Senior Dillon Robinson switches to start from third to first for the 2015 season which begins in February. (Photo by BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)
Pitcher Kolton Mahoney and shortstop Tanner Chauncey both were drafted last year and return to bolster the roster for the 2015 BYU baseball season.
Chauncey hopes to follow Mahoney's lead of success immediately after returning from a two-year mission. The shortstop was drafted in the 35th round last summer by the Los Angeles Dodgers while finishing his mission in Brazil. As a freshman he was BYU's leading hitter in 2012.
"Tanner adds much needed experience for us up the middle - we feel very fortunate to have two true shortstops in Hayden (Nielsen) and Tanner starting for us at second and short," said third-year coach Mike Littlewood, who has produced seasons of 22-31 in 2014 and 32-21 in 2013.
Righthander Mahoney returned from his mission two years ago and steadily progressed, highlighted by a no-hitter as a sophomore against Nicholls State before being drafted in the 23rd round by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Mahoney is not the only flame-thrower in the Cougar arsenal. Transfers Austin Kamel, a lanky six-foot-seven JC lefty; and righty Michael Rucker, who transferred from Gonzaga and had to sit out last season, join freshmen Maverik Buffo, and seniors Jeff Barker and James Lengal as those who move the gun above 90.
With Chauncey and returning shortstop Nielsen shoring up the middle, senior lefty Dillon Robinson flips across the diamond from third to first base. The fall play of freshman Brian Hsu has put him in a tight race for the starting job at third base with senior Parker Starr. Freshman Paxton Larson showed very well in the fall and could play any of the three infield positions.
"We feel good about our depth in the infield with the ability to put UNLV transfer Cole Wilstead at first base and move Dillon over to third, or DH Dillon once in a while to keep him fresh," Littlewood said.
All-conference sophomore Brennon Lund and junior Eric Urry anchor center and right fields, respectively. Dallen Reber, Court Iorg and Bronson Larsen are in a heated battle for the starting job in left field. Reber played at Kentucky before his mission, while Urry, also a returned missionary, transferred from Chandler-Gilbert JC last year. Andy Isom brings a lot of experience and has been a defensive specialist the past two seasons for Coach Littlewood.
"We have the ability to go with R/L matchups with our outfielders or just go with the guy who's most productive at the plate," Littlewood said. "I think things will play themselves out as we move into the season"
Senior Jarrett Jarvis returns behind the dish and will get the majority of the time, with sophomore Larsen and freshman Colton Shaver sharing time with Jarvis. Grant Hodges is a freshman returned missionary who could see some time behind the plate as well, while Shaver will see time at DH and first base.
Lefty Hayden Rogers will begin the season in the weekend rotation along with Mahoney and Barker. Relief will come from steady senior Brandon Kinser, sophomore returned missionary Mason Marshall, Rucker and closer Lengal. To begin the season middle relief roles will be filled by freshman left-hander Riley Gates, who just joined the team this semester, along with JC transfer Brady Corless, senior Rhett Nelson, and sophomore Keaton Cenatiempo.
"I'm excited about our pitching staff and the ability we'll have to use a number of guys in match up situations while keeping our end of game guys fresh," Littlewood said. "That's a luxury we haven't had in the two years I've been at BYU. We're also really excited about Blake (Brailsford) who returned from his mission late in the summer and is really working hard to get back into pitching shape. Corless, Buffo and Kamel are options for our fourth starter as well."