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Missouri Baseball Preview: Returners

Let’s look at three guys who should be huge contributors for Missouri Baseball in 2022, and one wildcard who could be a big time player this year.

via Twitter: @MizzouBaseball

It’s no secret that the 2021 Missouri Tigers didn’t meet expectations. Going 15-36 and 8-22 in the SEC was disappointing, but they didn’t just have the worst record, they also had the worst team Batting Average (AVG), slugging % (SLG%), on-base % (OBP), and ERA. So yes, it wasn’t just bad breaks, the Tigers were the worst team in the SEC from top to bottom.

However, 2022 is a new year, and the Tigers are a new team. Plenty of players have left, plenty of new faces have arrived, and the 2022 Tigers will be looking to significantly outperform their 2021 selves.

If the Tigers are going to be successful, the guys who did produce last year are going to need to continue that trend, and some guys who struggled are going to need to step up. So let’s look at some key names that could be major contributors this year.

Torin Montgomery

via Twitter: @MizzouBaseball

Montgomery, a junior who began his career at Boise State before their program folded due to COVID, was one of Missouri’s most important and consistent players last year. With 5 HR and 30 RBI, Montgomery slashed .278/.373/.430 last year and narrowly edged Andrew Keefer for the team lead in OPS among qualifiers.

Despite being extremely solid all around at the plate and at first base, Montgomery’s biggest flaw is his propensity to strike out. Even so, he negates some of those mistakes with his ability to draw free passes, which allowed his OBP to eclipse his AVG by almost 100 points.

The highlight of Montgomery’s season last year was his four hit game in Starkville, which powered the Tigers a series victory against the eventual national champions. Now with a full season of college baseball under his belt, it’s reasonable to think that Montgomery could put out more performances like that this year as he continues to mature as a ballplayer.

Along with the likes of Luke Mann and true freshman Carlos Pena, Montgomery should be amongst the best power bats in the Missouri lineup this season. Early last year, he had a hard time carving out his role, but this year he should be a mainstay at 1B, and an uptick in power should follow.

Here’s a clip of his power to all fields from last season and a look at how he was hitting the ball this fall:

Josh Day

via Twitter: @MizzouBaseball

Making the jump from the JUCO ranks last year, Day immediately found himself in the everyday lineup. Although his full season slashline wasn’t the prettiest at .250/.374/.316, it doesn’t tell the full of story of his season.

For the first 20 games, Day was Missouri’s best player. He played good defense and was contributing at an extremely high level with his bat, but then he broke his hand. After taking some time off to recover from the injury, Day returned later in the year, but just wasn’t same player he was to begin the season.

In those 20 stellar games, Day slashed .306/.427/.419, and was one of the first names Steve Bieser penciled into his lineup card every day. After the injury, Day showed flashes of the player that he was in the first 20 games, like when he went 5-11 with 4 RBI in the Mississippi State series, so if he can stay healthy for a full season, it’s very reasonable to think he could be the guy that was getting on base at .400 clip again this year.

Day doesn’t wow many people with his play, but all the extra little things that he brings to his team are what make him so valuable. Based on the difference between his AVG and OBP, you can already tell he walks A LOT. He led the Tigers with 25 walks last year even with time missed due to injury.

Another category Day led the team in was stolen bases with 7, and barring injury, that number could be higher this year. He also plays stellar defense, committing just 4 errors all of last year. He may not have the arm that Nander De Sedas or Justin Colon have, but he might have a more reliable glove than both.

Here’s a clip of one of his big time ABs in the Mississippi State series, and a look at his exit velocity in fall ball:

Ian Lohse

via Twitter: @MizzouBaseball

If you read anything I wrote about this true sophomore from St. Louis last year, you know I love his stuff. In 9 appearances as a TRUE FRESHMAN, Lohse put up a 1-2 record with a 3.27 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 2 SV, .160 BAA, and 31 K in 22 innings before tearing his UCL.

His UCL tear was an abrupt conclusion to what had been a stellar freshman year, but it doesn’t take away from anything he accomplished. He was by far the Tigers’ best and most reliable pitcher — not just reliever — and was a weapon in the back end of the Missouri bullpen to finish games.

The exciting news about Lohse’s recovery from Tommy John surgery is I’ve heard the velocity is up. Anytime you hear that about a guy coming back from TJ, it’s a scary thought that he could be even better than before. If he can regain feel for his breaking ball to pair with a fastball that is a couple ticks faster, he could once more be the guy that Bieser leans on in tight end of game situations.

Considering stamina is the last thing to return following a TJ rehab, it seems unlikely we will see Lohse transfer over to the weekend rotation from his previous bullpen role, but obviously you can never rule anything out. With that being said, I expect the non-conference schedule to be a time where Bieser allows his guy to regain his feel in game scenarios, before cutting Lohse loose as a bullpen Swiss Army knife in conference play.

If you need any help remembering just how good Lohse was for Mizzou last year, here’s a couple clips to jog your memory:

Drew Garrett

via Twitter: @Dgarrett107

A JUCO product and CoMo native, Garrett is the ultimate wildcard. He has all the tools you want from a backend bullpen arm: an electric fastball and a big breaking ball. However, throughout his first season on the mound at Taylor Stadium, Garrett struggled with control.

In 10.1 innings, Garrett had a 8.71 ERA and walked 15 batters with just 9 strikeouts, so to say he’ll need to improve this year would be an understatement. With that being said, there is no pitcher on the Missouri roster with more electric stuff than Garrett. In fact, just based on the explosive nature of his fastball, Garrett could get drafted with the hopes that minor league baseball could develop his command.

Against Arkansas State in a fall scrimmage, Garrett topped out at 95.7 MPH and his fastball approached 3000 RPMs. To put that in perspective, the MLB average for RPMs is 2200-2300 RPMs. So what does a fastball with 3000 RPMs mean? It means the ball has so much backspin out of Garrett’s hand that to hitters the ball almost looks like it’s rising, and it’s almost impossible to barrel it up.

At Johnson County Community College before coming to Mizzou, Garrett was dominant on the mound, and if he can rediscover his fastball control, he could slot into an integral role in the bullpen for the 2022 Tigers. Is he as much as a sure contributor as Montgomery, Day, or Lohse? No. But could Garrett maybe have the highest ceiling of the four players? Yes, and it’s just a matter of if he can tap into all that potential in his right arm.

Here’s a clip of Garrett’s electric fastball and how it compares to his teammates:

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