1 of 3
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Utah's Chandler Anderson comes into home after hitting a grand slam, scoring runners Rykker Tom, Oliver Dunn and DaShawn Keirsey, Jr., putting Utah up 5-1 over BYU in the bottom of the third inning of a game at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah baseball was very young a year ago. At times, the Utes had six freshmen on the field. The lack of experience led to a 16-39 record, including an 8-22 mark in the Pac-12.

That’s the bad news. The good? Those freshmen are bigger, stronger and faster than a year ago — as well as experienced. The Utes have seven of their nine players back in the batting order. Junior catcher Zack Moeller provides an added boost. He missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery.

“As far as that goes, we’re pretty solid,” said Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg.

The pitching staff, though, includes seven freshmen. As such, the Utes enter the upcoming campaign with some unknowns.

“We’re still a little bit of a work in progress, I think, particularly on the pitching staff,” Kinneberg said.

Utah opens its season Friday at Texas State. The Bobcats are the first of 11 different opponents the Utes face before opening conference play. Stops in the ambitious schedule include three tournaments, sending them to Texas, California and North Carolina.

Things will be even more challenging in Pac-12 play.

“It’s probably stronger than it’s ever been this year — from top to bottom,” Kinneberg said.

In breaking things down, Kinneberg noted that UCLA and Stanford are going to be monsters and that Oregon State has a lot of pitching coming back. He added that both Arizona schools are very good; Washington went to the College World Series last year; Oregon is very strong; and California has the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner in first baseman Andrew Vaughn.

“There’s no easy weekends,” Kinneberg said. “We’ll just have to be prepared each weekend and see what happens.”

CATCHERS: Moeller's return is a big deal. The junior is “100 percent” after his surgery and is expected to hit every game and be the catcher in two of three outings early on while adjusting to the daily grind behind the plate.

“He’s a quality hitter,” Kinneberg said. “So that’s a big addition to us as far as our offense and really our defense as well.”

Sophomore Chris Rowan, Jr., freshman Jayden Kiernan and junior college transfer Chris Diehl are right behind Moeller.

INFIELDERS: Junior Oliver Dunn, who has 104 career starts at second base, is Utah’s leadoff hitter. He batted .319 last season and earned honorable mention all-conference recognition. Versatile sophomore Shea Kramer is set to start at first on a regular basis after playing multiple positions a year ago. Sophomore Rykker Tom is the guy at third. He made 54 starts in 2018 and had a .298 batting average. At shortstop, sophomore Matt Richardson returns after making 48 starts as a freshman. Junior Chase Fernlund is also in the mix.

OUTFIELDERS: Kinneberg said there’s “no doubt” the Utes will miss center fielder DaShawn Keirsey, Jr. The three-time All-Pac-12 selection entered the draft last spring and was taken in the fourth round by the Minnesota Twins. The cupboard, though, isn’t bare this year as Utah’s three starters all have experience. Junior Dominic Foscalina steps in at center. Seniors Chandler Anderson and Erick Migueles are set to man left and right, respectively. Others expected to see time include freshmen Tyler Thompson, Isaac Deveaux and Briley Knight.

PITCHERS: When it comes to pitching, Kinneberg said there’s “still a little bit of a mystery as far as roles go.” Even so, he said the Utes have quality arms and a chance to pitch very effectively. Senior left-handed pitcher Kyle Robeniol and sophomore right-handers Brett Brocoff and Riley Pierce have starting experience, as does senior LHP Joshua Tedeschi and sophomore RHP Ian MacIver.

Freshmen could also play prominent roles. Zac McCleve is in position to be the closer, while Dustyn Schramm may end up providing middle relief. John Liffrig and David Watson have starting potential.

2019 Utah baseball schedule

1 comment on this story
  • FEBRUARY: 15 — at Texas State; 16 — vs. Missouri State (San Marcos, Texas); 17 — vs. Nevada (San Marcos, Texas); 21 — vs. Fresno State (San Diego); 22 — at San Diego State; 23 — vs. Kansas State (San Diego); 24 — at San Diego; 26 — at UNLV.
  • MARCH: 1 — at East Carolina; 2 — vs. Western Carolina (Greenville, NC); 3 — vs. Wright State (Greenville, NC); 8-9-10 — Niagara; 12 — Gonzaga; 15-17 — at Arizona; 18 — at Grand Canyon; 22-24 — at Stanford; 29-31 — Oregon.
  • APRIL: 2 — BYU; 5-7 — at Oregon State; 9 — at BYU; 11-13 — USC; 16 — Utah Valley; 18-20 — Arizona State; 23 — at Utah Valley; 26-28 — at UCLA.
  • MAY: 3-5 — California; 10-12 — at Washington; 14 — BYU; 16-18 — Washington State; 23-25 — UC Davis.