FARMINGTON — Tyler Wulfert anticipates any and every line-drive ball coming his way.
He remains on constant alert while on the diamond, reacting quickly to whatever happens. That approach has become second nature to the Piedra Vista first baseman, and it’s helping him acclimate to his planned new role as the Panthers’ shortstop entering his junior season in 2019.
“I’m ready,” Wulfert said.
Although next spring will be Wulfert’s first opportunity to play up the middle at the varsity level, his experience there goes way back to his youth baseball days when he was just 8 years old.
“He’s got good hands, he’s got quick feet, he’s got a strong arm and that’s what you want up the middle,” said first-year Panthers coach Jeff Kiraly.
The only reason Wulfert has had to wait to fill that role at shortstop is because he was behind recent PV baseball graduate Cody McGaha on the depth chart. But the Panthers still found a way to put Wulfert's services on defense to use last spring, stationing him at first base.
His quick, reactive play on the field served Wulfert well this past spring as he snagged a handful of liners down the first-base line for some critical outs during district play.
”It felt good to make those type of plays. At first base, (the ball) comes a little hotter,” Wulfert said. “You’ve just got to be prepared. It took some time getting used to. But by the end of the year, I got used to it.”
Other times, he was right there near the bag, scooping up the ball off hard shots in his path and stepping on the bag himself for easy outs.
This summer, Wulfert is using the City League campaign as a member of the Rivercats, a team consisting of a large number of players in PV’s baseball program, to adjust to playing shortstop full time.
”You’ve got to work to the ball more (playing shortstop). You can’t just knock it down and touch the base. You have to work to the ball and field it cleanly,” Wulfert said.
Wulfert believes his experiences encountering hard shots at first base have sped up his reaction time on defense, something that will, in turn, help him react even faster to line drives up the middle.
And now that City League play is coming to a close, Kiraly expects big things out of Wulfert next spring.
“If you can start on a varsity baseball team, especially Piedra Vista in 6A as a sophomore (in 2018), you’ve got a high ceiling. You’ve got a lot of potential,” Kiraly said. “Him playing first (base) last year, getting his confidence (up) at the varsity level, I think it’ll be a smooth transition.”
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.