Pingin' Utes Eye Another Pac-12 Crown
Coming off their stunning run to the 2016 Pac-12 championship, Utah baseball is preparing to defend their crown. The Utes have spent the last two weekends at Dixie State scrimmaging in preparation for the season. The Utes return plenty of players from their championship team, but there are several important holes to fill—especially up the middle of the diamond.
The two most valuable returning players are RHP Jayson Rose and 3B Dallas Carroll. Rose, a junior, was first team All-Pac-12 in 2016. He has been selected as a 2017 preseason All-American by the national college baseball writers association, and is ranked #47 of the top 100 college baseball prospects. He led Utah with and 8-5 record, 106 strikeouts (2nd in Pac-12) and a 2.89 ERA. He will again lead the rotation as the Friday night starter, and will be a leading candidate for conference pitcher of the year.
Inexplicably, Carroll was undrafted in last spring’s draft and will return for his senior season to anchor the Utah lineup. Also, All-Pac-12 last season, Carroll is rated #32 of the top 50 college seniors. Carroll hit .294 with 7 HR and 32 RBI. He will again hit in the three hole, for the Utes.
On the Mound
Starting pitching will be a strength for the team. Joining Rose in the starting rotation will be junior lefty Josh Lapiana. Lapiana was 4-6 with a 4.25 ERA, but was 4-1 in conference play, including the conference clinching win versus Washington. Sophomore Reilly Ottesen will be tasked with filling the large shoes of Dalton Carroll, who is currently pitching in the Braves organization. A return missionary, Ottesen had an up and down freshman campaign as he got back into the routine. But, he was lights out the last three weeks of the season, culminating with a dominant performance in the College World Series. The righty held the potent Ole Miss lineup to one hit in three innings with four strikeouts, picking up the win.
Senior Dylan Drachler will again hold up the back end of the bullpen. Drachler was honorable All-Pac-12 for his dominant conference performance. Drachler sported a 0.77 ERA in conference play and had a hand in 10 of the 16 conference wins, with a 3-1 record and seven conference saves.
Unfortunately, the Utes lost promising RHP, Andre Jackson to Tommy John surgery right before winter ball started. Jackson was to be the primary middle reliever. That role will now fall to a host of pitchers, most with minimal Pac-12 innings. Lefties Josh Tedeschi and Hunter Rodriguez will be joined by righties Tanner Thomas and Trenton Stolz. Middle relief appears to be the one concern for the pitching staff.
In the Field
Joining Carroll in the infield will be returning 1B, Hunter Simmons. Simmons hit .285 with eight doubles and 26 RBI’s, while playing stellar defense. Up the middle of the infield, the Utes must replace departing seniors, Cody Scaggari, Kody Davis, and A.J. Young. The trio had 490 combined starts over their 4 year careers. Catching duties will be covered by sophomore Zach Moeller and senior Max Schuman. Schuman will also be the primary DH as well. True Freshman Oliver Dunn will get the initial shot at second base. Dunn had a stellar fall season and has continued to be the player to beat through spring camp. Shortstop isn’t as settled. junior Kyle Hoffman and senior Ellis Kelly have the most returning experienced, but are being challenged by freshman Davis Delorefice. At this point, none of the candidates have separated themselves, but I would anticipate that Kelly will get the opening day start.
The outfield will be anchored by CF DaShawn Keirsey, the Utes third returning All-Pac-12 player. As a true freshman, Keirsey hit .293, leading the team with 63 hits and scored 36 runs. He was also named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team. Senior Josh Rose, Honorable Mention Pac-12, will again man right field. The 3rd year starter hit .290 with six HR and 35 RBI, leading the team. Rose also has the strongest arm in the outfield, collecting six assists. Left field will be up for grabs with sophomore Chandler Anderson and junior Wade Gulden the primary candidates. Schuman has also started in the outfield, and will be another option.
The coaches and players are determined to show that last season is not a fluke and that they are planning to be a regular contender in the conference. There are significant concerns with middle relief and pitching depth and with the situation at shortstop that could be potential land mines.
Overall, the Utes have enough returning talent to again be conference contenders. The presence of Jayson Rose alone at the front end of the rotation will give the Utes a chance to win every series. The Utes should have a potent lineup with Keirsey, Josh Rose, and Carroll leading the way. If the bullpen can come through, and the middle infield defense solidifies, the Utes should finish in the top 3rd of the conference and have a chance to return to the playoffs.