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Michigan State Baseball: 2017 Season Preview

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Spartan Baseball is back in the fold

The Spartans came extremely close to getting an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 2012, they were off to the best start in school history, the Big Ten tournament Championship was in their sights but costly errors threw them off course. During the first game vs Ohio State an unfortunate error on the base-paths occurred which proved to be to much for Michigan State to overcome.

An outcome that has surely haunted this team during the offseason, Jake Boss has without a doubt helped his players turn last year into motivation to take home the Big Ten Trophy this season.

In 2016 the Michigan State Spartans finished with an overall record of 36-20 and a conference record of 13-11.

They played their best baseball on neutral sites finishing 17-3 in those games.

Before we get to predictions regarding the 2017 season, let’s do a quick run down of potential rotations/lineups for the Spartans this year.

First up: Pitchers

Fans will be given slight recaps throughout this preview, starting with major players the Spartans lost to the Majors. Starting pitcher Cam Vieaux had a record of 7-4 with a 2.28 ERA as the Spartans ace in the 2016 season. Vieaux could strike out batters at will, in 2016 he struck out 77 opposing hitters over 87 innings. Those strike outs helped land him fourth all time in MSU history, ending with 205 career strikeouts. Vieaux forfeited his final year of college to be drafted in the sixth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Michigan State will not only be without their best starting pitcher but their best option at closer as well. Dakota Mekkes was selected by World Series Champions, The Chicago Cubs in the 10th round. Mekkes was a first-team All-Big Ten selection after having a spectacular season on the mound. He led the nation with 15.16 strikeouts per nine innings. Over a span of 57 innings he struck out a ridiculous 96 batters, which is currently the most by an MSU reliever and puts him in the top five for any Michigan State pitcher in a single season.

Despite those losses the Spartans have recruited nicely and brought in nine freshmen. Five of whom are pitcher’s which will help fill holes and add depth to a roster that will no longer have Mekkes or Vieaux. One other freshman being Bryce Kelley will be seen as a combo outfielder and a lefty pitcher.

Notable Pitchers returning:

  • Ethan Landon: RS-Junior (RHP): ERA- 2.75, W-L 8-3, 85.0 IP, 77 Hits, 59 SO
  • Alex Troop: RS-Sophmore (P/1B/OF): ERA- 1.64, W-L 3-0, 11.0 IP, 9 Hits, 14 SO
  • Joe Mockbee: Senior (LHP): ERA- 3.54, W-L 2-1, 56.0 IP, 60 Hits, 59 SO
  • Walter Borkovich: Senior (RHP): ERA- 3.64, W-L 4-3, 64.1 IP, 62 Hits, 44 SO
  • Riley McCauley: Sophmore (RHP): ERA- 1.59, W-L 2-0, 17.0 IP, 11 Hits, 15 SO
  • Andrew Gonzalez: Junior (RHP): ERA- 2.84, W-L 3-3, 57.0 IP, 53 Hits, 40 SO

Incoming Freshmen Pitchers:

  • Mike Mokma: LHP
  • Mason Erla: RHP
  • Sam Benschoter: RHP
  • Zac Bianucci: LHP
  • Mitchell Tyranski: LHP

While head coach Jake Boss doesn't have a rotation drawn up yet, he has implied that Ethan Landon or Alex Troop will be getting the start when the Spartans take the field February 17th.

Position Players

Michigan State added one more player to the draft this past season, Jordan Zimmerman, the Spartans top hitter. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Angels. After transferring to Michigan State Zimmerman made quite the name for himself, he hit .374, 37 RBIs, 17 doubles, 9 home runs and 50 runs. All of which happen to be team highs.

With Zimmerman gone, the Spartans will be relying on Matt Byars (The Spartans defensive player of the year), Brandon Hughes, and Alex Troop (who played in 12 games as a position player and four as a pitcher before suffering an injury to his hand that kept him out the rest of the year). All of which have been named to the preseason All-Big Ten team.

Here are some of their stats in 2016

  • Matt Byars: Avg- .284, 16 doubles, 4 HR, 26 RBIs, SLG% .441.
  • Brandon Hughes: Avg- .303, 11 doubles, 2 HR, 31 RBIs, SLG% .404, 17 Stolen Bases.
  • Alex Troop: Avg- .372, 6 doubles, 1 HR, 13 RBIs, SLG% .581.

Two incoming freshmen are going to help fill the outfield, a void that the Spartans would have experienced if their recruiters didn’t know exactly what they needed as a team. Filling holes and adding depth are clearing high on the priority list for Michigan State Baseball. Danny Gleaves and Joe Stewart will be playing outfield for the Spartans in 2017. With them coming in Marty Bechina will move to third base since Justin Hovis (former third basemen) and Kris Simonton (former right fielder) both graduated after the 2016 season. With Bechina helping out at third base in Hovis’s absence an outfield position will open up for Gleaves or Stewart to take advantage of.

2017 Season Prediction

Michigan State is coming off a 2016 season where they ultimately landed short of their goal. Jake Boss always has high expectations for his ball clubs, last year the Spartans were good enough to beat the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament but on field mental errors cost them. Boss and the rest of the team will make sure that does not happen again in 2017.

The Spartans had the best start in school history and they will do even better this time out. While losing key players to the Majors looks to hurt them, the Spartans actually have a lot of players returning. On top of that Michigan State stacks depth at important positions and fills voids where they need to, which will result in another very successful 2017 season.

I have them finishing fourth in the Big Ten with better overall and conference records than they posted in 2016.

  • Overall: 39-17
  • Big Ten: 15-9

The Jake Boss Jr. Affect

Jake Boss Jr. has been nothing short of great since he became the skipper for the Spartans back in 2009. He has coached in 444 baseball games at Michigan State and has nearly won 60% of them. His overall record being 264-180 as the Spartan manager.

He hasn’t posted a losing record since his first year in 2009 when they went 23-31.

Since then Jake Boss Jr. has helped the Spartans accumulate 25 players who have been drafted to the Major Leagues. 14 of those players have been underclassmen.

One thing is for certain, the Spartans are going to want to keep Boss Jr. around for quite a long time.