Sophomore Tevita Gerber, a southpaw, might be considered the favorite to be the team's ace. Gerber was 2-0 following victories over Granger (5-1) and Syracuse (13-1). Senior right-hander Skyler Sylvester looked sharp in a 10-2 win over Olympus, while Jeff Barton earned the win in relief against Bingham.
Hard-throwing juniors Carter Owens and Hunter Smith, who both have reached the mid-to-upper 80s, also are in the mix along with left-handers Jake Shapiro, Nathan Crowther and Trey Lacher.
Gerber and Smith both went 2-2 last season, while Owens was 1-1.
"We're a lot deeper than last year," Crawford said about his pitching options. "Our pitchers have thrown a lot of strikes and pitched to contact, which is all we ask them to do. We don't have the big, dominant arm. We have average to slightly above-average arms. We try to pitch off our fastball and locate that first."
Having capable arms available will come in handy once region play begins. Region teams play three-game series each week, meaning three different pitchers will start instead of seeing an opposing team's ace more than once.
According to Crawford, the pitcher who doesn't win the third or fourth starting job out of preseason will be the team's first option in relief.
"You truly see who the best team is that week," Crawford said. "Having pitching depth obviously helps. You've got to go win the series, which makes it a little more competitive. We try to challenge our pitchers daily to compete against each other to make our team better. It does help when region starts."
While Owens and Smith might throw the hardest, Cottonwood's pitchers are a blend of power and finesse. Their mission is simple throw strikes and let the defense behind them record the outs. That's all any coach could want.
"They have a good understanding of our philosophy and have matured quite a bit," Crawford said. "We just want them to be themselves and not try to be anything else. This year's team is unbelievably awesome. They want to do everything together. They're a tight-knit group."
This week's Hard 9 National Classic Tournament in Anaheim, Calif., will go a long way to determine who opens region in Cottonwood's starting rotation. Crawford said each pitcher would get a start in the four-day tournament.
"They'll all pitch, and we'll see who's going to win it," he said.