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Around the diamond in 2011

WSU pitcher Tim Kelley went 11-2 with a 3.94 ERA.I have not talked to the coaches yet for the traditional season wrap-up/lookahead to 2011, and I hope to do that soon. Before that, let’s take an immediate look at how WSU’s lineup might shake out in 2011.

Catcher - Chris O’Brien returns with starting experience for his junior season. Ryan Hege, who sat out 2009 after rotator cuff surgery, is back. He will play for Santa Barbara (Calif.) this summer. Freshman Bob Arens is regarded as an excellent defender. O’Brien seems like a player with lots of offensive potential. WSU will need him to step up in all areas.

1st base - I will assume Johnny Coy will return (he is draft eligible). He possesses great offensive potential and should be able to improve his defense over the summer and fall. I wouldn’t count him out of the picture in left field. Preston Springer (also draft eligible)  should spend the summer working on his defense. He needs a position. If he can handle first, it opens up the DH spot for another bat. A middle of the lineup with Coy and Springer is a great starting point for the offense.

2nd base – Walker Davidson proved his worth defensively. He is playing for the Broncos this summer, where coaches and fans can keep a close eye on his bat. He was close to taking over at second this season for Will Baez. Baez’s bat kept him in the lineup. Erik Harbutz is another possibility. The Shockers are bringing in at least three freshmen who can play the infield – Josh Halbert, Dayne Parker, and Tyler Coughenour. We will know more about where they fit after the fall.

Shortstop - Tyler Grimes shook off some early problems and is a top-level shortstop defensively. He took a step back offensively as a sophomore, dropping from .294/5 home runs/12 doubles to .249/2/12. His on-base percentage, however, rose from .399 to .421. Harbutz and some of the freshmen back him up. Parker may be the newcomer with the most potential to help quickly with the bat. He hit 21 home runs as a senior – what that means in Roff, Okla., is an unknown – and started four years at shortstop.

Third base – Nate Goro and Harbutz shared the position and both need to get better offensively if they want to win it outright in 2011. Goro went 5 for 13 in the MVC Tournament to raise his average to .275, mostly because of a 3-for-5 performance in the title game. Both had their struggles as freshmen, but neither seemed totally overmatched. The summer is big for both, if they want to lock in more playing time.

Outfield – WSU’s biggest questions are all here. For three seasons, most balls hit to center and right found a Shocker glove. Now Ryan Jones, who played both spots, is gone. He hit 17 home runs the past two seasons. Bret Bascue is gone after a breakout (.421 with 10 homers) senior season in left. So is Travis Bennett, who started in left and right and hit .333, second on the team. It’s a huge summer for Kevin Hall, who is an excellent defender. He will spend the summer working on his switch-hitting. He needs to get on base any way possible to take advantage of his speed – 20 steals in 22 attempts. He is the center fielder because of his defense. Coy got some looks in left field and may end up there in 2010. Freshman Garrett Bayliff and redshirt freshman Micah Green are the only other outfielders returning. Juco transfer Scott Schebler hit .446 with 20 home runs at Des Moines Area Community College. Juco stats are a mystery, but he walked more than he struck out and that should be a good sign. Schebler (who is draft eligible) needs to give the Shockers a reliable bat right away. He DH’ed a lot for DMACC, which makes me curious about his defense. I believe he played shortstop in high school, so he may be learning a new position.

Starting pitchers - If, and it’s a huge if, Jordan Cooper comes back after being drafted, the Shockers are in great shape. Tim Kelley is also draft eligible, and I assume he will be back. If both leave, ouch. Let’s assume Kelley comes back and teams with Charlie Lowell. That’s a solid top two for your rotation. Josh Smith got a lot of experience and will be in the mix again in 2011. In my mind, he needs to improve his control and his composure, both of which may come with experience. Then there’s another if with lefty Brian Flynn. If he gets academically eligible, it’s a huge addition for WSU. It would not surprise me to see T.J. McGreevy make a big step forward and battle his way into the rotation. The coaches like his makeup and the addition of a slider late in the season seemed to benefit him greatly. Tobin Mateychick showed enough progress as a freshman that he can be considered a factor. If he continues to get better, it will be hard to keep him out of the rotation. Of the freshmen, Lawrence’s Albert Minnis appears to be the most advanced.

Bullpen - Another area with lots of questions. The bullpen struggled through much of 2010, before some seniors helped get it right. Now they’re gone. Pitchers such as Grant Muncrief and Chance Sossamon are on deck to be the leaders with Logan Hoch and Cobey Guy gone. After those two, it’s hard to say who might stand out. WSU adds at least four freshmen, plus redshirt Aaron LaBrie, and some of them need to contribute. It’s the last chance for Mitch Caster and Justin Kemp, seniors with good arms.