It's inevitable, kind of like the first winter storm. You know it's coming, but you're never happy to see it roar in.
The year of the huge roster turnover has arrived for Mike Skytland, head coach of the Bismarck Governors American Legion baseball team. This year rookies are the rule rather than the exception for the Governors, who have just six players from the 16-man 2016 roster returning.
"This is probably the most first-year Legion players we've had in my memory," said Skytland, who is starting his 14th season as Governors coach.
Skytland said a player coming off a high school baseball season may be a Legion baseball rookie, but he's certainly not a babe in the woods.
"I think high school definitely prepares the player who is a first-year Legion player, but there still can be a little bit of a settling out period to see where they fit in and how they'll do at the Legion level," Skytland said.
The only returnees from the team that won 31 games and finished second in the state Class AA tournament last summer are Alex Jacob, Ian McDonald, Andrew Feist, Logan Morse, Nick Lembke and Harris Rice.
"Up the middle is where we have our experience," Skytland noted. "Logan Morse is back at catcher, Andrew Feist is at shortstop and Alex Jacob is in center. ... They will give us stability and quality, so that should be a good starting point."
Eleven of the 15 players on the Bismarck roster pitched for the Govs last season, but only two logged more than 15 innings. Left-hander Ian McDonald went 5-1 in 50 2/3 innings and right-hander Harris Rice was 1-1 in 18 innings.
Still, Skytland seems to think he has the arms to match the rigors of a 35-regular-season game schedule packed into 42 days.
"A lot of the kids have pitching experience ... but nobody who was in our regular rotation. It's just that a lot of them will be new to AA pitching, so it could take them a while to get used to it," the coach said. "But I do think one of our strengths should be pitching depth."
In addition to McDonald and Harris, the players who have pitched at the AA level are Jacob, Matt Guenther, Cole Parisien, Jakob Olson, Feist, Nick Lembke, Ben Weaver, Morse and Dawson Keller. All are right-handers.
Among the position players, Jacob (center field), Nick Lembke (third base) and Feist (shortstop) are returning regulars. Morse split the catching duties, but when he wasn't behind the plate he was usually the designated hitter. He's the only returnee who consistently batted in the middle of the order.
McDonald saw limited outfield time when he wasn't pitching.
"We expect (McDonald) will get a lot more at-bats this year and see a lot more time in the field," Skytland said.
McDonald and Jalen Ziegler, who pitched and played first base at Bismarck High School, are the only left-handed hitters on the Govs roster.
That leaves several positions open for competition.
"There's going to be a transition period where we'll try people at different spots and in different roles and see how everything fits together," Skytland said. "So it will definitely be a work in progress early on."
Skytland said there's a good deal of versatility on this year's team, which will give him some latitude in filling out his lineup card.
"Most of them have a position we're looking at as a main position, and they definitely could play another spot, depending on how things work out," he observed.
Skytland said this is not a Governors team that will score often with a single swipe of the bat.
"We're going to have to scratch and claw (for runs). We have some kids who can put together good at-bats, but we haven't seen a lot of power," he said.
A similar situation exists on the pitching staff, where overpowering fastballs are in short supply.
"We have a lot of guys who are going to have to be able to execute pitches and hit spots ... because we don't have the velocity we've had some years," Skytland said.
While scanning the statewide AA landscape, Skytland said there are going to be some familiar names floating around the top of the heap.
"Looking at the state high school tournament you could see West Fargo will be very good and Fargo will be very, very good," he observed. "Dickinson has had a couple of good high school seasons and they'll have (Michael) McChesney back. ... We're going to have to win some close games to get into that upper half."