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Pac-12 Baseball Team Preview: Is Utah the Surprise Team of the year?

After barely finishing over .500 on the season, the Utes look to surprise the rest of the Pac-12 this season...

Utahutes.com

Utah Utes


The Skinny

The Utes have meddled with .500 records for the past few seasons, and have been looking for ways to make a push for the Pac-12 title, and possible postseason eligibility. Last season, Utah found themselves at 5th in the conference and just barely over .500 at 27-24 on the season, and had an even .500 conference record at 15-15. So, average in every sense for a team. It’s time to take a deeper look at this squad and see the story behind the record.

The Utes came in 4th in the conference with a .287 Avg, in addition to driving in 311 total runs. That run total is almost 40 more runs than Cal and their high-powered offense, as Cal finished with 275 runs at the end of the 2017 season. The Utes are losing their best hitter from last season in 3rd baseman Dallas Carroll, but Utah is returning 2 of their top 3 hitters. These 2 players happen to be stud outfielders DaShawn Keirsey, Jr. and Chandler Anderson. The lineup features some promising young players, but these 2 outfielders will be looked upon as the leaders for the Utes lineup, both on defense and on offense.

DaShawn Keirsey, Jr. is the player to watch on the Utes baseball roster. The dude can ball. He is the team’s best returning hitter and is a lock-down defender in the outfield. He could be the best player in the Utes lineup this season. However, Keirsey was involved in a scary collision with an outfield wall last season as he was attempting to field a fly ball in the last game of the 2017 season. The collision resulted in a dislocated hip and an acetabular fracture. Keirsey, Jr. has had a full offseason to recover, and all reports out of the Utes camp suggest that Keirsy, Jr. is fully healthy and ready for the upcoming season. Yet, it is important to keep an eye on his injury to see if there are any lingering effects.

utahutes.com
Dan Lofgren

Now, the area that the Utes were hurt most from last season’s departure was their pitching department. The team finished the year 6th in the conference in pitching with a 4.13 ERA. However, that was before Utah lost most of it’s pitching talent. The team’s best pitchers, including ace Jayson Rose, are gone. The team’s best returning starter is Josh Lapiana, who had a 5.52 ERA during the season. Yikes. The Utes are heavily banking on some of their younger players, such as sophomore Jacob Rebar, and their development in order to avoid a poor pitching spell this upcoming season.

The Utes also were lacking in the fielding department on their roster last season. Utah’s fielding ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-12 at the end of the season. To provide some numbers on their defensive struggles, the Utes committed 58 errors on the season last year. If you consider that the college baseball season is usually 56 games, not accounting for rainouts or other cancellations, the Utes were committing just over 1 error per game (1.04 errors per game to be exact, but you can’t commit .04 of an error). And the same story persists with fielding as it does pitching, where the Utes are losing some of their biggest contributions from a year ago, specifically in 1st baseman Hunter Simmons, who recorded 478 putouts last year. The Utes best-returning fielders are catcher Zack Moeller and outfielder DaShawn Keirsey, Jr, who will have to pave the way for other returning players in order to improve upon last year’s defense.

Deseret News
Spenser Heaps

Utah is another squad that has displayed plenty of talent but has struggled to get over the hump in the Pac-12. The team returns some solid talent that could be key pieces in their lineup, but the losses they faced last year, specifically on defense and pitching, are substantial. In addition, Utah faces adversity with their coaching staff, as skipper Bill Kinneberg will be suspended for the first quarter of the season due to NCAA violations committed by a previous staff member. Now, Utah could surprise some teams in the Pac-12 this year, but the losses they encountered this past offseason in addition to their coaching suspensions make it hard to see Utah as anything more than a .500 team at best.


Number to Know: 14

Head Coach Bill Kinneberg is going to be suspended for the first 14 games of the season. Or, as previously mentioned, a quarter of their season exactly.


Games Against OSU:

March 29th, 30th, & 31st in Salt Lake City


Pac-12 Baseball Team Previews:

Arizona

California

UCLA

Stanford

Arizona State

USC

Stay tuned as we preview the rest of the league!