With a long and versatile lineup, a deep pitching staff with two legitimate aces and a poised and airtight defense, the Arlington High School baseball team, undefeated at 18-0 and seemingly tailor-made for postseason success, has been a mystifying riddle for its opponents this season, both in and out of Wesco 3A North.
The Eagles, who lost to eventual 3A state semifinalist Eastside Catholic 6-5 in the regional round last season and finished 22-3 despite having 168⅓ of its 175 total innings on the mound worked by underclassmen, are angling for a deeper postseason run in 2019.
The Herald asked three Wesco coaches who have faced Arlington this year — Snohomish’s Nick Hammons, Everett’s Alex Barashkoff and Monroe’s Eric Chartrand — to break down Arlington scouting report-style, covering the Eagles’ lineup, pitching staff, defense and intangibles.
Here’s what they, and eighth-year Arlington coach Scott Striegel, had to say about the Eagles:
Seniors Camdon Anderson and Paul Chung hit first and second for the Eagles, and each has made the jump from solid to standout in his final prep campaign.
Anderson inherited the leadoff spot from current Seattle University freshman Gavin Rork, and all Rork did in his final season in that role was hit .441 with a .541 on-base percentage, and scored more runs (38) than he had hits (37).
Anderson, who was an effective utility player for the Eagles earlier in his career, has bettered some of Rork’s figures in his 15 games played, posting a .451 batting average and equaling the .541 on-base percentage.
Chung has improved his batting average/on-base percentage from .231/.323 as a junior to .392/.458 as a senior, and earned a promotion from the No. 9 spot in the order early this month.
Both players handle the bat well, see a lot of pitches and have a good feel for hitting.
“Chung is one of my favorite players in the league,” said Hammons, whose Panthers lost to Arlington 11-0, 16-0 and 8-0 on March 26, 27 and 29. “He was hitting in the nine hole against us, but he’d hit leadoff for any other team in our league. He had a great plan at the plate and just killed us with his quality at-bats.”
Barashkoff, whose Seagulls fell 9-1, 10-0 and 17-4 to Arlington on March 19, 20 and 22, said he was surprised to see the Eagles’ 3-4-5 hitters, senior Jack Sheward (.333), junior Owen Bishop (.426) and senior Andrew Smith (.463) bunt repeatedly to advance runners.
“They must have bunted for base hits three times against us and had four sacrifice bunts,” he said. “They’re an excellent bunting team all the way around.”
Smith has been a huge find for the Eagles as a mainstay in the order after being effective in limited reserve stints the past two seasons.
The Eagles’ depth is such that sophomore Michael Tsoukalas, who verbally committed to Oregon State midway through his freshman season, has been in the six-hole at times.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound left-handed hitter didn’t play against Everett or Snohomish as he recovered from the flu and an ankle sprain, respectively, but has been gradually regaining the form that allowed him to drive in a team-high 32 runs in 24 games as a freshman last year.
The bottom third of the Eagles’ order rotates somewhat based on matchups and who’s pitching that day, but combinations of Cole Cramer, Cole Warner, Cameron Smith, Luke Green and Dylan Corpron provide the Eagles with quality at-bats.
“They can hit and handle the bat throughout the lineup,” said Chartrand, whose Bearcats lost 4-3 in eight innings to Arlington on March 13, with the bottom of the order coming through with clutch hits to force the extra frame.
As talented as Arlington is offensively, the Eagles’ ability on the mound is what truly separates them.
Arlington has allowed 17 runs combined in its 18 victories this season, which works out to less than a run (0.94) per game. Opponents are hitting .145 off the Eagles this season, and Arlington pitchers have allowed just 10 extra-base hits (all doubles) in 115 innings.
Arlington feels that between Cameron Smith and Bishop it has co-aces, but Smith has been pitching the first game in most of the Eagles’ series this year.
Bound for Yakima Valley Community College, the tall senior right-hander pumps strikes to all four quadrants of the strike zone with his mid-80 mph fastball and a tight curveball. He also mixes in a split-change a few times per outing.
“He’s the best pitcher in the area, in my mind,” said Hammons, who mentored current Oregon State standout Jake Mulholland as the Panthers’ pitching coach before taking over the head job from his father, Kim, in 2017.
“He was really good last year but now he has turned himself into a great pitcher, to the point where it’s tough to even get guys on base. He mixes up his windup to mess with hitters’ timing, he works incredibly fast with a great tempo and has two great pitches. It’s obviously really solid stuff for the high school level, but he knows how to pitch and throw the right pitch in each count. He’ll pitch at the Division I level before his college career is over.”
Smith has an earned-run average of 0.40 and has allowed just nine hits and two earned runs in 28 innings with 63 strikeouts against nine walks. Opposing batters are hitting .077 against him.
While Smith mixes his pitches a bit more, Bishop mostly comes at hitters with a fastball that sits around 86-88 mph and touches 90 at times, according to Hammons.
“He just overpowers you with his fastball, and just when you think you are on time with the fastball, he drops in a great curveball as well,” he said. “He’s gone from being a thrower with a really strong arm into a pitcher who has a plan to attack you. He’s a Pac-12 type of pitcher who will have a long career playing this game.”
