Coming off a third straight trip to at least the national semifinals, Washington softball has earned the top spot in the preseason polls by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and Softball America. The Huskies were picked second behind Alabama by both USA Softball and D1Softball. It's the second time ever that UW has been atop the preseason NFCA poll, having been at #1 in 2010 coming off of their national championship and staying there the entire season before a stunning 0-2 exit at the WCWS.
The Huskies only graduated one offensive starter (center fielder Amirah Milloy) but much of the lineup still has moving parts to be settled, not to mention the potential for injury: in 2018, C/1B Morganne Flores tore her ACL in preseason practice and missed the entire season. Last year, 3B SilentRain Espinoza missed most of March and LF Sami Reynolds missed the final two games of the key UCLA series.
The list below excludes pitcher (which will need multiple players regardless of injuries) and designated player (which is highly dependent on who is playing in the field, although junior Noelle Hee will likely get the bulk of the at-bats). Numbers in parentheses are 2019 "slash lines": batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage.
Without further ado, the projected depth chart for Husky softball entering 2020. Positions are sorted by how much going from the starter to the backup would hurt Washington’s chances at returning to the WCWS and winning a second national championship — 1 means a minor inconvenience that may not even end up being the starter, while a 10 would likely be season-wrecking.
Projected starter: Senior Sis Bates (.387/.463/.472 in 61 games, all starts)
Importance level: 10
The backup plan: Sophomore Baylee Klingler (Texas A&M transfer) would move from primary position of 3B to SS, and Espinoza would get the full-time 3B job. Sophomore utility player Ari Quiñones (.217/.333/.217 in 22 games, 5 starts) would likely back up both positions. Sophomore infielder Megan Vandegrift also a possibility, but her arm strength likely would be a liability at anything besides second base.
Notes: This one is glaringly obvious. Bates is the #3 player in the country according to Softball America, and unlike Flores at catcher, there isn’t an experienced backup available. Not only would this remove probably the single best defensive player in the country at a premium position, but it would force a natural corner infielder (Klingler) to shortstop and leave UW’s weakest defender (Espinoza) in a spot where she is expected to play almost every inning defensively. And then there’s the major loss at the plate, where Bates is undeniably one of the Huskies’ top two hitters.
Projected starter: Redshirt senior Morganne Flores (.348/.452/.781 in 59 games, all starts)
Importance level: 8.5
The backup plan: junior Emma Helm (.242/.342/.421) would become the everyday catcher. With reliable backup catcher Rachel Ogasawara graduated and utility player/bullpen catcher Morgan Allen transferred to Oregon State, whoever became the backup would have no catching experience, even as a bullpen catcher. Most likely this would go to Noelle Hee (.200/.308/.260), who was in catcher’s gear during a practice when three Husky pitchers were all warming up at the same time but is clearly an emergency option at most.
Notes: The negative effect on the lineup would be similar to losing Bates (probably a bit more), but what makes this slightly less daunting is that Helm is a proven player. Helm is definitely a below-average defensive catcher for a national powerhouse such as UW, but she’s competent, and it would only affect one defensive position, not two. Also, Flores is a very good defender, but she’s not at the level of Bates defensively.
As noted in the first base discussion below, Flores will likely see a handful of starts at first base in non-conference play (especially on doubleheader days) to keep her healthy heading into conference, so Helm should get 10 starts or so early in the season.
3) Left field
Projected starter: Sophomore Sami Reynolds (.330/386/.511 in 58 games, all starts)
Importance level: 5
The backup plan: There’s a few ways UW could go with any of the outfield positions, but most likely, redshirt sophomore Livy Schiele or senior Kaija Gibson (assuming one of them isn’t starting in right field, or in Gibson’s case, first base) would get the job.
Notes: Reynolds is a good defender, but UW’s defense wouldn’t really suffer any problems from this change. This is purely an issue of the Huskies losing their third best hitter and needing to replace her with either a fairly low-ceiling veteran (Gibson) or an underclassman with inconsistent output in limited time (Schiele).
4) Center field
Projected starter: Freshman Jadelyn Allchin
Importance level: 4
The backup plan: Similar to left field, there’s a bunch of options. Reynolds played some CF last year, so she could move over, or Gibson has played there in the past as well. My guess is that Schiele would get the first shot here because of her plus-plus arm.
Notes: Allchin played center field for the U.S. Junior National Team (coached by Tarr, no less) and was the #4 recruit in the 2019 class at Softball America, so Allchin getting the starting job at the one and only position that doesn’t have a returning starter seems very likely. But as with any situation including a freshman, CF easily could end up being more important than Reynolds in LF, or the difference between Allchin and her hypothetical replacement might not be that much, at least in 2020.
5) Second base
Projected starter: Senior Taryn Atlee (.335/.411/.385 in 60 games, all starts)
Importance level: 3.5
The backup plan: Most likely, Vandegrift (.211/.318/.211 in 32 games, 5 starts) would be the everyday starter, although if Espinoza and Klingler are both hitting well, then maybe UW moves one of them over to try to get both bats in the lineup. Quiñones would probably become the backup if Vandegrift starts.
