CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

January 30, 2014

PREP BASEBALL: Opening practices have Cullman’s Patterson excited for future

By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — This week’s blustery and wintry conditions have done little to deter Brent Patterson from getting straight down to business.

After all, Monday was officially the start of the 2014 baseball season for Cullman, and the sixth-year head man wasn’t about to let some inclimate weather stand in his way.

Despite the frigid afternoons, Patterson was able to get his squad out on the diamond for the first time in January and begin what he hopes is the first day of a fruitful season filled with plenty of victories.

“We are all very excited to get going finally,” he said. “We’ve been able to get a lot done in a short time. We have a number of young guys and a lot of depth. There’s competition at every position, too. I see a lot of athleticism out there, but also plenty of inexperience in terms of playing in games.”

Of course, missing from the group of Black and Gold uniforms were Keegan Thompson and Jordan Guthrie, Patterson’s superb one-two pitching punch from last season’s team.

Thompson — whom Patterson called a “once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent — has since moved on to Auburn University, where he is expected to be a big-time contributor for the Tigers when he toes the slab later in the spring. Guthrie, on the other hand, will likely be a key piece in Snead State’s pitching rotation, much as he was during his senior campaign with the Bearcats.

Patterson said he had a good handle on what he was going to do for his rotation this season.

“We are gonna call them and see if we can get them back for another season,” he said with a laugh. “You can't replace them. We are looking for guys who know how to pitch. It’s definitely going take some game experience to get that, though. It's the fun part to see how the pieces of the puzzle come together.”

Among the list of candidates to head up the rotation is Sam Huser — who pitched 37 innings a season ago — Joseph Gable, and Jesse Scott. All three gave Cullman nice innings in 2013 and will be expected to do so again this go-round.

While Patterson likely won’t have to lockdown potential of his former aces, he’s extremely confident in new faces to compete and get the job done when it matters.

“Last year, when Keegan and Jordan took the mound, we had a great chance of winning,” he said. “This season is going to be different. We’ve got more depth top to bottom. We are excited and a lot of younger guys are waiting to write their chapters.”

With the pitching staff likely to endure some growing pains, Patterson is hoping that his offense can reach the potential he knows it can.

Cole Collins — a fine leadoff option — and Lance Cleveland — a big cog in the middle of the order — are two of Cullman’s best returning hitters and will be tasked in providing leadership roles as well as production in the early going of the season.

Patterson thinks his offense has “plenty of players who can swing it,” but acknowledges they still have a long way to go.

“We showed flashes of being just OK and flashes of being pretty good,” he said. “We are going to be asking them for some of the same things we always have. They won’t have to carry us I don’t think.”

Christian Martinez and Drake Hollingsworth — both of whom will be competing for the vacated catching spot left by Zac Crocker this year — are guys who have been swinging the bat well, according to Patterson. Kolby Robinson, Owen Lovell and Auston Neal were also mentioned as potential playmakers for the Black and Gold.

“We have got a lot of upside,” Patterson said. “I’m excited for that and all of these young guys. We’ve just got to keep going see where all of this shakes out at the end.”

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.