Blake Torgerson has accounted for 18 wins in his BYU career
Improved depth on the pitching staff and a heavy lineup of left-handed batters has BYU baseball coach Vance Law excited about the 2011 season.
“I am more excited about this season than any season we have had in my time at BYU,” said Law. “We have a number of new, talented pitchers who will join a staff of proven, experienced pitchers that I anticipate to be one of the strong points of our team. The young pitchers from last year have learned from their collegiate experience which will help them compete for innings.”
Law, now in his 12th season at the helm with a 344-294-2 (.539) record, has six pitchers returning from last year’s 27-31 team who accounted for 17 of those wins.
Sophomores Chris Capper (4-2), Mark Anderson (3-1), and junior Matthew Neil (4-4), are expected to join redshirt senior Blake Torgerson (18 wins in three seasons) as starters on this year’s staff.
“Blake has worked extremely hard to come back from his elbow surgery and we are hopeful he will be able to return to his previous form to anchor our pitching staff. The other three have done extremely well in our fall practice and will give us reliable starter type outings.”
Twice-drafted transfer Taylor Cole, who was the 2008 Scenic West Conference Pitcher of the Year prior to serving a Church mission, further strengthens BYU’s depth.
“We are excited to have Taylor with us this year. He has the tools necessary to be a No. 1 guy. We are taking it slowly with him to be sure he maintains arm health following his mission. Once he is ready, I am confident he can step in to a starter role and round out a very solid staff. There are still some question marks, but if Blake can bounce back and Taylor is healthy, this will be a very fun team to coach and watch play.”
In addition to these four pitchers, the remaining staff will be counted on heavily as well.
“Our midweek contests are just as important as conference games if we are to achieve our goal of reaching the NCAA tournament. We will need all of our staff to take care of those games as well.”
Three southpaws, senior Jared Miller, sophomores Chris Howard and Daniel Welch (returned missionary), will be relied on as will seniors Justin Shutt, David McKnight (6 saves), junior David Parry, sophomore Chunner Nyberg, and highly touted freshmen Desmond Poulson, Jeff Barker, Daniel Sechrest (returned missionary), and Kolton Mahoney.
“It will be a challenge this year to find enough innings to get everyone the work they would like. But that is a nice problem to have. Each one of these guys have had impressive outings in the fall and I am anxious to see it carry over into our regular season.”
Alex Wolfe (.355), Nielsen (.347) and Stephen Wells (.340) are the top batters who return from last season along with medical redshirt Andrew Law (.471 in four games of 2010).
A pair of senior infielders, Law and Dane Nielsen, will be returning to anchor the infield.
Law has moved to shortstop after a strong summer season in New England with two teams. Nielsen took advantage of his opportunity at second base last season and has more than adequately filled the void. Joining Law and Nielsen are three other returning starters to the squad.
“We have a lot of versatility this year and I have many options to move guys around to different positions if I need to. We have focused much of our fall workouts on defense and we are excited to see these guys defend better and back up the pitching staff.”
At third base is junior Austin Hall, and freshman Dillon Robinson, who is proving he can make the high school to college transition quickly. Senior Ryan Bernal will be at first base and may DH on occasion.
“Ryan has proven to be a major offensive threat and we look for him to be one of our big run producers this year. We also look for Austin and Dillon to give us solid defense and big at bats.”
Freshmen Wyatt Padgett, Bret Lopez and Matt Crowder, a walk-on, will back up in the infield.
Another pair of freshmen, Kelton Caldwell and Jaycob Brugman, will likely fill the left and right field spots, respectively, vacated by decorated graduates Sean McNaughton and Jonathan Cluff. Returning at centerfield is Wells, now a junior, starting for his third season.
“Every year I say we have a fine outfield and this is no exception. Stephen is as good a centerfielder as there is in the country, and these two freshmen have come in and shown they are ready to play right now. Both are outstanding baseball players. They led our team this fall in home runs and can be counted on to be major run producers.” They will be backed up by reliable outfielders Alex Hancock and Brock Luker.
Behind the plate are four who could see action as a catcher or a designated hitter. Wolfe, a junior, is the most seasoned of these catchers. Other juniors, Wes Guenther, who has recovered from his shoulder surgery and Chase Frampton, have potent bats as well. Walk-on Michael Peterson will be in a back-up role.
“ Our catching situation is a real plus this year. All have worked hard and we are fortunate enough to have some real talent there. Alex is a high profile catcher who, for the first time, is completely healthy and is a player with power, a strong arm and tough behind the plate. Wes has worked hard to recover from an unfortunate shoulder injury but is back to full strength and may DH as well spell Alex. Chase has shown he can hit and is just getting back from a couple of injuries that limited him in the fall.
“This will be a very fun team to watch with great team speed, solid strike throwing pitchers and a potent offensive attack. We are anxious to get the season started.”
This season will be the Cougars finale in the Mountain West Conference before departing next year to the West Coast Conference.