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Mizzou Softball returns its top 4 hitters in 2016 but will still need contributions from newcomers

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. Click here for part 1. On to part 2.

The Beef: So as soon as I finished talking about the loss of Corrin and Kelsea and even Angie, I started thinking about the offense and how big a step back it might take. But then I started to look at the final stats from last year and came to realize we still return our top four hitters (and five of the top seven) and then I felt a bit better.

Let’s start at the top with Sami Fagan, who will be one of two redshirt seniors on the team this coming season. After having a very successful start to her career on the diamond at Florida, Fagan made the move here and did not quite perform at the level I had expected in 2014, though she did come around to ultimately bat .342. However, this was after hitting almost .380 while at Florida as a true frosh. Certainly there were some considerations given to her position change (to catcher at times) and how that might have affected her game. In 2015, she put everything together, and then some, as her batting average rose 26 points to .368, and the power game was fully introduced, leading her to have 13 HR’s and a team-high 66 RBI’s. She also led the squad in doubles (12), runs (58), walks (37) and was third on the team with 16 SB’s.  All of this was strong enough for all SEC 2nd team, which is a testament to how good the SEC is and how badly the voting went. I fully expect her to continue to exist in the 3-spot in the lineup.

Next on the list is one of the two-table setters for Fagan, and that is Official Switzy Favorite Emily Crane. Crane’s batting average and doubles output was actually off a bit from the previous years, but her batting .363 and going 28 for 28 in stolen bases certainly helped offset the lack of doubles. The great thing about Fagan and Crane going back to back? They are TOUGH outs. The two combined for 68 walks (in 58 games) with only 20 K’s on the season. They are going to make you earn it. For Crane, 57 runs scored was 2nd on the squad, as was 65 hits. And of course, only two errors in the outfield is icing on the cake. I tend to agree that we will see her returned to the infield and second base as Fagan moves over to cover the gap left from Genovese.

Number three on our returning list was someone who I certainly expected to be at the top of this list (considering I am doing this list in order of batting average). Taylor Gadbois really struggled at points last season after a 2014 which saw her hit .421 and lead the SEC in stolen bases with 46. Last year, the speed was certainly still there, as she went 40-43, but the batting average slid down to a still solid .347. She started the year on fire, then really fell off a bit and did ultimately recover during SEC play. The biggest concern? Only 13 BB’s against 29 K’s.  Someone with her speed should be the opposite way, as a hit is as good as a double (which is good, since she only hit one actual double for her lone XBH last season). Still, she led the team with 66 hits, but the OBP less than .400 (.398) is something I’d love to have her correct. Get that back towards .450 and the runs scored ("only" 46 for third best on the team) should increase as well.

Finally of the top four returning, we come to Amanda Sanchez. A slash line of .347/.444./.624 is good for anyone, but for a true frosh, that is mighty impressive. 60 hits, 20 of them for XBH (6 doubles and 14 HR’s) along with 56 RBI’s and an acceptable 24:21 BB:K comparison. Improve that eye just a bit and the Tigers are looking at someone around whom they are likely to build their lineup for 2017 and 2018. Where she plays in the field is obviously an interesting discussion, but I do wonder if her batting will stand to improve all the more if she ends up being tapped as the everyday Designated Player. Sure, you would want her in the field at points in practice, but I do wonder how much better of a hitter she might be if it was the far greater focus (rather than having to worry about the hot corner and double-figure errors).

And last, but certainly not least is returning Junior Kirsten Mack, she of the just under .300 average (.294) and team lead in HR’s with 15 last season.  Mack really represents the classic case of the jump players can make from one year to the next, as she hit .225 in 32 starts as a frosh with 3 HRs on the year. Last year though, she put together a solid campaign, though the strike out rate (29 BB’s to 32 K’s) could improve. .631 slugging is solid along with the .415 OBP. Mack looks to move up the lineup, perhaps to the #5 spot behind Sanchez to really sock in the power to the middle of the lineup (Fagan/Sanchez/Mack is a tough run of folks who can put it out of the park).

Also worth noting could be junior Natalie Fleming, who could see time at 3B or perhaps in the outfield like you mentioned. Fleming was in and out of the lineup last season (mostly in with 43 starts and 50 games). .267 was a little disappointing with a little bit of pop (3 HR’s) and a decent eye (21 BB’s to 15 K’s). If she makes the jump like Mack did last year, the lineup becomes all the more fearsome.

So that is six hitters mentioned here of those returning to the team and potentially to the lineup. While we can still set the pitchers off to the side, shall we move to the newcomers before we start to try to formulate our best (and ridiculous) guess at possible lineup?

