Last season: 41-19, 15-6 MVC (T1st)
Strengths: Experienced starting pitching, speed in the outfield, power in the middle of the order, defense up the middle
Weaknesses: Lack of proven hitters throughout the lineup, little experience in the bullpen, no depth in the outfield, too many hitters prone to strikeouts
WSU has been searching for a long-term solution at second base since Damon Sublett departed after the 2007 season. Josh Workman took over for a year. Will Baez, a converted catcher who struggled defensively, did what he could for two seasons.
Sophomore Walker Davidson could make that position his for a long time. His defense sparkles and coach Gene Stephenson likes the way the ball stings off his bat.
"He's got one of the best gloves I've ever seen," shortstop Tyler Grimes said. "He's quick. He's fundamentally sound."
With Grimes (.249 batting average, .421 on-base percentage) and Davidson, the Shockers should be solid up the middle. Grimes possesses one of the best arms in WSU history. Their timing and acrobatics on the double play should be entertaining.
"They could be as good as any double-play combination in college baseball," Stephenson said.
Grimes didn't contribute as much with his bat as expected last season. Coming off a good summer and fall, he expects that to change.
"I feel real comfortable," he said. "I feel something I've never felt in the past two years here. I'm really excited to go out there and show everybody what I can do with the bat, and not just on defense."
Sophomore Johnny Coy (.331, 7 HR, 32 RBIs) made the move to first base last season. He is a natural athlete who handled it well for the most part. He believes he is more precise with his positioning, which should help his ability to snag errant throws.
"Lot of groundballs every day," he said. "I've improved in every aspect, knowing how far to get off the bag when you're holding a guy on to actually holding runners on. Step to where the ball is going to be. First base is a lot more complicated than I thought. There's a lot of footwork involved."
Preston Springer, the likely DH who can also play first, tied for the team lead in homers (11) last season and led in RBIs (59) while bitting .324.
Sophomore Erik Harbutz (.252, 4 HR) starts at third base. Depth on the infield will come from freshmen. Dayne Parker adapted better than anybody on the team to the new bats in the fall and could get at-bats quickly.
Junior center fielder Kevin Hall may be the key figure offensively. His speed should make him a threat _ if he can cut down on strikeouts and get on base.
Hall (.243, seven doubles) struggled with a switch-hitting experiment last season. Two years ago, a back injury forced him to redshirt. With those obstacles behind him, Hall thinks he can be the player who hit .320 in 37 games as a freshman in 2008.
"I feel I'll be the leadoff hitter that they want me to be, that they've been grooming me to be," he said.
Sophomore Garrett Bayliff (.226, two doubles) should start in left field. Right field is open, with redshirt freshman Micah Green, transfer Don Lambert and sophomore Ryan Hege possibilities. Freshman Tyler Coughenour can play the infield and outfield.
WSU lost three players who started much of 2010 _ Ryan Jones, Travis Bennett and Bret Bascue.
Junior Chris O'Brien (.291, 25 RBIs) takes over as the unquestioned starter after two seasons of competition with departed Cody Lassley, WSU's leading hitter in 2010. Hege, who sat out last season with a shoulder injury, and freshman Bob Arens are the backups.
Even without Jordan Cooper (10-3, 2.01), a ninth-round pick by the Cleveland Indians, the Shockers are solid on the weekend.
Opening-day starter Tim Kelley (11-2, 3.94 ERA) joined Cooper on the All-MVC team. Lefty Charlie Lowell (3-2, 3.25) was named the top prospect in the Jayhawk League by Baseball America after pitching for El Dorado last summer. Lefty Josh Smith (4-3, 5.02) started mid-week games last season and took over for an injured Lowell on Sundays.
If Smith can throw consistently, WSU will have the luxury of using lefty Brian Flynn out of the bullpen on the weekends. Smith showed what he is capable of when he held Indiana State to two hits over 7 2/3 innings in a 5-2 win last season.
"I think he sees himself now as an impact guy," WSU pitching coach Brent Kemnitz said. "Before he did, and he didn't. He would show you good games, but he didn't have that presence and that overall confidence that made you think he 100-percent believed. I think he's there now."
Freshman Cale Elam figures to be a key figure in the bullpen, perhaps as the closer.
"I think he's going to embrace pressure," Kemnitz said. "We think his makeup is going to be a huge plus. He's a bulldog, a strike thrower, and understands the game."
The WSU bullpen gave coaches headaches last season. Unproven or inexperienced pitchers must improve for that to change.
Midweek starters could come from a list that includes freshman Albert Minnis, sophomore T.J. McGreevy (1-3, 7.16) and sophomore Tobin Mateychick (3-0, .5.50). Kemnitz will use the early games to sort through relievers such as juniors Chance Sossamon (2-1, 8.71) and Grant Muncrief (2-3, 7.07) and senior Justin Kemp (0-0, 6.52).