THOMASVILLE — Summer is normally an important time for high school baseball coaches to gauge the development of their players heading into next season. It’s especially important this season since teams’ seasons were cut short in March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Coaches such as Thomas County Central’s Ryan Strickland now have a limited amount of visual data to go on to prepare for next season. Not to mention that baseball teams have yet to be allowed to scrimmage or play any games so far this season, as the Georgia High School Association gradually phases in conditioning and practices for the different sports.
“For us, player development is a huge aspect of what we do. We work basically 12 months out of the year,” Strickland said. “All of that work they put in, we didn’t get the reward of it. I don’t think we’re going to miss out a whole lot on our skill side or our fundamental side because that’s already been established and put on. For us, during the summer in terms of games, what you’re hunting for is mostly with your young kids is putting them in some situations that they necessarily hadn’t been in before at the levels they played at.
“When you’re younger, a lot of balls don’t get hit to the fence and to the outfield,” Strickland added. “Outfield play and movement is not really stressed in those young grades. You might miss out on some of that. But that’s easily simulated in a practice setting.
“The games aspect of it is really a reward versus something that’s a necessity to get better. You can get better without them.”
Strickland is already starting to think about next season. He must replace four departed seniors, all of whom were starters and logged significant playing time under Strickland. Catcher Slade Taylor graduated and will play at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College next spring. The Yellow Jackets lose an important game manager behind the plate.
Central also loses Shane Stephenson, who played shortstop. He’ll play at ABAC as well.
Central also loses outfielder/pitcher Mac McDowell and first baseman Garrett Henderson.
“We’ll still have a great mix of kids. We were having a real good year for what we lost the year before; playing really good baseball against quality teams,” said Strickland, whose team was 6-6 when the pandemic struck in mid-March. “We really didn’t fall off a whole lot. We had a lot of guys step up and step in. A lot of those guys will be back next year.
“We have 10 or 12 that have got a lot of varsity experience coming back and a whole bunch of young kids that were having really good JV and B team and C team years.”