Kody Davis was tied for sixth in the Pac-12 in stolen bases last year.
Feb. 11, 2014
Over the next two days, UtahUtes.com will look at the 2014 Utah baseball team. Today will feature the infielders and outfielders, followed Wednesday by the pitchers and catchers.
Last year, the story of the Utah baseball team was youth. This season, those freshmen all have a year of experience under their belts. The Utes return 19 letterwinners from last year's 21-31 team, including all but two starters in the field. Leading the way for Utah is junior pitcher Mitch Watrous, who was an honorable mention all-Pac-12 selection last year.
"We are experienced this year," Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg said. "All the returning players are a year older, they're a year stronger, and they've been through the grind of a Pac-12 season, with seven freshmen playing significant innings last year. I think we're a more mature team. I think we're better physically. But the experience factor is the important thing for me."
Key losses for the Utes include pitcher and first baseman Trey Nielsen, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. Outfielder Tyler Relf, a four-year starter and last year's team batting average leader, and Joe Pond, who pitched in 64 games over four seasons, both graduated. Pitcher Brock Duke, who suffered a ligament injury early last season, will also be redshirting this year.
At first base, senior TJ Bennett returns for his second season. He started 40 games last year, mostly at first and third depending on injuries, hitting .232 with 20 RBI and tying for the team lead with three triples. This summer he was his league's hitter of the year. Freshman Hunter Simmons, who was a first-team all-West Catholic Athletic League selection at Saint Francis High School, will also be in the mix at first.
Kody Davis started 31 games at second base last year before struggling late in the season with injuries. He hit .273 with seven doubles and was tied for sixth in the Pac-12 with 14 stolen bases (14-of-15).
"Kody makes us go, and when he was out of the lineup last year that really hurt us on both sides of the ball," Kinneberg said. "He's much stronger and his shoulder is fixed. I'm looking for him to be our leader out there on the field in some capacity."
Cody Scaggari and Cory Hunt will both be playing for a spot at shortstop. Scaggari, who struggled at the plate early last year as a freshman but saw continued improvement as the season went on, started 30 games and hit .240, going 6-of-9 in stolen bases. Hunt, who also saw significant time at second base last season after Davis was injured, finished second on the team with a .287 batting average including three triples (tied for the team lead), two home runs, and 18 RBI.
"Shortstop is going to be a battle," Kinneberg said. "Both Cody and Cory will probably see time at shortstop or second base."
At third base, Dallas Carroll was second on the team in batting average before suffering a broken foot at the end of March last season (although he returned for Utah's final games of the year). He finished the year hitting .282 with seven stolen bases, 12 RBI and two triples.
"I have so much confidence in Dallas defensively," Kinneberg said. "That's reassuring."
Utility junior infielder Biss Larsen hit .130 last year over 15 games (five starts). Biss can play first and third and is in the mix to start at designated hitter.
"Biss had one of the best fall seasons of anyone we have," Kinneberg said. "He can possibly earn a spot against left-handed pitching at first base. Biss adds important depth and versatility to our lineup."
With the loss of Relf in right field, Wyler Smith will move from left to right as his replacement. Smith was third on the team last year with a .277 batting average. He had 12 RBI and two triples.
Braden Anderson, who was tied for third in the Pac-12 in stolen bases (16-of-24), returns for his second year in center field. Anderson hit .275, was second on the team with 50 hits and was also second with a .387 on-base percentage.
"Wyler is probably the most improved player that we have on the team," Kinneberg said. "He really did a great job during the summer building up his body. With him and Braden in the outfield, they can cover a lot of ground with their speed and it will be comforting to our pitching staff."
In left field Tyler Yagi has started 114 games over three seasons, returning last year after a two-year break for an LDS mission. He hit .198 last year with 10 RBI. Freshman Josh Rose, who was an all-league selection at Granite Hills High School, will also see time in the outfield, while Simmons will also be in the mix.
"Left field could rotate depending on the needs of our offense, whether it is left handed or right handed," Kinneberg said. "Tyler Yagi is a senior who will be able to help us, as well as Josh Rose, who is left handed and is going to be a very good player here. Along with Simmons, they will compete for the left field spot."
Utility player Zach Jones played in seven games last year.