The incoming freshman catcher has a chance to fill a vacancy on Molalla High School's varsity baseball roster next spring.

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Braden Hibbs is seeing action with the Molalla Junior State summer baseball team and is hoping to play his way onto the Indians' high school varsity team next spring as an incoming freshman. One of Braden Hibbs’ goals for next season is to make the Molalla High School varsity baseball team as an incoming freshman.

That would be a tall order for most ninth-graders, especially for one looking to earn significant pl aying time on a team that returns starters at eight of nine positions.

But Hibbs is a catcher -- the one position where the Indians could use the most help.

With the loss of all-Tri-Valley League, first-team selection Devon Schaefer to graduation, there is a vacancy behind the plate.

The question is: How best to fill that spot? Hand the job to one of the team’s better athletes, even if he hasn’t done much catching? Or take a chance on a youngster who has been playing the position for the past seven years?

As summer league unfolded, Molalla coach Todd Potter had talked about moving Austin Alexander from center field to catcher. He also hinted that Keaton Franco could take a turn at catcher on the days he doesn’t pitch. Or maybe Josey Swain, the transfer from Rex Putnam in Milwaukie, could end up behind the plate, even though he’s not a catcher.

All of those options seem to be in play, and probably will stay in play until next March when Potter actually has to start filling out his high school lineup cards.

Youth movement?

But this idea of possibly having a true freshman come in and do the catching next season has gained some momentum in the two weeks since Hibbs wrapped up his season with the Molalla JBO Senior National team and started playing for the Molalla Junior State summer team that Potter coaches.

“If you would have asked me if I would have had a freshman as our main catcher going into next season, I would have told you that’s crazy,” Potter said. “But with the way our team is built, I don’t have a true catcher right now. Austin, Josey and Keaton can all catch, but catcher is their second- or third-best position.

“Braden has been a catcher since he started playing baseball. He pitches, too, but he won’t throw for us right now. With his arm, he’s going to be doing enough throwing behind the plate and I want him focused on catching.”

Hibbs went from playing with seventh- and eighth-graders (Senior National) to playing with high school players (Junior State), so he is going through an adjustment period.

“Playing with these guys is a lot different,” HIbbs said. “It’s a big jump coming up and getting used to all the new stuff — the faster pitching, the speed of the game, and all that.

“I’m just trying to learn as much as I can this summer, trying to get better, and then we’ll see where I am next spring.”

Making his case

Potter played Hibbs for only a couple of innings in his first two games with the Junior State team and then let him play all seven innings in last week’s 5-3 home win over Putnam at Al Geddes Field.

Hibbs looked right at home crouching behind the plate as Reed Aylett pitched the first three innings and Swain worked the last four.

“Braden is young, but he does a great job,” Potter said. “He sets up well behind the plate and keeps things in front him. We’re really impressed with the way he receives the ball. And Josey throws hard, so for him to come in as a ninth-grader and one of the first guys he catches is Josey … he did a good job.

“The thing about him is he’s asking a lot of questions and done everything that we’ve asked him to do.We’re actually very excited about having him. He could be a big part of what we’ve got going.”

So, what kind of a hitter is Hibbs?

“He’s got a good swing and everything,” Potter said. “He’s just stressing too much. You can tell he hasn’t seen a lot of curveballs, because he’s not even close on those, but that’s going to come.

“Right now, he’s putting a little pressure on himself to hit, so he’s struggling a little bit at the plate. But that’s to be expected.”

Potter seems to be leaning toward making Alexander the starting catcher, while he also acknowledges that the team might be better off with Alexander in center field. Hibbs could be the answer, although Potter isn’t convincded that is the best way to go.

At least, not yet.

“The rest of the summer, we expect Braden to get better at the plate, get to know our situational stuff, and take responsibility for our pitchers,” Potter said. “He needs to get to know our guys and take some leadership behind the plate, which is tough, because he’s young and that’s asking a lot.

“But he’s built for it and he has done a great job in the short time he has been with us.”

College audition: Potter took four players -- Lucas Ellis, Kurt Potter, Aylett and Franco -- to Eugene last week for a prospects camp sponsored by Baseball Northwest, one of the region’s leading evaluators of high school players.

All four players are hoping to be among the prospects invited to another camp next month in Centralia, Wash., where they will get a chance to work out in front of college coaches from across all divisions.

During the live scrimmage portion of the workout, Franco pitched, while Aylett played first base, Ellis played third base, and Kurt Potter played shortstop.

“The kids represented themselves well,” Todd Potter said. “You get these kids who want to play at the next level and it’s good for our kids to get out and get a good taste and a feel for that.

“They had to bat against guys who were throing in the mid-80s, and they really haven’t seen moch of that, so it was good for them. I thought all four of them did really well.”

Fund raiser: The Junior State team is holding a benefit raffle for a Traeger barbecue. Tickets are $8 each or three for $20 and are available at the snack stand during home games. Molalla has a double-header at home against Franklin of Southeast Portland beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday, and has another home game against Gladstone at 7 p.m. on Monday.

Jim Beseda/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(503) 829-2301

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