BYU baseball: Cougars look to improve on their inaugural season

By Ralph R. Zobell

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 7 2014 8:27 p.m. MST

Replacing a foursome of drafted juniors is a tall order for BYU coach Mike Littlewood as his staff is in its second year and is looking to improve on their inaugural baseball season.

“We have more depth but had key losses in (Jacob) Hannemann, (Jaycob) Brugman, (Adam) Law and (Adam) Miller,” Littlewood said. “You don't replace them. We just hope somebody will step up.”

The Cougars tied for second place last year in the West Coast Conference with a 15-9 mark and an overall record of 32-21.

Group practices start Wednesday, Jan. 8, in the Indoor Practice Facility. Full team practices start Jan. 24.

“Everything was new and we were getting our feet underneath us,” Littlewood said. “We know more tendencies now and have less anxiety. There is more pressure on our staff to be more prepared.”

Littlewood also said it may take a couple months until roles are figured out and players feel comfortable in those roles on the field.

“It won’t be until February when everyone settles in and figures out what their roles are,” he said. “We have options. We’re not going to send the same nine players out. Guys need to step it up. If we can be 14-5 in the league, we could win it and get to a regional.”

Captains and seniors Brock Whitney, Desmond Poulson and Chris Howard, and sophomore Hayden Nielsen are among the 20 returning lettermen for this season.

“Poulson is the No. 1 guy and our mainstay,” Littlewood said of Poulson who has a 14-5 career record in three seasons at BYU. “(Jeff) Barker was tremendous last fall and looked like a No. 1 starter. I like his mindset of being a leader.”

The Cougars return four position starters from 2013, including Whitney and Nielsen. Whitney, first-team All-WCC, and Nielsen, an All-WCC Freshman selection, are the apparents at first base and shortstop, respectively.

A position-by-position roundup is as follows:

Third base

Junior Dillon Robinson and transfer JC Snyder are competing, giving BYU matchup combinations with a left- and right-hander at the plate.

“Dillon is No. 1 and had a great fall with a renewed sense of energy,” Littlewood said. “JC can move to the outfield for a righthand presence there, too.”

Shortstop

“Hayden (Nielsen) had a great fall,” Littlewood said. “We look to him for defensive consistency to make routine plays time after time. He is a solidifying force.”

Backing up Nielsen are transfers Parker Starr or Snyder.

Second Base

“We have a logjam or a very competitive situation,” Littlewood said. “There is no starter yet.”

Sophomore Trace Hansen, Starr and freshman McKay Jacobsen are competing for that starting role, backed by sophomore Matt Crowder. Jacobsen adds versatility being a left-handed hitter.

First Base

Whitney is backed by returned missionary Dallin Reber, a transfer from Kentucky, who can fill in at third or first. Senior Brett Lopez and sophomore Wyatt Padgett are also backups.

“Lopez can DH, will fill in at first if needed or in the outfield," Littlewood said. "Reber can be in a DH role. (Tyler) Kendrick has a utility tag and had the highest batting average during the fall. He puts the bat on the ball and we are looking to find niche for him.”

Outfield

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