Notes: Atlee has started almost every game at second base the past two seasons, but likely will be hitting fairly low in the lineup and isn't the most sure-handed defensively. The lack of experience behind Bates and Atlee in the middle infield is worrying, though, so second base rates out as a bigger potential loss than 3B or 1B, where there are more reasonable backup options. Junior Nawai Kaupe transferring to be closer to home (Hawaii) doesn't affect projected starters at all but is a significant blow to depth.
6) Third base
Projected starter: Sophomore Baylee Klingler (.289/.335/.416 in 55 games at Texas A&M)
Importance level: 3
The backup plan: Whoever doesn’t win the starting job, either Klingler or Espinoza (.324/393/.400 in 40 games, 35 starts).
Notes: In a way, the situation at third is the opposite of the one at second base, without a clear starter but with whoever wins the job potentially more important to the team’s success. Espinoza started almost every game at third last year that she was healthy for and puts in very good plate appearances with a very solid OBP, but her defense ranged from poor to disastrous. Klingler started every game for Texas A&M (mostly at third, some at first) and is a much better defender with more power, but had significantly lower batting average and on-base percentage than Espinoza did. Both made their conference’s All-Freshman team, so either one should be a productive member of the lineup, and most likely both will get plenty of chances to win this early in non-conference play. I lean slightly to Klingler getting the job due to Tarr’s lack of forgiveness for bad defense, but Espinoza did make strides defensively from the start of the 2019 season to the end.
7) First base
Projected starter: Freshman Kelley Lynch (as long as she’s not pitching) and freshman Brooke Nelson (if Lynch is pitching).
Importance level: 1.5
The backup plan: There’s a lot of them. Gibson (.262/.363/.354 in 60 games, 58 starts) had the vast majority of the starts here last year, although according to the team, she’s returning to primarily outfield duties. Fellow freshman P/1B Nelson could play first when she’s not pitching. Klingler could get some time here if both she and Espinoza are hitting well and Espinoza’s defense continues to improve. And Flores will likely get some time here (or at DP) in non-conference play to give her knees some rest from catching, although I expect her to catch every important game.
Notes: The overall pick here is going off the fact that Lynch — the consensus #1 overall 2019 recruit — was good enough both as a hitter and a defender at first base for Tarr to regularly play her there with the Junior National Team when she wasn’t pitching. Nelson, meanwhile, was one of the two hitters I was most impressed with during preseason practice (along with Klingler). Combined with the fact that Gibson also could either be the starting right fielder or a key fourth outfielder, it seems that the coaching staff would prefer not to be relying on a converted outfielder with better options available now than there were last season.
8) Right field
Projected starter: Sophomore Madi Huskey (.270/.341/.411 in 48 games, 37 starts)
Importance level: 1
The backup plan: Schiele or Gibson seem almost as likely to show up as the starter as Huskey.
Notes: Not only is this a hard starter to project normally with three relatively even options, but what makes this one even more awkward is the possibility that the Huskies will “flex” the right fielder out of the lineup sometimes. When junior ace Gabbie Plain or junior Pat Moore are pitching, everyone else needs to be in the lineup (Plain actually has been taking some batting practice this preseason, but seeing her get at-bats in meaningful spots seems unlikely). But when either Lynch or Nelson is pitching, I would expect to see them hitting.
That occupies a spot in the nine-player hitting lineup that usually isn’t filled, which means UW will likely have a significant number of at-bats taken by pitchers for the first time since 2015. Bates, Flores, Reynolds, Allchin, Atlee and whoever wins the starting third base job should all hit regularly. That leaves either first base or right field as the logical cut (or UW could have the DP not hit, but that seems like a waste).
With that in mind, the best pure defender available for this position is Schiele (.207/.288/.241 in 30 games, 19 starts), so when one of the freshmen is pitching, UW can use Schiele’s stellar defense and keep her mediocre bat mostly out of the lineup. When Plain or Moore pitches and the right fielder has to hit, Huskey seems to have the highest ceiling of the options as a hitter.
Projected starting lineup (Plain or Moore pitching)
- Bates SS
- Flores C
- Reynolds LF
- Klingler 3B
- Allchin CF
- Hee DP
- Lynch 1B
- Huskey RF
- Atlee 2B (Tarr generally has opted for having speed and batting average in the 9-spot, not the worst hitter)
- (Flex) Plain/Moore P
Projected starting lineup (Lynch or Nelson pitching)
- Bates SS
- Flores C
- Reynolds LF
- Klingler 3B
- Allchin CF
- Hee DP
- Lynch P/1B
- Nelson P/1B
- Atlee 2B
- (Flex) Schiele RF
Weekly schedule (all times PT)
The Huskies will open their 2020 campaign in Atlanta, Ga. at Georgia Tech’s Buzz Classic. Lynch, who is from Newnan, Ga., less than an hour southwest of Atlanta, will have many family members and friends in attendance as she makes her collegiate debut. Can’t watch and want regular updates? Follow me on Twitter @ByEdStrong.
- Fri, 2/7, 12:30 p.m.: vs. Ohio
- Fri., 2/7, 3 p.m.: at Georgia Tech (ACC Network Extra)
- Sat., 2/8, 9:30 a.m.: vs. UAB
- Sat., 2/8, 12:30 p.m.: at Georgia Tech (ACC Network Extra)
- Sun., 2/9, 3 p.m.: vs. Furman