Feb. 10, 2014
FIRST PITCH // WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Ready for year No. 2 in the SEC, the Mizzou baseball team opens the 2014 season on the road with four games as part of the North Florida Best Bet Tournament. The Tigers open with Richmond on Feb. 14 at 5:30 p.m. (CT) before playing host UNF in a doubleheader beginning at 2:30 p.m. (CT) on Feb. 15. The weekend will conclude with an 11 a.m. (CT) tilt against Liberty on Feb. 16.
- Mizzou returns eight position players and 13 pitchers from the 2013 team that finished 12th in the SEC in the team's inaugural season in the league.
- Anchoring the Mizzou returners will be All-SEC First Team performer Keaton Steele and All-SEC Freshman honoree Josh Lester. Steele figures to be the Tigers' DH this season while serving as a long reliever while Lester will be the Tigers' shortstop.
- The Tiger pitching staff brings back plenty of depth this season and that is with the loss of second-round draft pick Rob Zastryzny and reliable reliever Jake Walsh. The Tigers bring back 11 hurlers who pitched in a game last season and two weekend starters. Mizzou had its best staff ERA since 2006 last season and many of those arms return in 2014.
The Tigers are coming off of a disappointing 18-32 mark in year one competing in the SEC. The team's first-ever trip to the SEC Tournament closed out the season as Mizzou lost in a 17-inning marathon to eventual College World Series finalist Mississippi State, 2-1, in Hoover. In all, the Tigers finished 12th in the SEC last season. Do-it-all utility man Keaton Steele was named to the All-SEC First Team and freshman Josh Lester was an All-SEC Freshman Team selection.
ERA BEST SINCE 2006 IN 2013
Despite the 18-32 mark, the Tiger pitching was as good as it has been since 2006 under fourth-year pitching coach Matt Hobbs. In fact, Mizzou had a 3.87 ERA last season, the best since the 2006 team posted a 3.36 ERA. The 3.87 ERA was better than five of the Tigers' eight NCAA Regional teams in the last 11 seasons.
WHAT THE TIGERS BRING BACK
Mizzou returns a lot of production from last year's roster as it returns the bulk of its runs, RBI and extra-base hits.
Tigers' Returning Production
- 151 of 205 runs scored (74-percent)
- 144 of 185 RBI (78-percent)
- 312 of 402 total hits (77-percent)
- 69 of 88 total extra-base hits (78-percent)
- 126 of 161 total bases on balls (78-percent)
- 11 of the Tigers' 15 homeruns (73-percent)
Mizzou's top returning hitter is senior catcher Dylan Kelly
. The Tiger backstop hit .287 last season with 27 RBI and nine extra-base hits. Kelly was also second on the team with 14 multi-hit games last season and led the team with eight multi-RBI games.
WHAT THE TIGERS WILL NEED TO REPLACE
The biggest holes for the Tigers this season will be in the pitching staff as they look to replace a pair of drafted lefties, including Friday night starter and second-round draft pick Rob Zastryzny. He threw a team-high 90.2 innings and has 3.38 ERA while striking out 82. He was the Tigers' Friday Night starter for two seasons and part of his freshman year. Mizzou is also tasked with replacing do-it-all reliever Jake Walsh, who was drafted by the Nationals and began his professional career. Walsh led Mizzou with 30 appearances last season, including 19 in league games.
Offensively, Mizzou brings back the bulk of last year's production but lost Dane Opel, who led the team in runs, batting and RBI while tying for the team-lead in extra base hits.
Richmond Baseball is entering its 100th season and is coming off a 31-24 season in which they finished seventh in the Atlantic 10. Tracy Woodson enters his first year as skipper of the Spiders, looking to win an A10 title for the first time since 2003. Sophomore lefty outfielder Tanner Stanley will anchor the Spiders lineup after leading the team in runs and RBI in his freshman campaign. However, the loss of Jacob Mayers who led the team in nearly every other batting category, including a .359 average while also contributing 55 innings on the mound, will hurt.
SCOUTING NORTH FLORIDA
With only five seniors on the North Florida baseball roster, the Ospreys rely heavily on young talent. Last season they finished 40-19 including 18-9 in Atlantic Sun play. Only seven players departed the team following last season and with 19 newcomers the lineup will look a bit different. The four pitchers that departed were the core of the pitching staff, pitching a total of 334.2 innings last season. The success of the Osprey could rely on young pitchers stepping up.
