Saints Pin State Hopes on Pitching
Hitting must improve for Saints to get to state
By James Howell
There is no question that the Dassel-Cokato Saints have some of the best pitching in the North Star League. It is also no secret that the Saints have an underperforming offense. Consecutive playoff disappointments are due in large part to the struggles of Saints hitters. The woes of the offense were abundantly clear a season ago in playoff losses to both Howard Lake and Loretto in which the Saints couldn’t muster even a single run. It isn’t a stretch to say that the Saints have been the deepest team in the state to not play in the State Tournament over the last two seasons. In both years, several Saints were drafted, and significantly boosted rival pitching staffs. This year the Saints will try to find a way back to the tournament they once made on an annual basis.
A successful Saints season will hinge on the plethora of pitching depth that the Saints have. Jordan Flick solidified himself as the Saints ace in 2013 posting a miniscule 1.81 ERA. Also in the rotation will be the always solid left-hander Tyler Zweibohmer. Zweibohmer saw his ERA rise last year despite similar walk and strikeout rates to the 2012 season, when he had a 2.44 ERA. This suggests that he was the subject of bad luck, rather than a decline in skill. A wild card in the rotation will be Karsen Forsman, who logged only 15 innings last year, but has been pitching in relief for St Cloud State this spring. Reports have been that his slider has improved greatly, but control is still a bit of an issue. Soft tossing lefty Andrew Carlson pitched well enough last season to latch on with Howard Lake for their State Tournament run, but may not put up the numbers he did last year, especially if he walks more hitters than he strikes out again. Veteran Eric Hanson may also see some innings, but it will likely be in a limited role as arm issues have caught up with the right-hander. All of the starters know that if they can pitch effectively for 7 innings, they have a guy behind them to finish the game. Dominant closer Jordan Danielson is arguably the most talented pitcher in the league. What makes him tough is the multiple angles he can come at a hitter with. Whether it is his sharp overhand curve, side-arm slider, or his hard fastball, Danielson routinely makes some of the league’s best hitters look lost. One may expect the big righty to struggle with control because of his delivery, but he has learned how to control the strike zone. Entering his age 25 season, Danielson still has several years before he reaches the average peak age for pitchers. Pitching will be the backbone of the team, but hitting is a different story.
The struggles of the offense are typically not in the top of the lineup. The offense starts at the top with John Hohenstein. In 2013 he posted a career high batting average, and also broke the team record for stolen bases. Hohenstein was plagued with a leg injury during the playoffs, which significantly hampered the playoff push. Fellow outfielder Brendon Opsahl will also be a key part of the lineup. The speedy outfielder is an asset at the plate, and in the field. He hits for power and average at the plate, and in the field he can cover a lot of ground. Strikeouts have been a bit of a problem, but it is also worth noting that he is only 21. He looked overmatched at times in the playoffs last year, but that was in a very small sample size. His brother Brent Opsahl will also be a key player. He posted the best average on the team, but doesn’t cover a lot of ground at 3rd, and is slow on the base paths. First baseman Karsen Forsman has a good power stroke, and also hits for average. The Saints will look for the same production they got from him last year. Andrew Carlson should see some more time at DH, and possibly some at 1st. Carlson handles the bat well, and quietly posted a .349 league average in 2013. When he’s not pitching, Jordan Flick usually plays in the infield. He is a streaky hitter that can sometimes struggle, but he also shows some extra base power when he’s going good.
A key loss from the lineup will be young catcher Reid Nelson. Nelson finished the season hitting 2nd, so the Saints will look for someone to take his spot. Another loss is veteran Dan Birkholz. While he struggled a season ago, Birkholz was once a perennial MVP candidate when he was a good hitter and dominating pitcher. These losses mean that young hitters will need to step up in order for the Saints to make a postseason run. Middle infielder Kyle Johnson and outfielder Jake Eckroad were key players on the Charger baseball team that made it to the section finals in 2011, but have yet to figure out how to hit North Star League pitching. Big production from them will go a long way in improving the offense.
The Saints have added 2 players that should help the team. Utility man Jon DeRock was a solid hitter during his days with Fairfax, and his speed should provide the Saints with some more offensive punch. Another player added will be former Charger Adam Smith. Smith will back up Lucas Larson, who played in the All-Star game last year.
At the helm once again will be hall of fame manager Mark Forsman. Forsman generally makes sound in game moves, and has a lot of insight into the fundamentals of baseball. It is also worth noting that he always has the field looking fantastic by the time June rolls around, and comes up with unique promotions that draw fans to the park.
It should be another entertaining year of Saints baseball at the Dassel Ball Park, with 28 home games scheduled. If all breaks right, the Saints should find themselves playing deep into August.