First-year West Virginia University baseball coach Randy Mazey will have a pretty good collection of veteran players at his disposal when individual workouts begin next week.
The first official practice is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 25 - three weeks ahead of the 2013 season opener at the University of North Florida.
Six of the top seven hitters and the top three pitchers are returning from last year’s team that won 23 of 55 games and failed to qualify for the Big East tournament.
At times the Mountaineers had a rough go of it both at the plate and on the mound in 2012. West Virginia’s hitters managed just 25 home runs in a small ballpark and struck out 349 times, while the Mountaineer pitchers walked 285 batters in 472.1 innings and allowed opposing batters to hit .294, which led to an inflated 6.04 staff ERA.
As a result, West Virginia dropped seven one-run games and lost 11 games by two runs or less. However, West Virginia did take two of three from South Florida in Morgantown and won five of its last eight to end the season on a strong note. That is something Mazey and his new coaching staff can build on as they prepare for the Mountaineers’ first season in Big 12 Conference play.
“A lot of what I know about these guys is based off of last year’s stat sheet and fall practice,” Mazey said. “Their stats are based on what they did in the Big East last year so that’s a little misleading when we get into the Big 12. I will know a lot more about them when we start playing games.”
That begs the question: Do the Mountaineers have enough talent to keep from getting buried in one of America’s top baseball conferences this year? Mazey, who spent the last three seasons as TCU’s No. 1 assistant after six years as head coach at Charleston Southern and East Carolina, isn’t sure.
“Don’t know yet,” he said last week. “We haven’t seen enough of them yet to know. Hopefully we have enough.”
Six of the nine spots in this year’s batting order are likely to be occupied by returning players, and Mazey likes the speed he has in the outfield to run down balls in the gaps with Bobby Boyd
, Brady Wilson
and a pair of JC transfers Taylor Munden
and Jacob Rice
. Boyd is the team’s top returning hitter with a .321 average in 193 at bats last year as a freshman.
However, the Mountaineers don’t appear to possess a lot of power and will likely have to manufacture offense by stringing together hits, going station to station, and running the bases well. That may mean Mazey might have to control games from the third base coaches’ box this year more than he would normally like to.
“Everyone likes the three-run home run but I’m not sure how much we are going to be able to count on that this year,” Mazey said.
Mazey feels pretty good about what he’s got to work with from first to third in the infield. Junior first baseman Ryan McBroom
is one of the team’s top power threats, hitting six home runs and accumulating 21 extra base hits in 205 at bats last year. Designated hitter Matt Frazer
is the other, the Nitro High product managing six home runs, 23 doubles and batting .294 in 54 games last year as a sophomore.
Second baseman Billy Fleming
also hit a solid .316 in 43 games as a freshman, including .354 in Big East play.
West Virginia has an experienced catcher returning in senior Alan Filauro
, who appeared in 34 games last year. Filauro struggled with the bat, hitting just .208 in 2012, but he does handle pitchers well and can throw out runners. Sophomore Max Nogay
played in 28 games last year while freshman Ray Guerinni impressed in the fall, giving the Mountaineers three pretty good options behind the dish.
“I like my lineup, but the lineup you usually start with isn’t the one that you will end with,” Mazey admitted. “A key will be if we can score four or more runs a game - and figuring out a way of keeping the other team from scoring a lot of runs.”
Mazey will have 18 arms available at the start of preseason practice, including two at the top of the rotation who could be pretty effective this year. Junior right hander Corey Walter
, from Wheeling, can touch 95 mph on the radar gun and is probably West Virginia’s top pro prospect. Last year in 14 appearances, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder led the team with a 6-5 record and a 4.58 earned run average in 98.1 innings of work. On the down side, Walter also walked 32 batters, hit nine more and threw 10 wild pitches.
Sophomore lefthander Harrison Musgrave
returns to the hill after missing 2012 following Tommy John surgery. Musgrave was one of the better freshmen lefthanders in the Big East in 2011, the Bridgeport resident posting a 4-2 record with 41 strikeouts and a 4.61 ERA in 56.2 innings pitched before getting injured.
After those two, junior college transfers John Means
, Pascal Paul
and Corey Holmes
are possibilities for weekend work, among others. Mazey said he has an idea who his specialty guys will be and who might be able to get him from the seventh inning to the end of the game, but he won’t know for sure until he sees how they react in game situations.
“Sometimes guys surprise you,” he said.
What won’t be surprising is the number of games this year’s team will be playing away from Morgantown. Twenty three of the first 24 games are on the road, including West Virginia’s first Big 12 home series with Texas Tech on March 22-24. Those three games will be played at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va.
League games against Oklahoma and TCU in early May will also be played in Charleston. A site for West Virginia’s three-game Big 12 home series with Kansas in late April has yet to be finalized (that series is what is holding up the release of this year’s schedule).
There are just eight dates at Hawley Field this year, including an early March encounter with Eastern Kentucky that could fall victim to inclement weather.
The Mountaineers will play host to New Orleans in a four-game series on March 28-31 in Morgantown, as well as games against Marshall on April 2, Youngstown State on April 10 and Pitt on April 30.
“We are going to face a lot of adversity early with the travel, and we don’t have a whole lot of games at home so we are going to be on a bus a lot together,” said Mazey. “We’re going to find out what this team is made of.”
Mazey and his staff will have roughly three weeks to get their team ready (likely without the benefit of getting them outside) before facing North Florida in a three-game series in Jacksonville Feb. 15-17 to open the season.
The Ospreys were 31-24 last year as members of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“It will be challenging with our facility situation right now, but we’ll get after it,” said Mazey. “We’ll play in the parking lot if we have to.”