Last season, Missouri’s outfield offered little to no production at the plate. Ross Lovich, Ty Wilsmeyer and Carlos Pena all had wRC+ less than 100 and combined to hit just 10 HR. This year, the Tigers are hoping that those three will take a step forward, and that Nebraska transfer Cam Chick can provide a spark to a lineup that lacked outfield production.
Chick has been a consistent force for almost his entire college career. In 2021 and 2022, he had a 116 and 118 wRC+, respectively. Chick has been tasked with playing CF in years prior, but for the Missouri in 2023, it’s expected that he will man one of the corner outfield spots.
The CoMo native and Hickman grad has a smooth lefty swing and will be asked to bring his success from the Big 10 to the SEC. In 2022, Chick slashed .251/.425/.456 with 8 HR and a .409 wOBA. Whether he can recreate that production is unclear, as Chick has struggled against elite competition in the Cape Cod League before. His addition, however, should bring a much needed upgrade to the Missouri outfield.
Joining Chick in the Taylor Stadium outfield will be Ty Wilmsmeyer. Last year Wilmsmeyer started all 51 games for Missouri in CF, and it is expected he will do the same in 2023. Despite providing great defense and speed in the outfield, Wilmsmeyer struggled at the plate slashing .268/.327/.350 with 3 HR, 73 wRC+ and .318 wOBA. To say he was below average at the plate last year would be kind.
Nevertheless, there’s plenty of hope in Columbia that 2023 is the year Wilmsmeyer finally breaks out and pairs production at the plate with his speed and defense. D1Baseball named Wilmsmeyer as one of their Breakout Players to Watch for Missouri this season citing improved hitting during fall practice.
If Wilmsmeyer can bring his hitting up to league average that would be a major success for the Springfield native. His speed creates small ball opportunities in the form of bunts, hit-and-runs, and stealing bases, but having consistent production that can generate extra-base-hits on occasion would make Wilsmeyer an invaluable part of the 2023 Tigers.
Who the third outfielder will be for Missouri in 2023 is somewhat up in the air. Trevor Austin got a lot of time in LF the second half of the season for his bat, and Carlos Pena also started 29 games in RF. Austin can play 2B if Pena was to play RF, but from what I’ve heard, it sounds like Trevor Austin is going to be the guy and we could see Cam Chick in RF.
Austin is possibly the Tigers’ best MLB Draft prospect on the team this year. The Helias grad was named to D1Baseball’s preseason SEC Player of the Year Watchlist. While the list was extensive, it’s still quite an honor to mentioned in the same breath as some of the best players in America.
Last season, Austin excelled at the plate and was by far the best bat that got significant run in the outfield. Austin slashed .297/.417/.476 and hit 6 HR with 119 wRC+ and .410 wOBA. While his stature isn’t intimidating at just 5’10, Austin should be Missouri’s most feared bat after Luke Mann.
Defensively, Austin isn’t a natural OF and was recruited to play MIF, but he’s athletic enough that taking a hit defensively for his bat makes sense for a Mizzou lineup that craves offense.
Tigers lead 7-2 over the Redbirds after 5 on the backs of Trevor Austin 2 for 3 and Bethune-Cookman transfer Matthew Garcia 3 for 3. Both are long through the hitting zone for consistent contact. Austin with a 2 out RBI single ⬇️@d1baseball @MizzouBaseball pic.twitter.com/f8Jq9wafdM— David Seifert (@DSeifertD1PBR) October 15, 2022
With Austin, Wilmsmeyer, and Chick likely being the regular starters that means Pena, Lovich and Juju Stevens will compete for the fourth outfield spot. They’ll likely get some run in the early midweek games or against some inferior season non-conference competition.
For Lovich to separate himself, he’ll need to find consistency. He’s got a smooth, pretty left-handed swing, but he was streaky in 2022. His .260/.357/.396 slashline wasn’t awful, but his 64 wRC+ and .634 OPS in SEC play were. If he can find a way to consistently perform up to the level he was at in non-con last season, there’s a good chance he’ll be the fourth outfielder and could maybe even push Wilmsmeyer for time if Wilmsmeyer struggles at the plate.
Carlos Pena was the Tigers’ prized recruit in their 2021 class. He came to Columbia with high expectations and started from day one for Mizzou. Unfortunately for Pena, like many freshmen in the SEC, he struggled with the jump to the collegiate level. His .209/.290/.327 slashline and 60 wRC+ were abysmal. At one point, it felt like when he got to the plate it was an automatic out. He struggled with breaking balls and left-handed pitching which led to him striking out in 32.3% of his ABs.
Despite these struggles, I’ll be the first person to tell you that Pena has a ton of talent. Perfect Game ranked him as the No. 70 player in the 2021 class for a reason. He has TONS of pop and an above average arm in RF. For him, it’s just about leveraging his talent. If he can cut the swing-and-miss out of his approach at the plate you could see Pena take a huge step towards reaching his well-documented potential.
Juju Stevens could also play a factor in the outfield for the Tigers this year. He only got 12 ABs before an injury ended his freshman season, but Stevens did manage to 6-12 in his limited opportunities. He was ranked as the No. 172 overall prospect by Perfect Game in the 2021 class, and he hit a 3-run HR in the annual Black and Gold scrimmage last week. While his experience is limited compared to Pena and Lovich, I wouldn’t rule out Stevens making an impact based on his success when he has gotten his chance.
Stay tuned for more baseball preview content the rest of this week. We will have an infield preview soon, and before Opening Day on Friday, I’ll have a preview of Mizzou’s opening weekend at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington.