Position changes bolster returning lineup for Freeport baseball
Enough starters and off-the-bench contributors returned for Freeport's baseball team, a co-section champion in 2012, to allow coach Chris Graczyk to pursue another title without the need for major changes in his lineup.
Graczyk passed on the opportunity to maintain the status quo, though.
The Yellowjackets, 12-7 overall and 9-3 in Section 3-AA last season, expect a few position shifts to improve a lineup that already holds considerable potential. Three of the returning starters in the field, senior Dustin Koedel, senior Robbie Miller and junior Matt Swartz, have moved to different positions. Because of the poor weather, none has played in a game yet.
But all three believe the new spots better fit their skill sets and personal preferences.
“I think we had a strong team coming back, and I think with the moves we made the team even stronger,” said Graczyk, who lost just three starting position players and one pitcher to graduation. “There's a little more stability through the positions.”
Koedel, who hit .400 with five doubles and a triple, moves from catcher to the outfield, where he played often during the summer.
“I'd say I'm more of an outfielder,” said Koedel. “Just because of chasing down balls and using my speed.”
Through the fall and winter, Graczyk wondered whether he'd have Koedel at his disposal. The senior considered competing for the track and field team instead. But by March 4, the first day of mandatory spring practices, Koedel made his choice clear.
The period of uncertainty about Koedel gave Graczyk the green light to begin preparing Swartz for his varsity debut at his natural position: catcher.
Swartz, who hit .286 and had 13 RBI last season as a third and first baseman, welcomed the chance to don the gear and command the defense.
“I'm not really nervous about it,” said Swartz, who started catching at age 7. “I'm more excited. I think it'll be a little more of a challenge compared to last year when I just played first base. It was a lot less work. Catching is obviously a lot more strenuous.”
Graczyk approached Koedel about the move to the outfield as soon as he had the chance early this month.
“When Dustin came back, it was a bonus because it provides us stability as far as a backup catcher goes, and he's athletic enough to really play anywhere,” Graczyk said.
Koedel's move to the outfield became part of the arrangement that allowed Miller to step into a middle infielder role.
Miller, who hit .339 with five doubles, started in left field last season to bolster a fairly limited outfield corps.
“I'm excited to be a little more involved in the game at middle infield as opposed to left,” said Miller, who has started at shortstop for most of his career.
Miller will trade shortstop duties with senior Luke Mariotti, as both are among Freeport's go-to pitchers.
Senior Ryley Cowan also enters the middle infield equation, likely as a second baseman.
If the need for Miller to move off the dirt and back out into the grass arises, the senior said he will accept the position change.
“I would do it in a heartbeat,” Miller said as he sat beside Koedel and Swartz. “I'd play just about anywhere they need me, except behind the plate. I'll leave that to these two.”