The Liberty Flames are coming off perhaps their greatest season in program history. A Big South championship and for the first time ever, an appearance in a NCAA Regional Final. The Flames finished 36-29, the fifth time in head coach Jim Toman's career at Liberty with 35 or more wins. Senior Danny Grauer who can play first, catch and pitch will look to lead the Flames after batting .280 with a team high seven home runs last year; Grauer also appeared on the mound in ten games. Senior RHP Trey Lambert is the only pitcher returning that pitched more than 65 innings last year. In fact, Hernson led the team with 89.1 innings pitched going 8-3 with a 3.54 ERA in 15 starts.
LESTER MOVES TO SHORT
After a stellar freshman season that was the best by a Tiger since 2010, sophomore Josh Lester made huge strides in his game over the summer and is penciled in as the team's opening day shortstop. Lester played all four infield spots last season and actually led the Tiger infielders with a .986 fielding percentage. His defensive prowess last year played into the decision to move him to short, but he also trimmed down and added muscle and quickness to help his range. At the dish, Lester hit .260 and led Mizzou with 11 extra-base hits while earning a spot on the All-SEC Freshman Team.
MAN OF STEELE
Another key returner this season will be All-SEC First Team honoree Keaton Steele, who was arguably the team's most valubale player in 2013. Steele was the only player in the nation to lead his team in homeruns, pitching wins and saves. Steele was even better in big games as well. In SEC play, he posted an ERA of 3.00, which was inflated by a bad start at Vanderbilt. If you take out his outing at Vandy, Steele had a 1.38 ERA in 12 appearances against SEC teams last season.
He was also the Tigers' top hitter in SEC play, batting .306 with five homers and 14 RBI. He slugged .542 with a .435 OBP, good for an OPS of .977. He was the only player on the team to hit better than .300 in league play last season. He is also an above-average defender as he had a .973 fielding percentage last season in league play and checked in at .966 overall last season.
THE FRIDAY NIGHT GUY RETURNS
A big boost for the Tigers this season will be the return of senior righty Eric Anderson. Anderson pitched most of the year in 2013, but was coming off of Tommy John surgery. In his time at Mizzou, he has had labrum and Tommy John operations which have cut into his playing time significantly. But this year, Anderson enters the season fully healthy and ready to go. He began to show signs of the guy who had been the Tigers' Friday Night starter in games late last season. In the game that clinched Mizzou a spot in the SEC Tournament - which coincidentally came on the year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery and on the two-year anniversary of his labrum surgery - he tossed 7.1 innings of three-hit baseball in a winning effort over Kentucky.
ANDERSON PLAYING THE FIELD
In addition to making a return to the mound this season, Anderson will also likely see a lot of time in the Tiger batting order and at first base. Anderson has toyed with hitting at Mizzou in the past, but just like his progress on the mound, his batting was halted by injuries. During summer ball in Colorado, Anderson was encouraged by the Tiger coaching staff to take some swings, and swing he did. He hit .400 while playing summer ball in Colorado and came back and did very well as a hitter in the fall. In fact, he went 4-for-4 with a homer in one game of the Fall World Series as he seemed to hit very well against all types of pitches. He has also been taking a lot of reps at first base and figures to play there when he does not pitch this season.
EVERETT IN THE OUTFIELD
Another Tiger veteran making a position change this season is senior Dillon Everett. A smooth defender, Everett will likely see time in left field this season after spending his first three seasons on the Tiger infield. The Phoenix, Ariz., native hit .248 last season and played solid defense at second and short, despite missing nine games with a broken hamate bone in his hand. He has been one of the longest tenured Tiger starters in his time at Mizzou. He has started 101 games over the last two seasons, missing just one game in 2012 and just the nine last year with the broken hamate bone. When he's been healthy, he's been on the field.
As with any new year, there will be a lot of impact newcomers on the Tiger roster in 2014. As many as three Tiger newcomers could be in the starting lineup on opening day, including junior college transfers Brett Peel and Zach Lavy at second and third, respectively. Also, look for Jake Ring, a speedy Illinois native, to start in the outfield and serve as the Tigers' leadoff hitter.
FRANCIS HOWELL CONNECTION
This year, the Mizzou baseball roster features five players that have played together for quite sometime. Brett Graves, Case Munson, Jake Ivory, Brett Peel and Steven Diel all played high school ball for Francis Howell in St. Charles, Mo., winning a state championship together during their senior season.
