The snow melted, the bats came out and last week, prep baseball season started around the state. In the weeks leading upto the season, staff writer Brad Crawford worked coaches to determine Robeson County’s top 15 players to watch this season on the diamond.
15. K.J. McBryde, Sr., P/OF, St. Pauls: The pressure is on the Bulldogs’ only returning pitcher this season, the staff’s ace by default. When McBryde gets ahead in the count, he’s effective, but walks could pile up early.
14. Corbin Hunt, Jr., INF, South Robeson: A feared hitter in the middle of the order, Hunt’s the Mustangs’ best bet to lead the team in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.
13. Raleigh Forrest, Jr., P/INF, Lumberton: The Pirates’ fourth starter in a deep projected rotation, Lumberton will need his bat more than his arm this season.
12. Jordan Swett, Jr., P, Purnell Swett: Swett’s a reliable closer for the Rams who coach Bryan McDonald expects to have a bounce-back year.
11. Maliq Johnson, Jr., P/INF, Red Springs: Johnson hit .308 as a sophomore with 13 runs scored and has a powerful arm the Red Devils utilize on the mound and at shortstop.
10. Travis Suggs, Jr., OF, Lumberton: A table-setter near the top, Suggs is a headache for opposing staffs on the basepaths and should lead the Pirates in runs scored this spring.
9. Drew Armstrong, Sr., C, Purnell Swett: One of Robeson County’s top defensive players, Armstrong will help the Rams challenge for a Southeastern Conference title thanks to his reliability behind the plate.
8. Austin Lee Locklear, Jr., P, Purnell Swett: Locklear replaces Sean Sanderson at the top of McDonald’s rotation as the Friday night starter in marquee games. He’s coming off an all-county sophomore campaign.
7. Tyler Musslewhite, Jr., P/INF, Fairmont: Poised for a breakout season, Musslewhite steps into a leadership role behind Cole Lovin on the Golden Tornadoes’ green-behind-the-ears pitching staff.
6. Ironeyes Locklear, Jr., OF/P, Purnell Swett: After establishing himself as one of the area’s top contact hitters as a sophomore, Locklear made his presence felt out of the bullpen as well. His talents are needed as a position player more so than on the mound however.
5. Evan Odum, Soph., P/INF, Lumberton: The UNC verbal commit has prepared daily in the offseason for his first full season at the varsity level, a chance to prove his worth to college scouts with an above-average fastball for someone his age. Odum could be the difference in a playoff run or early exit for the Pirates.
4. Daniel Oxendine, Jr., P/UTL, Lumberton: One of the toughest outs in Paul Hodges’ lineup, Oxendine has power to all fields and is still developing as a power pitcher. When he’s not on the mound, he’ll show off his arm at the hot corner.
3. Cole Lovin, Soph., P/INF, Fairmont: Pinpoint accuracy with a calm demeanor. Lovin’s rarely rattled and despite not having overpowering stuff, he can paint the corners with some of the state’s best. He steps in as Fairmont’s ace coming off five wins and a 2.25 ERA as a varsity freshman.
2. Chance Leggette, Sr., C, Fairmont: The Three Rivers Conference’s top hitter is back for his final season, this time at full strength in the middle of the Fairmont order. Can Leggette surpass last season’s totals — 24 RBI and a .513 average — as a senior? It’ll be difficult with teams opting to pitch around him.
1. Justice Sampson, Sr., P/UTL, Lumberton: Sampson’s thrown no-hitters, garnered Slugfest MVPs and has tossed multiple shutouts. Why does Lumberton’s best deserve the label of the area’s top pitcher? No one likes dealing with lefties, especially one with a knee-bending curveball.