Switzy227: Here is a really quick rundown of the returning non-regulars and incoming transfers and freshmen who are not pitchers:

  • Paige Bange (IF) hit sparingly as a freshman, but hit well, going 5-9 with a home run and two doubles.
  • Sydney Sprague (IF) was used primarily as a pinch-runner in her freshman season, swiping 3 bases (in 3 attempts) and scoring 9 runs.
  • Morgan Walters (IF/OF) was the most-used freshman batter for the Tigers, starting 14 games and appearing in 35. She hit .200 in 50 at-bats, hitting 2 home runs but striking out 13 times. She also struggled in the field, with 3 errors.
  • Anna Reed (OF) was a Juco transfer who was a sophomore in 2015. Mostly in a pinch-hit/pinch-run role, she hit .333 (3-9) and stole a base in her only attempt.
  • Sara Harvey (IF) hit .308 in limited action (1 start, 18 appearances) including 1 HR and 1 double.
  • Chloe Rathburn (C/IF) transfers in from South Alabama where she was a 2-time All-Sun Belt player. She hit .371 in 2015, splitting time between catcher and DP.
  • Elizabeth Hagens is a "St. Louis speedster" with very little information available due to the mutigers.com update. She was a late addition to the class, signing in May.
  • Cosette Tamita is an "Illinois standout" from the Chicago area with very little information available due to the mutigers.com update. She was a late addition to the class, signing in April.
  • Chase Nelson (IF) just signed with Mizzou in August after decommiting from Arkansas. She set all kinds of records at her high school and hit .556 as a senior displaying speed (19 SB, 8 triples) along with hitting 8 doubles and 4 HR, and driving in 49.
  • Jolie Duffner (IF) is a Jeff City kid who was a three-time First Team All-State player who had multiple seasons over .500.
  • Regan Nash (OF) is a KC player who managed the 7th best single-season batting average ever in the state of Missouri in her junior year (.667) and followed it up with a .602 average as a senior. She was also a state champ in the 100-meter dash in 2014.
  • Rylee Pierce (C/IF) is another California product who chose Mizzou over UCLA (among others). She is considered very strong defensively and one of the top players in this group.
  • Kolby Romaine (IF/OF) is also a high-rated California recruit who had offers from Oregon and Michigan. She hit .525 as a junior, with 11 doubles and 28 runs scored.

There is no doubt that the second year players will have the leg up in any competition, but Rathburn has to be considered a favorite to fill the DP spot. Pierce and Rathburn could each play some catcher, filling in the hole left by the departing Alyssa Cousins. And Pierce and Romaine are probably the most likely freshman to play regularly, given the high competition they faced in high school playing in California. (All that said, I am super intrigued by Nash, whose bio reads as though she might be able to simply become Taylor Gadbois come 2017).

Of the returners, Walters got the most playing time and plays outfield; if our predictions hold and one or more outfield spots is available, she'll certainly be a candidate. If Reed has adjusted to the D1 game, she should also be a strong candidate. Based on the little we saw last year, Bange is probably best fit at 2B, Sprague at 2B or SS, and Harvey at 1st. Any of the three making a run for regular playing time would affect the spots for Emily Crane, Amanda Sanchez, or Natalie Fleming.

So there's the skinny on the roster, Beef. I'll give you first crack at predicting the lineup for next year - the absolute silliest thing we do each season for Mizzou softball. The goal, for the uninitiated, is to predict the fielding and hitting spots that will be seen most often (barring injury) for the next season. What do you see happening with this Tiger squad?

The Beef: Before I get into my worthless lineup predictions, I went looking for a little bit of additional info on the incoming recruits (class of 2015). I navigated over to http://www.goldfastpitch.com/#!verbals/c1viv and while they did not have much of anything on each individual player, they did list future commitments. The Tigers appear to currently have SIX commitments for 2016 (likely to be announced in November), another EIGHT for 2017, two for 2018 and even one for 2019. Goodness.

Anyway, to fill in some blanks on Elizabeth Hagens, the STL Today high school sports site has the following stats for her from last season. As always, take them with a grain of whatever you choose to take things with. The site states she batted .649 (37 for 57) with 46 runs scored. It also said she had 81 stolen bases, which was tops in the area…BY 26 OVER ANYONE ELSE. Also said her OBP was .726 and she did walk 15 times. An eye AND speed? Yikes.

Best I could find on Tomita is that she is a middle infielder with some pop and some speed. She also pitched a bit.