It’s only been six games, but the Winchester Royals batters are definitely living up to manager Mike Smith’s preseason expectations.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against Woodstock, Winchester ranked third in the 11-team Valley Baseball League in runs per game (8.2). The Royals also rank second in batting average (.280) and third in on-base percentage (.380), slugging percentage (.402) and OPS (.782). The Royals have scored at least seven runs in their past five games.
“It’s pretty much what I was hoping, and it has played out,” Smith said.
The players producing the most at the plate right now for the 3-3 Royals are catcher Jeremiah Boyd (tied for sixth in the VBL in batting at .400, tied for second in RBIs with 11) shortstop Jordan Barnett (tied for eighth, .385) and Sherando graduate and Radford University senior outfielder Adam Whitacre (tied for fifth in RBIs with eight).
Smith said he’s also impressed with third baseman Loren Franck, who didn’t get a chance to play at all for Loyola Marymount this year but is hitting .292 with five RBIs; and first baseman/outfielder Jimmy Goldsmith, a late addition from Radford who’s scored four runs, driven in two and hit .667 in two games.
Boyd, a sophomore from Presbyterian College in North Carolina, thought the Royals had a chance to be special at the plate. He wasn’t sure Winchester would produce so much so quickly, though.
“Looking at the roster, I looked up all the guys, and I thought we were going to be able to put a lot of runs on the board,” Boyd said. “But I didn’t know how early it was going to happen, because you have to think about all the meshing that has to happen for a new team. But once we put the lineup together, it was, ‘Oh man, we can really hit the baseball.’
“Playing six games and how we can hit the baseball, the only thing I can say is that we are never out of a baseball game as a team. A team can score five or six runs in an inning, but if we get one hit it can turn into four hits, it can turn into three runs. We know how to string together things. We already mesh together well as a lineup. Anyone of our guys, you can put them in the lineup and there would be no holes.”
Boyd’s production is certainly noteworthy. After just six games Boyd is already on the verge of surpassing his entire RBI total for the spring with NCAA Division I Presbyterian. Boyd (.223 batting average) had 15 RBIs while playing in 40 out of 59 games for the Blue Hose. Boyd started 27 of those 40 contests.
“I wasn’t expecting to play terribly much as a freshman,” said Boyd, who was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 35th round of the 2018 draft. “Having those opportunities to play every single day [like I have with Winchester], you get those hot streaks. You also get cold streaks.
“You play a whole season in college, and you get to see some of the best arms that ended up getting drafted this year. You face those guys and you come here and you’re still facing good arms, you’re already acclimated to the college baseball atmosphere. Playing a whole season of college ball helps you go into the summer with confidence, and things are going well right now.”
The Royals are inflicting damage even though they don’t have three of their best offensive players. Returning Winchester Royals Masen Prososki (last year’s VBL stolen base leader with 27, .444 OBP with Lousiana-Monroe), a second baseman, and outfielder Aaron Palensky (.320, 7 home runs, 35 RBIs for Nebraska) will join the team today. Newcomer John Dyer (.330, 11 home runs, 54 RBIs), an NCAA Division I Freshman All-American infielder at Tennessee Tech, will join the team on Saturday.
Winchester will need its pitching to raise its level of performance to be a true contender — the Royals’ 6.45 ERA ranks 10th — but Smith hopes they’ll find a comfort zone soon. The pitching staff just got a boost with the arrival of West Virginia University’s Beau Lowery, who will make his first start sometime this week.
“We have 14 arms, and I’d like to bring in one more guy and get to 15,” Smith said. “The bullpen had a rough night [on Saturday against Strasburg, giving up 13 runs, including 10 earned, in 3.1 innings in a 19-10 loss], but they’re better than that. I’m pretty happy with what we have.”
Smith, the head coach at Clarke County High School, added one of his former players last week in catcher Kaden Warren, a sophomore at the University of Lynchburg. Warren hit .306 with 22 RBIs and 10 stolen bases for the NCAA Division III Hornets this spring.
Smith said he brought in Warren (1 for 3 with a triple and two runs for the Royals) because he was playing both his catchers, Boyd and Will Long, in the lineup (one at designated hitter) and he wanted some insurance.
“If something were to happen to one of my catchers, then I’m in a bad spot,” Smith said. “Kaden understands that he might have to go if I bring in another arm, but I may stick with three catchers. It’s nice having three, but we’re in a spot where I’m in need of an arm.”
The Royals had someone unexpected on the mound on Saturday against Strasburg. Millbrook graduate and Pittsburgh senior infielder Alex Amos missed most of the Panthers’ season this year because of a wrist operation. He’s finally healthy enough to play now and he threw one hitless, shutout inning against the Express.
“We had to save our arms. We were getting blown out, and he said he could pitch,” said Smith with a laugh. “He got up there and did a great job. He threw a bullpen before, so it wasn’t like we just threw him out there.”
On Tuesday, Amos got to do what he really wanted this summer — play in the field. Smith said he was excited to have Amos start at shortstop on Tuesday. Amos hit seventh in the lineup.
Also locally, Whitacre is hitting .227 with three runs, three doubles and two stolen bases to go along with his eight RBIs. Clarke County grad and Virginia Commonwealth pitcher Colt Webb has six strikeouts and a 6.00 ERA in three innings, Millbrook grad and Navy pitcher Trey Braithwaite has six strikeouts and a 15.00 ERA in three innings (he gave up five runs in an inning against Strasburg on Saturday) and Shenandoah University outfielder Grant Thompson is hitting .167 with five runs and three stolen bases.
MLB Draft selections
Three former Winchester Royals players were selected in last week’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Tulane first baseman Trevor Jensen (2016 Winchester Royal) was selected in the 24th round by the Minnesota Twins after hitting .327 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs. Also selected in the 24th round was Concord pitcher Will Guay (2018, 6-4, 3.07 ERA, 82 strikeouts in 70.1 innings for Concord this year), who was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals. Florida International outfielder Lorenzo Hampton (2017) was picked in the 28th round by the Miami Marlins. Hampton hit .255 with five home runs and 21 RBIs for Florida International this spring.
According to the VBL, 49 former VBL players were drafted this year. It’s the most for the VBL since 49 were also drafted in 2014 and more than double the VBL’s all-time low mark of 24 in 2016.
Spottswood Poles Night
Before Friday’s 7 p.m. home game against Woodstock at Bridgeforth Field, there will be a dedication involving an unveiling of an interpretive historical marker and the naming of a road in Jim Barnett Park for Spottswood Poles.
A Winchester native born in 1887, Poles was a star Negro League baseball player and a decorated World War I hero.
The ceremony will start at 6 p.m. and take place in Jim Barnett Park near Bridgeforth Field. Speaking at the ceremony will be Winchester Mayor John David Smith, Jr., as well as family members and acquaintances of Poles.