MILES IMPRESSES OVER THE SUMMER
Junior righty John Miles led Mizzou with a 2.35 ERA coming out of the bullpen last season, but as if that weren't impressive enough, he really turned heads this summer. Playing his summer ball in the NECBL, Miles put together an outstanding season. He set a league record with a .135 opponent batting average and earned started the league's annual All-Star Game, alongside Tiger teammate Brett Graves. He led all starters in the league with a 1.20 ERA. He closed his summer with a complete game, one-run outing in which he helped his Vermont Mountaineers to a 3-1 win. He was 3-1 in Vermont and allowed an earned run in just three of his starts. With the strides that he took, look for Miles to make an impact in the Tiger rotation this season.
60 YEAR ANNIVERSARY
The 2014 season marks the 60-year Anniversary of Mizzou's 1954 team that won the College World Series for the school's first ever National Championship in baseball. Under legendary Tiger head coach John 'Hi' Simmons, the 1954 team with 22-4 overall and went 5-1 at the College World Series, defeating Rollins, 4-1, to claim the Championship. Mizzou also defeated Lafayette, UMass, Oklahoma State and Michigan State at that College World Series.
NEW FACILITY FOR TIGERS
As the Mizzou baseball program continues its transition into the SEC, the Mizzou Department of Athletics made a major commitment to the program by spending $4 million on a new facility, including a new lockerroom, coaches office and improved seating at Taylor Stadium. The new facility will be one of the best baseball facilities in the nation will give players all they need to succeed on site. A state-of-the-art lockerroom, modeled after many big league lockerrooms, along with a team room, an auditorium and training room have been added on site at Taylor Stadium. Also, increased bleachers have been added down the LF line and the old bucket seats have been replaced with new seat-back stadium seats in order to help with the comfort level of the fans.
CROW INDUCTED INTO MIZZOU HOF
Former Mizzou standout Aaron Crow was inducted into the Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame this year. Crow established himself as one of the most feared pitchers in the nation during the late 2000s in a time of great success for Tiger baseball under Head Coach Tim Jamieson. During his junior season of 2008, Crow was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game, as he won the Roger Clemens Award, given annually to the top pitcher in college baseball, in addition to being named a consensus 1st-Team All-American. His stats in 2008 were stellar - a perfect 13-0 record, an earned run average of 2.35, four complete-game shutouts and 127 strikeouts (10.65 per nine innings). Had a 43-inning scoreless streak during the 2008 season.
When Josh Lester and Ryan Phillips committed to play baseball at Mizzou, they were unaware that they had a unique connection. In fact, both players played in the 2006 Little League World Series and Lester's team won the tournament. Lester and Phillips never met in the series as the two were in different pools, but both remember watching the other play. Lester's team that won the Little League World Series kept that core group of players intact and went on to win three Georgia State Championships in high school.
TIGERS ON TV
Mizzou will be televised six times in 2014, including four times through the SEC/ESPN deal. Below is a look.
Mizzou Baseball Television Dates 2014
ON THE AIR
March 27 at Auburn -- 6:30 p.m. - ESPNU
March 29 at Auburn -- 12 p.m. - FSN
April 8 vs. Missouri State - 6:30 - MC22
April 26 at Florida -- 11 a.m. - FSN
May 2 vs. Vanderbilt - 6 p.m. - MC22
May 10 at South Carolina -- 2:15 p.m. - FSN
Once again this year, KTGR ESPN Radio is the radio home of the Tigers, with all of the game being broadcast on 103.1-FM, 100.5-FM and 1580-AM. The games can also be heard online at KTGR.com. Tex Little is in his 24th season of calling Tiger Baseball and is joined in the booth by Hunter Mense
, who is in his fourth year as part of the MU broadcast team.
Video webcast for all Missouri Baseball home games in 2014 is available at mutigers.tv as part of the Mizzou Network. Mizzou Network is the Tiger fan's home for live and archived games, along with coaches' shows, press conferences and more. For more information, visit mutigers.tv and click on the Mizzou Network icon.
Mizzou will return to the road next weekend for five straight games away from home. Mizzou will play Radford, host Wake Forest and Cincinnati from Feb. 21-23 in Winston Salem, N.C. The Tigers will then make the short trip to Cary, N.C., where they will host Liberty and Campbell in a pair of home games hosted at a neutral site. For all the latest on Mizzou baseball, stay tuned to MUTigers.com and follow the team on twitter MUTigerBaseball.