The 2018 version of BieserBall includes a large component of veterans, recruited by Tim Jamieson, who have spent their entire college careers facing SEC competition. Joining them is a promising crop of newcomers, many of them recruited by Bieser & Company.
Does this squad have what it takes to move the brand forward from innovators to winners in Bieser’s sophomore season?
The Tigers began Fall practice with twenty new players on the roster. If you want a quick introduction to each of the newcomers, check out the series of quick videos on Twitter under the hashtag #DesignatedRookie.
Bieser and his staff have been working the team hard in the Fall and Winter, looking to see who will shake out of the pile and prove to be essential to the success of the team in 2018.
That list begins with a trio many didn’t expect to see back in black & gold this season.
RHP Bryce Montes de Oca
Bryce Montes de Oca was the first Missouri player selected Wednesday. The 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher was taken by the Washington Nationals in the 15th round.
Montes de Oca is currently listed as a junior by Missouri's website, but a report from Jim Callis, with MLB.com, said Montes de Oca was granted a redshirt for his sophomore season, in which he only threw ⅓ of an inning, and that he will return for at least another season with the Tigers as a junior...
His return should be a boon for a Missouri pitching staff losing some key members. In 2017, Montes de Oca limited batters to a .205 average, striking out 61 in 61 innings pitched. He finished the year with a 4.28 ERA and a 4-5 record. Columbia Missourian, 6/14/17
Montes de Oca enters his fourth season with his fourth pitching coach. When Matt Hobbs left for Wake Forest after MDO’s freshman year, Tim Jamieson took over the role of the Tigers’ chief pitching coach the following year. Last year, Pat Hallmark took over the role, only to be replaced by Fred Corral this season.
Corral, true to the Bieser approach, puts a lot of emphasis on mental preparation. MDO appears to be buying into whatever his new coach is selling.
When your caught doing something you should be doing. Visualization should be part of everyone’s routine. Maximize your time when you are not throwing. Difference btw ordinary and extraordinary is the “extra”. Didn’t even get chapped about being on the tarp #onCamera pic.twitter.com/TChKZzHbxx— Fred Corral (@FCorral34) November 16, 2017
Bieser told Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com he’s looking at MDO as the likely Friday night starter.
“I think the biggest piece to our puzzle was Montes de Oca coming back for another season. . . . He’s throwing strikes and is much more of a strike-thrower than he has been in the past. Velocity has never been a concern with him, but now he’s commanding his fastball and finding ways to actually move the pitch around the zone. He’s getting more of a feel for the two and four-seam fastballs and isn’t just trying to fill up the zone every time out. His change is a little hard at 89-91 and has more of a split-finger action, but that pitch now has some sharp, late bite.”
The ultimate success of the 2018 Tigers may rise or fall on how well MDO takes the next logical step in his long development into a reliable and dominant starter.
It would be great to see MDO do well this season, go high in the draft, and become a dominant pitcher in pro ball. Wouldn’t it be great if the best major leaguer to come out of Lawrence, Kansas, got there by way of Mizzou.
Another key to the team’s success will be the leadership of MDO’s battery mate and fellow draft dodger.
C Brett Bond
Bond, a junior from St. Louis, was taken by the Houston Astros in the 23rd round of the draft earlier this month. He had hoped to hear his name called somewhere in the first 10 rounds.
After mulling his options for a few days, Bond decided against signing with the Astros and will return to Mizzou for his final season of eligibility. Bond has been a fixture in the Tigers’ lineup the last three years and saw his production improve dramatically this season under first-year coach Steve Bieser. Bond posted career-high numbers in every major offensive category and increased his batting average from .219 to .307, on-base percentage from .323 to .385 and slugging average from .369 to .507. He was second on the Tigers in home runs (10) and RBIs (45) and led or shared the team lead in hits (66), runs (41), doubles (13) and extra-base hits (23). St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bond chooses not to sign with Stros, returns to Mizzou on a mission 6/30/17
Just as much as Montes de Oca can be the anchor of the pitching staff, Brett Bond can be the leader of the Tigers’ daily lineup, both with his bat and with his on-the-field leadership. Bond was the 2017 team leader in hits, runs scored and total bases, and shared the lead in doubles
A new experimental SEC rule allows coach-to catcher communication via a helmet headset. During Fall practice I watched Coach Corral communicating with Bond via a small handheld radio. More than once I saw Bond fiddling with the headset as they worked to get the bugs out of the system. It will be interesting to see if this experiment results in better pitch calling and quicker games.
Coach Corral is calling the pitches via walkie talkie to a receiver in C Brett Bond’s helmet pic.twitter.com/kS54TzLxRp— TR Robertson (@trripleplay) October 15, 2017
OF/IF Trey Harris
Unlike his two teammates, Trey Harris didn’t get drafted at all, much to the surprise of many fans and followers of Mizzou Baseball.
