2014 Missouri Softball Preview: The field and the plate

So many new faces in the circle, so many returning faces everywhere else.

{Read up on part one from yesterday HERE}

The season will kick off this afternoon in Waco, Tex. (and not Jacksonville, Fla., as previously scheduled), and while the Tigers are entirely new in the circle, they have a good amount of talent and experience coming back in the field. But that is not to say that fresh faces won't play a part in the season yet to come. Let's start it off in the dirt and work our way to the outfield. And then, let this serve as the game thread for the first two games of the season this afternoon and this evening.

Infield

Not many questions here, but what questions there are sure are interesting. I certainly expect for junior Kelsea Roth to return as the starter at first base. Roth hit .304 last season and returns 16 HR’s and 43 RBI’s to the team. To be honest, I would be happy with the same numbers again this year, though I fear the HR’s may trail off a bit if we cannot replace Nicole Hudson’s type of impact in the lineup. On the opposite end of the diamond, I also believe Angela Randazzo will play her junior season at third base. Randazzo returns the most RBI’s (47) and a lovely batting average of .309. Would love to see her hit double digits in HR’s, as she hit eight last year, but I think she and Roth provide more than adequate offense, though Randazzo’s defense (11 errors) left a little to be desired. Could that spell a move to DP for her?

Now comes the interesting questions. Returning junior Corrin Genovese has been a marvelous defensive shortstop for us the past two seasons, and came around nicely at the plate last year in hitting .303. Sophomore Emily Crane was an offensive revelation last year at second base, hitting .376 with 16 doubles and even three home runs. Seems simple enough, right? Enter redshirt sophomore Sami Fagan. Fagan, as a true freshman at Florida two seasons ago, batted leadoff and hit .378 with 71 hits on the year (Crane had 59 last year). Fagan also has speed to burn, swiping 20 bases in that year. Her plate discipline could improve just a bit (19 walks to 27 K’s), but it would appear that Coach E has written her name in the lineup card in pen…at short.

The simple move would be to push Genovese’s glove over to second base while moving Crane to CF. But it would appear some true frosh have other ideas, and could further factor into the lineup. Both Natalie Fleming (the sister of former softball great and recent grad Ashley Fleming) and Kelli Schkade could be possibilities at second base, and if Randazzo is deemed to be a better fit at DP, perhaps Fleming sees the lineup at third base. Ashtin Stephens was even mentioned in the fall as someone who had picked it up at the plate, so she would potentially be in the mix at 2nd as well. And hell, Genovese could play anywhere at this point. Personally, I don’t see how Coach E could push Genovese’s glove out the lineup, as well as her bat which I hope continues to blossom as it did last year. Needless to say though, there are a lot of options in the field for both offense and defense. Not a bad problem to have.

Outfield/Catcher

As discussed previously, I have taken the liberty of moving Emily Crane from the infield to the outfield (and probably from leadoff to #2, setting the over/under of times she doubles in Sami Fagan at eight this season). I think this decision became easier for Coach E when (unfortunately) junior Kayla Kingsley suffered her second devastating knee injury, on her first day back from her first devastating knee injury. Kayla hit .327 at the bottom of the order last year and was a great transition to Crane in the lineup.

At any rate, with Crane in the outfield, that leaves two spots remaining. On days when she is not pitching, I think we will see Casey Stangel around in right field, leaving one and a half spots open. I believe (read: hope) her bat is strong enough to merit it, and as long as she can stand the grind, I think we see her a good bit. With that said, that leaves one and a half spots. I think one of those spots goes to senior Mackenzie Sykes (who joins Marble as one of only two seniors on this squad...think about that for a second). Sykes batted .319 with seven HR’s and 13 other extra base hits, so the pop is there. Since she typically played center or left, I will go ahead and pencil her in left, leaving half a spot in right field on days when Stangel is in the circle. Carli Rose has to be a name under consideration, as she split time between right and catcher last year, hitting .310 in 31 starts. Sophomore Sarah Moore is another name which has come back up this winter, and maybe Schkade’s bat is too good to keep out of the lineup, but she runs out of space in the infield and is moved to right.

At catcher, I’ve already mentioned the possibility of Rose donning the gear. She returns the best numbers on offense and the most game experience. Redshirt sophomore Alyssa Cousins is another name to watch, but she only saw time in nine games last season, hitting .143 (1-7) on the year. That brings us to true freshman Kirsten Mack. Mack has some serious pop in her bat, combining to hit 31 HR’s her sophomore and junior seasons. Her senior prep campaign saw her hit over .650, so the bat discipline is there as well. She just blasted three home runs in the Black and Gold game. As crazy as it sounds, I think Mack will have the task of handling a pitching staff which is just about as young as she is.

Lineup

So looking back over yesterday and today, it seems I have two lineups in most cases. I feel like any day that Stangel does not pitch she will be in RF, so when Marble takes the circle, consider it the same as if Finucane was doing the same. Here goes nothing, and by that, I mean here are two lineups you will probably never see utilized:

Fagan – SS
Crane – CF
Stangel – RF
Roth – 1B
Randazzo – 3B
Sykes – LF
Mack – C
Fleming – DP (for Finucane/Marble – P)
Genovese – 2B

Fagan – SS
Crane – CF
Stangel – P
Roth – 1B
Randazzo – 3B
Sykes – LF
Mack - C
Moore - RF
Genovese – 2B

In both cases, I really like the 1-6 for balance of hitting and speed up front, with hitting and power through the middle. Stangel in the 3rd spot may seem overzealous, but I think that is mitigated a bit by Roth behind her. Beyond that, I had a real tough time keeping Mack down at seven, but she needs to prove her value in the middle before I move her up there. I think Moore has some potential for pop, but we’ve not seen it. I think Fleming will prove to be the most consistent of the newbies at the plate, getting her the DP start (or maybe her glove is such that she moves Randazzo to DP and she sees the field) when Stangel is not pitching. I like Genovese in the 9th spot as she hit for average last year and has a little bit of speed. This would have been Kayla Kingsley’s spot had she been healthy and I was encouraged to see it mentioned that she is hoping to return healthy in 2015.

Prediction

I am not sure I want to start making any predictions based on how tough our schedule looks on the arms of (mostly) freshman pitchers. It is not like we even get to ease into it at the start of the out-of-conference season, as our first ten games come against teams inside the top-80 in the RPI. Finucane and Stangel/Marble will need to be able to control the big innings while the offense hopefully puts together big innings with the table-setters of Fagan/Crane. I think both are capable of hitting .400 this season, and I would be shocked if they were under .375. If the pop is there in the middle of the lineup with Stangel/Roth/Randazzo each hitting double-figure HR’s (and it would be great to get the same from Sykes in the six-hole of my lineup), then we will be very capable of winning a lot of games. The SEC is brutal (as it probably always will be), and I am not going to sit here and say we can win it, but missing LSU and Tennessee may help. In the end, I like us to get to 40 wins and a top-4 finish in the SEC, based on my (however unproven) hopes that Tori Finucane is the real deal in the circle.

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