(Photo by Stu Adams)
A new coaching staff revitalizes the BYU baseball team as it readies for the 2013 season and its second year in the West Coast Conference.
Cougar alum Mike Littlewood and his entire staff have been together the past three seasons at Dixie State College. There his teams captured eight league titles and made four appearances in the Junior College World Series, including winning the national title in 2004.
That staff generates enthusiasm for the coming season built around a squad that returns five position starters among its 19 lettermen.
Juniors Jaycob Brugman and Desmond Poulson highlight that list.
Brugman will switch from right to centerfield and appears on target to surpass a season that helped him earn conference Freshman of the Year honors.
“Jaycob will obviously play a huge role for us,” said Littlewood. “ We are slowly convincing him he is surrounded by very good hitters, so he doesn't have to feel he has to do more than which he is capable.
“If our upperclassmen play to their potential we will have an exciting year. I'm excited about our pitching staff. We have a lot of quality arms and we are just trying to find a role for each one of those arms. We need Desmond to have a big year for us, as well as a couple of inexperienced guys to step up and have great years."
Poulson is the top pitcher returning from last season when he tallied a 3.91 earned run average in 76 innings.
Add three juniors to these returnees with All-West Coast Conference First Team outfielder Kelton Caldwell and infield starters Adam Law and Brock Whitney to get the nucleus of what Littlewood has built around. Caldwell will move from left to right field and Law moves from second to third base, while Whitney remains at first. Junior Bret Lopez can play several infield spots, but may get most of his playing time as the designated hitter.
Fill in the vacated positions with junior Dillon Robinson moving from third to catcher, and Utah all-state freshmen Brennon Anderson and Hayden Nielsen at second and shortstop. Virginia freshman Nate Favero could push for one of the infield spots or at DH following a great fall camp.
Freshman Jacob Hannemann may be the most intriguing story on the team and could start at left field. Hannemann redshirted with the football team in 2012 (his brother also plays for BYU football) after returning from a mission. Prior to that mission, the Kansas City Royals had drafted Hannemann. Hannemann, Brugman and pitcher Chunner Nyberg are the only players on BYU’s team who have been drafted.
Juniors Nyberg (30 appearances), who redshirted last year, and Adam Miller (24), and senior lefthander Mark Anderson (28) have the most appearances outside of Poulson on the pitching staff. Anderson will likely fill the roll of a mid-week starter, while Miller and sophomore James Lengal contend as starters for the weekend rotation.
Little-used sophomore Jeff Barker could make a surprise contribution to the pitching staff. Injuries/surgery play a factor as well on the mound as juniors Chris Howard, a southpaw, may be back for part of the season, while Marc Oslund, a right-handed starter for two seasons, will redshirt. Also redshirting because of surgery is senior outfielder Christian Mua.
Other pitchers rounding out the staff are veterans Matt Milke and Daniel Welch (will redshirt), returned missionary transfer Derek Speigner via Cal Riverside and JC transfer Drew Dennis and freshman Keaton Cenatiempo.
Other than Robinson, those receiving these pitchers at the catcher position include sophomores Jarrett Jarvis and Dakota Hernandez and freshman Collin Braithwaite.
Backing up in the outfield are sophomore Andy Isom and utility men Brendon Erickson, Trace Hansen, Morgan Flinders and Cody Shepherd.
"I love the energy these guys bring every day, and appreciate the hard work they have put in on the field, in the weight room, and in the classroom,” said Littlewood. “These guys are hungry for success and they are putting in the necessary work to build a foundation for that success.
“We have a tough, but an exciting schedule and we know we will have to play catch, throw strikes and execute offensively to compete."
The Cougars open the season with a four-game series at the Brooks Wallace Classic in Lubbock, Texas, followed by a four-game series at Baton Rouge, La. Other challenging road games include stops at UNLV and Arizona State.
BYUtv will televise 18 of the Cougars’ home games nationwide. In addition to the WCC games and a pair of clashes with rival Utah, other key home games include a three-game series with Creighton and UC-Irvine and a four-game series with Kansas.
After a one-year hiatus, the Cougars welcome an opportunity to return for a conference tournament, which will be contested among the top four WCC teams in Stockton, Calif.