"Everyone has a shot" to play for St. Joseph baseball team

Justin Keeler, Jack Wallace and Brady Hutchison are team captains for coach Jim Chaves.

Justin Keeler, Jack Wallace and Brady Hutchison are team captains for coach Jim Chaves.

Bill Bloxsom / Hearst Connecticut Media

Seventy candidates answered the call when St. Joseph baseball coach Jim Chaves put out a “Help Wanted” sign. The players that earned spots learned that the job comes with a caveat.

“I’m just trying to win games as best we can. If that means playing eight sophomores or eight seniors, we are going to figure out who the hot guys are,” said Chaves, a 1998 St. Joe grad who led his team to the Class M state championship the last time the Cadets took the field. “We may start a sophomore and if he struggles, then the seniors know I’ll have no problem going to them. Everyone has a shot.”

There were four days of tryouts, two more than usual.

“One day was all defense, one day of hitting. We had two days of inter-squad scrimmages so we were able to see them in a game setting and separate who can handle velocity at the plate and how they threw on the mound. That gave us a jumping point to go from,” Chaves said.

Jack Wallace, Brady Hutchison and Justin Keeler are team captains.

“We have a good core of sophomores (seven) that are going to get playing time. My seniors (nine) are all solid players but unfortunately didn’t get to play varsity baseball last season,” said Chaves, who has put together a 151-73 record in 10 seasons. “They realize if any of our starters don’t perform someone else is going to get the opportunity to go in and get it done.”

Wallace is the only returning player that has experience playing varsity baseball.

“Jack knows my expectations and can share them,” Chaves said of his second baseman. “Brady will be in center field. He played jayvee as a sophomore. Justin Keeler is a great defensive catcher. Like with Brady and all the guys it was a shame he missed last season.”

Keeler said: “Some of our guys played summer ball but it is great being back playing high school baseball. Coach emphasized to us that we have to be leaders especially with the break between seasons.”

Keeler plays baseball 12 months of the year. Wallace and Hutchison both starred on St. Joe’s state champion football team.

Wallace said: “I didn’t play summer ball. I was going to go to football camps, but COVID stopped that. This is an entirely new team, but we have a lot of talent. A lot of the guys are counting on us as captains, that is our responsibility.”

Hutchison agreed. “Our team is mostly sophomores, and as captains we have to show them what SJ baseball is all about. This team will be good with these guys the next few years.”

St. Joseph boasts a solid offense and good team speed.

“In 2019, we had a couple boppers and could wait for the three-run home run. I don’t think we can do that,” Chaves said. “This season we will have to find a way to manufacture some runs.

“Our pitching is solid, but young. They don’t have game experience. They look great doing bullpen sessions. We will need our sophomores to go out and get some wins for us. Matt Tabet pitched well against Amity in our last scrimmage. James Fahan is another sophomore who throws the ball the hardest on the team. First base is pretty much sewed up with Andrew Keeler, another sophomore. He is also a left-handed pitcher.

“Other than that, we have Will Singewald at shortstop and Tabet at third when he doesn’t pitch. We have some guys that are two-way players and when they pitch that will give someone else a chance to get on the field. These guys are going to get plenty of action.

“In college you get 200 at bats, major league you get 500 to 700 at bats. There you can live with a five-game slump. With 17 regular season games we can’t afford have a guy struggle because that is a big chunk of our season.”

Chaves returns varsity assistant Chis Bugyi, pitching coach Cliff Bugyi, and volunteers Sean Dolyak and Ken Navarro to his staff. Ethan Szabo (2011 grad) will work with outfielders and help with pitchers.

“The best news I heard was that they were going have a true state playoff,” Chaves said. “Many kids missed out on that opportunity not just last spring but this fall and this winter. It will be great for everyone to have an opportunity to hang up a banner. (Until then) We can still tell people we are defending champions.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354