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.”
“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:
“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.”
“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.
“We have a logjam or a very competitive situation,” Littlewood said. “There is no starter yet.”
“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.”
“Lund runs a 6.3 in the 60 and has a 90-plus arm,” Littlewood said. “We are trying to refine his skills.”
In left, it’s either freshman CJ Latham, Urry or Reber. Junior Andy Isom is in the mix anywhere in the outfield. At right field, it’s senior Kelton Caldwell, All-WCC in 2012 and a starter the past two seasons.
“With Latham, Urry and Lund all left-handers at the plate, backed by right-hander Bryan Heward (junior transfer), we can match up this year on the right-handed side,” Littlewood said.
Senior Christian Mua is coming off an injury and is a pinch-hit prospect.
“I'm excited with more options. We won't lose anything at all,” Littlewood said. “Dakota Hernandez (a junior) is coming off shoulder surgery and has progressed nicely. Clearly he is the best defender and receiver.
“Bronson Larsen (a freshman) has the most tools and has more pop in his bat. He will be a high draft in a couple years and throws 1.8 to second and he will probably get the nod as our starter. (Jarrett) Jarvis looks good. We have 1 A, 1 B or 1 C.”
JC transfer Bo Fisher could see some time at the catching position or DH position.
Poulson and Jeff Barker are BYU’s one-two punch as starters with sophomore returned-missionary Kolton Mahoney as a potential third starter.
“Mahoney can run it up to 92-93 mph and it would also be nice to have him at the end of the game in relief,” Littlewood said. “He has an excellent change and curve. Hayden Rogers (freshman returned missionary) looked tremendous in the fall with a curve, great changeup and mid to upper 80's fastball. If he keeps progressing like we think he can I could see him securing the third starting spot.”
“Marc Oslund has potential if he makes his way back from surgery,” Littlewood said. “Chunner Nyberg is becoming a pitcher instead of just a hard thrower. Rhett Nelson (JC transfer) can throw 87-89 mph. Michael Springer throws in the low 90's and could fill a starting role on a weekday or be a weekend starter. Hayden Parker throws 84-86 mph and is not afraid of anybody and will play a role.
“Howard is a potential starter, but a bit of an unknown due to surgery and could end the game or be a matchup guy. We have moved Brendon Erickson (a sophomore) to be a pitcher now.
“We have so many more options,” Littlewood said. “We have competitive guys that can matchup. We have more depth. Last year our players answered the bell nearly every game.”
Ralph R. Zobell has worked for BYU Athletic Media Relations in various capacities for over 30 years. You can view his bio at http://byucougars.com/staff/athletics/ralph-zobell or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.