2013 Season Preview
Feb. 11, 2013
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Coming off a season where the University of Memphis baseball narrowly missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth, the Tigers have high expectations for 2013.
In 2012, the Tigers got hot at the end of the season, winning 10 of their final 12 regular season games to qualify for the Conference USA Tournament. Memphis proceeded to win their first two games of the tournament, capped by a 3-2 win over fourth ranked Rice. However, the run came to an end when the Tigers fell to Houston before dropping the C-USA title game to UAB.
Memphis has to fill a big hole at third base as C-USA Player of the Year and Louisville Slugger All-American Jacob Wilson was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. Including Wilson, Memphis lost their top four offensive players in terms of batting average, including first team All-C-USA selection Adam McClain, first baseman T.J. Rich and designated hitter/outfielder Eli Hynes. The Tigers also have to replace first team All-C-USA pitcher Dan Langfield, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds.
Despite the losses, the Tigers return 20 lettermen from their 2012 team. More than half of their offensive at bats, and exactly half of their hits are back, and Memphis also returns more than half of their starts, wins and innings pitched from a squad that went 31-28 a season ago.
Pitchers and Catchers
"Dan Langfield was definitely our workhorse last year," head coach Daron Schoenrock said. "At times, we probably asked him to do more than we probably should have, simply because of our depth in the bullpen. We have better depth in the bullpen this year and we will be able to protect our starters more. We'll be able to create better matchups against opponents and I am excited about this pitching staff buying in and doing what these guys need to do."
"With the way Sam (Moll) and Erik (Schoenrock) have pitched in the fall and early this spring, those two rotation spots are solidified," Schoenrock said. "Sunday is still up in the year and we will see if Alex Gunn wins that spot. He missed a lot of time in the fall for shutdown time after a big summer. If Alex wins that spot, Michael (Wills) remains on Tuesday and it could be the only four-man lefty rotation in the country. I'm excited to see if that unfolds, but Jon Reed will have a lot to say about that. (John) has emerged as a guy with weekend stuff and we are excited about him. The mindset for the starters is worry about today, today and the next day will take care of itself. They are ready to tackle this task together."
Coming out of the bullpen, the Tigers will rely on senior Clayton Gant and juniors Jonathan Van Eaton, Jon Reed and Connor Porter. Van Eaton registered a 1.58 ERA in 30 appearances while going 6-2 with eight saves in 2012. Both Porter and Reed are transfer students while Gant started two games a season ago while appearing in nine games. Sophomores Dylan Toscano and Jacob Moody are expected to contribute in the bullpen after seeing limited innings last season.
Senior Heith Hatfield is back healthy and will provide depth in the bullpen along with sophomore southpaw Blake Myers returns from injury as well. Senior Josiah Ward and freshman Colin Lee round out the bullpen depth with freshman Connor Mahoney missing the season due to arm surgery.
Senior southpaw Michael Wills is slated to make midweek starts for the Tigers this season. Wills is coming off an impressive 4-2 season with a 4.73 ERA in 70.1 innings of work. A complete-game effort against Arkansas State and 8.1 innings of work against Ole Miss highlighted his work last season.
Sophomore Keaton Aldridge should get the majority of the time behind the plate. He is coming off a freshman season where he hit .231 in 121 at-bats. Aldridge started 40 of the 44 games in which he appeared. Sophomores Nate Rupiper and Carter White, along with freshman Corey Chafin will challenge Aldridge for the catching spot. White made 18 starts in 25 appearances and hit .358 while Rupiper appeared in 11 games in 2012 and hit .379 last season.
"We've gone from the position with the least experience a season ago to probably the position with the most experience this season with those four guys behind the plate," Schoenrock said. "Keaton (Aldridge) and Carter (White) have the most experience of the sophomores and they both missed the entire fall with various injuries. Nate Rupiper and Corey Chafin gained some very valuable experience in the fall leading this pitching staff for those six weeks. We have a four-headed monster as all four do various things well."