Bishop has posted an ERA of 0.59 in 35.1 innings with 61 strikeouts and 13 walks. Opposing hitters are batting .154 against him, and of the 19 hits they’ve managed off him, two have gone for extra bases (both doubles).
Behind Smith and Bishop, sophomore right-hander Jacob Burkett has already thrown 53 varsity innings in his young career, and has amassed a combined ERA of 1.78 in his nearly two seasons.
This season, he’s allowed six earned runs in 24.1 innings (1.73 ERA) with 32 strikeouts and 15 walks.
“He would be the number one pitcher on any other team in our league,” said Hammons, whose Panthers fanned 10 times in six innings against Burkett on March 29. “His fastball sits at 82-84 mph and he’s got a really sharp slider for his strikeout pitch. He will pitch at the college level.”
Warner, Cramer, Sheward and Anderson have all pitched for the Eagles as well this season, and Sheward could potentially see his innings rise in the postseason as a closer.
Arlington so rarely helps its opponents via walks, errors, wild pitches and other miscues that allow teams to steal a run here or an extra 90 feet there. The Eagles make scoring runs against them seem impossible at times. Through 17 games, the Eagles have allowed 50 walks and committed 12 errors.
“They’re so solid at every position,” Barashkoff said. “They just don’t have a weakness and they don’t make mistakes. And if they do, it might only be one.”
Said Hammons: “In our dugout during our three games against them, it was just a feeling of frustration. Arlington is just performing at a level that is very tough to match.”
The strength of Arlington’s defense is up the middle, with Sheward behind the plate, Cramer and Chung at second base and shortstop, respectively, and Bishop or Warner in center field.
“(Sheward) is the best catcher in the league. You almost go into the game telling yourself, ‘We’re not going to steal today,’” Barashkoff said.
Hammons goes even further, calling Sheward the best player in Wesco.
“He’s the best catcher I’ve seen in our area since Jackson’s Kawika Emsley-Pai, who played at Texas and Lewis-Clark State,” he said. “He works well with their pitchers, he’s very athletic and his arm strength is incredible. A huge part of the catching position is being able to save strikes by receiving the ball the proper way, and Sheward does that as good as any catcher I’ve seen at the high school level.”
Striegel said he largely gives Sheward the freedom to call his own game behind the plate, which is virtually unheard of in high school baseball.
“Jack and I have a set of signs for what we’re going to do, and we talk a lot between innings, but I don’t call very many pitches — less than 10 a game,” he said. “It’s a co-equal working relationship, and we can do that because he’s the best high school defensive catcher I’ve ever been around.”
There has been only one successful stolen base against Arlington this season, all but eliminating yet another way for teams to move baserunners without getting hits.
“You have to hit against this team in order to have a chance to win because of their pitching,” Hammons said. “ And once you get on base, you can’t steal because of Sheward.”
In the middle infield, the 5-foot-9 Chung can be deceiving at shortstop, but the more of him people see, the more convinced they become of his impact on games defensively.
“With Chung, going back to last year we didn’t think he was all that good, and with his size he doesn’t really look the part,” Barashkoff said. “But then this year you think about it and he made every play. He’s a really damn good shortstop. He just does everything right.”
Cramer, just a sophomore, is similarly solid at second base, and he and his teammates just make plays.
Bishop has taken on the primary responsibility of replacing Rork in center field. Rork was one of the better defensive outfielders to play in Snohomish County in recent memory.
“It’s definitely been a little bit of a step back, but that’s just because I hold Gavin in such high regard,” Striegel said. “Owen has played outfield the past couple of years and gets very good jumps and takes very good routes, but he also plays infield in the summer and is not a natural outfielder. Owen throws the ball really well, better than Gavin. Cole Warner is the same sort of thing, he has great speed but doesn’t have experience. Our pitchers have done such a good job, that they haven’t had a whole lot of demand put on them.”
The kind of skill and poise with which Arlington plays can’t help but breed confidence.
”We had them down 3-1 in the bottom of the 7th — they were down to their last at-bat — and there was not one kid on their roster that thought they were out of it,” Chartrand said. “They scratched and clawed and got two runs, then won it in extras. They are just used to winning, and have the talent to make it happen.”
So where does the 2019 Arlington baseball team rank among Snohomish County’s recent greats?
“I’d say they’re one of the best five teams in this area in the past 15 years,” Barashkoff said. “The 2006 Jackson team (27-0, 4A state champs, ranked second in Baseball America’s High School Top 25 after the season) was pretty incredible, and Jackson also had a team place second at state (2011) that was great.”
Hammons will only place the 2006 Jackson Timberwolves, headlined by Travis Snider, above the 2019 Eagles.
Snider was a first-round pick (14th overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays following that season and currently plays for Arizona’s Triple-A affiliate in Reno.
“When comparing this team to the other teams we’ve had in our area that have competed for state championships, Arlington is right up there,” Hammons said. “Their pitching and defense is just as good as either of the Jackson teams, or any of the Shorewood teams. Offensively, they are a notch below those teams, but they still perform at a great level.”