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What changes will we see from Missouri's softball lineup in 2016?

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With the short fall softball season on the horizon, let's chat a bit about what Mizzou fans can expect from the Tiger Softball team in 2016. Here's part 1.

The Beef

The Beef: Alright Switzy, we are just about through the summer and before we know it, the softball team will be into their fall schedule (typically against local JUCO’s). The Tigers saw their season end in the Super Regionals against a solid UCLA team, as Mizzou would get some runs on the board in both games against the Bruins, but the pitching could not quite hold it together before ultimately falling in two games.  Before we start to talk about all the excitement about the level of talent returning to the squad (along with the newcomers), let’s first talk about the players who have moved on (through graduation or otherwise), the mark they left on the program and the hole we will attempt to fill as we move forward.

Switzy227: Mizzou certainly brings back a lot of talent, losing only 5 players from their Regional champion squad. But this does include three starters and a fourth who was thought to potentially play a larger role in 2016.

The biggest of them is Corrin Genovese, stalwart shortstop and all around fan-favorite. Her defense at short drew national attention, and she was an often underrated hitter; notching first-team all SEC honors in 2014 with a .439 average in conference play, and hitting a solid .312 overall in 2015 including the team's 2nd most doubles (behind Sami Fagan). Not only does Mizzou lose an everyday player, but they are almost certain to see a step down in defense at SS.

Kelsea Roth is the next name to consider, as she climbed the charts quickly in a rejuvenating senior campaign to finish with 14 HR (including two big blasts in the season ending loss to UCLA) after a rough 2014 that saw her average dip to the .250s and her HR total down to only 8. She finished her career near the top of Mizzou's leaderboard in HR, and provided solid defense at 1st throughout her career.

Angela Randazzo was a gamer whose output in 2013 and 2014 proved too much to keep up with in her senior year. Not a factor in the field - a point demonstrated by some questionable 3rd base play in 2014 - Randazzo played a lot of DP in 2015 but never really seemed to get things going. She ended up hitting .258 on the year, a decrease of nearly 100 points from her stellar 2014 season.

Kayla Kingsley was a bit-player on the 2015 Tigers, attempting to come back from multiple major surgeries. Kingsley hit .280 in very limited action, and stole 5 bases in 6 attempts. She provided a veteran presence and some speed on the base paths, but decided to end her softball career due to lingering pain issues. She leaves behind an opportunity for any of a half-dozen players left on Mizzou's roster to be an outfield defense/pinch runner/emergency player.

Finally, there's the two transfers. Alyssa Cousins was a seldom-used player, but managed a couple of hits in her senior campaign serving as a pinch hitter and backup catcher. Her big moment was getting her first home run. Thanks to Alyssa for her dedication to the Tiger team! The other is Jordan Zolman, who was used sparingly early in the season, but showed great promise later in the year as she provided a few key at-bats off the bench and was rewarded with a handful of starts at DP. She supplied 9 hits in only 26 at-bats (.346) which included 2 doubles and 2 HR. She was regularly touted as having the biggest bat on the team and seemed to be the heir apparent at DP for Randazzo. But evidently, Zolman elected to transfer - usually a sign of wanting guaranteed time - to Kansas. I would be very pleased to avoid having to see her come up against Mizzou in next year's regionals. Of course, there's no saying with certainty what the team is losing in Zolman, but she was more of a known quantity than the remaining candidates for DP.

The Beef: Those first two losses you discussed will certainly be the biggest. Corrin was a four-year stalwart defensively, but really came into her own offensively in the past two seasons. Batting over .300, a little bit of pop (4 HR’s and 10 doubles), a little bit of speed (8-10 in SB’s) and a BB:K of more than 3:1 (31 BB’s to only 9 K’s). Those are not the easiest numbers to replace in a batting lineup, never mind what she provided in the field. Tiger pitchers were good for just less than one K per inning, which meant a lot of batted balls needed to be fielded, and she did that better than most.

With Kelsea Roth, it was so pleasing to see her shake off that pretty miserable junior season (and start to her senior campaign to be honest) to finally get back to (and even surpass) the type of production we had become accustomed to. In the end, her almost .340 batting average, 14 HR’s, 46 RBI’s and a slugging coming towards .700 were tremendous achievements. Her defense took a small step back this past season with a pretty uncharacteristic eight errors, and her eye at the plate (while still good with 33 BB’s) was not quite what it had been previously (29 K’s). But she was another stalwart of this club and it will be interesting to see how her presence is replaced in the field and at the corner.