"Ethan (Gross) has gone from a guy to that was just a good college defender to a complete baseball player," Schoenrock said. "He is running well and he is in position to become more of a stolen base guy. He is handling the bat much better and he is very dominant in the routine play. All the coaches around league have high praise for him as one of the most complete shortstops in the league. He has worked hard on his physical shape and keeping him healthy will be key. Ethan, when it's all over with, will go down as one of the best shortstops to ever play at Memphis."
"Zach (Willis) is a systems player and he has done well with what we ask him to do," Schoenrock said. "He provides a little pop from the left side, but he's got to stay out of the air to remain a good hitter. He makes all the routine plays and he turns the double play well. We look forward to him and Ethan working together up the middle for the second year."
Redshirt junior transfer Drew Griffin is expected to take over for Wilson at third base. In 2011, Griffin led Northwest Mississippi Community College with a .366 batting average. Sophomore Tucker Tubbs is expected to step in at first after a freshman season where he hit .256. Tubbs made 21 starts at second base, and two at third base while appearing in 37 games in 2012.
"Tucker (Tubbs) is in some new territory working at first base this year," Schoenrock said. "We're fortunate to have our first baseman last year, student assistant coach T.J. Rich, working with him every day over there. He'll make this transition very easily with his athletic abilities. We expect him to hit in the middle of the order for us somewhere and moving him to first takes some of the defensive pressure off of him so he can focus on hitting."
"Drew (Griffin) played three positions on the infield in junior college and we plan on him getting the nod over at third," Schoenrock said. "He is our back up at short and he could see some time at second if we want to get a right-handed lineup together. He has benefited from redshirting in the program a year and he is ready for his first game at this level."
"Ford (Wilson) has to continue to be the guy that brings energy and passion to this team," Schoenrock said. "Sometimes people overlook the batting average, home runs and RBI, but when a guy defends and brings passion like he does, you have to him out there. Austin Hatfield is making strides and swinging the bat well. We have a good battle going there and all around which is what we like."
"Jake (Little) is a very good athlete and he played some outfield in high school," Schoenrock said. "He was going to play some infield at junior college before he got hurt. We had him on the infield most of the fall and moved him to left late in fall. He is athletic enough to move anywhere and he has the chance to be a very good player for us. We are always looking for ways to get his bat in the lineup. He is probably our fastest runner based on 60 times and we are anxious to see what he becomes."
"Bryce (Beeler) has a tremendous arm and he and Colton (Simbeck) have two of our better arms," Schoenrock said. "Bryce is athletic enough to move to this position and it makes our defense more interchangeable as he could see time at second or first. (Bryce) and others in the sophomore class have lots of capabilities and as you can see we'll have three juniors and the rest of our lineup with sophomores and freshmen."
Redshirt-junior outfielder Derrick Thomas is nursing an ankle injury and is expected to miss the early part of the season. Zac Carter played in 15 games last season and provides depth in left field while Austin Hatfield is expected to back up Wilson in center. Sophomore transfer Tyler Dixon and sophomore Colton Simbeck will compete with Beeler for the time in right field.
"It is very important for us to get off to a good start with the home schedule we have," Schoenrock said. "It's important for a roster with this many young players to play in the comforts of home. Obviously, we'll lean on our pitching depth early and that is no secret. I've told the team that and we expect the guys to pitch at a high level until we can get this young offense going. Doing that task at home is mentally easier than asking this team to go on the road."
Memphis opens their 100th year of baseball on February 15 against Illinois State at 4:00 p.m. at FedExPark. Fans will have plenty of opportunities to see the Tigers, as they will play 36 of their 56 games in Memphis. The Tigers will play 34 games at FedExPark while playing Ole Miss (April 2) and Mississippi State (April 23) at AutoZone Park.
"I want people to come out and watch this team this year," Schoenrock said. "This team works awfully hard and represents Tiger Nation both on and off the field with their volunteer efforts. This is a very good group of guys and this should be a very exciting team to watch. If you like action with guys running the bases and hit-and-run, this is definitely a good year to come out to FedExPark and see this team."