ONE.MORE.YEAR with the boys... God has A Plan and his plan is far better than ours.. time to do things I've wanted to do since day 1!!— Trey Harris⚾2⃣2️⃣ (@JustCallMe_Duce) June 15, 2017
Harris has been the emotional spark plug of the team during his three years in Columbia. His sheer joy in playing the game is infectious.
In 2017 he also became the offensive spark plug, leading the team with 12 home runs and 48 RBI in 2017.
Coach Bieser has been experimenting with moving Harris to a different position this year, according to D1Baseball.com:
“Trey has been playing some second base this fall. We’re looking for more options (in the outfield) to be a little more offensive,” Bieser said. “Trey at second could change the dynamic of our offensive lineup. He’s had some hiccups, but it’s something he really wants to do. He’s putting some serious work into the position. If Trey wins the job, it gives us another quality bat.
He may see time at second, in the outfield, or wherever he fits, if he continues to swing a hot bat as he did last season and this past summer in the MINK League.
Despite his brief stay, Harris took the MINK League by storm this year, racking up 33 hits in just 19 games to finish the season with a .434 batting average. . . Harris split time between right field and DH roles with Sedalia, and is also capable of manning second and third base because of his above-average arm. He swings with immense strength but is also keenly aware of the strike zone, walking 12 times this summer. Passed over in the draft this June, Harris could wind up being the first senior off the board in 2018 because of his athleticism and power. 2017 MINK League Top Prospects, Baseball America, 8/21/17
Harris talked to ABC 17 News in July about his expectations for 2018. He told them his goal is to hit 20 home runs and have 60 RBIs. He was also working on losing some weight and getting his body in shape, working out with Montes de Oca four days a week during the summer.
Bond and Harris are likely fixtures somewhere in the middle of the lineup, but it takes 9 batsmen to fill out a lineup card.
Last season’s 1B, Junior Brian Sharp, sophomore SS Chris Cornelius, and senior 3B Alex Samples will likely return as mainstays in the infield. Per SID Shawn Davis at the First Pitch Banquet, Sharp could switch from 1B to 3B for 2018. Senior Matt Berler is likely to also get playing time after a productive offensive summer in the Coastal Plain League. Berler had only 99 at bats last year, but the Tigers were 22-5 in games that he started. He played at 1B, 2B, and 3B in 2018.
If Trey Harris doesn’t make the shift to 2B, freshman infielder Mark Vierling has been impressing the coaching staff during fall practice with his defensive skills. If he catches fire offensively, he could be the starter at second.
In the outfield, last year’s primary starters return, with newcomers battling for their jobs.
Sophomore OF Kameron Misner, who started 46 games in 2017, had a great summer in the NECBL, catching the eye of Baseball America:
Misner followed up his impressive freshman campaign at Missouri (.287 with seven home runs and 12 doubles) with an all-star summer with Newport in which he hit .387/.479/.652, with eight home runs and 13 doubles. His bat is easily his best tool—he has an easy, across-the-middle stroke and is willing to hit to both sides of the field despite impressive pull power. But his speed and strong arm have helped him find defensive success in the outfield.
Misner was named 2nd Team Pre-Season All SEC in the coaches’ poll.
Junior Connor Brumfield started 45 games, mostly in center field. Bieser told D1Baseball he likes Brumfield as the leadoff hitter, with Misner in the two or three slot in the batting order. Brumfield led the 2017 Tigers in at-bats and shared the lead with Cornelius in triples, both of which bode well for success in the lead-off spot.
The third most frequent OF starter last season was Harris, who may still see some time there again in 2018, along with his new role at 2B.
Last year’s 4th outfielder, Johnny Balsamo, is no longer with the Tigers, having transferred to Missouri Southern. But there are plenty of newcomers eager to be that third or fourth outfielder.
Junior Zach Hannah, a JuCo transfer from Iowa Western CC, is the leading candidate to force himself into a starting OF job, and likely one of the chief reasons they’d like to move Harris to 2B. According to D1Baseball.com, “Hannah is a physical line-drive hitter who consistently hits balls with an exit velocity between 95-100. He has shown good contact this fall and is a 6.8 runner.” In Fall practice I saw him deliver some impressive hits and RBI.
The new catcher who has captured the most attention is junior transfer Isaiah Cullum. Based on the powerful bat I saw him swinging in the fall, he’ll find a way into the lineup fairly often, likely as DH, with Bond hogging home plate. Stever Bieser told D1Baseball.com, “Cullum could have as much power as anyone in our league. He’s a big guy and will hit the ball 450 feet consistently in a batting practice setting. He’s been one of our top hitters this fall and is looking very good.”
