Veteran Clayton baseball coach Stacey Houser views the Johnston County Summer League as an opportunity to evaluate the incoming talent for the next spring season.
First-year Smithfield-Selma coach Chase Crocker sees the league as an opportunity to develop the talent he inherited from former coach David Lawhorn, as well as the incoming crop of freshmen and sophomores.
But both are excited about what the JCSL enables them to do, and they agree what it offers is beneficial to both.
“Each team’s chemistry is different,” Houser said. “And each individual player’s ability is different.
“You have to find what each player’s strengths are and then play to and build on their strengths.”
For Houser, one of the main purposes of the JCSL is for his players to build a camaraderie and the ability to play as a team, instead as individuals.
Cohesiveness learned in the summer programs will help immensely in the high school season.
“I have kids playing on six or seven travel squads this summer,” Houser said. “I have kids in Disney and in Atlanta, and next week a few will be in the Czech Republic (with Purpose Driven Baseball).
“They will get enough baseball this summer. What this is about is us becoming a unit and to educate our rising freshmen and sophomores.”
While teaching cohesiveness, Houser is also evaluating his players at the plate as well as on the mound.
“This is mainly an evaluation process for us,” Houser said. “We’re trying to get our kids as many innings as we can on the mound that may not have gotten many during the past school year.”
Like other coaches, including Crocker, Houser uses his time behind the mound when his team is on defense, working with his pitching staff, and at times, his catchers.
“I want to try and understand what they are thinking,” Houser said. “And why they threw a certain pitch, and to see if they are on the same page with our coaching staff.”
Houser and his staff will question why a pitch was thrown of both the pitcher and catcher are on the same page.
“I do not usually call pitches,” Houser said. “So I want to know if the pitcher and catcher are aware of situations – batter tendencies, and where we are in the batting order and where we stand in a game – it’s more than throwing pitches – it’s a matter of building confidence between all of us.
“If the pitcher accepts a pitch call from the catcher, it’s because he has confidence in what the catcher wants. Conversely, if the catcher calls for a certain pitch, it’s because he has confidence in the pitcher being able to throw what he wants.”
Houser said by the catcher, pitcher and coaches being on the same page, it made for an easier transition among them.
Evaluating the batter is a matter of watching swings – how the batter improves during the at bat, how well he is seeing the ball and how he responds to certain situations.
Clayton does not work on bunting in the scrimmages, but will work on it during intramural practices.
“If he can hit the ball, we’ll find a position for him,” Houser said, noting he will let a player try all nine positions if it is necessary.
“That’s important to us – if he can swing the bat and produce, we will find a place for him to play.”
Houser prefers to move his players around, so they can get a feel for the different positions.
While Crocker feels his team is basically set for next season, he feels the JCSL will help him develop those players, as well as the rising freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s tough when you only have two days a week to work with the guys, though,” Crocker said. “One game and one practice.
“Sometimes we have three days when you have two games in a week. So we are learning a lot on the fly with the (players).”
Crocker said the beauty of the league being instructional, was that you could call timeout during games if a pitch or play has been botched, and can run the same situation again.
“You can’t do that in a regular game,” Crocker said. “This way we can iron out the kinks.”
Crocker said a big improvement he has seen in the Spartans during the summer is in their base running and pitching.
“We didn’t run the bases very well last season,” Crocker said, “And we had trouble throwing strikes. We have eight guys who want to throw the ball and they are doing a very good job, and our base runners today have swiped three or four.”
Crocker and his staff, like Houser, question their pitchers on why they threw certain pitches in certain situations, to make sure the pitchers understand what they should be thinking about on the hill.
Crocker knows his team isn’t going to be a power-laden squad as in previous years, so the emphasis in the summer has been on small ball.
“We are going to bunt, hit-and-run, steal bases and be very aggressive,” Crocker said. “Do all the little things it takes to win playing small ball, and that’s how we are going to play these games.
“If we can bunt during the summer, we know we can do it when the season gets here.”