The Shockers played excellent defense last season, fielding .974 (62 errors in 717 attempts), matching the program’s best percentage. Third baseman Erik Harbutz (.264 batting average, 11 doubles) is confident that can continue, even with players at new positions.
“You can see it watching our intrasquads,” he said. “All the plays are being made.”
Newcomer Cody Bobbit, a sophomore transfer, will likely take over at shortstop, moving Harbutz to third. Dayne Parker (.281, 13 doubles) returns at second base, where he started 29 games in 2012. Casey Gillaspie and Johnny Coy will again share first base and designated hitter roles.
Junior Josh Halbert (.237) started 21 games last season and can play second and third. Sophomore Tyler Baker (.205, 10 doubles) will start at catcher and can play third.
Coaches expect Baker to improve significantly as a hitter. He showed good defensive talent as a freshman and added strength and experience will help him there, as well. Coach Gene Stephenson likes his depth and that may allow Baker to play third at times.
Freshman Parker Zimmerman is a strong defensive catcher who works well with pitchers. Junior Bob Arens (.150) is also a good receiver with a strong arm.
The Shockers will miss the speed and experience of center fielder Kevin Hall and right fielder Don Lambert, the most significant position losses from last season. Sophomore Taylor Doggett (.284, 17 stolen bases) takes over in center for Hall. He started 15 games there last season and 19 in left.
Junior Garrett Bayliff will play in right field, although Stephenson will likely give him days off early in the season to protect his right ankle. Bayliff has had three surgeries on the ankle after a 2011 injury and played little the past two seasons. Stephenson expects Bayliff to give WSU’s offense a boost. He is a career .324 hitter with 20 walks and 22 strikeouts in 67 games.
Sophomore Mikel Mucha (.320) and junior Micah Green (.306, 8 doubles) return after platooning in left over the final month of 2012.
Junior Cale Elam (6-4, 2.25 ERA) will start Friday’s opener against Pittsburgh, moving from a successful two-season job as closer. His variety of pitches and calm demeanor should serve him well.
Sophomores A.J. Ladwig (4-1, 3.14) and lefty Kris Gardner (5-2, 2.66) will follow in the rotation. Ladwig started seven games last season and walked eight in 63 innings. Gardner started 13 games and led the Shockers with a 2.66 ERA. Both pitchers work around the strike zone and rely on their defense. Both could benefit from adding a strikeout pitch to their arsenal.
Junior Tobin Mateychick (4-1, 5.01) recovered faster than expected from elbow surgery to start five games last season and will again start mid-week games. Baseball America ranks him as the No. 6 draft prospect in the Missouri Valley Conference, third among pitchers. A car wreck cost sophomore Zach Beringer (3-3, 4.01 in 2011) all of last season. He is expected to pitch this season, perhaps in a starting role.
Bullpen depth allowed WSU to move Elam into the rotation. Even without him, the bullpen should be a strength.
Albert Minnis (4-4, 3.82 ERA) will likely inherit Elam’s role after flipping between starting and relieving last season. After losing his spot in the rotation, he pitched well out of the bullpen and is ranked No. 7 by Baseball America among MVC draft prospects.
Senior T.J. McGreevy (2-3, 5.54) expects to bounce back after a disappointing junior season. A inflammation in his right foot injury threw him off track early in 2012 and he never regained his form. As a sophomore, McGreevy compiled a 2.13 ERA in 21 appearances.
“Before that injury happened, everything felt right,” he said. “I felt like I could never really get back in that groove I was in my sophomore year. Now, I’m back to that point.”
Foster Vielock (2.83, 48 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings) flashed closer ability before slumping late last season. Lefty Aaron LaBrie (1-1, 4.91) upped his fastball and may be ticketed for a larger role this season. Junior transfers Brandon Peterson and Drew Palmer can also play big roles. Peterson may possess WSU’s strongest arm.
“I think the whole pitching staff has taken a jump from last year,” McGreevy said.
— Paul Suellentrop