The Pitching Staff
Coach Bieser may be looking at Montes de Oca as the likely Friday night ace, but Mizzou could effectively have two aces in the weekend rotation if sophomore LHP T.J. Sikkema makes the transition to full-time starter.
Sikkema led the Tiger starters with an ERA of 2.72, in wins (8), and was second only to Tanner Houck in strikeouts.
Sikkema’s 0.88 WHIP was second in the country, his 2.72 ERA was eighth in the SEC and he won SEC Freshman of the Week twice. PowerMizzou 2/8/18
College Baseball Central posted a good analysis of the Tigers’ flexible approach to making use of Sikkema’s talents last season.
The lefty, who was also referred to as the Tigers’ closer in the same way that Otto was labeled as a closer, could certainly shut the door late in games, as evidenced by his four saves. But he could also be stretched out to throw multiple innings in relief, as he showed by throwing 79.1 innings over 22 appearances. To top it off, he showed he could also start, as he did three times, including a four-hit shutout against Tennessee on the last weekend of the season.
No matter the role, he was effective. In those 79.1 innings, he had a 2.72 ERA, an 81/18 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .186 opponent batting average. Perhaps his most dominant stretch was his start to the season. From February 18 to March 25, a span of nine appearances and 29.2 innings, he struck out 48 hitters and didn’t give up a single earned run. It should go without saying that his production earned him a spot on the All-SEC Freshman Team when it was all said and done.
Sikkema has been named a 2nd Team Pre-Season All-American by Perfect Game.
It seems likely that Sikkema will join the weekend rotation, but if others step up to earn the weekend slots, Bieser and Corral could decide to keep him in the role of closer.
Returning senior RHP Andy Toelken (5-3, 70.2 IP, 2.80 ERA) and junior LHP Michael Plassmeyer (5-1, 54 IP, 4.83 ERA) are likely candidates for the starting rotation. Their experience at the D1 level gives them a leg up on the crowd of candidates for mound time.
And there is a crowd. The better part of those twenty newcomers are pitchers, plus there are other returning hurlers who will be in the mix. Based on the official 30-man roster, Bieser is choosing to go with promising newcomers over some of the pitchers who were on the roster last season.
The standout among the newcomers in the Fall was freshman RHP Konnor Ash, who has been throwing a 90-92 mph fastball and mixes up three good pitches. He could be the team’s closer when the season begins.
Junior Brian Sharp will also likely get his share of mound time, even though he is primarily an infielder. His stuff is good enough that his coaches can’t afford to not make use of the flexibility he provides for the roster.
Senior RHP Nolan Gromacki is known nationwide for his flaming hair, but he has distinguished himself as a leader on the MU campus. He also tied Sikkema for mound appearances in 2017. He’ll no doubt be a leader in the Tiger bullpen this season, whether that be as a closer or in a set up role.
Junior RHP Cameron Dulle clocked innings for the Tigers last year, providing some experience in the bullpen.
The SEC is a conference that thrives on great pitching. Because of the surplus of veteran position players, Bieser and his staff had the luxury of recruiting plenty of pitchers.
Every successful college pitching staff relies on the experience of JuCo transfers to flesh out the staff. RHP Tyler LaPlante (who came back from Tommy John surgery to have a good year at Johnson CC), RHP Nile Ball, RHP Giovanni (Gio) Lopez, LHP Cody Siebenberger, and RHP Jordan Gubelman are this year’s hopefuls for those roles. They come with some pretty good stats at some of the best JuCo baseball factories.
That’s a lot of live arms. Some of them will spend the 2018 season charting pitches in the middle of Section D, hoping to break through. Others will find their way into bullpen roles or spot starts.
One wildcard in all this is RHP Ian Bedell, a top draft prospect who made the choice to ignore all the MLB scouts and instead graduated high school early, in December, so he could join the Tigers this Spring. As recently as September, the3rdmanin.com reported on expectations that he would be drafted in the high rounds in June.
Committed to the University of Missouri, Bedell is one of the top high school baseball prospects in the country. He’s excepted to go in the early rounds of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft next June.
“My whole life I’ve pictured myself pitching in the MLB,” Bedell said, “but also at the same time you grow up wanting to pitch in the College World Series. . . .
A 6-foot-2, 198-pound righty, Bedell throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, circle changeup, 12-6 curveball and a slider. His fastball tops out at 95 mph.
It’s impossible to predict how quickly Bedell will adapt to pitching in college, especially in the SEC. All of his fellow freshmen have a semester’s advantage in that process. But Bedell could surprise everyone and nail down a spot in the rotation or bullpen as the season progresses.
As usual, most of the Stillwells of the college baseball world are predicting a mediocre season for the Tigers, one that ends in Hoover (if not before). But if the pitching comes through, this veteran team should at least match what they accomplished a year ago. And, given a boost of confidence, they could surprise everyone with how far they can go.