No major-league scouts have been to a New Castle baseball practice yet this season. The Trojans held their early-season workouts in much the same way other teams do, with relative anonymity. It’s a stark contrast to the way they conducted business last season, when Trey Ball attracted the attention of a variety of major-league scouts.
Ball graduated from New Castle last year, getting drafted No. 7 overall by the Boston Red Sox and signing with the franchise. As expected, the major-league scouts who made regular trips to New Castle last year have moved on, focusing on 2014’s top prospects.
Yet Ball’s former teammates aren’t writing off this season. The Trojans had 20-win seasons in Ball’s junior and senior years, and 20 victories remains the goal, even without the talented left-handed pitcher/outfielder who was named the USA Today High School Player of the Year.
“The way we do practice, it’s all the same like that,” catcher Zak Kellogg said. “But it is definitely different, because there’s not a crowd watching us warm up.”
Ball’s graduation hasn’t been the only change for the program in the past year. The Trojans’ other main pitcher from last season, Michael Bear (who pitched more innings last season than Ball), has also graduated. Bear now pitches at Lakeland Community College. When the Trojans clinched the first outright North Central Conference title in program history last year, Bear pitched a complete game in the first game of the final doubleheader against Kokomo and Ball pitched the second.
In addition to finding new sources of pitching, the Trojans already know they won’t be repeating as North Central Conference champions. The school has since elected to leave the NCC and become a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference. New Castle was unable to schedule all of the HHC’s teams on its schedule this year, so it will compete as an independent, with a schedule heavy on HHC foes. The Trojans have a team they believe could be in the midst of a conference championship race, but they don’t have a conference title to chase.
“We lost Trey, we can’t repeat (as NCC champs), but life goes on,” coach Brad King said.
While 20 wins has previously been a goal for the Trojans, it becomes a bigger goal without a conference title to pursue. And King said he sought out a difficult schedule with the openings created by leaving a conference, so those 20 wins will have to be earned. The Trojans have started 0-1 this season with a loss to Noblesville, one such addition to the schedule.
“Since there’s no conference, it’s like a championship every game,” Kellogg said. “We want to go out and play our best. We’re going to be playing the best teams, which is how I want it.”
Despite the loss of Ball, talent remains in the program. Kellogg has signed to play at IPFW, and outfielder Grant Malott has signed with Western Kentucky. Two other players have plans to play at smaller colleges, and King said he believes the pipeline is such that more New Castle players could be playing college baseball in the next few years.
Kellogg and Malott will be among the team’s pitchers this season, as the Trojans use an approach that’s built more on depth than on individual standouts. Malott and Tyler Smith will likely be the most-utilized arms, with others filling in as needed. King remembers one particular season in which New Castle was able to reach 20 wins using a similar approach to pitching, prompting optimism in the current squad.
“We’ve got a blueprint from ’05 that says you can have success this way,” King said.
“It’s just going out on the mound, being prepared and executing. And I think we’ve got the guys that can do that.”