Thursday, November 5, 2009

My View From the Press Box

As I post the release of the 2010 Charlotte 49ers baseball schedule today, I'd like to add some views following the fall practice schedule.

Watching three of the Niner World Series games, one thing I noticed right away is that the coaching staff took notice of the lack of depth at the end of last season and bulked up the number of guys who can play multiple positions. When certain guys were injured, it caused problems fielding a complete team that was experienced at every defensive position. This fall, regulars were playing at different spots on the field to get valuable innings at different locations. If an infielder plays at second, third, or at shortstop, they plays the other two spots in that rotation. That's not an entirely new thing for Coach Hibbs and the staff to do, but there was some focus on moving guys around within games to be sure they got valuable time at spots in case of emergency or need.

I would not categorize Charlotte as a "power-hitting" team in my three seasons of covering the team, but they seemed to have more power in the line-up this go around. Power for the Niners has tended to come in pairs the last few years... McElroy and Taylor (with a slight nod to Kris Rochelle) in 2007, Taylor and Lyerly (with a smaller nod to an injured McElroy) in 2008 and Lyerly and Ryan Rivers (with assistance from Zane Williams) last season. I see three or four power hitters able to generate some numbers this season, with Rivers, Williams, Ross Steedley and possibilities from Justin Wilson or Zach Semenza or any of a few young players trying to crack the starting lineup.

The Niners won a the nation's ERA title in 1997. You can chase that for the rest of time and not reach a lofty goal such as that. The starting pitching went young in 2008 and made some improvements in 2009, though injuries took their toll in that department as well. The fall roster
had 18 pitchers on it, and it is apparent that Charlotte will not lack for pitching depth this coming season. Charlotte has some choices to make as to what the weekend rotation will look like. The early experiment last season was to have four starters and rotate them depending on when the next game took place, and that could be an option for the Niners in 2010. Or, Charlotte can settle on three for the weekend and have about 12 guys ready to pitch to a hitter or for an inning and keep fresh arms and keep forcing favorable matchups throughout a series. That should be a very interesting dynamic to the season.

Defensively, Charlotte will still show off its speed, which is what I consider a trademark of the program these days. All three outfielders (whomever they will be) will have wheels. My three would be Shane Brown in left, Cory Tilton in center and Justin Wilson in right (the three most experienced), but there are numerous options that the staff could employ depending on performance, matchups, situations, health or a combination of those.

And that's not even talking about the teams on the schedule for 2010. Click here to see the release and click here for the actual schedule. I'll save those thoughts for another blog.

--Ryan Rose
Media Relations Office

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