Junior co-captain Chris Capper will be one of the mainstays for BYU in the 2012 season. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
Winning all four games in the Dominican Republic during last November’s tour gave needed perspective to BYU’s baseball team as it readies for 2012.
“The way we played in the Dominican gives optimism for the upcoming season,” said Vance Law, who enters his 13th season as BYU’s head coach. “There was enthusiasm, execution, and evidence of an overall ‘buy in’ to what we have been trying to do all fall. That is refreshing to see the team play with such hustle, confidence and determination. Our challenge now is to maintain that through the Christmas break and throughout a long season.”
The inaugural year for BYU in the West Coast Conference will be a challenge playing against other quality baseball programs.
“Traditionally, San Diego, San Francisco and Pepperdine have been very strong, but all the programs have had success which should make for a tough and exciting baseball season,” Law said.
Three freshman All-Americans return to the Cougar roster this season in outfielder Jaycob Brugman, and hurlers Desmond Poulson and Marc Oslund who will now be under the tutelage of first-year pitching coach Wally Ritchie.
The Cougars’ success will largely rest on the performance of the pitching staff anchored by a couple returning starters. Righthander Chris Capper, a team captain, is the most experienced of the Cougar corps and fellow junior southpaw Mark Anderson has had an impressive fall.
Poulson, who was undefeated at 5-0 last year, could move from a weekday starter to the three-man weekend rotation, as could hard-throwing returned missionary Adam Miller, who was a starter as a freshman. Experienced pitchers for Ritchie to tap are junior lefthanders Chris Howard and Daniel Welch, senior David Parry, sophomore Tyler Westensee and Oslund.
Junior college transfer Matt Milke will provide pitching stability as well as freshmen Mason Marshall and Cameron Keysor. Other talented freshmen include James Lengal and Matthew Hutchings. Due to shoulder surgery, junior Chunner Nyberg may have to redshirt this year and sophomore Daniel Sechrest has been bitten by the injury bug yet again and had season-ending surgery in December. Jeff Barker will sit out this season as well.
“We are very excited about the depth of our pitching staff this year and are looking forward to watching them compete,” Law said. “Capper, Anderson, Poulson and Howard all had outstanding seasons in summer ball and we’ll rely on that experience to carry over to this season. Both Adam Miller and Marc Oslund are working hard to regain their pre-mission form which I am certain will come.
“As a staff, I have been impressed with our ability to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters, which is key for our success. Parry, Milke and Welch have all worked hard and are anxious for their opportunity to contribute while Keysor and Marshall have also been impressive in their fall outings and will certainly get their chances as well. We have been pleased with the progress this fall of Lengal and Hutchings and look forward to them contributing to our success.”
Brugman, the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2011, swings a hot bat as the starting right fielder and anchors a more disciplined, experienced line up. Stephen Wells is an outstanding defensive centerfielder and together he and Brugman could continue supplying assists, which were among the nation’s outfield leaders last season. Returner Kelton Caldwell and JC transfer Christian Mua will man left field and provide additional power to the offense and James Lengal may see some time as well.
“Jaycob (Brugman) had an outstanding freshman year and we look for him to be a solid, consistent player for us,” Law said. “Stephen has been such a valuable player for us for three years, running down a lot of our pitcher’s mistakes and we look for him to continue doing the same. Kelton (Caldwell) and Christian (Mua) have both worked hard this fall and I look for big contributions from both of them.”
Joining Capper as captains are seniors Austin Hall, Alex Wolfe. The speedy Hall is BYU’s best athlete with his versatility enabling him to start at shortstop, first or third base and even in the outfield.
“Austin is still finding out how good he can be,” Law said. “He has all the tools to be an MVP-type of player and we think this is the year for him to really show he is capable.
“We also have a nice problem with having two very good senior catchers in Wes (Guenther) and Alex (Wolfe) to handle our pitching staff with a couple of capable back ups in Dakota Hernandez and Jarrett Jarvis. Wes in particular has had a great fall while Alex has been sidelined with a nagging injury. When both are healthy we are very solid behind the plate.”
Returning to the infield are sophomore third baseman Dillon Robinson, who started often at third base last season, second baseman Bret Lopez and senior first baseman Chase Frampton.
First baseman Brock Whitney and infielder Adam Law are two talented returned missionaries who are capable of playing multiple positions, along with talented freshman Tanner Chauncey. Zane Affleck and Travis Stacey round out the rest of the infielders on this year’s squad.
“I am very excited about our infield situation for this season,” Coach Law said. “That is an area that we have worked very hard to improve on defensively. Dillon (Robinson) had a great fall and Bret Lopez is coming off a fine summer back East. Brock Whitney and Adam Law have gotten themselves back into shape following their missions and have both played really well.
“Tanner Chauncey has proven he is ready to play at this level also and will be a very good player. Chase is a solid line drive hitter that provides senior leadership. Having players who can play a number of positions is a nice luxury to have.
“I am looking forward to this season as much as any season ever and I think that coaches (Ryan) Roberts, Ritchie and (Casey) Nelson, as well as Coach (Justin) McClure in the weight room, have done a great job in preparing this team for the season that lies ahead.”