fight back problems. “It would be great to get Nate healthy again,” Powell says. “He’s a big strong kid, and his bat was starting to come around as he got through his freshman season. If he gets healthy, we could use him at first or third, or even in right field. He works hard and wants to play and compete.”

Whitman Hitting Order

“I’ve been tinkering with the hitting line-up quite a bit, but every time I write one up, it’s different,” Powell says. “Because of their speed, we’d like to use Kitamura and Stauffer at the top of the order. We’re not that concerned with stealing bases, but we want people at the top who can get on base, run and get things going for us.”

Richards and Sease are two more possibilities for the top slots with Mercado, Korsmo and Morris-Rosenfeld filling the RBI spots. Rankin and Tolleson, if healthy, are two more middle-of-the-order options. “Lazcano also has good experience at the plate and can swing the bat,” Powell says.

“We don’t have a ton of speed or power, so we’re working on a lot of small-ball stuff and situational hitting,” Powell says. “All of the guys need do all the little things and produce at key times.”

Northwest Conference

“The conference looks as good as ever,” Powell says. “I’d say that Linfield, George Fox and PLU are the three strongest teams. PLU had a lot of freshman and sophomores playing last year, and those guys should be back. Linfield lost a lot of players to graduation, but they never have any trouble reloading. Fox has a lot of guys back.”

“If Willamette gets any starting pitching, they should be good also,” Powell says. “They have a good line-up returning otherwise, including last year’s Player of the Year (slugging first baseman Kyle Stalker).”

Whitman won just two of 32 conference games last season, but those numbers include several narrow losses. “We had our chances in a lot of games last year,” Powell says. “Had we broken through in a few of those tight games early in the season, I think we could have turned it around a lot earlier. At it was, we didn’t really get it going until we split the last four games with Whitworth.”

After opening its season at Occidental, Whitman heads to McMinnville, Ore., for three non-conference tournament games Feb. 20-22. The Missionaries wrap up their non-conference slate when they host Central Washington on Thursday, Feb. 26, at Borleske Stadium.

Whitman also opens its NWC schedule at home. Puget Sound comes to Borleske March 7-8 for a four-game set.

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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; holden@whitman.edu