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Thursday, April 14, 2016

2016 NPF Draft Preview

The NPF Draft takes place tonight. As a preview of the action to come, let's take a look at each team's biggest needs and positions of depth, as well as some of the top players available.

AKRON RACERS
Joey Arrietta's squad has shown themselves competitive over the last couple of seasons, thanks in large part to minimal fluctuation of the roster and some low-profile draft picks and UFA signings that turned out well on the positive side. Following the trade of Jill Barrett, however, and the likely departure of Rachele Fico, the Racers will once again be in the market for some under-the-radar big-time playmakers.

PITCHING: Signed to the Racers' roster already are right-handed pitchers Aimee Creger; Alison Owen; Laura Winter; and Sarah Pauly. Fico received the franchise tag, but has not been officially signed. There are no left-handed pitchers on the roster at this point in time.

CATCHING: Second-year player Griffin Joiner is the only catcher actually on the roster at this point in time; Haley Outon also received a franchise tag, but likewise has yet to be resigned. Jessica Garcia, who split starting backstop duties last season with Outon, was traded to the USSSA Pride this offseason.

INFIELD: Following the afore-mentioned trade of Barrett, the hot-hitting super-utility player, the Racers only roster three true infielders at this point in time - Ashley Thomas, Kelley Montalvo, and Sam Fischer. Fischer has a Team USA commitment for part of the summer, so cannot be counted on for more than 1/2 of the season.

OUTFIELD: The one position the Racers are fully set in the depth department is the outfield. With five solid outfielders - namely A.J. Andrews, Jenny Gilbert, Shellie Robinson, Taylor Schlopy, and Cassie Tysarczyk - any future injury issues can be compensated for and covered sufficiently.

DRAFT PICKS: #3 (first round); #4 (first); #10 (second); #20 (fourth); #23 (fourth); #30 (fifth); #31 (fifth); #37 (sixth)

BIGGEST NEEDS: LHP; 1B; C; IF; IF; C; RHP

CHICAGO BANDITS
The reigning Cowles Cup champions will have to do some retooling this season following the offseason retirements of some key players, including star shortstop Tammy Williams, who made the move official just this week. It may be difficult to grab many of the A-list collegiate stars with their first pick coming at #11 overall, but Aaron Moore has a good eye for talent outside of the 'A-list'.

PITCHING: On the right-handed side of the circle, the Bandits have 2014 NCAA Player of the Year Lacey Waldrop; Sarah Moulton; and Tatum Edwards. Michelle Gascoigne is the lone southpaw that has resigned thus-far. Monica Abbott received the franchise tag, and is likely to re-sign for 2016, but that is not a 100% surety.

CATCHING: Slugger Taylor Edwards is the only catcher on the roster, so there is a serious need once-again for depth behind the plate. It seems like forever ago that Bandits fans had the luxury of a three-catcher system, any one of whom could be an all-pro star.

INFIELD: The recipients of Jill Barrett in the trade with Akron, the Bandits do have several more infielders to work with, including Brittany Cervantes; Danielle Zymkowitz; Natalie Hernandez; Sammy Marshall; Megan Blank; and Barrett. The retirement of Williams, as well as starting third baseman Amber Patton, leaves two gaping holes in the starting lineup. With such late-round and a minimal number of picks, I expect the future starters at those positions to come from those already signed or from the Bandits' always-well-attended open tryouts.

OUTFIELD: Speedsters Emily Allard and Brenna Moss are the only outfielders signed to this point; both are capable and worthy of starting, but there's obviously a need for a third starter (they're fast, but not THAT fast) and depth.

DRAFT PICKS: #11 (second); #17 (third); #22 (fourth); #24 (fourth)

BIGGEST NEEDS: OF; C; OF; P

DALLAS CHARGE
No longer the league's newest franchise, the Charge are coming off a playoff appearance in their first season of existence and look to build on that, especially with new homegrown competition in the Scrap Yard Dawgs. GM Kevin Shelton is famous for building his roster in true building-block fashion, with several unheralded-but-capable players and giving them the chance to prove themselves, often to solid success.

PITCHING: Collegiate standout Lauren Haeger, as well as Aussie Vanessa Stokes and former Georgia Southern star Sarah Purvis suit up from the right side, while NPF veteran Morgan Melloh is the token southpaw on the staff. Jolene Henderson received the franchise tag, though her return remains up in the air.

CATCHING: The Charge are (alphabetically) the first team to have their catching situation under complete control. NPF veteran and Clint Myers product Kaylyn Castillo is joined by second-year player Vicky Galasso and Aussie signee Chelsea Forkin behind the dish.  The trio should all vie for starting time as the season wears on.

INFIELD: Shelton's team is covered at every position around the horn, thanks to the staying power of his draft selections in 2015. Kaitlyn Richardson; Ashley Burkhardt; Kahley Novak; Nadia Taylor; Danielle Henderson; Kylee Lahners; and Renada Davis all return this season, Taylor the only one of the group with more than a year's professional experience under her belt.

OUTFIELD: Similar to their counterparts in Chicago, the Charge return just two outfielders - Mikey Kenney and Brianna Cherry - and, while both are solid contributors, the need for depth and a third starter is obvious.

