WALLA WALLA — While there are mostly familiar faces on this year’s Whitman baseball roster, there are unmistakable differences as well.
Take the left side of the infield, for example.
Two of this year’s four freshmen, Ozzy Braff of Palo Alto, Calif., and Paul Heywood of Bellevue, Wash., give Whitman’s infield a new look. Braff has won the starting shortstop position, according to first-year coach Sean Kinney, and Heywood is manning third base.
“Ozzy is just a ball player, that’s the best way to describe him,” Kinney said of Braff. “He can run, hit, throw, field, do it all. He’s built like a brick, but he moves really, really well on the field and is the kind of guy you need at shortstop to be the mainstay of the infield.”
Heywood began the season filling in at second base. But when junior Cam Young, the starting shortstop from a year ago who had been moved to third base, suffered a wrist injury, Heywood took over the hot corner.
“There’s a lot that goes in to freshmen moving up to college,” Kinney said. “A lot of thought went into playing a freshman at shortstop, and I wouldn’t have done it if (Braff) hadn’t gone out and earned it.
“Now, with a freshman at third base, we have a whole freshman left side of the infield. You don’t see that much, but they have worked hard at it every day and they are working together.”
Sophomore MacLean Harned has taken over the catcher position, replacing junior Jimmy Madden, who has moved to right field and will also DH.
“He has a really good arm and amazing feel behind the dish working with our pitchers,” Kinney said of Harned. “He calls a great game and has good rapport with all of our pitchers.”
Sophomore Eli Mathieu, who played sparingly at third base as a freshman, has taken over at first base in place of sophomore Peter Valentine, who suffered an ankle sprain.
“Eli is a kid who is working harder than anybody else to learn a new position,” Kinney said. “And it’s not easy to learn in a week, but he is getting better.”
With Valentine on pace to return to action by as earlly as this weekend, it will come down to which of the two is swinging the better bat, Kinney said. Especially once NWC play begins in March.
Sophomore Peter Carmichael, who missed much of his first season with mononucleosis, is healthy now and penciled in at second base.
“He’s not a kid who will WOW you at first look,” Kinney said of Carmichael. “But he’s a baseball player.”
Junior left fielder Kyle Moyes is the big thumper in the Missionary batting order.
“He has one of the best swings and quickest bats in the league,” Kinney said. “He hit seven home runs for us last year, and he’s the guy that other teams’ scouts are going to circle in our lineup.”
Another junior, center fielder Kyle Buckham, brings speed to the outfield and to the top of the Whitman lineup.
“He has great speed and gets great jumps in the outfield,” Kinney said. “What he does at the dish for us is going to be huge. He was on base 16 times and scored 12 runs for us in 28 plate appearances in our first six games, and that is just ridiculous.
“He’s our captain, one of our leaders by example and because of him the meat of our order is going to have someone on base nearly every time they are up.”
Kinney has a second swift-footed outfielder is sophomore Johnny Chow, who will be used mostly during late innings as a defensive replacement.
Madden will split right field and the DH spot with junior Aaron Cohen, who is also one of the Missionaries’ bullpen specialists.
“Aaron will also move behind the dish for us one game a week,” Kinney said. “He has a little more power than Jimmy, Jimmy is a little better hitter, and they are both among the top outfield arms in the conference. And as a pitcher Aaron has the ability to miss bats. He will be a nice bridge over those middle innings.”
Dayton product Brett Lambert, one of three seniors on the roster, has been labeled the team’s pitching ace, even though he has been limited at Whitman in his role as a starting pitcher. Lambert suffered an arm injury after transferring from Walla Walla Community College and was used as the team’s closer last year.
“He was the closer because he couldn’t pitch more than one or two innings because of the injury,” Kinney said. “But he is a guy you want to start. He looks the part and wants the ball.”
Sophomore left-hander Spencer Hobson will also draw starting assignments on the mound and senior Justin Weeks, junior Dakota Matherly and sophomore Will Thompson are other options. Freshman Robert Maislin has been designated as the closer, and he has already earned a pair of saves.