Baseball: 5 questions heading into the 2024 season

Joe Lewnard/
Sycamore players celebrate with their trophy after defeating Effingham 2-1 in nine innings during the Class 3A  third-place state baseball game in Joliet Saturday.

With practices underway and the season scheduled to begin in less than two weeks (weather permitting), we take a look at five questions surrounding the upcoming baseball season.

What does the power supply look like this year?

Last year was a banner year for fans of the long ball. Martin Ledbetter launched 12 home runs for Hinckley-Big Rock and Parker Violett smashed five for Kaneland. Sycamore hit 34 as a team. As good as the numbers were last season, this year they can be even higher.

Sycamore lost a lot of production to graduation, but Kyle Hartmann blasted seven home runs and returns this season. Plus Violett and Ledbetter return along with players such as DeKalb’s Brodie Farrell, who had three home runs as a sophomore last year. And then you have Indian Creek senior Jeffrey Probst, who only had one homer last year but still had a 1.240 OPS, and now a year older may expand upon that number.

What’s new-look Sycamore bringing to the table?

Sycamore had its most successful season, taking third at the Class 3A State Tournament. But it was a senior-heavy team with just seven non-seniors on the state roster and even fewer regular contributors.

In addition to Hartmann, who hit .382 with 36 RBIs, Matthew Rosado is back for the Spartans. He hit .381 with two homers and was third in innings pitched. He had a key relief stint in the state tournament as part of his 4-1 campaign. He had a 0.44 ERA and struck out 41 in 32 innings, walking five.

Collin Severson hit .425 last season and is back for the Spartans, playing his way into the lineup as a left-handed shortstop. He may be able to shift back to his more natural outfield spot this year. There’s also Kyle Prebil, who was the only sophomore on the state roster but didn’t really get any varsity playing time. In most years he probably would have been a varsity player but was kept at the lower-level last season.

Can a young but experienced DeKalb team build off last season?

The Barbs started seven freshmen or sophomores in their 5-3 4A regional semifinal loss to Hampshire last year. The loss ended the season for the Barbs with a 16-17 record, their most wins since 2015.

Key players are back across the board for the Barbs, starting with junior ace Jackson Kees, who was 3-5 with a 3.02 ERA, striking out 52 in 46 1/3 innings. He also hit .294 and reached base at a .416 clip. A year older, Farrell may be able to improve his offensive numbers after hitting .316 last year with an .883 OPS. He also had a sub-3.00 ERA, going 2-2. Maddux Clarence struggled on the mound at times (1-6, 6.57) but hit .308 and had some clutch hits for the Barbs, including against Hampshire.

Can Hinckley-Big Rock put everything together?

The Royals went 16-12, their first winning season since 2013. But they were bounced in a regional semifinal and still are looking for their first regional crown since 2015.

The Royals lost Ben Hintzsche to graduation who struck out 53 and walked eight last season and was the team’s pitcher of the year. But Ledbetter had a lower ERA even if he was a bit wilder, plus the aforementioned power. He had a 1.911 OPS and accomplished his gaudy numbers as only a sophomore. In theory, his offense should make a leap this season.

Senior Saje Beane is back and should provide some protection for Ledbetter. He hit .307 last year and had 11 steals.

Will Kaneland get back on track?

It’s hard to call a 20-win season a down year, but for Kaneland it may qualify. The Knights had won three straight regionals before losing in a regional semifinal last season.

Still, the 21 wins was the fifth full season in a row the Knights eclipsed the 20-win mark. There’s some senior talent gone, but Violett is back, assuming the Knights’ current basketball run ends at some point. He hit .354 and had a 1.068 OPS, and he was an effective pitcher for Kaneland as well.

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