DRAFT PICKS: #9 (second); #15 (third); #29 (fifth); #38 (sixth)

BIGGEST NEEDS: OF; OF; P

PENNSYLVANIA REBELLION
Despite the change in ownership to solidify what was formerly the league's always-in-limbo franchise, the Rebellion haven't been able to get much out of the league cellar, even missing the playoffs last season in favor of first-year club Dallas. Issues with the coaching staff created rifts among some members of the roster and saw some players released despite talent and a history of production, but the Rebellion really need a steroid shot in the arm (proverbially speaking) to get some new life in them and make them competitive in 2016.

PITCHING: Former #1 overall pick Dallas Escobedo is joined on the right side by Emily Weiman and Emma Johnson; lefty second-year players Miranda Kramer and Haylie Wagner finish out the staff.

CATCHING: The Rebellion are set behind the plate with Kristyn Sandberg, Mandy Ogle, and Taylor Tsistsikronis, the Australian import. All three are signed just through this season, but the trio of them leave no real hole for a backstop that wants to do more than ride the pine.

INFIELD: Australian legend Stacey Porter should be handed a starting job on a silver platter; the Rebellion are well-covered across the infield, with Alisa Goler; Olivia Watkins; Sarah Prezioso; Cheyenne Cordes; Whitney Arion; and Team USA commit Raven Chavanne.

OUTFIELD: Victoria Hayward and Courtney Senas, both second-year players, are the only rostered outfielders as it stands now; the Rebellion will need to pick up at least two before the season begins, unless they intend to again use Ogle as an outfielder on a regular basis.

DRAFT PICKS: #1 (first); #8 (second); #14 (third); #16 (third); #21 (fourth); #28 (fifth); #35 (sixth); #36 (sixth)

BIGGEST NEEDS: OF; OF; corner IF; P

SCRAP YARD DAWGS
Don't tell new general manager Connie May that there are only moderate expectations for her club to win much in their inaugural season in the league; she is ready to build her team and challenge immediately. However likely or unlikely that prospect may be, the Dawgs' strategy thus far has been an interesting one, which makes their draft prospects even more so.

PITCHING: In the continuation of stocking their roster, the Dawgs have many holes. They've added four to their staff so far, though that number includes two Team USA products in Jackie Traina and Sara Nevins. Both are only likely available for 1/2 of a season, maximum. Rachel Fox and Katie Cotta currently make up the rest of the staff in the circle.

CATCHING: Former USSSA Pride catcher Amber Freeman was acquired in the so-called 'expansion draft', while former Texas A&M backstop Meagan May-Whitley and Team USA catcher Amanda Chidester finish out the round behind the plate. Despite Chidester's national team commitments, the Dawgs should be able to make it work without any added depth behind the plate.

INFIELD: The Dawgs now have even more holes in their infield, their most drastically-bare set of positions, thanks to the retirement of Megan Low after one season. Lexy Bennett, Britt Vonk, and Nerissa Myers make up the entire infield roster pre-draft. Of that group, only Myers has any professional experience and proven NPF staying power.

OUTFIELD: The Dawgs are close to setting pretty in the outfield, with 'expansion draft' additions Emilee Koerner and Brejae Washington, both moving over from USSSA. Renee Erwin, the former Dallas Charge player, and Christi Orgeron, she of Louisiana-Lafayette fame, round out the outfield. The Dawgs could use another outfielder, but it is not a majorly-pressing need.

DRAFT PICKS: #6 (first); #7 (second); #19 (third); #26 (fourth); #27 (fifth); #33 (fifth); #34 (sixth); #40 (sixth)

BIGGEST NEEDS: LHP; RHP; 1B; 3B; P; IF depth

USSSA PRIDE
The premier franchise in the league is having to retool a bit for the first time in a long time, following the retirement of staff ace Cat Osterman, as well as the surprising trade of two of their best infielders earlier this week. With a few holes to fill, the Pride won't be in a "just the best available" selection mode all draft, but after filling their most pressing needs, do not be surprised if that thought process abounds.

PITCHING: Following the loss of Osterman, the Pride are likely to dub Keilani Ricketts the new staff ace. Behind her are closer Jordan Taylor, who has proved solid, and less-proven long-time pros Chelsea Thomas, Andi Williamson, and Hannah Rogers. Ricketts is the only lefty on the staff.

CATCHING: Megan Willis has also retired, leaving Chelsea Goodacre and newly-acquired former Racer Jessica Garcia as the 1-2 punch behind the plate. Both have the look of starter material, though I would not be surprised to see the Pride pick up another catcher if a good one is available.

INFIELD: Even after the trade of Madison Shipman and Brigette Del Ponte, the Pride are still solid 'round the horn. Gionna DiSalvatore, Shelby Pendley, Andrea Duran, and Courtney Ceo are the likely starters as it stands now, with Amanda Kamekona and NCAA home run queen Lauren Chamberlain also in the fold. Despite all of that, I firmly believe we'll see an infielder taken with the Pride's #2-overall selection, likely plugged in to a starting role, however unearned the spot may be.

OUTFIELD: Longtime pro and former Alabama great Kelly Kretschmann and the speedy Megan Wiggins anchor the outfield, where they're also joined by second-year former AZ Wildcat Hallie Wilson. There is a need for depth behind the trio, possibly to compete for playing time and to back up in case of injury.

DRAFT PICKS: #2 (first); #5 (first); #12 (second); #13 (third); #18 (third); #25( fourth); #32 (fifth); #39 (sixth)

BIGGEST NEEDS: OF; C; P; IF

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