With core veterans gone, welcome to a new Stuarts Draft
By Matthew Atkins
STUARTS DRAFT - When the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks take the field this summer, they won’t look the same as they used to. The stars of yesterday are gone, but manager Les Sandridge is happy with the team he’s put together going into 2019.
“We have a good team makeup, we’ll put it that way,” Sandridge said. “We have a bunch of guys that know how to get along, and I’ll take that every day over a couple of guys who try to over carry the load. We’ve got a great group of guys that’ll share the load.”
Former standouts such as Wes Demitt, Brandon Clark, Jay Thompson and Ryan Cooper have all retired, although Sandridge said Cooper could end up playing again this season. The players that led Stuarts Draft to four championships this decade have all hung it up, paving the way for a new generation of Diamondbacks to take their place.
While Sandridge thinks the young players he has will get the job done, he knows it’ll be tough to replace his veterans, specifically Cooper.
The last of Stuarts Draft’s core to play in the RCBL, Cooper was an All-RCBL caliber player right up to the end. He batted .407 last season with five home runs and 18 RBIs. On the mound, he was 2-0 with 26 strikeouts in four appearances. Finding someone to take his place in Stuarts Draft is a tall task.
“Ryan, he’s a special kid. That’s a hard one to replace,” Sandridge said. “You try but that’s just a tough one to replace that’s all. So we’ll see but like I said it might take two guys to replace Ryan if he decides not to come back.”
The lack of veterans could pose some troubles for the Dbacks, but Sandridge says his team is made up of a good group of players that have some experience under their belt.
“We’re young and building, even though some of our guys are out of college, we’ve got a lot of, we’ve got a good mix, I’ll put it that way,” he said. “We’ve got a good mix of high school, some college guys, and a few guys that are out of college, so we’re gonna be pretty well-balanced with that and hopefully we can grow back into that veteran type team very quickly.”
For a team that had so much success at the beginning of this decade, the past couple of years have been rough. Draft won the Eastern Division in 2017 but lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Diamondbacks suffered even more in 2018, finishing under .500 and getting knocked out in the first round again. Sandridge is trying to get his team back to their championship-winning ways, but it’s a process.
“We’re gonna be young. Like I said, just win as many games as you can and continue to build some cohesiveness within the team to where we can be kind of like the Diamondbacks for the 10-year run that they had. That’s kind of where we’re trying to get back to,” he said.
Sandridge wouldn’t point out any specific players that he expects big things out of in 2019, saying instead that he expects the entire team to come out and do their job day in and day out. If he can get his players to buy in and do what they’re capable of, he’ll be happy with the product they’re putting on the field.
The Diamondbacks begin their 2019 campaign on May 17 when they travel to Clover Hill for a rivalry matchup with the Bucks. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Buck Bowman Park.