An influx of new talent could reflect a better record for the 2016 BYU baseball season.
This group of new players, coupled with a solid returning core, could elevate BYU’s win-loss record passed the 28-26 tally of last season. Fourth-year coach Mike Littlewood, who is currently 82-78 in three years at BYU, could secure his 100th victory at the Cougar helm.
Dean will likely start in right field, and Gelalich, whom Littlewood called “possibly the best overall outfielder I have coached in 26 years,” will get plenty of playing time in the outfield.
“Kyle proved to us he can play defense at this level, has an advanced approach at the plate and will get the starting nod in right field on opening day,” Littlewood said.
Cluff earned the third base job this fall and is the frontrunner to start there on opening day.
“Jackson is a freshman who doesn't play like a freshman. His work ethic is unmatched and I think he’d fight you at the drop of a hat," Littlewood said. "He’s just the type of player we want on the field for us.”
Williams and Motes, who both feature a low 90s fastball, could be part of the weekend starting rotation.
Junior Michael Rucker will be BYU’s opening day starter, also throwing in the low to mid 90s. Williams, who was drafted out of high school, has returned from a mission after playing at Salt Lake Community College and consistently sat in the 92-94 mph range this past fall. Motes, who throws three pitches for strikes, transferred from Chemeketa Community College in Oregon after serving a mission.
“I believe Mike (Rucker) has WCC Pitcher of the Year type potential,” Littlewood said. “As a team we have tons of confidence when he’s on the mound, and we know he’ll give us a chance to win. Mike’s the perfect guy to have on the mound to open up every weekend series.
“Kendall (Motes) has been a pleasant surprise for us this fall. He’s a bulldog on the mound, and he’s a mature guy who throws four pitches for strikes. Connor (Williams), on the other hand, has a major league arm and a tremendous upside. He’s comfortable pitching at 94-95 mph and learning how to throw his secondary stuff for strikes. He could be really, really good for us.
“We have the luxury of having three quality guys in Maverik Buffo, Riley Gates and Hayden Rogers who could start if needed, but right now I think our team will be better if we have those guys in the pen.”
Rounding out the defensive starting lineup is returning leadoff hitter and center fielder Brennon Lund. Lund, along with Gelalich, has been timed at 6.3 seconds in the 60-yard dash. Eric Urry will likely move from right to left field. Catchers Bronson Larsen, Colton Shaver and returning starters Hayden Nielsen and Tanner Chauncey will shore up the infield. Nielsen, a senior from Spanish Fork, has started at shortstop the past three years, and Chauncey, who started at short as a freshman, may see some time at first base as well as second base this season.
Returned missionary sophomore Brennon Anderson, who started at second base prior to serving a mission, will likely open the season as the starting second baseman but could see time at third base as well. Freshman shortstop Daniel Schneemann is a guy who is pushing for playing time and will probably see time on the mound as well.
Two other recently returned missionaries who add depth are sophomore infielder Nate Favero and freshman outfielder Brock Hale. Veteran Court Iorg and freshman Keaton Kringlen showed well in the fall and should see time for the Cougars this spring.
“In previous years our bullpen has lacked depth, and hopefully we have resolved that issue,” Littlewood said. “We are expecting guys like Maverick Buffo, Riley Gates, Mason Marshall and Easton Walker to step up for us, keep us close or give us a chance to win games when we have late leads.”
The Cougars open the season hosting Saint Louis University in a four-game series at Cashman Field, the professional park in Las Vegas.
On March 8, against Utah Valley University in Provo, begins 12 consecutive games at home, including the West Coast Conference debut with Pacific.
The first two of three games against Utah in the Deseret First Duel are in Provo on March 15 and April 12, concluding with a May 17 date in Salt Lake City. The Cougars also host another Pac-12 opponent when Arizona makes its first regular-season appearance in Provo on April 4.
Ralph R. Zobell has worked for BYU Athletic Media Relations in various capacities for over 30 years. You can view his bio at byucougars.com/staff/athletics/ralph-zobell or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.