The Beef - Alright Switz…as the leaves have fallen from the trees and we wait for the winter, now seems as good of a time as any to review the fall season the Mizzou softball team completed last month. As the Tigers have under Coach Tremendous Stubble, the schedule is filled with local JUCO’s and D-II schools (I imagine so Coach E does not have to worry about getting reps and time for everyone). First and foremost, what stood out the most to you from the fall schedule (given how much (or really little) we might be able to take from the level of competition)?
Switzy - The hitting was impressive regardless of the level of competition. Natalie Fleming and Kirsten Mack both hit over .700 (!) and four other Tigers hit at least .500. The team also managed 44 walks to only 13 strikeouts - avoiding the K is going to be a key for this team, since they continue to thrive on base-path speed (30 SB in fall ball). I am also impressed with some of the newcomers. Chloe Rathburn, the South Alabama transfer expected to play 1st and/or DP, hit .526 with two HR; late-add freshman Chase Nelson had 12 hits in 23 at-bats in her first taste of college ball; freshman Rylee Pierce hit .409; and freshman speedster Regan Nash stole 8 bases and hit .389.
The pitching also impressed. I recall Coach E saying at one point that freshman pitcher Danielle Baumgartner had been one of the biggest surprises. Her 1.08 ERA (13 IP) was only 3rd best on the team. The 1A/1B combination of Tori Finucane and Paige Lowary managed a .78 and .50 respectively. The most impressive stat in the circle has to be Lowary's 30 strikeouts in 14 innings, though. If she takes a leap forward, she could be one of the best. In the country.
So that's what we got out of the games themselves, Beef. But as you mention, Coach E is trying to get reps and time for his players during fall season. His approach seems designed to test players at different positions and play with the appearance of the team in the field. What interesting happenings came from his experimentation?
The Beef - The most interesting thing (to me) which came out of the fall ball was the move of senior Taylor Gadbois to shortstop as a potential replacement for Corrin Genovese. When done, the move put Emily Crane in centerfield, where I believe she has the speed and defensive acumen to be more than adequate as the anchor outfielder. The move of Gadbois comes with little risk, as Coach E said, if it doesn’t work out, he can put her right back in centerfield. I think it does give an interesting glimpse into his mind where he is trying to find a little more defensive comfort than what Sami Fagan would provide there. Mizzou was certainly spoiled with Genovese out there (especially when third base has not been terribly strong defensively of late), and with a couple of his pitchers (Baxter, Baumgartner and Finucane to a lesser extent) throwing to contact, infield defense may be key.
As expected, Sami Fagan saw time all over the infield, and it will be interesting to track where she lands, because where she feels most comfortable and where she might have the most value to us are evidently different positions. Her bat was on fire however (with 6 HR’s and a slugging percentage of 1.500), so no matter where she plays, she will play every game.
Also of note was Regan Nash seeing time all over the outfield and Chase Nelson seeing time up the middle at C, SS and 2B. As you mentioned, Nash showed a ton of speed and could be a very intriguing end of the lineup option that provides a bridge back up to Gadbois and puts a lot of pressure on the defense and pitching.
Anything that I have missed? If not, care to throw down a stupid early prediction on a possible lineup after what you have seen from the fall stats?
Switzy - A couple other notes. Natalie Fleming was used exclusively at 2B - a position I don't think she played at all last year (although she did see some time there as a freshman). I know I had her pegged as a potential lock in the outfield given how well she played defensively late last season. Instead, the outfield opportunities went to Sydney Sprague, Kolby Romaine, Regan Nash, and Cosette Tomita in LF, Official switzy Favorite Emily Crane, Gadbois, Sprague, and Tomita in CF, and Nash, Sprague, Tomita, Sara Harvey, and Morgan Walters in RF.