As for Randazzo, she was a great soldier who just could not seem to get it all going again. In the end, the numbers were not where we thought they might be (always hoping for .300 and 10+ HR’s), but she still came up with some big hits and timely HR’s and her loss is likely to be felt just a tad more (if perhaps only in the off-season) due to her graduation AND the loss of Zolman. For Jordan, the timing for her departure does seem odd (to me at least) unless it means Sanchez is likely to see the time at DP and Jordan was not considered in the mix at 1B. The batting stats were there (in however limited amounts), and hers was a name which I figured would play a key role next year as either a starter/platoon’er or at least first bat off the bench. Happy trails.

And Kayla Kingsley…thank you. Thank you for showing the type of resiliency you displayed over your Tiger career and for continuing to get up off the mat when you continued to be dealt the harshest of blows and circumstances. Thank you for stealing bases again, even if it hurt far more than any 20-year old should hurt. Thank you for working hard to get back and for then listening to your body and understanding this is just a game and your life and your health are worth far more. All the best to you and thank you.

Now that we have said our goodbye’s, let’s get to the welcome backs. And the Tigers certainly welcome back a good deal of talent. Who do you expect to see back on the field in 2016 and where do you expect to see them?

Switzy227: As illustrated, Mizzou is returning a lot of talent to the field in the 2016 season. But given the important spots vacated by Genovese, Roth, and Randazzo, there is a lot of question as to what things will look like - both in the lineup and on the field - for the Tigers. Before I jump in with some predictions, here's your standard caveat: like in any other collegiate sport, softball often sees massive leaps from players over the course of an offseason. Kirsten Mack was a good example of this phenomenon last year, and Taylor Gadbois was an even better one the year before. There are at least 5 players who saw limited action last year, all of whom ostensibly have the skills to come in a be an everyday player. But predicting just who will manage it is pretty nearly a fool's errand.

So I choose to focus on the returners whose production is at least a lock. That list includes Official Switzy favorite Emily Crane, Sami Fagan, Amanda Sanchez, Taylor Gadbois, Kirsten Mack, Natalie Fleming, Cheyenne Baxter, Paige Lowary, and Tori Finucane.

Getting the pitchers out of the way - Lowary and Finucane will continue to operate as 1a/1b starters, and Baxter will continue to eat innings against lesser non-con foes and in emergency situations. The biggest culprit behind deficiencies in pitching in 2015 was injury - so keeping Lowary and Finucane healthy is paramount. However, both have proven themselves against high-level opponents at different times. If they can put things together, Mizzou has an incredibly high ceiling.

In the field, things get much trickier. With Kelsea Roth's graduation, 1B is open. And like in baseball,, 1B is often a place to stash someone who might not be the best fielder on the team. Of the returners, Kirsten Mack and Amanda Sanchez are the most likely to see time at first. Mack, however, would need to be replaced at catcher, and the roster has zero non-freshman catchers. So I see Mack remaining the primary option at catcher, while Sanchez is the favorite to play first. At third base last year, Sanchez made a few very nice plays, but finished tied for 2nd on the team in errors and finished with the lowest fielding percentage of any regular player. Her bat clearly isn't going anywhere (a .347 average and 14 HR as a freshman will give you a LOT of leeway) but it wouldn't be surprising to see her move across the diamond in 2016.

Last year, Sami Fagan manned second base, but she has always maintained a SS designation on the official Tiger roster. Because of that, she has to be considered the favorite to move over and take over for Corrin Genovese. That will leave 2B open. Given Coach E's emphasis on "middle of the diamond" defense, I believe that Emily Crane may work back to 2B (where she spent her freshman campaign) as she attempts to secure her spot in a few all-time Missouri Tiger softball records lists. That will leave 3B in an open competition. Natalie Fleming could challenge for a spot there, but she was effective enough in LF last season that I believe she will remain in that position in 2016.

The only outfielder unquestionably staying put next year is Taylor Gadbois, who has the speed necessary to roam center.

All said and done, the Tigers have two fielding positions that must be filled, and they have five 2nd-year Tigers who will battle a large incoming class (more to come on that later) for the right to take those spots. So that pretty much covers the field, Beef. Can you tell us what to expect at the plate from the returning core of the Tiger team?