Now that the Mizzou Baseball season is officially over, The Beef and I felt it was time to once again check in with the resident Mizzou Baseball Internet Expert, trripleplay of SimmonsField.com.
The Boy: First things first: a couple weeks ago, we were debating in a roundtable what would constitute a "successful" season for Mizzou. The expectations were obviously pretty high at the beginning of the year, but after the struggle that followed, the goal (for me) was to simply get back to the NCAA tournament, keep the tourney streak alive, hopefully make some noise there, and get some optimism going for 2010. As a whole, how do you feel about how this season unfolded?
trripleplay: First, you have to realize that everyone was focused on Baseball America's ridiculous #10 preseason ranking, choosing to ignore the mid-20s rankings all of the other polls had for MU. If you toss out BA as the outlier, Mizzou did pretty well in getting close to the preseason predictions. The Tigers may very well be toward the lower end of some of the final post-season rankings.
The Tigers were picked to finish 5th in the coaches' Big 12 preseason poll, and they finished 3rd, thus exceeding those expectations.
There are those Tiger fans who aren't satisfied with anything less than perfection and think that Tim Jamieson deserves to be canned after taking his team to 3rd in the Big 12 and reaching a 7th straight Regional (1 of only 14 teams to make the last 7 straight Regionals). Obviously, I disagree.
But I'm not one of the people who just started following Mizzou Baseball when they started having success. 7 straight Regionals is a HUGE improvement over failing to make the NCAA Tournament or the Big 12 Tournament - or barely making it all.
So I'm happy with the season. Especially after the disaster of the first road trip and stumbling along for a month after that, this team had no business having as successful an outcome as it did.
The Beef: I realize we are a little while away from being able to have a hard answer to this next question, but based on what you know and what you have heard, what is your sense for returners next season? Obviously, the last lineup we put on the field was VERY heavy in seniors (Austin Holt, Ryan Lollis, Kyle Mach and Steve Gray…Ian Berger and Scooter Hicks too) and juniors (Greg Folgia, Trevor Coleman, Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto). Not counting Kyle Gibson, who do you see returning? Who do you see stepping up into some of those spots for next season?
trripleplay: Well. I just (5 minutes ago) posted a rather lengthy analysis of that topic at SimmonsField.com, so I don't want to repeat everything in detail. But in short, I see this lineup:
C - Ryan Ampleman or Brett Nicholas (JuCo transfer)
1B - Wide open: probably Ben Turner or one of two freshmen (Ryan Crowlet or Scott Sommerfeld)
SS - Michael Liberto
2B/3B - Conner Mach and Freshman Eric Garcia
OF - Returners Rex Meyr, Ryan Gebhart, Garrison McLagan and Russell LaFleur will compete with freshmen Blake Brown, Brannon Champagne, Scottt Sommerfeld and Dane Opel (if he doesn't diappear in the draft). Opel is the fresman most likely to become a regular starter - if he actually becomes a Tiger.
Starting Pitching: Nick Tepesch, Tyler Clark, Jeff Emens, Kelly Fick, Ryan Clubb and Phil McCormick are the returners who will compete for the job. Several freshman look good: Eric Anderson (RHP), Blake Brown, Ryan Crowley (LHP), Jack Dudenhoeffer (RHP), Andy Heifner (RHP) and Cody King (RHP). Plus, a successful JuCo transfer, Zach Hardoin (LHP) from Blinn College.
If he can return to mid-2009 form, Brad Buehler is the obvious front-runner for closer.
The Boy: I just read that 2010 piece, and the one thing that definitely stands out is the fact that there may as few as two senior regulars next year...though that means you think Trevor Coleman and Aaron Senne are gone. Senne is understandable--by season's end, his numbers were very Senne-like, though a few more HRs would have been nice; but do you think Coleman's draft stock is still at a high enough point that he'd come out despite an iffy offensive season? I was encouraged by Ryan Ampleman's play (though he'll need to improve defensively), but obviously I wouldn't complain if he were to return.
trripleplay: I don't think Senne or Coleman either one know if they'll be back. Both had sub-par years against what was expected. Neither will e drafted as high as they were projected preseason. And both saw Ryan Lolllis reject a 20th round pick and return, attack the weights, and lead the Tigers defensively and offensively. If Lollis improves his draft level this time around significantly, that might make a possible return more attractive to Aaron and Trevor.
But I generally assume that any player drafted will leave. This is what they've hoped for all their life. It takes some real level-headed thinking to reject a bird in the hand for another year in college.
The Boy: In your 2010 piece, you mentioned Eric Garcia a couple times. Of all the new blood coming in next year, is he the one for whom you have the highest hopes? It's always hard to get a read on what to expect since most incoming freshmen tend to put up obscene numbers in high school.
trripleplay: You're right, it's impossible to know what a prep player is going to do when he encounters Big 12 level pitching and hitting. The players I've read the most about (because they good good press or have good PR teams - aka relatives who e-mail me] are Eric Garcia, Eric Anderson, Brannon Champagne, Blake Brown and Kale Gaden. They all look great to me.