Leaving aside Crane and Gadbois - because they will be on the field no matter what - the others experienced mixed results at the plate. We've already detailed Nash's performance, and she got the most playing time of the group, which is a good sign she's going to play a role this season. Sprague and Harvey had equal time, with Harvey outperforming Sprague at the plate, with a little extra pop in the bat as well. Romaine, Tomita, and Walters saw very limited action and although Walters had two hits in four at-bats, nothing much stood out from those three.
So here's a stab at a lineup, with positions included. It's still far too early for this to be accurate, but it's a fun game.
First, this was my prediction in our last go-round:
Here's my updated one. I'm sticking to my theory of breaking up the line of left-handed bats in the lineup.
Ultimately, Coach's comments in the most recent interview with Blake Toppmeyer (http://www.columbiatribune.com/blogs/tiger_tidings/earleywine-recaps-fall-season-updates-position-battles-discusses-impact-freshmen/article_9db7acc3-c305-56e3-afbe-dcdb4d17b600.html) indicate to me that Gadbois simply isn't going to be solid enough at short to stick (he's pretty strict with his middle infielders). He also mentions moving Crane down the lineup, but she's as great a #2 hitter as you are going to find, and I don't think you mess with that spot. She sticks in RF due to Fleming's emergence at 2B. Pierce hit .409, but as a freshmen, she gets stuck in the 8 spot, with the ability to move her up if she starts hot. And Nash slides into that vacant LF position that's been up for grabs and creates a formidable 9-1 spot in the lineup that may steal their way to crooked-numbers innings on a regular basis. The biggest question I have about the Tiger lineup at this point with where Rathburn and Mack end up. Rathburn is a very solid hitter but not a speedster, so she could easily end up anywhere from 3-7; if Mack develops enough to pad her BA by 50 points or so, she may well end up at the 4 or 5 spot.
So I showed my work. Where did I go wrong, Beef? What does your lineup look like?
The Beef - I would imagine the place you went wrong is that if Coach E says he wants to move Crane down the order, he is going to move Crane down the order. I certainly agree with you I feel like the two-slot is a great feel for her, mixing her speed and bat control with the little bit of pop to keep people honest. However, maybe it feels right for us because she’s been so firmly entrenched in that position for so long?
Let’s take a look at my prediction from a couple of months ago:
I feel like my top seven will all be in the lineup, but I was a decent bit off on my bottom two. Romaine did not really see many at bats in the fall and while Walters saw a few more (going 2-4 with SIX walks), I feel like she is also going to be primarily a bench player. I love the idea of Nash in the lineup for some of that additional speed (especially to put more pressure on the pitcher when coming back around to the top of the order), but man alive, I HAVE to find a way to get Chase Nelson (.522 with 4 doubles and a triple in 23 at bats) a spot out there. So, I’ll take the plunge and move Crane at the same time and come up with this hot mess:
I’ll be honest…putting the lineup together without positions was pretty simple. Putting the positions on there was a little tougher. With Nelson having seen some time at short, I took a chance there because I don’t think she can play 3B, where I put Fagan (relegating Sanchez to the DP role). Trust me, I am not in LOVE with the infield just because it is very unproven, but my offense is exciting.
I’ll circle back to pitching because I really did not touch much on it, but I am excited if Coach E is excited about Danielle Baumgartner and her potentially being ahead of where he thought she might be. To review, she came off of a senior season where she evidently gutted through a knee injury to still carry her team as far as she could. With Finucane hopefully back and settled a bit more than last season, with Baxter having a year of high D-1 softball behind her and with the supposed growth of Lowary, I think we may have the most options we’ve had it some time. I would expect to see Lowary take over the Friday/Sunday SEC role, with Finucane on Saturday and in the mid-week, along with Baxter and some Baumgartner when possible. I really do feel like we won’t see much of Lowary during the week if possible (unless the schedule calls for it).
Any final thoughts on my work before we close it out?
Switzy - Nothing to add, Beef. I think we're all set for this round. Looking very forward to the start of the season.