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Calling to the bullpen: Aggies reload for 2014

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Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 23:02

Matt Hedin

Riley Densley

Matt Hedin participates in batting practice at the Fieldhouse.

Few athletic teams donning the Aggie blue and fighting white can say they’ve won a national championship in the university’s 126-year existence, and even fewer can say they’ve gone back-to-back.

The Utah State baseball team tried to become only the second team in USU history to achieve this feat after winning the National Club Baseball Association World Series in 2012. The Aggies fell short in their defense of the title, notching a 15-13 regular season record and missing the playoffs in 2013, but the team enters the 2014 season with high hopes.

Pitching

The Aggies use a three-man starting rotation that sees the return of veteran arms in senior Sixto Cabrera and junior Robert Garrett, but the third spot is up for grabs.

“We’ve got some guys that looked good in the fall,” Garrett said. “Hopefully, we’ll try to find another guy to pick up that third spot in the rotation.”

The pitching staff loses veteran pitcher Jaren Tyler, a starter in 2013 and hero of the third game of the NCBA World Series against Texas Tech. Tyler pitched 10 shutout innings in relief of Cabrera en route to a 16-inning, 2-1 victory that set up the title game against Colorado State.

Despite Tyler’s departure, head coach Norm Doyle feels confident about the depth of this year’s pitching staff.

“That’s going to be a big loss, but I think we have guys that are going to step right in and fill that spot,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of experience at least with the team, but we have more arms that I have confidence in this year than I ever have.”

Garrett said he expects Cabrera to make some strides on the mound this season.

“He did a lot of good for us last year, and I think he’ll do the same this year,” he said. “He’s a good starter, a lot of movement on his ball.”

Hitting

Team captain Garrett Schiffman said the team has a pretty deep lineup.

“It’s been scary before when pitchers have to face us, and we feel like it will be that same thing,” Schiffman said.

Seven regular Aggie batters had averages of .300 or higher last season. The team hit for an overall average of .306.

Doyle said the team will be solid offensively, provided returning players play up to their potential.

“In 2012, everybody just had a monster year. Last year, the guys that were still with the team, their production dropped significantly,” he said. “If we can get them back to where they should be, and I think they should be performing much better than they did last year, we could have another special year this year. Time will tell.”

Experience

Schiffman said the Aggies added two outfielders with Division I experience: Kyle King from USU Eastern and Kelton Cronquist from Utah Valley University.

“We’re really excited about those two guys,” he said.

Schiffman said the team’s veterans will continue to produce.

“We’re a cohesive group, and that’s really what we’re most excited about,” he said. “Young and new, everyone seems to be getting along pretty good.”

Strengths and Weaknesses

Doyle said this year’s team has a lot of depth, something he sees as both a strength and a weakness.

“You’ve got guys that could be starting, but you can only put eight guys and a pitcher on the field at one time,” Doyle said.

Schiffman said he doesn’t know whether having a lot of talent is a weakness or “double-edged sword.”

“We have a lot of talent this year,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are good and they deserve to play, but that’s something we’re looking forward to that’s going to carry us a long ways. Other than that, I don’t foresee any weakness we have right now.”

Shiffman said camaraderie is probably the team’s biggest strength.

“We get along pretty well, guys have fun with each other, and that’s something that’s intangible,” he said. “It’ll take you a long way, being friends with your teammates.”

Overall, Schiffman feels good about 2014.

“We’re going to take some lumps occasionally, but that’s not to say we can’t learn from them,” Schiffman said. “With that being said, the way I project the season playing out is winning a conference championship, going up to our regional tournament … and doing well there. We hope to compete at the highest level obviously, but anything short of that, in my opinion, would be another disappointment.”

– ej.jungblut@gmail.com
@JungblutEric 

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