And then there's Dane Opel, who is the highest ranked, most touted of our recruits. The Tigers will be very lucky if he actually becomes a Mizzou player, and he would be a dominant player in the Big 12 for three years. But he's going to get a lot of money thrown at him a week from now.
Oh . . . and there's another possible recruit not on the list yet. Nathan Culp's brother, Gregg Culp, wasn't signed in the fall signing period because he missed most of his Junior year with arm problems. So all the colelge recruiters (includin MU) waited to see how he did in his senior year of competition.
He has done fantastic, and reportedly the Tigers are just waiting to see how many players they lose to the Draft, to open up scholarship money for Culp. I'm fairly certain Mizzou is Gregg Culp's first choice, so it is likely hed will be signed up within the next few weeks.
If so, he'll be a very good competitor for the pitching staff.
The Beef: I want to go back to something you said in your first email in talking about where the program had been versus where it is now and I want to elongate that to where it is going. With new (and I imagine, in your opinion, long overdue) additions coming to the stadium, what do you believe Mizzou needs to achieve in the next few seasons to warrant the increased spending? Do they simply need to remain competitive in the Big XII and keep clicking off NCAA appearances or do they need to make Omaha or perhaps somewhere in between?
trripleplay: I don't think they need to do anything to warrant the new spending. I think it's just part of an overall steady increase in spending for all Olympic sports, thanks to Mike Alden. He apparently knows that "If you build it, success will come". If you sit and wait for a program to earn the investment, nothing will ever happen.
My attitude toward what MU Baseball (i.e., Tim Jamieson) needs to do is what any successful program needs to do. You continue to put a competitive team on the field. You do well in conference, you make it to the Regionals the vast majority of years (there will always be rebuilding years), and you continue to use that success to recruit.
If you maintain that level, the rest is like waiting for lightning to strike. Keep up that level, and you're bound to land that 5-star prospect at some point, at a time that coincides with a handful of next-level prospects, and if all the tumblers fall together just right (no injuries,etc), then you have the ingredients to make that leap into the next level for a year or two.
And then you fall back a little and keep doing the work to put together a solid team and wait for lightning to strike again.
The only other way to do it is to have a history and a budget and a reputation like a Texas or LSU or Cal State Fullerton. Maybe 20 years from now Mizzou could be there. But I don't expect it to happen.
The Boy: Back to the 2010 talk: Nick Tepesch had high hopes when he came to Mizzou, and while he has looked great at times, he has been quite inconsistent. The strikeouts are there--he improved from 5.2 K's per nine innings (and 3.7 walks) in 2008 to 9.0 (and 3.0) in 2009. But while guys like Gibson and Crow didn't always look amazing before taking "the leap" to becoming another great Friday night starter for Mizzou, they still finished with ERAs in the 4's. Tepesch's ERA finished at 6.27 in 2009. If there's any one thing for which Mizzou sets a consistently high standard, it's their Friday night starter. Will Tepesch be ready to carry that load in 2010? Or do you think someone like Tyler Clark (who put up solid ERA and K numbers in relief) might sneak in and steal the role away?
trripleplay: If Tepesch doesn't gain consistency, he will not be a dominating Friday night starter. Maybe he'll do it, maybe not.
If Tyler Clark and Ryan Clubb have the cojones to step up and do it, either of them could take over the role as leader of the rotation. I see most of the other contenders as suited more for bullpen roles or mid-week starters, based on their past performance.
The Beef: Alright…coming down the home stretch here….
You talked about consistency in finishes while waiting for lightning to strike. Can Mizzou fans expect to be a little further away from a possible strike next season with all the potential turnover? What is your super-early outlook on how Mizzou will do in 2010 (impossible I realize with all the question marks littered throughout the lineup)
trripleplay: That's an impossible question to answer, what with all the question makers littered through the lineup. I doubt any of the polls will have MU ranked preseason. The Big 12 Coaches will probably dump MU back into the lower levels preseason.
And that's all good as far as I'm concerned. Much better to over achieve than to fall short of lofty predictions.
And, as you've figured out by now, I'm not answering the question., Tell me if we have Coleman and/or Senne. Tell me if Dane Opel and his high school teammate Gregg Culp show up on campus. Tell me if Tepesch becomes the next Scherzer-Crow-Gibson or the next Drew Endicott. Then I'll tell you what the Tigers will do in 2010.
The Boy: Heh...I'll ask this question to wrap up instead: regardless of whether 2010 sees a slight drop-off or not, is it safe to say that, with the development of youngsters in 2009 and what appears to still be pretty solid recruiting, you still see this program as built pretty sturdy for the long-term?
trripleplay: I really expect 2010 to be a bit of a dip from recent years. But the program is solid, TJ knows what he is doing, and I see no collapse on the order of Nebraska's abyssmal season this year (or whining about the system like Mike Anderson did).