Fall practice is here and it’s back to the basics for the Wichita State baseball team.
WSU lost the majority of its production from a 35-21-1 team that started strong in non-conference play but faded down the stretch in the American Athletic Conference. The Shockers did have 11 players drafted this summer, the second-most of any program.
The situation reminds WSU manager Todd Butler of the 2016 season, when the class that produced most of those draft picks were freshmen. Many played as freshmen and took their lumps, but developed into major-league prospects.
“Teaching is the ultimate tool for us right now,” Butler said on Tuesday after his team’s third fall practice. “We haven’t taught this much since (2016). We’re working on the basics: bunting, base running, routine plays, playing catch, pitching.
“I like the fact that in practice there’s a lot of teaching going on. I enjoy that part, that’s part of coaching. We have a lot of ground to make up to catch up to a lot of teams in our conference.”
The advantage this time around is that WSU has an established cast of returners who can help the coaching staff. That kind of peer-to-peer instruction will be invaluable with essentially half of the roster being newcomers.
“There’s a lot more of the older guys teaching now,” WSU senior Luke Ritter said. “We’re trying to get them comfortable and help them learn about what we do here every day. That comes down to the older guys stepping up and showing them the way.”
Ritter is the returning star for the Shockers. He was the table-setter for WSU at the top of the lineup last season and led the team in hitting with his .341 batting average.
After being taken by the Minnesota Twins in the 37th round this summer, Ritter turned down the chance to become a professional to come back and lead the Shockers.
“I love playing here and I am really happy with my situation,” Ritter said. “My role has definitely changed and I’ve had to step up more and be a leader and teach more. I’m excited for the new year and to see what these guys can do.”
Ritter (second base) and Jordan Boyer (shortstop) are the only two returners who were regular starters, but Mason O’Brien (first base), Noah Croft (catcher) and Alex Jackson (outfielder) all bring upperclassman experience. Sophomore Paxton Wallace is highly-touted and is expected to take over for Alec Bohm at third base.
The pitching staff must also be retooled, as WSU returns just 42 percent of its innings pitched last season. Liam Eddy (7-4, 3.84 ERA) figures to be a weekend starter, but the rest is up for grabs. Preston Snavely (4-1, 5.18 ERA) made 10 starts last season and Tommy Barnhouse (3-2, 2.96 ERA) had success as a spot starter, while Clayton McGinness and Alex Segal both could see larger roles.
WSU will host its annual Fall World Series later this fall, likely in November. Dates have yet to be finalized.
“We have plenty of guys who are waiting their turn to play and now it’s their time to play,” Butler said. “We have some freshmen pushing those guys behind them, too. I really like the mix that we have right now.”